Category Archives: Basque language

Basque and other European origins according to ancient mtDNA

This is a (partly shortened) version of an article I wrote recently in Spanish language for Ama Ata.
For reasons of the variegated methodology used by the various researchers this comparison across time and space has to be simplified. Still it is a valuable insight on the demographic changes produced in the Neolithic and later on in three European regions: Germany, Portugal and the Basque Country. 
As you surely know already, the results of archaeogenetic sequencing in Central Europe have produced quite perplexing results: not just the Neolithic wave seems to have caused major changes but also this one was victim of similarly radical later changes in the demography. Visually:

The first period when we see an mtDNA pool similar to the modern one is already in the Late Bronze Age. However we lack data for all the early and middle Bronze Age and the data of the late Chalcolithic already points to the components of this modern pool being present, albeit in a very fragmented form. If anything there was still excess of L(xR), i.e. N(xR). 
This late Chalcolithic and Bronze Age knot of Central European demographic history is still to be solved. But something we can already say for sure: the Neolithic wave was of dramatic consequences in this region but itself was wiped out by later, still ill understood, secondary waves.
This area is not so well documented, however the data we do have still provide a very interesting sequence of the demographic history of SW or West Iberia. Visually again:

One of the problems here is, quite evidently, that sequencing only the HVS-I region is not at all enough to identify some very important haplogroups, particularly H. We can reasonably think however that most or even all of the R* sequences are actually H.
We see some but not-so-radical changes with the arrival of Neolithic: some apparent decrease of U (halved) and L(xR), a +33% growth of H and first detection of HV0 (probably V). However these changes seem to have been partly countered by Chalcolithic, plausibly by means of blending between first farmers and more purely aboriginal populations. Overall I am very much tempted to think that the arrival of Neolithic to (South and Central) Portugal only caused mild demic changes. 
This fact, together with the extremely high frequencies of haplogroup H and the key role played by SW Iberia in the formation of Dolmenic Megalithism, as well as their pivotal role in Bell Beaker, including the existence of a major civilization (Zambujal, VNSP), the first one ever in Atlantic Europe, makes this area highly suspect as a possible origin for the spread of mtDNA H in Western Europe to the frequencies that we find today (c. 40-50%).
However we have only very limited archaeogenetic data from other Atlantic Megalithic regions and in general from Megalithic burials and it is at least possible that Armorica (Brittany, West France) or Denmark and the nearby Low Germany regions played important roles in this spread, which we see so dramatically exemplified in the German Bell Beaker sample. 
When the finger points to the Moon, the fool looks at the finger. Portugal could be the Moon but it may just be the finger, so I will remain cautious at this stage of research. Whatever the case it does seem to me that Megalithism is a likely source of that excess H (Bell Beaker being just the finger here, almost for sure).
I must add that there seem to be some important demic changes since Chalcolithic in Portugal. Tentatively I will attribute them to the intrusive SW Iberian “horizons” (proto-Tartessian?) and/or the Luso-Celtic invasions of the Iron Age. 
Basque Country
My main aim in all this compilation was, as in a sense in all my diving into prehistoric research for so many years now, to find an answer to the mystery of the origin of Basques and Basque language. 
In the last few years we have been blessed with some important and revealing archaeogenetic research in this area, and therefore I could build also an informative graph for the Basque Country:

Very synthetically, I think that we can see here, much as in Portugal, some not too radical changes with the Neolithic arrival, and then relative stability until present day. This is coherent with the Basque Country not having suffered effective Indoeuropean invasions, unlike Portugal.
However I strongly feel the need to look at the fine detail in the Basque Neolithic transition, because it has some interesting question marks:

Seen as that, it would seem like the Neolithic-induced demic change was more important in Navarre and less in the Western Basque Country. However the two Ebro basin sequences (both Fuente Hoz and Los Cascajos) are very high in U* and low in U5, which is so far the only U subclade sequenced in the Paleolithic of the Basque-Cantabrian area. At this point I do not really know how to interpret this fact nor even what kind of U sublineage is that one.
What I do know is that, on one side, the Biscay-Gipuzkoan area seems to have been initially unaffected by Neolithic demic waves and that the Paternabidea sequence is very very similar to modern day Basque average (and even more in its own sub-region).
It is very possible that the Basque periphery, notably the Ebro banks, suffered more intense demic changes than the core Basque areas of the piedmont. However, when compared with other European regions (very especially Central Europe) the Basque genetic pool seems quite stable since Neolithic times. 
Is Basque language Neolithic?
Even if genetics and language need not to be tightly related, of course, the question of the origin of Basque language and the proposed Vasconic language family, believed to have been spoken in much of Europe at some point in Prehistory, are indeed related to the genetic origin of the Basque people. 
There are four main models for the origin of Basque and Vasconic:
  1. Magdalenian (Paleolithic) origin in the Franco-Cantabrian region some 17-15,000 years ago (incl. possible sub-waves like Tardenoisian/geometric Epipaleolithic).
  2. Neolithic origin.
  3. Megalithic origin.
  4. More or less recent (Iron Age?) arrival, defended by mostly by the fanatics of Indoeuropean continuity. 
We can safely discard #4 only based on archaeology but the genetic aspect seems to add even more weight to this dismissal, after all it is Indoeuropean speaking peoples the ones which show obvious signs of demic change, sometimes very dramatic, not Basques.
Personally, and with due caution, I would also cast doubt on #1, partly because the Vasconic substrate area seems to include strongly many parts of Italy like Sardinia, in principle unaffected by the Magdalenian expansion, and I would also include at least to some extent parts of the Balcans (for example the Ibar river in Kosovo). 
So I am rather inclined for model #2, i.e. that Vasconic was the language family spoken by European Neolithic peoples with roots in Thessaly (pre-Sesklo→Mediterranean Neolithic, proto-Sesklo→Balcano-Danubian Neolithic). I cannot of course exclude a possible re-expansion of some of those languages within the Atlantic Megalithic phenomenon, which I would deem responsible of the expansion of much of mtDNA H up to modern frequencies, however I doubt this one is the source because it is difficult to explain the presence of Vasconic in many pockets in which Megalithism was at best very secondary or did not exist at all (for example most of the Ancient Iberian area, Sardinia, the Balcans, etc.)
So my tentative proposal is that there was a root Vasconic spoken some 9000 years ago in Thessaly (Northern Greece), which split (as per archaeology) in two branches:
  • Southern or Western Vasconic (Impressed-Cardium Pottery and related cultures, including the Megalithic urheimat in Portugal). 
  • Northern or Eastern Vasconic (Red-White Painted Ware in the Balcans and later Linear Pottery in Central Europe).
Basque, ancient Sardinian, Iberian and the hypothetical lingua franca associated to Megalithism would belong to Southern Vasconic. Danubian Neolithic peoples would have spoken Northern Vasconic instead but, as we can see, they were eventually all but wiped out by secondary arrivals from West and East. Even the very Balcanic core areas of Thessaly, Macedonia and Serbia also suffered an invasion early on by peoples with Beige-Black pottery (Vinca-Dimini) surely related to Tell Halaf. So the main survivor to the Metal Ages was Southern (Western) Vasconic, which was then wiped out (excepted Basque) by the Indoeuropean invasions of Celtic and Italic peoples. 
We can still see fossils however. One of my favorite examples is the Latin particle bi- (as in bilateral, bilingual, etc.), which seems derived from Vasconic bi (two, at least in modern Basque) and unrelated to PIE *dwos. Also the English words kill and ill, which seem related to Basque verb hil(-du) (pronounced /hill/ or /ill/ and meaning to die or to kill, depending on how you conjugate it). Again both English terms do not have any apparent PIE origins, although they may derive from proto-Germanic. These are just examples, of course, there seems to be much more to be researched.
Appendix: detail of the data and bibliography: LINK.

More Basque linguistics: the meaning of "Varduli"… and other ancient tribes

A quick linguistic note I just feel I need to write. 
If you make a search on the etymology of Varduli (one of the historical Basque tribes of the early Roman era), we find that it is almost invariably attributed to the alleged Celtic root *bhar- meaning border, frontier. This is the same logic used with the better known tribe of the Vascones, which gave their name to Basques in general later on in Indoeuropean languages. 
Ancient tribes of the Greater Basque Country (blue Celts, red pre-IE)
One of the problems here is that Latin letter v was not originally /v/, much less /b/ but originally just /u/, i.e. the same sound as English w when used as semi-consonant. In fact the letter u did not exist in Classic Latin, just v (i.e. IVLIVS: Julius). Both letters j and u evolved only at a later stage. However both cases are documented with other phonetics: Varduli in Greek are said Bardoúloi, Bardiétes (where the B, beta, should sound like English v). In the case of the Vascones there is a coinage with the word Barscunes, which should sound /b/ and is the main link to the alleged Celtic root *bhar-.
Often the country of the Varduli is assimilated to Gipuzkoa but the actual Varduli did not just occupy most (not all) of that modern province but their domain extended much further south into lands now belonging to the provinces of Navarre and Araba until the Ebro river. Their capital was in fact the town that Romans named Ara Coeli, later Araceli and that Basques know by the compound name of Uharte-Arakil (Sakana valley, Navarre), where Arakil is obviously Ara Coeli but Uharte is a Basque word that means island or more precisely between waters (ur-arte). Therefore Uharte is the genuine Basque name.
My understanding is therefore that Varduli means nothing else than Uharte-Uli (shortened to Uhartuli), i.e. the city of Uharte. Uli, ili, uri, iri: city in Basque and Iberian, as well as many other Mediterranean languages (cf. Ilion, *Irisalem, *Iriko, etc.), being a clear wanderwört of prehistoric origins. Today it’s said mostly “hiri” but toponimy includes all variants: Uribe, Basauri, Ulia, Irun, Iruinea, Pompaelo (= Pompaeius-Ilu), etc.
Therefore the rewriting of this ethnonym with Greek beta (/v/) seems a misunderstanding by those cartographers who used it. 
Harder is to be certain about other ethnonyms but if I’m correct about the true meaning of Varduli, it may mean that other tribal names reported by Greco-Roman erudites could also mean locations, such as towns, without further ado, mistaken by collective denominations. I know that it was usual to add the suffix -ani or similar to these cases (example: Basti → Bastetani) but probably the ancient cartographers did not have enough knowledge in all cases, especially if their sources were second or third hand. 
A notorious case is in my opinion the name of the Astures, which could well mean, if Basque (or otherwise Vasconic), Aitz-Uri, i.e. the city (uri) of the rock or mountain (aitz). We know that the capital of the Astures (Asturica Augusta for the Romans, Astorga by the modern name) existed since at least the Atlantic Bronze Age, so it is not like nearby Legio Augusta (León) a Roman foundation by any means. So it seems, on first sight, plausible that the ancient Astures were also named by their capital city: Aitzuri, now Astorga. 
However on second thought, it happens that Astorga is located on flatlands, but, as you can see in this picture, right under an often snowed mountain. Aitzuri can also mean (and would be the natural translation in modern Basque) white peak. I leave this open therefore because it could mean either. 
Another ethnonym of ancient North Iberia that seems very Vasconic is Artabri (sing. Artabrus), who lived in what is now Northern Galicia, next to the Astures. A plausible Basque etymology can well be Arte-Buru, i.e. the head of the holm oak (Q. ilex). The holm oak grows well by the coast, precisely where the ancient Artabri lived, being like other oaks often considered special and a sacred meeting place. The second compound buru (head) may mean either a promontory or hill, if geographic, or maybe chieftain, leader. 
This would lead us to the similarly-sounding name Cantabrus/-i. If -brus is indeed buru (head), what is canta-? Possibly gain, gane (height, peak) maybe in the form ganeta (zone of peaks, the peaks), very common in Basque toponymy. If so, it could well be ganeta-buru: the head of the peak-zone, what makes good sense, especially if we reckon that the Cantabri were a confederation of many smaller tribes (→ approximate map, notice that the eastern border has been displaced surely for modern political reasons).
I don’t wish to finish without mentioning the Ausci. Sometimes this Aquitanian tribe, the larger one among northern Basques, is said to be at the origin of the Basque endonym euskaldun, which derivates from euskera (Basque language), having the pseudo-mysterious root eusk-. The apparent similitude between Ausci (/awski/) and eusk- (/ewsk-/) has led some to propose an etymological relationship. 
However I tend to think that euskera derives, like all other words beginning with eusk- from the verb eutsi (hold, persist, resist), where -ts- transforms regularly into -sk-. Hence euskarri (pillar, lit. holding stone), euskailu (bowl, lit. holding gadget), etc. Euskera would therefore be the persistent (eutsi) mode, lifestyle or language (-era), in contrast with erdera (applied to all non-Basque languages but primarily Indoeuropean ones) which should mean the dividing (erditu) mode, lifestyle or language.
It is difficult to find a meaning for the ethnonym Ausci but it does not seem to make sense from the verb eutsi, as there is no suffix attached. The singular form was Auscus, what makes me think of the Navarrese village of Aezkoa (where -a is nominative article and -ko must mean of a place). Aez- here could well be aitz (rock, peak) again (of the rock therefore, no wonder considering its location) or alternatively could well be a shortening of ametz (a type of oak, Q. pyrenaica). But while these etymologies seem to fit well for Aezkoa, they are more difficult to relate to the Ausci, who lived in the northeastern flatlands near the Garona (Garonne). 
A bit far fetched but a possible etymology could be ahozko, meaning oral: aho = mouth, -zko= made of. Ahozko is a real word, not something I just made up. However “the orals” is not something that sounds correct so maybe for them it could mean something else, like those who speak or whatever.
If so I wonder if my previous best guess about the origin of the word euskera was wrong after all, could it be just ahozkera, i.e. the oral (or spoken) mode or language. Could it be that the divide meaning of erdera refers to being partly written, as happened with Latin?
Enough for this quickie linguistic note. Thanks for reading and feel free to add comments, especially if you’re open-minded.

Another wacko linguistic speculation: Ibero-Uralic

Just got notice via Jatorriberri[eu/es] of this informal paper on the alleged relationship between Basque (or rather Iberian) with Uralic, via Turkish, it seems.
Eduard Selleslagh-Suykens, Iberian and Uralic Supected Finno-Ugric-like elements in the Iberian language (and maybe even Altaic ones). Revised version of August 25, 2013. Self-publication at → LINK (doc format)
Before I forget about it, let’s see what this guy really has. Or rather what he does not have.
First of all I must mention that Mr. Selleslagh-Suykens does not have a curriculum on the matter. I have made a throughout search and he looks an aficionado without any linguistic degree. Nothing wrong with that except that he would need to be even more convincing in order to overcome that handicap, something he fails to.
Twisting ibar (river bank) until it becomes unrecognizable
Mr. Selleslagh, avoids the issue of having to learn at least some Basque by dismissing this language’s similitudes with Iberian as mere loanwords from Iberian. That way he can ignore Basque meanings and etymologies altogether.
That way the known toponym “ibar” (Iber-Ebro river in Iberia, Ibar river in Kosovo, etc.), which he chooses to write “ybar” for some odd reason, does not need to have any relationship with Basque ibar (river bank), ibai (river), ibon (creek) or even very possibly ibili (to walk) but can be imagined to be whatever, in his case:

Conclusions: 1. Basque ‘ume’ is probably an Iberian loanword, and 2. Iberian ‘Ybar’ probably means ‘father’. And ‘Ybar-Yi’ (like in the Sinarcas stele) would mean ‘my father’, a very plausible meaning in its context.

I do not know what the Sinarcas stele means, for those with interest and knowledge of Spanish I suggest reading the dedicated study by renowned Valencian linguist Luis Silgo Gauche.
In the original transcriptions by Fletcher (1985) and Untermann (1990) there is simply no “-yi-” but “-wi-” or “-ḿi-“. This is one of the problems of Iberian script: major differences in transcription. Therefore Selleslagh’s Ybar-Yi can well be Wibaŕ-Wi or Ḿibaŕ-Ḿi… or whatever.
Whatever the case the logic of relating ibar with Basque senar (husband) and therefore with seme/sembe (son) looks very much far-fetched, especially when he’s totally ignoring Basque itself, that can easily explain the root ib- as referring to rivers (ibai, ibar, ibon) or maybe to the act of flowing or moving, if we dare to include the verb ibili (to walk), which can well be related to bide (path, way) by loss of the initial i- (common in Basque verbs of that type, where the root is -bil-: nabil: I walk, gabiltza: we walk, etc.) Another possible cognate in the same way could be bizi (life, alive).
Turkish, ergo Altaic, ergo Uralic, ergo Sumerian… whatever!
This is the “best” of the paper…


At first sight, they have nothing in common, Bq. ‘buru’ having ‘head’, and Trk. ‘burun’ ‘nose’ as primary meanings. However, both are used in many other meanings that have one thing in common: they all refer to some form of ‘extremity’ or ‘protuberance’, sometimes even for the same concept, e.g. cape (in geography). However, as far as I know, ‘buru’ is not attested in Iberian, which does not necessarily mean it didn’t exist.
Buru does not have the meaning of extremity, although it may have the meaning of notorious ending, such as a hill, cape or the round ends of the lauburu (Basque curved swastika). More importantly it has the meaning of self and about:

Hitz egiten nuen nire buruari: lit. I was talking to my head; actual meaning: I was talking to myself.

Hau hizkuntari buruz da: this is about language.

But nose and head are close enough may say someone… let’s see what else he has:

Both mean ‘day’. The Turkish word for ‘sun’, ‘güneş’, is derived from ‘gün’. According to L. Trask “Barandiarán (1972) suggests an original sense of ‘sun’, ‘light’, which is possible but beyond checking for Bq. ‘egun’ “. That would mean that the Basque word for ‘sun’, ‘eguzki’, is derived fom ‘egun’ (in its meaning of ‘day’) by means of a compound suffix: ‘egu(n)-(e)z-ki’.
Some say that it is egu(n)-uzki: asshole of the day, especially because in some dialects sun is indeed said uzki (in others eki, which is also the word for east)
A plausible etymology anyhow, I believe already suggested by J. Paskual, for egun can well be egi-une: the zone or period of truth. Similarly eki (sun, east) might be a variant of egi: truth, limit, in the same emphatic way that ekin (to take action) is related to egin (to do).

Ezina ekinez egina: the impossible [gets] done through action.

Naturally the verbs egin and ekin themselves seem derived from that egi root, as is probably egon (a non-essential variant of to be, as in to stay at a location or to be temporarily affected by a condition, similar to Spanish estar).
But, even if you believe that these two coincidences with Turkish mean something (who knows?), in order to make them imply Ibero-Uralic of some sort, we’d have not just to believe in Ibero-Basque (something that Selleslagh does not quite apparently) but also in Macro-Altaic, a very much contested hypothesis.
More “evidence” for Basque-Turkish (not Ibero-Uralic yet) relations:
Adi(n)-Aydın :

Both a have strong relationship with intellectual capacity and the like: the Basque word has several acceptances like ‘age’ (probably through a link with ‘wise’), ‘understanding’, ‘judgement’; the Turkish word means intellectual, literate, etc.’. The Basque word frequently occurs in Aquitanian names, so an Iberian origin cannot be excluded since Aquitanian names often mimic or copy Iberian names.
Adin (age) seems related to adi (to listen, to pay attention) and there is indeed the “wise” connection: aditu(-a) (someone who understand, expert). But I haven’t found any Turkish meaning other than personal name. It does not seem proto-Turkic anyhow (unlike what happens with burun and gün).
Both mean ‘name’. Another pure coincidence? I begin to think there are too many of them.
Isim is clearly derived from proto-Semitic *šim- (documented in many languages ), so if anything it’d be a relationship of Basque with Semitic or with some other West Asian substrate. 
Whatever the case we have again a clear internal etymology in Basque: izan (to be, essential, similar to Spanish ser, to exist). 

Izena duen guztia izan omen da: all that has name may be (exist).

Izena izana: the name, the being.



This time I’m venturing into perilous territory, but it might contribute something. The Basque suffix means ‘offspring, young animal’ and is obviously related to ‘ume’
As perilous as he just rejected the existence of the word ume in pre-proto-Basque when arguing for ibar meaning father.
Of course ume (kid) and kume (cub, whelp, foal) are related or at least everybody thinks so (it’s so obvious!) On a side note, I think English cub is derived from Basque (or other Vasconic) kume, something that happens with other non-IE words like ill and kill (surely related to Basque hil: to die, to kill).
But the Turkish alleged cognate is the main problem:
The Turkish word has a basic meaning of ‘conglomeration, group …’, including ‘family’.
Hmmm, this one does look very perilous indeed. 
He also has some other speculations relating Basque (normally not Iberian) suffixes with Hungarian (one case), a variety of European/West Asian languages (another case) or Centum Indoeuropean (another more complex case).

What can be concluded? In my opinion nothing. They can indeed be coincidences. Coincidences of sound and meaning do happen and only a systematic corpus such as mass-lexical comparisons can be of any use… and that only to begin with, because then the comparative method should be used to refine that first approach.

There is just one striking coincidence with proto-Turkish: egun-gün and another one, quite more dubious, with proto-Semitic: izen-*sim-. Some speculations on a common pan-European substrate of some declensions/suffixes. And then those clearly wrong rantings about the word ibar.

There is nothing of substance here, move along.


Note: a very simple (highly incomplete but a good preliminary exercise) way of comparing languages for possible similitudes is to compare the numeral series, especially 1-5, or maybe up to 10. There is a veteran online database for that. For our purposes (1-5 only):
  • PIE: *oynos/*sem *duwo: *treyes *kwetwores *penkwe
  • Basque: bat bi hiru lau bost 
    • Proto-Basque (??): *bade *biga *(h)ilur *laur *bortz(e)
  • Proto-Finno-Ugric: *ykte *kakte *kolm- *neljä- *vit(t)e
  • Old Turkic: bir iki üch tört besh
  • Akkadian (example of old Semitic): ishte:n shena shalash erbe h.amish
  • Proto-North-Caucasian (??): *cHê *qHwä: *s’wimHV *hêmqi *fh`ä^
  • Sumerian: desh min pesh lim i
  • Georgian: erti ori sami otxi xuti
I can hardly find anything comparable, maybe Sumerian min with Basque bi (ignoring the PB speculation), PIE *treyes with Basque hiru (??), Turkic tört and besh with PIE *kwetwores and *penkwe. But that’s about it stretching my imagination all I can. The only half-solid hint is the PIE-Turkic connection, which may be just loanwords of IE substrate to Central Asian early Turkic in the Iron Age.

Posted by on September 6, 2013 in Basque language, linguistics


Basque linguistics: Frank criticizes Lakarra

I mentioned recently how the pope of Basque linguistics, Joseba Lakarra, is being more and more criticized. Here however I will briefly discuss another such criticism.
Frank, Roslyn M. 2011. Repasando a Joseba Lakarra: Observaciones sobre algunas etimologías en euskera a partir de un acercamiento más cognitivo (Reviewing Joseba Lakarra: Observations on some etymologies in Basque language from a more cognitive approach). ARSE 45: 17-64. Available at (in Spanish only).
On one side the alleged Latin/Romance alleged etymologies by Lakarra are self-exposed as a total fraud. Some self-explanatory examples:
  • turpe (Lat. foul, dirty) → *durpe*burdeurde (pig, boar; metaphorically only: dirty – the common word for dirty is zikin)
  • timor (Lat. fear) → … *dirbur*birdurbildur (more commonly beldur: fear¹)
  • hierba (Sp. grass, herb) > *erbar > *berar > belar / bedar (grass, there’s actually a real Latin/Romance derived word: zerba = herb)
  • caninu (from. Lat. caninus: rel. to dogs) → *ahinu*ahiun*ha.inhagin (molar)
  • *(la)grima (Sp. lágrima: tear; grima: coll. pity) > *girma > *girna > *nirga > nigar (more commonly negar: cry, tears, negar egin: to cry, to express emotion by tears)
One of the many problems with this last ‘etymology’ is that Basque language hates double consonants (with the exceptions: tx [ch], ts, tz) and that therefore the hypothetical *grima would become *girima or *kirima first of all, again unattested.
But in general all the Lakarran hypothetical etymologies are self-defeating, needing of several unlikely intermediate variants, each of them extremely unlikely, and would not stand any minimally serious scrutiny. The problem is that there is very little of that.
Another criticism is that he uses almost only his own work, often not even published, as evidence of his own conclusions. This is mere pseudoscience but somehow he gets away with it.
Other issues that Lakarran conjectures (calling that ‘garbage in – garbage out’ speculation “theory” would be way too generous) pose are grammatical. Unlike the late North American linguist Larry Trask, who establishes that Basque has primarily a SOV grammatical structure, for Lakarra the proto-Basque had no grammar whatsoever: no SOV, no ergative, no agglutination, no verbal inflections… In other words: for Lakarra proto-Basque speakers were probably not even human yet, but that proto-Basque is only estimated to have existed some 3000 years into the past, so…
For Lakarra, proto-Basque would not be agglutinative but isolating. This isolating characteristic of some languages is actually restricted to East Asia (the most notable example is Chinese, especially classical Chinese). However real Basque has a clear agglutinative tendency, what seems highly inconsistent with Lakarra’s formulation.
The bulk of the study however only touches Lakarrism somewhat obliquely, dwelling in some depth on the etymology of hatzapar² (animal claw), which Lakarra forces to derive from Sp. garra (same meaning) but Frank considers 100% Basque, deriving from the more widespread hatzamar (i.e. the toe that means ten, the big toe), and the grammaticalization of gai, originally ability, able, potential (also matter, substance) but now inserted in many words like zerga(i)tik (why, from zer(en)-gai-tik) or -gale (feeling of the prefix: edagale: thirsty, etc.)
The study ends with a criticism of the group Monumenta Linguae Vasconum, which is led by said Joseba Lakarra (and co-participated by Blanca Urgell, Gidor Bilbao, Ricardo Gómez, Julen Manterola Agirre, Mikel Martínez and Céline Mounole). This group is preparing, at the snail pace of a mere 500 words per year, with public financing, an etymological dictionary of the Basque language, which will be no doubt founded only on Lakarra’s own speculations. Since 2007 Lakarra is member of the Academy of the Basque Language, Euskaltzaindia, what means that his work is de facto being backed by this influential organism.


Notes (my own ideas):

¹ Beldur (fear) surely derives from bel(tz): black in fact, possibly: *bel-adur: black humor.

² I would also consider *hatz-adar (toe-horn, toe’s horn) as possible origin of both forms.


Posted by on June 2, 2013 in Basque language, linguistics


Basque language: a criticism of Joseba Lakarra

Important correction: I got totally confused about the authorship of this paper. Neither Frank nor Alonso are the authors but they do have another paper[es] that is also a criticism on Lakarra’s conjectures, paper that I will have to discuss in another entry in order to compensate for my error.

This study is actually anonymous, being the second of that kind, a clear signal of academic freedom being seriously curtailed in Basque philology in the Basque Country itself by this professor’s power networks. 

Continues original entry with the necessary corrections:

A group of anonymous linguists (the speak in plural “we”) have recently published a paper in which they criticize the excessive reliance of Basque language studies on the work of Prof. Joseba Lakarra, whose shadowy control of the Basque Academy on this matter is most worrying, notably since his key defamatory intervention against the extraordinary finds of Iruña-Veleia, which challenge to some extent the foundations of his work.

Sadly for many readers of this blog, the new study is published only in Spanish and Basque languages. In spite of that I feel the need to briefly discuss it here.
Anonymous authors, Joseba Lakarra a examen. Sobre el Diccionario Histórico Etímologico Vasco. Euskararen Jatorria 2013. Freely accessibleLINK 1 (Spanish), LINK 2 (Basque)
The paper begins with a pondered praise of Lakarra’s efforts to go beyond Mitxelena’s paradigms. However they feel that he should also be much more self-critical and humble and ready to back when he’s clearly wrong, what he does not. A key concern is that the Academy of Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia) and University of the Basque Country are focused on a major work: the creation of an etymological dictionary, which will be founded almost only on Lakarra’s work, what could well be a total disaster and waste of resources if he is mostly wrong.
Naturally Lakarra is the director of the project himself. While a few other authors (Tovar, Trask) are cited in Lakarra’s magnum opus project, they are almost only mentioned in a negative manner. The result can therefore be foreseen as a monument to Lakarra’s own vanity.
Nothing new in fact, as Lakarra is infamous for citing almost exclusive his own works, often unpublished, what is not accepted as a healthy academic praxis anywhere… except in his own feudal domain, it seems. This problem of self-citation is discussed in section 4 of this paper.
The criticisms of Lakarra’s work can be synthesized following the structure of the study:
  1. The monosyllabic root theory of Lakarra is too daring. The available evidence does not support this in most cases.
  2. There is no process of critical revision. This makes Lakarra models mere hypothesis or conjectures and not at all proven theories. Larry Trask did not include a single root by Lakarra in his own etymological dictionary. Michael Morvan and J.B. Orpustan frontally rejected Lakarra’s ideas.
  3. All reconstructions are purely theoretical.
  4. Abusive self-citation, often of unpublished materials. Lakarra almost never cites other authors than himself.
  5. No systematization. Lakarra’s model has never been systematically described, something that the professor seems to prefer, as it allows him for unlimited freedom in his ramblings.
  6. Frequent changes in the etymologies, revealing extreme insecurity and improvisation in Lakarra’s own thought.
  7. Abusive use of typological comparativism. Even if systematically criticizes comparativism, because he only believes in internal reconstruction for the case of Basque, he constantly relies in  grammatic comparison with other unrelated languages.
  8. Incoherence with the reality of languages 3000 years ago. For Lakarra, Basque in that time only had the most rudimentary vocabulary and grammar, while the reality we know is that all languages were as complete as they are today, and therefore (proto-)Basque must have been as well.
  9. Monosyllabic root theory has serious issues. Words like lur (earth, land, soil) are ancestrally monosyllabic for Lakarra, however they are attested in bisyllabic forms like luur or luhur, suggesting that it is in fact a shortening of longer ancient words. There are many other such cases.
  10. It does not even consider dialectal variation. Lakarra invariably uses only the modern standard form (Euskara Batua), totally ignoring the well attested dialectal variation.
  11. It ignores Aquitanian toponymy. For example eihar for Lakarra derives from Lat. cremare, while it is attested as such []eihar in Aquitaine c. 87 CE.
  12. Some proposed evolutions are absolutely incredible. For example:
    *goi-bar (‘up-down’) > *gwibar > *bi-z-bar > bizkar (anat. back, geog. hill, mountain).
  13. Some etymologies suffer of serious anachronisms. For example, bazter (edge, corner, riverside; secondarily: field, land, place) is made by Lakarra to derive from Lat. praesaepe via Castilian Spanish pesebre and a claimed intermediate word presepre (actually unattested). Sp. pesebre is attested only 130 years after Basque bazter is. [I believe that bazter is actually present in an ancient Iberian text from Mula, Murcia, see note below].
  14. Breaches the principle of regularity when we consider Basque dialects.
  15. Ignores Basque culture. For example hogi (bread) is for Lakarra derivate from hor (dog) and -gi (-gi/-ki common for meat kinds), meaning in his mind originally something like dog-meat. This is simply absurd… but so are so many things around this peculiar individual in his ivory tower.
  16. Sometimes misinterprets words. For example atseden (to rest, turn off, breath, satisfy) is mistranslated by Lakarra as to die.
  17. Does not help at all to the reconstruction of Aquitanian onomastics. Nothing at all in Lakarra’s work helps the understanding of this key ancient reference of Basque studies.
  18. Risk of unitary or monolithic thought. Lakarra’s single-handed effective domination of Basque philology in the Western Basque Country has almost stopped independent research altogether. His followers limit themselves to make comments to his theories without daring to think independently, much less being critical.
  19. Conclusions. Warning on the use of public funds for the vanity project of this man, who is no doubt fallible.


Note on bazter: in the Ibero-Ionian text on lead from El Cigarralejo (Mula, Murcia – pictured), in line #7 it reads:


Which I tentatively read in modern Basque as follows:
Zabal bazterrak bide denetik bezainelako; i.e. something like: such as the ample margins through the whole path. Uncertain particularly about the last word bezanelaz.

Other fragments of this piece, as well as of other Ibero-Ionian texts also sound terribly Basque-like, although of course not identical. Once I asked a friend from Ondarroa, native speaker of Basque, of his opinion on this text and, laughing, he replied: not from Ondarru but maybe from Lekitto (Lekeitio: the nearby town, which has a distinct dialect).

8th Congress on the Antiquity of the Basque Language

From Jatorriberri (bilingual: Basque-English):

8th. Congress on the Antiquity of the Basque Language. “Mythology: A Science for Analyzing the Past”.

The presentations will be held in Lazkao, Gipuzkoa the Saturday 25th. of May of 2013
  • Juan Inazio Hartsuaga: Fossil Words.
  • Roslyn M. Frank: Looking for attributes and cognitive tracks in the figure of fourteen, within and out from Euskal Herria.
  • Felix Zubiaga: Dramatic performance of a Sumerian-Basque tale.
  • Xabier Renteria: Basques of older times: Mythological vision of the world and pre-Indo-European Basque language.
  • Visit to the: Joxemiel Barandiaran’s Museum
  • Jorge Oteitza gogoratuz. Notions of pre-Indo-European Basque philology
  • Antonio Laguardia: Iberian writings and the hieroglyphs from the 8th to the 29th Century B.C.
  • Presentation of new books. The DNA of Euskera, Studies of Iberian toponyms, The origin of Basques, The antiquity of words – Etymological Basque dictionary
  • Iruña-Veleia: What is new?

Registration: Congress outline and registering information can be found in the
following address:
There are other bilingual articles in the Jatorriberri newsletter.
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Posted by on May 1, 2013 in Basque language, Basque origins


Videos of the Iruña-Veleia Congress (I)

As you may recall, the International Congress on Iruña-Veleia took place in Vitoria-Gasteiz (Basque Country) earlier this month. The complete written reports can be found at Euskararen Jatorria.
These videos have been published at Iputztar (YouTube user). Some have already been posted in this blog (so I will only include a link) and we can expect that more will be published in the near future (it seems to me that the list is very much incomplete as of now). Most are in Spanish language, with some Basque also, but at least one is in English.
Full playlist of the Congress’ videos in sequence (for people with plenty of time).
00 – Sarrera (Introduction) → YouTube link.
01 – Antonio Rodríguez Colmenero (archaeologist, epigraphist) → YouTube link[es], in this blog.
02 – Edward C. Harris (archaeologist) → YouTube link[en], in this blog.
03 – Eliseo Gil (archaeologist, former director of Iruña-Veleia digs, accused of falsification by the most surreal linguists’ gang ever, accusations never proven). In Spanish:

04 – Xabier Rentería synthesizes the reports of some of those who claim that the graffiti are false (Julio Núñez, archaeologist, and Joaquín Gorrochategui, linguist), who rejected to go to the congress. In Basque:


05 – Idoia Filloy (archaeologist, member of the Iruña-Veleia team, also accused). In Spanish:

06 – Francisco Javier Santos Arévalo (archaeometrist, physicist) on how to date the shards reliably. In Spanish:
07 -Joaquín Baxarias Tibau (archaeologist) on the very revealing bone artifacts of Iruña-Veleia. In Spanish:

The interventions of linguists Luis Silgo Gauche and Antonio Arnaiz Villena are still not available in video. 
Special thanks to Ostraka Euskalduna[eu] for keeping me updated on the matter.
See label Iruña-Veleia for background in (mostly) English.

Rodríguez Colmenero on the Iruña-Veleia graffiti (video in Spanish)

The videos of the International Congress on Iruña-Veleia are being gradually released. I recently shared here the conference by Edward C. Harris, and now is time for Antonio Rodríguez Colmenero (renowned Galician archaeologist, historian and epigraphist). Follows video: 45 mins in Spanish language (good quality):

He discusses in some depth, often by contrasting with other Roman era sites, the alphabet, the Christian inscriptions, the errors being product of children education (most of the findings appear to come from a school), the already ongoing Latin→Romance evolution and often also only attributable to mischievous or ignorant misreadings by modern people with limited knowledge but a big mouth (i.e. not errors but in interpretation).
Source: En el Ángulo Oscuro[es].

Iruña-Veleia congress: papers and synthesis

The linguistic-cultural association Euskararen Jatorria (The Origin of the Basque Language) has published the reports presented for the International Congress on Iruña-Veleia that took place in late November in Vitoria-Gasteiz. 
All papers have trilingual (Basque, English, Spanish) introductory sections and then each one is in the language chosen by the author. They can all be found HERE.
Among them there is a “conclusions” synthesis (PDF) whose headlines I synthesize here:
  • The dig [by Gil, Filloy et al.] was performed correctly
  • Chain of evidence has been broken – as the judge has not controlled it
  • Iconography and most graffiti are coherent
  • Controlled local digs were not performed to contrast with the findings
  • The archaeometrical datings now being performed in Madrid should have been the first thing to do
  • Graffiti on bone are easy to date [but was not done either]
  • It is only logical that Iberian signs are found among the rest
  • So far 19 reports have declared the graffiti genuine
  • The Advisory Commission did not do anything of what they should have done
Paraphrasing the late linguist Gorka Knörr, the paper concludes that 
If Iruña-Veleia would be a house, datings would be the foundations, controlled digs the first floor, auditions the first floor, history the second, philology the third… Therefore when the Advisory Commission “began building the house by the ceiling” and that is why we are now just as the beginning, because the datings required by Eliseo Gil were never performed.
As you may already know, Iruña-Veleia is a Vasco-Roman city of Antiquity not far from Vitoria-Gasteiz. In 2006 a large number of inscribed graffiti on pottery shards (ostrakas) was found, most of them in ancient Basque and Vulgar Latin. 
The finding had the potential of rewriting linguistic and historical understanding of Basque language and also Romances, what apparently scared to death some popes of linguistics led by Gorrochategui and Lakarra, who, by means of smearing, abuse of power and cronyism, managed to get the archaeologists in charge (Gil, Filloy and their company Lurmen) out and put instead the only archaeologist who was ready to play their game Luis Núñez, whose management of the site has consisted essentially into digging wildly with a caterpillar until popular clamor stopped his misgivings (since then he seems to do nothing at, what is surely good considering what he did when he dared to).
Gil and Filloy have been charged with “falsification” and in this trial is where the hopes of truth being revealed stand now. After many years, a sample of the ostrakas have been sent to researchers in Madrid to perform archeometry tests.

See also: category Iruña-Veleia for further details.


Edward Harris on the Iruña-Veleia affaire

Edward C. Harris, Director of the Bermuda Maritime Museum and world-famous among archaeologists for being the inceptor of the Harris matrix, which soon became standard procedure in all serious digs, wrote yesterday at The Royal Gazette on his recent visit to the Basque Country and the Iruña-Veleia affair. 
On this one he says the following:
In late November 2012, I was invited to the
Basque Country to speak at a conference on archaeological works at the
Roman town of Iruña-Veleia, a short distance from the city of
Vitoria-Gasteiz, being one of the leading experts in matters of
stratigraphy in archaeology, the science that controls the excavation
and recording of archaeological sites, and the subsequent analyses of
portable heritage from such places. While it would have been easy to
bask in the honour in which the “Harris Matrix” is held in such matters,
at least with the Basques, the purpose of the conference was to review
some of the subjects that have made Iruña-Veleia one of the most
controversial sites in the world.
The issue
revolves around classes of artifacts found at the site by an
archaeological team led by Idoia Filloy and Eliseo Gill, objects of
pottery, brick and bone that were reused as writing tablets and
inscribed with words and pictures in later Roman times. The information
contained on the artifacts appears to have conflicted with presently
held views of the origins of the Basque language and other subjects, so
much so that some experts declared them to be fakes, forged perhaps by
the archaeologists who found them. Apparently without proof, academic or
otherwise, the archaeologists have been hung out to dry in the media,
which unfortunately is often the fate of the falsely accused, as one
Lord McAlpine found recently when he was defamed by the BBC, no less,
and ‘twittered’, almost to death.
As to
motivation, one cannot ‘follow the money’, as there is, and will likely
always be, a dearth of it in archaeology. A preliminary audit would
suggest that the archaeologists conducted the excavations to modern
standards, particularly in recording, but as artifacts can be moved
without losing their integrity, it is difficult to comment on the
placement of objects after a “dig” has finished. 
the complexity of the supposedly forged graffitti, all that one can say
at this stage is that if the artifacts are forgeries, that the
perpetrators of such a hoax are geniuses of the first order, but who, as
archaeologists, would want to claim fame on the basis of such
forgeries, when the real thing is usually of a far more abiding
H/t to Iruña blog.
See also for background: category: Iruña-Veleia in this blog and its ancestor.