Category Archives: linguistics

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).

‘Eurasian’ language macro-family or just another bluff?

Andrew (at his blog) leads me to this interesting criticism by Sally Thomason of the much fabled study about a supposed new language macro-family including the most unlikely Eurasian languages such as Dravidian, Indoeuropean and “Eskimo” (sic). 
The original paper by Mark Pagel et al. proposes that a reduced core of 23 words are “ultraconserved”, allowing them to formulate their hypothesis only on them (totally substandard even for the more generous mass-comparison approach). 
When Thomason looks at the raw data she finds that of the 23 words, only 2 have consensual proto-words in Altaic, for example, all the rest having several alternatives, of which Pagel and co. cherry-picked this or that one with the sole criterion of the convenience for their speculation. 
Never mind that Altaic, as defined in that database of Starostian inspiration, includes Japonic and Koreanic, something nowadays essentially discarded. 
Also the attribute of ultraconservation, foundation for the Pagel hypothesis, is challenged by Thomason, who finds that only 6 or 7 words of the 23 are conserved from Proto-Indoeuropean into English, a very low rate considering that English vocabulary is overwhelmingly of Indoeuropean origins (be them Germanic, Old French or some other variant).
In other words and in French: rien de rien; nothing at all worth the media hype that the Pagel paper has achieved… in the short run.

Iberian script of Iruña-Veleia

A new study of the Iberian script findings withing the (partly disputed but most likely very real) ostraka graffiti at Iruña-Veleia (Basque-Roman city of Antiquity on which I have written extensively in the past) is freely available online.
Antonio Arnaiz-Villena & Diego Rey, Iberian-Tartessian scripts/graffiti in Iruna-Veleia (Basque Country, North Spain): findings in both Iberia and Canary Islands-Africa. International Journal of Modern Anthropology 2012. Freely accessibleLINK


760 officially recognized scripts on ceramics from Iruña-Veleia excavated by the archaeology firm Lurmen S.L. (approximately between years 2002-2008)have been analyzed. A number of these ceramics contains scripts which may be assimilated to Iberian/Tartessian writings. This number may be underestimated since more studies need to be done in already available and new found ceramics. This is the second time that Iberian writing is found by us in an unexpected location together with the Iberian-Guanche inscriptions of Lanzarote and Fuerteventura (Canary Islands). On the other hand, naviform scripting, usually associated to Iberian rock or stone engraving may have also been found in Veleia. Strict separation, other than in time and space stratification, between Iberian and (South) Tartessian culture and script is doubted.

Source: Ama Ata[es].

Linguist Jürgen Untermann has died

Surely one of the most important researchers of ancient Iberian languages and also of Italian ones, Jürgen Untermann has left his signature all around the bibliography regarding Iberian, Celtiberian and Italic languages. His life ended on February 7th 2013 at the venerable age of 84.

Source: Ama Ata[es], photo from Diario de Navarra.

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Posted by on February 10, 2013 in death, Germany, Iberia, Italy, linguistics


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.


Visual etymological

Spanish archaeological blog Asociación los Dólmenes reports today[es] that a curious and somewhat obscene finding is at the roots of the modern city of Seville (known as Hispalis in Roman times). The finding of a phallic relief on the entrance of one of the oldest buildings of that city, at the port, has open a debate on whether the city has its origins in whore house (as could be normal for a harbor) or are we talking instead of a building-protector deity apparently of North African origins (where is found in many public buildings).

But regardless of the exact meaning of the icon, the depiction of an erect virile member with avian legs made me think of the origin of colloquial Spanish and English words for penis: cock and polla (Sp. chicken, fem.) Obviously Romans were not thinking of T. rex, right?
What about other languages? Berber, Portuguese, Catalan-Occitan, French, Italian? 
PS: The image actually has a lizard-like tail what should get us all a bit perplex because the closest thing that comes to mind is a dinosaur but Romans could not know anything about dinos, could they? 
This is the kind of argument used to reject the authenticity of some archeological findings like in the Iruña-Veleia case, where conjectures about the plausibility or not of this or that text (the non-existent Descartes – is Miscart) or letter (Z for example) have been used as alleged proof of falsification
Whatever the deep logic behind this icon, it’s not weirder than gargoyles or centaurs, is it?