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buber.net > Basque > Astro > On Basque Astronymy: Ila and Ilargi
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On Basque Astronymy: Ila and Ilargi

by M. G. Ramos

Tr: Blas Pedro Uberuaga

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Ila and Ilargi

17. We now study ilargi `moon', that, with its variants, forms the group of greatest extension.

Its composition is perfectly clear: il-argi, or perhaps ila-argi. Il, ila, we have already said seems to be the primitive name of the moon, although today it doesn't have an independent life, used only in derivatives, e.g., ilgora `first quarter', literally `moon above' (Azkue). According to Chaho, in the Basque calendar, except for two months whose names are taken from the sun, all of the rest receive their denominacion or qualifier from the moon, illa, with the designation of the agricultural works or other circumstances that refer to the life of the fields.

We have also said that the name of Monday, ilen, parallel form of eguen `Thursday', can be derived from il `moon', in which case it would mean `lunar', in correspondence with the English Monday and the Latin dies lunæ . (Bonaparte, Vinson). Ilen is properly the genitive form of il `moon', equal to the Anglo-Saxon case monan in monan dæ g `Monday'. (Skeat).

For Mahn, ila, illa `(the) month' is an abbreviation of illargia `(the) moon'. According to Astarloa, ilargia is a term composed of ilun or iluna `darkness' and argui or arguija `light'.

18. From the semantic point of view, the interpretations of ilargi are as diverse as those of eguzki. According to Vinson, it properly means `clair de lune'. Schuchardt translates it by Mondlicht, Mondschein. Other interpretations are: `light of each month' (Larramendi), `light of the darkness' (Astarloa), `sleeping or dead light' (Chaho), `dead light or light of the dead' (Mahn), `dead light' (Vinson), `light of death' (Van Eys), `light of the dead' (Uhlenbeck). In Basque il, hil, mean `dead, to die, to kill, to extinguish, etc.'. In Sanskrit nákta, nákti, náktan `night' come, according to Pictet, from the root naç, `to die, to perish', which he hasn't been able to verify.

The theory of Mahn that illa is the same as illargia, but abbreviated, takes him to maintain that the its primitive meaning was that of `moon' and that later it came to mean `month', as it seems to be verified in the word illabetea `full moon, month' as opposed to illargibetea `full moon'; and from there he deduces that the Iberians began the months with the full moon, while other peoples, for example the Hebrews, began them with the new moon, as is seen in the name for `month' chodäsch, which comes from châdash `to be new'.

If ila hasn't arrived through its semantic evolution to mean `today' is is due to having encountered the name of the night, gau, from which is derived gaur `today' (=`this night' according to Uhlenbeck; `of night' according to Vinson); if it isn't a question of semantic phonetics, they very well may have been the same word, gau proceeding from *gaur, with soft r, analogous to that of some names of the numbers, which have lost it. Irur, hirur `three' continues to conserve the r in various dialects, opposite the form iru of others.

19. It isn't strange that `today' and `night' in Basque would be the same word or have a very close relation. Among the Gauls, time was counted not by days but by nights. The custom of dividing time in moons brought the consequence of saying night to time. The English word sennight, contraction of seven night, means `week'. Also in English, the quincena is called fortnight, in Middle English fourtenight, fourten night = `fourteen nights'. In ancient French anuict ( hac nocte) was said for aujord'hui ( hodie). (Skeat, Fr. E. De Echalar).

According to Pictet, the Aryans had lunar months, and since the phases of the moon couldn't be observed well except at night, it was natural that they counted time by nights, in place of doing so by days. This custom was conserved between various peoples of the same race. In Rigveda, ksáp, kshapa not only meant `night', but `day', (measure of time of twenty four hours). Also, in Sanskrit there exists the term daçaratrá, which properly mans `ten nights', but which is applied to a period of ten days. [+].

20. It has been desired to relate the Basque il(a), hil(a) with the Caucasian and Camitic languages. Among the former there are the Georgian forms kvla, klva, and the mingreliana qvilua, which mean `to kill'. Uhlenbeck believes that the Basque il maybe comes from *kil. In effect, the phonetic history of Basque allows one to think this way. But we don't see as probable the relationship with the Caucasian forms. Neither does it appear prudent to us to relate il, *kil with the English to kill, to quell; the Albanians yll-i `star, heavenly body', the Sanskrit il, which means, among other things, `to sleep', and its derivative ilayati, which is equivalent to `to be still'. It is know that the primitive meaning of the Latin sepelio was probably `to sleep', segu'n se desprende from various texts of Plato and Virgil, cited by Breal. The Spanish cementerio, from the Greek koimeterion, has in this last language the meaning of `dormitory'. (R. Barcia). On the other hand, with reference to the Sanskrit ilayati, it should be noted that in Basque il, hil, as adjectives, also mean `still, tranquil', and so they say ur hila `still water'. Chaho, in his legend of Aitor says : ``Those tombs are his best bed, obia; that dream his best dream, the dream of the repose, ilona; his death was the great dream, iltza.'' Illa, according to the same author, expresses in Basque ``the immobility, the tightening and death.''

Others compared the Basque il(a), ill(a)=`moon, month', with the Greek helios `sun'. Fr. E. de Echalar understands that ille=`month' debio to mean in Basque `light'.

Schuchardt, comparing the vocabulary of Basque with that of the Camitic languages, encounters in one of the Berber dialects the form t-alli-t `month, new moon'. For his part, Costa supposed that in the Iberian language `month' must have been said as ail, judging by by the Basque il, illa and by Berber, whose Kabil, Targui and Ghadamesi dialects place likewise the word tallit or thallith (tema al or alli).

21. With respect to argi, for Vinson it meant `reflected, secondary, artificial light'. According to Gavel, the primitive meaning of argi was that of luminous, and from there the meanings of `brilliant' and `clear' are derived. On becoming a noun, it came to mean `light', literally `that which is luminous'.

Argi can be related with an old Indo-European root, ARG, whose primitive meaning must have been that of `to shine', but which later served to express the ideas of brilliance and whiteness. Thus, we have the Sanskrit arjuna `white', the Greek argós `white' and the names of silver: Greek argyros, Latin argentum, Spanish argento. Also compare the Spanish arcilla.

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