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Note 14: The Word Hollow
by Larry Trask
|Larry Trask, a world expert on Basque linguistics and the history of the Basque language, passed away on March 28, 2004. Larry contributed extensively to several online communities, including Basque-L and the Indoeuropean list. This collection of his postings is dedicated in his memory.|
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The Latin adjective <cavus> 'hollow' has given rise to a large
family of words in western European languages, including Basque.
This adjective is the source of the Latin noun <cavum> 'cavity, hollow',
with a plural <cava>, the Latin noun <cavitas> 'cavity', the Latin
noun <caverna> 'cavern', and the Latin noun <cavea> 'enclosure, cage'.
Many of these words have survived in Spanish and French in various
senses, leading for example to Spanish <cava> 'wine cellar' (and also
'sparkling wine', of course -- my wife, who adores sparkling wine,
won't forgive me for overlooking that one ;-) ) and French
<cave> 'cellar', and some of the French words have been borrowed
into English, producing for example 'cave', 'cavern' and 'cavity'.
But the really interesting derivative is an unrecorded late Latin
diminutive *<caveola> 'small enclosed place'. In French, this word
developed into Old French <gaiole> ~ <jaiole> 'cage', which was
borrowed into English as 'jail', formerly also spelled 'gaol'.
In Gascon and Bearnese, the same *<caveola> developed into <cayole>
'cage', which has been borrowed into Basque as <kaiola> 'cage'.
In Old Castilian, *<caveola> developed into *<xavola>, which I think
is not recorded, though I must check this. And this was borrowed
into Basque as <txabola> 'hut'. The Castilian word then developed
into <xaula>, modern <jaula> 'cage' (and other senses).
So, Basque <txabola>, Basque <kaiola>, Castilian <jaula>, and English
'jail', among other words, all share a common origin in that unrecorded
Another Basque word for 'hut', <etxola>, deserves some attention.
This looks for all the world like a compound of <etxe> 'house' and
the familiar item <ola>, which in isolation means 'forge, foundry',
but which in compounds usually just means 'place where something is
done', or often just 'place'. But the semantics here is a little
puzzling. And Michelena once suggested a different etymology.
He proposed that Castilian <xaula> was borrowed as a Basque *<xola>,
and that the compound is actually *<etxe-xola> --> *<etxaxola> -->
<etxola>, by reduction of the awkward sequence. (In fact, a word
<xola> is actually recorded in the north, in the sense of 'hut, cabin',
'cottage', and also 'tent'.)
This seems plausible, though I am not sure we can entirely rule
out a folk-etymology, by which this <xola> was re-interpreted
as containing <etxe> and hence re-formed as <etxola>.
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