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buber.net > Basque > Euskara > Larry > Note 14: The Word Hollow
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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.

To learn about Larry, see this article.

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 Latin *<caveola>.

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>.

Larry Trask COGS University of Sussex Brighton BN1 9QH UK


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