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buber.net > Basque > Euskara > Larry > Note 18: Compound Verbs
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Note 18: Compound Verbs

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.

Basque is very fond of compound verbs, and clearly has been for a long time. The modern language strongly favors certain patterns for forming these, but the ancient language apparently used other patterns.

Probably the biggest group today is those formed with <egin> 'do':

        <amets egin> 'dream'
        <barre egin> 'laugh'
        <zin egin>   'swear'

There are zillions of these. Another group is those built with <eman> 'give':

        <musu eman> 'kiss'
        <su eman>   'light, kindle, ignite'
        <min eman>  'hurt'

A third group is built with *<edun> 'have', the lost verb which is the source of the auxiliary forms like <du> and <dut>:

        <maite *edun>   'love'
        <gorrotu *edun> 'hate'

A handful are built with <izan> 'be':

        <bizi izan>   'live'
        <bildur izan> 'be scared'

And there are a couple with <hartu> 'take':

        <onartu>  'accept'
        <lokartu> 'nod off, fall asleep'

We also have a number built with <-etsi>. The free verb <etsi> has a number of senses in the historical period, but, in compounds, it always means 'consider':

        <jauretsi>  'adore' (<jaun> 'lord')
        <ederretsi> 'approve of, like' (<eder> 'beautiful')
        <gaitzetsi> 'despise, hate, condemn' (<gaitz> 'bad')

However, we also find a number of ancient compound verbs whose formation is now often obscure. We can often recognize these verbs by their unusual length, by their peculiar form, and by the observation that they exhibit an unusually high degree of regional variation in form. Here are a few; bear in mind that each exists in a number of rather different regional forms, of which I can cite only a couple. I add our best guess for the origin, where we have one:

        <eguriki> ~ <iguriki> 'wait for'

                Maybe *<egun eduki> 'hold day'?

        <itxadon> ~ <itxoin> 'wait for'

                Maybe *<hitz edun> 'have word'?

        <eskaini> ~ <eskeini> 'offer'

                Maybe *<esku ipini> 'put hand'?

The following three verbs all seem to have the same first element:

        <ihardun>   'be busy'
        <iharduki>  'converse'
        <ihardetsi> 'reply'

The second elements are probably *<edun> 'have', <eduki> 'hold', and <-etsi> 'consider', but nobody knows what that first element might be. It appears to have long since disappeared from the language except in these compounds.

This sort of thing is commonplace. For example, most of us might guess that English 'nostril' is 'nose' plus something, but that something is unrecognizable. It is in fact the Old English word <thryll> 'hole', which has completely disappeared from the language except in this compound.

Also obscure is <atzeman> 'seize, capture'. This appears to contain <eman> 'give', but who knows what the first element might be? Neither <hatz> 'finger' nor <hatz> 'tracks, trace, trail' makes any obvious sense, though we might make a case for the second one, I suppose.

Even more obscure is <aurdiki> 'throw', with its very many regional variants. I would hardly dare to venture a guess as to what either element might be here.

It's hard to tell just how many of these ancient compound verbs may be buried in the Basque vocabulary. For example, <ohartu> 'notice' looks unremarkable enough today, but Michelena once proposed that it might derive from an ancient compound *<gogo hartu> 'take mind'.

Larry Trask COGS University of Sussex Brighton BN1 9QH UK

Tel: (01273)-678693 (from UK); +44-1273-678693 (from abroad) Fax: (01273)-671320 (from UK); +44-1273-671320 (from abroad)

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