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Note 2: The Basque Participle
by Larry Trask
In ancient Basque, the participle of a verb ended in the participial suffix <-i>. This was true both for participles derived from verbal roots and for participles derived from nominal or adjectival roots. Some hundreds of these ancient participles are still in the language. A few examples: <ikusi> 'see', <etorri> 'come', <josi> 'sew', <egosi> 'cook', <ekarri> 'bring', <ibili> 'be in motion', <ikasi> 'learn, study'.
A complication developed with verbs whose stems ended in /n/. Thanks to a somewhat complicated sequence of events, these verbs wound up losing their final <-i> in most cases. For example, *<egini> 'do, make' became <egin>, *<jani> 'eat' became <jan>, *<egoni> 'wait' became <egon>, *<erruni> 'lay (eggs)' became <errun>, and so on.
At some point after the Roman conquest, however, this old <-i> ceased to be productive in forming new verbs. Instead, this task was handed over to the new suffix <-tu>, borrowed from Latin. Basque borrowed Latin verbs in their participial forms. For example, Latin <audire> 'hear' was borrowed as its participle <auditum> 'heard', leading to modern Basque <aditu> 'hear, understand'.
For many centuries, this new suffix <-tu> has been the only possibility for obtaining new verbs. Verbs constructed from native resources take this suffix. Examples: <gorritu> 'turn red, redden', <gizondu> 'become a man', <ondu> 'improve', <banatu> 'distribute'. Borrowed verbs also take this suffix: <eskribatu> 'write', <letu> 'read', <sentitu> 'feel', <erreibindikatu> 'claim', and so on.
So pervasive has this <-tu> become that quite a few old verbs in <-i> have been transferred into the <-tu> class. For example, the old verb <sarri> 'enter, insert' has now become <sartu> in all dialects. Earlier <aberatsi> 'get rich, enrich' is now <aberastu> in nearly all varieties. The earlier <jario(n)> 'flow' is now <jariatu> in many varieties. Even <izan> 'be' has become <izandu> or <izatu> in a few eastern varieties.
This development has sometimes had an interesting consequence: as the participle of the verb has shifted into the <-tu> class, the old participle has sometimes remained in the language as an adjective.
Here is an example. It is clear that Basque once had a verb *<ezagun>, which meant 'recognize, be familiar with, know (a person or a place)' in the imperfective and 'become acquainted with, get to know, meet' in the perfective. This verb has everywhere been shifted into the <-tu> class, and, in the historical period, the verb with these senses is always <ezagutu>. But the old participle <ezagun> remains in the language as an adjective meaning 'familiar, well-known', and also 'obvious'.
There are several certain or probable cases of this, and, on another occasion, I'll discuss an exceptionally complicated and interesting example.
It is interesting that almost exactly the same thing has happened in English. English inherited a sizeable number of verbs with irregular participles, differing somehow from the regular pattern illustrated by 'wash', participle 'washed', and 'walk', participle 'walked'. Some of these irregular participles are still in the language: 'take', participle 'taken', 'eat', participle 'eaten', 'drive', participle 'driven', and quite a few others. But some such verbs have had their participles shifted to the regular pattern in <-ed>. In such cases, the original participle has sometimes remained in the language as an adjective. Examples:
'I have worked on it' BUT 'wrought iron' 'The metal has melted' BUT 'molten metal' 'The lawn has been mowed' BUT 'new-mown hay'
We have a fair number of these. Some of them are far from obvious. Few people now realize, for example, that the adjective 'sodden', as in 'sodden clothing', is in origin the old participle of the verb 'seethe', which itself only barely remains in the language.
This is one of several striking parallels in the historical development of Basque and of English. One day, I'll talk about my favorite of all these parallels.
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)