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buber.net > Basque > Euskara > Larry > Note 24: Plosives
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Note 24: Plosives

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 plosives in Basque are /b d g/ and /p t k/ -- what in Spanish are called the 'bodega' and 'petaca' consonants.

One of Michelena's most interesting discoveries is that, in the Pre-Basque of some 2000 years ago, the only plosives that could occur at the beginning of lexical items were /b/ and /g/, while words could not begin with any of /p t k d/. So, we find loads of native and ancient words like <buru>, <burdina>, <bizkar>, <bat>, <gu>, <gogo>, <gero> and <gibel>, but we don't find native and ancient words beginning with the other four consonants.

With one big exception. This is the word <ke> 'smoke', which is clearly native and which occurs in this form almost everywhere in the country -- except in the Pyrenean region, where the local form is <eke>. Maybe this <eke> is conservative, and maybe common <ke> results from irregular loss of the first syllable, but nobody knows.

Another possible exception is the verb <kendu> 'remove'. But this verb appears as <gentu> or as <gendu> in much of the Pyrenean region, and again we may surmise that <gentu> is conservative, and that common <kendu> results from a medieval change in form.

By the way, the initial /d/ which is common in finite verb-forms, as in <du>, <dator> and <dakit>, is not an exception, since finite verb-forms are not lexical items. Even so, this initial /d/ is curious. It is clearly an ancient and fossilized present-tense prefix, but its origin is a mystery. Some years ago, Rudolf de Rijk proposed that it derives from an ancient word *<da> 'now', which is interesting, but this proposed *<da> would appear to have an impossible form for a Basque word.

Larry Trask COGS University of Sussex Brighton BN1 9QH UK


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