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Note 8: Analogy in Bizkaian
by Larry Trask
Many people will have noticed that words that end in /e/ in all other dialects often end in /a/ in Bizkaian. Examples:
common Bizkaian gloss lore lora 'flower' ote ota 'gorse' and(e)re andra 'lady' (B 'woman')
This cannot be the result of a regular change in pronunciation, because not all such words are affected. For example, <etxe> 'house', <gazte> 'young' and <gose> 'hunger, hungry' have these forms in Bizkaian as elsewhere.
The explanation lies in the process we call 'analogy'. Now, the Basque article is <-a>:
<gizon> 'man', <gizona> 'the man' <etxe> 'house', <etxea> 'the house'
When the word ends in /a/, then, in most dialects, the two /a/s simply merge into one:
<neska> 'girl', <neska> 'the girl' <eliza> 'church', <eliza> 'the church'
However, in Bizkaian, something different happens: instead of disappearing, the first /a/ is raised to /e/:
<neska> 'girl', <neskea> 'the girl' <eliza> 'church', <elizea> 'the church'
(In some varieties of Bizkaian, of course, the definite forms are raised further, yielding <neskia> and <elizia>, but this fact is not relevant here.)
Now, at some point, the Bizkaians observed the existence of pairs like definite <neskea> and indefinite <neska>, and they reasoned as follows:
<neskea> : <neska> :: <lorea> : X
And they solved this little relation for X, obtaining indefinite <lora>, and similarly in other cases.
This process we call 'four-part analogy', and it is extremely common in languages. Here is an example from my own northeastern variety of American English:
'drive' : 'drove' :: 'dive' : X
And we solved this for X, obtaining a new past tense for 'dive', namely 'dove', in place of the traditional 'dived'.
Incidentally, this same merger of the article <-a> with a preceding /a/ has led to another widespread change. The definite article is of high frequency in Basque. Accordingly, speakers often encounter new words in their definite form, and so they cannot always be sure what the indefinite form is. For example, the Romance loan <korotza> was commonly encountered in its definite form <korotza>, and speakers hearing this word could not tell whether the indefinite form was <korotza> or <korotz>. In many cases, they guessed <korotz>, and so a new form <korotz> has displaced the original <korotza> in many places.
The same thing has happened in the name <Donostia>: even though that /a/ is part of the medieval Basque name <Sostia> 'Sebastian', many speakers have taken it as the article, and have removed this supposed article, producing the now-widespread <Donosti>.
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)