Hasiera · Home
Ezaugarriak · Features
Oharrak · Notes
Sarrera · Introduction
Kirolak · Sports
Musika · Music
Janedanak · Gastronomy
Tokiak · Places
Historia · History
Politika · Politics
Albisteak · News
Nahas Mahas · Misc

buber.net > Basque > Euskara > Larry > Basque Metal Names
For security reasons, user contributed notes have been disabled.

Basque Metal Names

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.

As has been pointed out, there is something very odd about the Basque metal names.

To begin with, there are no indigenous Basque names recorded for any of tin, copper or bronze. Instead, we find only loan words: <eztainu> `tin', <kobre> `copper', and <brontze> `bronze'. I find this strange, since it is inconceivable that the ancient Basques did not know these metals. So the ancient names must have been replaced and lost, but why? True, the `bronze' of English and other European languages is itself of unknown origin, and not native in any of them.

But there is no doubt about the native status of <burdina> `iron', <berun> `lead', <urre> `gold', and <zilar> `silver'. Many people have tried to connect this last one to the Germanic word, as represented by English `silver', but this is awkward, and I gather that Agud and Tovar, in their etymological dictionary of Basque, reject it altogether, though I don't know why, since publication of the dictionary has not yet reached Z. Nor is it possible that <urre> could have anything to do with Latin <aurum>.

Exceptionally interesting is <burdina>. Since there is good evidence that the Celts introduced iron into the Basque Country, we might have expected Basque to borrow a Celtic name for the metal, but that didn't happen. The comparative evidence makes it pretty clear that the earliest form of the Basque word was *<burdina>, or just possibly *<burnina>, which seems less likely but cannot be ruled out. And it is not so easy to connect this with <urdin> `blue'.

First, such a source could not account for the final <-a> in the metal name. Second, it requires us to conclude that the word for `blue' has lost an initial /b-/ which it formerly had. This is not impossible, since initial /b-/ is indeed occasionally lost before /u/: compare <buztarri> ~ <uztarri> `yoke'. But it doesn't seem terribly appealing.

There are also problems with <urdin> itself. This might possibly be from <ur> `water' plus <-din> `resembling', which makes semantic sense, but the problem is that the combining form of <ur> in ancient formations is regularly <u->, not <ur->: note cases like <ubide> `ford' (<bide> `road, way'), <ubil> `whirlpool' (*<bil> `round'), <uhalde> `riverbank, river' (<alde> `side'), <uharte> `land between rivers' (<arte> `between'). (Western <ugalde>, <ugarte> are more recent, post-dating the loss of /h/ in the west.) Hence we would have expected *<udin>, not <urdin>. Moreover, the sense of `blue' is modern. Earlier, <urdin> covered the entire territory of English `green, blue, gray', just like the more famous Welsh <glas>. Note formations like <gibelurdin>, the name of a mushroom with a bright green underside, and <mutxurdin> `old maid', in which <urdin> clearly refers to gray.

I don't know what to make of all this, though I think `gray metal' is pretty neat on the semantic side, even though the phonology is pretty awful.

Larry Trask
University of Sussex
Brighton BN1 9QH


This page is part of Buber's Basque Page and is maintained by Blas Uberuaga.
Please report any problems or suggestions to Blas.
Eskerrik asko!