the Wheel and Dating PIE

Eduard Selleslagh edsel at
Mon Dec 20 15:20:37 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

After my first response on Dec. 18, 1999, I have been thinking about the PIE
root *kwekwlo- (and *rotH-) in a wider context, in particular about its
possible presence in Basque.  It is almost certain that the Basques, who had
been living in virtual isolation throughout the last Ice Age, learned about the
wheel from IE peoples or their otherwise spreading culture, since the terrain
of the Pyrenean peoples offered little incentive for inventing the wheel, as
opposed to steppe peoples who had to travel long distances over essentially
flat terrain.

In Basque, there is a root *bil that has a meaning of 'round'. It appears in
compounds like 'ibili' ('walk', originally: 'go around') and 'biribil' (a
reduplicated form meaning 'round').  This could be a phonological adaptation of
a derivation of *kwekwlo-, especially its Germanic forms (cf. Eng. wheel, Du.
wiel), or -just maybe- one of its oldest Celtic forms (But: mod. Welsh: 'olwyn'
= wheel, apparently with metathesis), because Basque doesn't have /w/, and the
closest Basque phoneme is /b/ (a tendency that is still alive in Castilian:
Washington = Bassinton, at times even on TV! And a WC is often called 'un

The Basque word 'ibili' needs some further explanation. It is obviously a
compound, but of what?

My hypothesis is as follows: *i-b(i)-bil-i, with haplology.  The initial and
final i's are common features of Basque verbs. -b(i)- would be a root that
means 'walk, run' (cf. IE wad-), and -bil- '(a)round', of course.

The hypothetical root *b(i) is the subject of a long running historical
controversy. It is supposedly found in words like:

bide ('way, road'), probably a compound of *bi- and the common suffix (of
'extent') -te, meaning something like 'the physical area where one walks'.

ibi, more commonly ubi ('ford, a place where one can wade through the water'),
according to e.g. Michelena, u-bide ('water-way': u-, uh- or ug- is the form of
ur, 'water', in compounds), and to Bertoldi, a compound of ibi-bide, with
haplology. The existence of a root *(i)b(i) has been posited since Hubschmidt,
because of its wide diffusion, not only in the Basque areas, but also, and
mainly in the Iberian zones. Both explanations are not necessarily
contradictory: u-ibi-bide > ubi or ibi.  A related problem is that of the
Basque word for 'bridge': zubi, a compound of zur ('wood, wooden', possibly a
remote relative of a.Grk. xylon) and ubi or bide, thus meaning either 'wooden
road' or 'wooden ford'.

ibai ('river') and ibar ('river valley bottom, Sp. vega, Du. waard, polder'),
but this is very controversial. It would be explained via 'running [water]'.
Ibai is often thought of as the origin of Sp. vega (via ibai-ka), while ibar is
usually related to Iberia, the Iberians and the river Ebro, etc.

Finally, I would not exclude the possibility of *(i)b(i) being related to IE
wad- (ua-dh-) (Eng. wade, Du. waden, Lat. vade:re), especially via the forms
ibai and/or ibar, if the initial i is a prefix, as has often been thought.

All this is, of course, rather speculative, even though based upon a body of
pretty well accepted ideas. Anyway, it looks like the hard core of very ancient
and definitely Basque words is still shrinking after words like (h)artz (bear,
Gr.arktos), gizon (man, PIE*ghdonios) and maybe buru (head, Sl. golova) etc.
have been exposed as of IE origin - or was it simply a very ancient common
substrate origin?

If you don't believe Basque has any relatives, not even extinct ones, forget
what I said. If you do, I hope it will stimulate you to look into this type of
problems. Something interesting might come out of it, both for Basque and for

Kind regards,
Ed. Selleslagh

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