Basque 'sei'

Eduard Selleslagh edsel at
Sat Dec 18 11:39:20 UTC 1999

[ moderator re-formatted ]

-----Original Message-----
From: Larry Trask <larryt at>
Date: Saturday, December 18, 1999 7:48 AM

>Ed Selleslagh writes:

>> Iberian has two sibilants (and also rhotics) that might very well be the
>> same as the Basque ones, including the affricated varieties.

>Iberian certainly had two contrasting sibilants (at least), but the phonetic
>nature of the contrast is entirely unknown.  Aquitanian probably had at least
>four, and perhaps six, of the things, but the Roman orthography was defective,
>and the various sibilants were not written in any very consistent manner.

[Ed Selleslagh]

The nature of the contrast of the two Iberian sibilants is not entirely
unknown, as some toponyms have survived: e.g. Saitabi(a) > Xa'tiva, which
indicates that the S must have been rather closer to Basque (apical) s than z.
Some Iberian words are extremely similar to some Basque words (I know you don't
accept this to be anything but coincidence), and these similarities always
point to a systematic correspondance of the two Iberian sibilants and Basque s
and z.

>From toponyms and other words one can deduce that Aquitanian and Iberian also
had the corresponding affricates (ts and tz). In Iberian script these are
written exactly as the non-affricated ones. In other scripts and in Aquitanian
in Latin script orthography is pretty confusing, but often resembles later

I don't know where you found that Aquitanian may have had two additional

>> The Castilian s and z/c (theta) are the descendants of the old Basque-type
>> distinction, I believe.

>I don't follow.  Castilian /s/ simply continues Latin /s/, except that it is
>apical, whereas the Latin /s/, on the Basque evidence, was probably laminal.
>But the Castilian theta derives ultimately, in most cases, from Latin /k/
>before a front vowel; this is thought to have become some kind of affricate
>before developing into theta (or into /s/, according to region).


In derivations from Latin this true, but in all other cases it is not. I didn't
mean that the Castilian s/z distinction is descended directly from the Basque
apical/laminal opposition, as a parallel evolution in particular words, but
that its very existence is due to a pre-existing awareness of such a
phonological distinction (it did in Iberian), something most European languages
don't have (and ditto for the rhotics).

>> What about Arabic? It certainly has various sibilants.

>Yes, but it does not have an apical/laminal contrast, and I know of no
>evidence that Arabic phonology had any effect on Castilian phonology, still
>less on Basque phonology.


As far as Castilian is concerned, I am not so sure: does any one have any
references or information on that subject?

In Basque, it is rather the opposite: e.g. kuttun < kitab, i.e. Arabic words
were adapted to Basque phonology.


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