Pelasgian/was Etruscans

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal mcv at
Fri Apr 27 17:54:06 UTC 2001

On Wed, 25 Apr 2001 14:55:45 +0100, Larry Trask
<larryt at> wrote:

>--On Monday, April 23, 2001 5:51 am +0000 Douglas G Kilday
><acnasvers at> wrote:

>> The South European Wanderwort for 'lead' probably started as a Pelasgian
>> term. Like <daphne:>, Gk. <molubdos> has several variants suggesting
>> borrowing from different substratal dialects.

The variants are: molubdos, bolubdos, molibos, molibdos, bolimos,

>> The original phonology is
>> disputed. I would guess *ml.ub- vel sim. with vocalic [l.] which resolved
>> to /ol/ in Greek. In the Italian dialect of Pelasgian I hypothesize
>> reduction of [l.] giving *mlub-, borrowed into Latin as <plumbum>. Similar
>> prenasalized labials in substratal words occur in <sa(m)bu:cus>
>> 'elder-tree' (cf. Dacian <seba> id.) and <simpuvium> 'sacrificial vessel'
>> (cf. Gk. <sipue:> 'flour-bin, meal-jar'). For initial Lat. pl- borrowed
>> from ml- cf. <place:re> 'to be pleasing' from Etr. <mlach> 'smooth,
>> pretty, pleasing'. On its way west, *mlub- must have undergone metathesis
>> to *blum-, perhaps in Ligurian. Old Basque lacked [m] and disfavored
>> initial clusters, so this would have become *belun, yielding Basque
>> <berun> by well-attested intervocalic [l] > [r].

>Right.  Let's talk about the Basque word.

>The idea that Basque <berun> 'lead' is related to the Greek and Latin words
>has been around a long time.  But it is far from being the only proposal on
>the table.

>To begin with, looking for Latin etymologies on the Tiber, we need not
>appeal to a hypothetical Ligurian *<blum-> as a source.  If this sort of
>origin is considered acceptable, then Gascon <ploum>, or a related Romance
>form, will do as well -- and we *know* that Basque has borrowed lots of
>words from Gascon and from other Romance neighbors.  Nor should we worry
>about such a seemingly late borrowing.

Except, as you note below, that for a late borrowing we would expect a
result *burun (or *lun).

>The eastern dialects of Basque do
>not have <berun> at all, but only <plomu>.  And some central and western
>varieties have <plomo> alongside <berun>, or even in place of it.  Of
>these, <plomu> is recorded from 1571, and <plomo> from 1562 -- very early
>by Basque standards -- while <berun> is not recorded before about 1620,
>though its first attestation occurs in a proverb.  And, for 'tin', *all*
>varieties of Basque have only <eztainu> or a related form.  This is a
>borrowing from Romance, since Latin <stannum> would not have produced this

>Moreover, a wholly native origin for <berun> is not out of the question.
>First, note that the Bizkaian dialect in the west has <beraun>.  Now, the
>reduction of /au/ to /u/ in a closed syllable is a commonplace phenomenon
>in Basque, while the expansion of /u/ to /au/ is without parallel in any
>position.  Moreover, Bizkaian happens to be the one dialect which preserves
>vowel sequences better than any other.  Accordingly, Vasconists are
>inclined to see western <beraun> as conservative, and the more widespread
><berun> as secondary, and the late Luis Michelena, the greatest etymologist
>Basque has ever seen, espoused precisely this position.  But conservative
><beraun> does not appear to be helpful for the pan-European origin sketched

>Now, there are two proposals for a native origin.  One idea is that the word
>is a derivative of <bera> 'soft', with an unidentifiable second element -- and
>lead is, of course, a soft metal.  The other sees the word as built on *<bel>
>'dark', again with an unidentifiable second element -- and lead is also dark.

However, it is usually associated with the color blue (black = iron).

>The item *<bel> is nowhere recorded as an independent word, but
>its former existence is assured by its presence in a number of derivatives,
>both as an initial and as a final element.

>Now, the otherwise categorical medieval change of intervocalic */l/ to /r/
>did not occur in the easternmost dialect, and so a form from this dialect
>might help us to choose between earlier *<bel-> and earlier *<ber-> -- but,
>as I remarked above, <berun> is not attested in the east, so no joy.

>Nevertheless, many scholars have wanted to relate <berun> to the Greek and
>Latin words in some way, though the proposals differ substantially in
>detail.  Some people note that lead was known in the Near East much earlier
>than in Europe, and so they want to see a Near Eastern word diffusing
>westward across Europe together with the metal.  Others, however, observe
>that Spain was the principal source of European lead in classical and late
>pre-classical times, and so they want to see a word of Iberian origin as
>diffusing eastward.

In my view, the shape of the Greek words certainly suggest an Iberian
origin.  Ultimately, however, the words may have a (pre-)Celtic
origin.  Of the two Germanic words for "lead" *bli:wa- (Germ. <Blei>)
and *laud- (Eng. lead), the latter was borrowed from Celtic *loud- <
PIE *plou-d- "watery" [lead is also often associated with "water"],
while the former may represent PIE *bhle:wo- "blue(ish)" through
mediation of an unattested Celtic *bli:wo-.  The existence of
pre-Celtic dialects (i.e. IE dialects preserving *p-) on Iberian soil
is reasonably well-attested (they go under the name of "Lusitanian"),
so it's not unthinkable that the two words that are found in Germanic
were also both present near the sources of lead in the Iberian
Peninsula (in the shapes *bli:wo- and *ploudo-). Given the phontactics
of Iberian (roughly comparabale to Basque, i.e. no initial clusters,
near absence of /m/ and /p/, no diphthong /ou/), these words would in
the Iberian tongue have given something like *bilibo ~ *bolibo and
*bolomdo ~ *bolobdo, respectively, and would have tended to
contaminate each other and eventually merge (witness Greek molubdo-,
bolubdo-, bolibo-, molibo-, bolimo-).  Latin <plumbum> seems to derive
from a source closer to original pre-Celtic *ploudo-, but with some
amount of Iberian mediation to account for -mb- [*plombo- <

IMHO, Basque *belaun almost certainly derives from the same source
(or, rather, sources).  The main problems are accounting for the /e/
in the first syllable (which does not echo the vowel of the second
syllable), and the source of final -n (*b at laum[o], *b at lamb[o],
*b at labd[o], *b at laud[o] ?).

>These proposals are too numerous and too complicated to repeat here -- and
>they not infrequently involve even more far-flung words, such as German
><Blei> 'lead', Georgian <brp'eni> 'lead', Hebrew <bdi:l> 'lead', and a
>reported Berber <buldun> 'tin'.  But, as an example of the western-origin
>scenario, I might note that the Lusitanian town of Medubriga was so famous
>for its lead mines that Pliny called its inhabitants <plumbarii> -- 'the
>lead men'.  Some have seen the initial element <medu-> in this town name as
>representing the stem of a local word for 'lead', and they have proposed
>that Basque <berun> derives from the same source -- not unreasonably, since
>variation between /d/ and /r/ between vowels is commonplace in Basque.

Interestingly, but probably coincidentally, the Slavic word for copper
is <me^dI> (et. unk.).

[ moderator snip ]

Miguel Carrasquer Vidal
mcv at

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