Basque models for some syntactic traits

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Basque models for some syntactic traits
L I V (1977)
Basque models for some syntactic traits
of the Poema de mio Cid
Tulane University, New Orleans
Basque has a morphological and syntactic structure quite unlike those o f the I n d o European languages. T h i s fact is widely known, and is i m p l i e d by the c o m m o n observation that Basque is a difficult language. Yet anyone w h o undertakes the study o f b o t h
Spanish and Basque w i l l surely be surprised by the number of resemblances between the
two. These range from the acoustic impression produced by comparable vocalic and
consonantal systems, to similarities of idiomatic turns of phrase, to more i m p o r t a n t and
deeper structural parallels. M a n y can be traced to the heavy impact o f V u l g a r L a t i n and
Romance upon Basque over centuries of bilingualism, w h i c h have b r o u g h t about w o r d borrowings at various stages, and grammatical changes as well. Basque seems to have
adopted Romance uses o f the subjunctive, for instance. I t w o u l d be strange indeed i f
influences were not reciprocal. A substantial number o f Spanish words are traceable to
Basque, and a Basque substratum effect i n Castilian phonology is widely recognized.
Structural similarities are b o t h more interesting, because of their deeper implications for
the character o f the Spanish language, and more elusive. I n t e r a c t i o n w o u l d presumably
have been most intense d u r i n g the time w h e n Castilian was first emerging as a dialect on
the frontier o f Basquc-spcaking territory, b u t o f course neither language was recorded
d u r i n g that period. T h e first Basque text o f any consequence dates from 1545, several
centuries after the early development o f Castilian, and the language can be presumed to
have evolved considerably i n the i n t e r i m . T h e reluctance o f scholars to speculate on early
influences is therefore understandable. But the science o f historical linguistics has now
progressed to a point where some judgements can be formed w i t h confidence. Enough is
k n o w n about the structure and evolution o f language to rule out the possibility o f borr o w i n g from Spanish, or o f spontaneous new developments w i t h i n Basque, i n certain
kinds o f change. W e are thus i n a position to open up a promising field o f investigation,
though topics must be selected carefully.
Borrowings between languages are particularly significant when viewed i n historical
perspective. I have chosen to examine three traits w h i c h distinguish Spanish among the
Romance languages and are particularly prevalent i n the Poema de mio Cid. T h e y w i l l be
presented as reflections o f basic attributes o f the Basque verb, w h i c h cannot have been
innovations o f recent centuries.
The pleonastic object p r o n o u n i n Spanish has an analogue w h i c h at first may be
unexpected, since Basque lacks object pronouns. But the Basque verb must agree not only
w i t h its subject, b u t w i t h direct and indirect objects, i f they are present i n the sentence.*
Most verbs are conjugated w i t h the help o f an auxiliary, 'aux' i n the examples to follow.
The possible cases w i t h objects may be illustrated thus:
W i t h a direct object: ' I know A n t o n i o ' , Andoni ezagulzen del, as literally as possible
'Antonio knowing him-aux-F.
W i t h direct and indirect object: T give the key to A n t o n i o ' , Andoni'ri giltza ematen diot,
literally ' A n t o n i o - t o key-the g i v i n g t o - h i m - a u x - I ' .
W i t h an indirect object o n l y : 'Antonio's t u r n comes', Andoni'ri txanda eltzen zayo.
BHS, L I V (1977)
literally 'Antonio-to turn-the a r r i v i n g a u x - t o - h i m ' . Several recurrent elements i n the
auxiliary w i l l be observed. I n i t i a l d repeats the direct object, o the indirect, and final t
repeats, or agrees w i t h , the first-person subject or agent. As i n Spanish, the named object,
Andoni, m a y occupy either first or last place i n the sentence, b u t i n either case the verbform remains unchanged.
The literal translations contain object pronouns w h i c h produce unacceptable a w k w a r d ness and redundancy i n English, as they w o u l d i n L a t i n or French, b u t arc n o r m a l i n
Spanish: A Antonio le conozco, A Antonio le doy la Have or La Have se la doy a Antonio, A Antonio
le Uega el turno. Such characteristic sentences are possible i n Spanish because o f the availability o f clitic pronouns, non-existent i n L a t i n , and the m a r k i n g o f the object, Antonio,
as distinct from any subject, by the preposition a. T h e two devices resemble those o f Basque,
w h i c h distinguishes formally between transitive subject (agent) and object through use o f
an agentive ending {Andoni'k), and depends even more on the verb inflections to specify
relations among sentence elements. T h e language o f the Cid makes heavy use o f object
pronouns to achieve this purpose. M a n y have a degree o f possessive force as i n le Uega el
turno. T h e following passage contains seven such pronouns i n as m a n y lines, a n d a more
extensive quotation w o u l d reveal a ratio almost as h i g h :
Este colpe fecho
otro dio M u f i o Gustioz
(tras el escudo
falsso ge la guarnizon)
por medio de la bloca
(d)el escudo/ quebranto,
no/ pudo guarir,
falsso ge la guarnizon,
apart le priso,
que non cab el coragon;
metio/ por la carne adentro
la lan9a con el pendon,
de la otra p a r t
una braga gela echo (3678-84).^
As used here, the pronouns are necessary to the sense. Closer yet to the Basque examples
cited are the m a n y redundant direct and indirect object pronouns o f the poem—redundant,
at least, i n languages other than Spanish, because they refer to an expressed object: ' L a
oragion fecha,
la missa acabada la an' (366), 'tierras de Borriana
todas conquistas
las h a ' (1093), ' A M i n a y a .Ixv. cavalleros acregidol h a n ' (1419). I n m a n y other instances,
the indirect object follows the pronoun and verb, as m a y occur i n today's language:
' G r a n d yantar le fazen
al buen Campeador' (285). B u t this pattern is extended to the
direct object also, to produce a highly peculiar construction, resembling the Basque b u t
alien to b o t h L a t i n and m o d e r n Spanish, i n w h i c h the accusative p r o n o u n precedes its
referent. Menendez Pidal records many examples,' among them 'priso l o a l conde' (1012),
'hyo las caso a vuestras fijas' (2099), '^Q,uin los dio estos?' (874), ' N o n lo saben los moros
el a r d i m e n t que a n ' (549). This pattern, even more t h a n the others, must be a response
to strong and recent Basque influence; i t is unlikely to have appeared and disappeared
spontaneously, w i t h o u t some immediate cause.
The redundant and ethical object pronouns are the closest possible Romance approxim a t i o n to Basque usage, and are unlike a n y t h i n g i n L a t i n . I n the poem they are frequent,
and essential to the grammatical fabric o f the epic language. T h e y have a popular tone.
T o d a y they continue to be distinctively Castilian, though they have spread to most dialects
of the Peninsula. I n Portuguese they remained artificial, and i n Catalan they are rejected
as ' u n defecto . . . que hay que evitar',* the result o f widespread bilingualism. T h e i r Basque
origin w i l l appear even more probable i n the light o f the g r a m m a t i c a l t r a i t to be examined
As Menendez Pidal observed,^ the verb follows its object very frequently i n the Poema
— m u c h more frequently t h a n i n later texts. T y p i c a l cases, not i n assonance, are 'quinze
moros matava' (472), 'el agua nos a n vedada' (667), ' u n colpel d i o de lano' (3661).
B A S Q U E , M O D l i L 5 r O R SYM1 A U l l U m A l T Q
i n a r O E M A D E MIO CID
Analogously, the verb often follows its dependent m f i n i t i v e : 'bastir quiero dos archas' (85),
'fablar querria con amos' (104). I t has been assumed that this is an echo o f L a t i n w o r d
order, and that i t is often conditioned by the requirements of r h y m e . These explanations,
while not inaccurate, do not adequately account for the phenomenon. I t most c o m m o n l y
involves the use o f the object p r o n o u n : 'Pues que a fazer lo avemos' (2220), 'espesos los
h a n ' (3219, and 366, 1093, 1419, cited previously), i n a construction already noted as
non-existent i n L a t i n . I t is found w i t h the auxiliary aver, also alien to the parent language,
i n a significant number o f instances (ha, han w i t h the participle i n 16 cases, plus the occurrences w i t h other persons and tenses). A n d many verb-final sentences are strikingly
colloquial and n o n - L a t i n i n tone: ' U n a piel vermeja
morisca e onrada / Q i d , beso
vuestra mano
en d o n que la yo aya' (178-79), ' C o n el que toviere derecho
yo dessa
parte me so' (3142). As before, a look at Basque reveals close resemblances. Acabada la
han, translated, becomes bukatu dute, i n w h i c h dute is equivalent to la han; conquistas las ha
w o u l d be rendered menperatu dituzte, whose second element conveys las han. Some l i n guistic considerations w i l l b r i n g out the importance o f this matter.
Basque is essentially an S O V language; its n o r m a l w o r d order is subject-object-verb, i n
contrast to the m o d e r n European languages, including Spanish, w h i c h are p r e d o m i n a n t l y
S V O . T h e distinction is fundamental i n language typology. A n u m b e r o f allied patterns
are found i n a 'good' representative of the S O V type. Dependent clauses precede the
independent, comparisons follow the w o r d to w h i c h they are compared, postpositions
rather t h a n prepositions are used, auxiliaries follow the m a i n verb, etc. Basque has nearly
all the S O V patterns, enough to qualify as an excellent example o f its language-class.*
A n S O V language depends u p o n inflexions, rather t h a n w o r d order, to convey the
grammatical relations among words. I n Basque this is done p a r t l y t h r o u g h n o u n inflexion,
but the verb structure, as already outlined, carries m u c h o f the syntactic burden. T h e
original I n d o - E u r o p e a n language was predominantly S O V , b u t the evolution o f its
western descendants, i n c l u d i n g V u l g a r L a t i n , has been marked by a decay o f case-endings
accompanied by increasing dependence on the S V O pattern to distinguish n o u n functions.'
This well-known aspect o f the development o f the Romance languages finds a significant
exception i n O l d Spanish, and notably i n the language o f the Poema, w h i c h often m a i n tains the O V order, usually depending on the object p r o n o u n to specify relations among
sentence elements: ' a m i g o l sodes' (1528), ' q u i buena duefia escarnege . . ., atal le contesca'
(3706-07). This remarkable archaism requires a strong explanation w h i c h Basque can
provide. L o n g after the decay o f the L a t i n case system, w h i c h n o r m a l l y w o u l d be accompanied by the shift to the V O order, the epic language either retains or re-establishes the
O V sequence, i n w h a t cannot be a superficial or learned i m i t a t i o n o f L a t i n . T h e earliest
Spanish prose, that o f the glosses, also exhibits certain S O V traits, t h o u g h examples are
plentiful only for the placement of the a u x i l i a r y : qflatu fueret, kematu siegat, etc.* T h e
famous Basque glosses o f the Glosas Emilianenses inevitably come to m i n d .
R e t u r n i n g now to the matter of rhyme, we see the many assonating verb-forms as a
result more than as a cause o f accepted patterns. Most o f the instances already cited are
i n first hemistichs. I n a r h y m i n g phrase such as 'que vagar non se dan' (434), the inversion
is freely chosen, because the object, vagar, w o u l d supply the required assonance. T h e
rhymes o f the poem are achieved easily and are i n harmony w i t h the fabric o f expression.
We find little o f the self-conscious r h y m i n g that marks the cuaderna via, and no evidence
that an author has been forced to twist his w o r d order so as to adapt to the epic form.
T h e t h i r d trait to be examined is not directly related to the other t w o , b u t its t r u l y
popular nature w i l l also be clear. T h e Spanish propensity for absolute constructions was
long ago noted, w i t h some surprise, by M e y e r - L i i b k e . ' T h e y have been likened to the
L a t i n ablative absolute, though they sometimes occur i n informal speech: 'Las archas
aduchas, prendet seyes gientos marcos' (147). C o l i n S m i t h notes [Poema, x l v i i ) six more
BHS, L I V (1977)
temporal cases w i t h the past participle, two o f w h i c h have been cited here (3678, 366>
and 213, 320, 1308, 1703). T o d i e m we may add a m o d a l example: 'los bragos abiertos
regibe a M i n a y a ' (488). T h e gerund is also used i n constructions w h i c h w o u l d be rendered
i n a L a t i n translation by ablative absolutes: 'Ellos en esto estando' (2311), 'delant estando
y o ' (3482), 'la sangre destellando' (passim), ' p r i m e r o prendiendo e despues dando' (140),
and 403, 2032, etc.
T h e L a t i n ablative absolute is a broad and ill-defined category w h i c h has been analysed rather a r b i t r a r i l y according to the various ways i t can be translated.*" W h a t the
different sub-categories have i n common is their adverbial sense a n d ablative form. I n
Basque, w h i c h has no prepositions and makes only l i m i t e d use o f postpositions, a g^reat
m a n y adverbial expressions w h i c h a m o d e r n western Indo-European language m i g h t
form w i t h prepositions ('in order to', 'since', ' w h e n ' , 'because', etc.) are expressed b y
endings added to personal or impersonal verb-forms.** Several impersonal forms are used
very frequently, and like the conjugated verb, they end the phrase. T h e y thus resemble
the L a t i n a n d Spanish absolute i n form and function. T h e y are c o m m o n i n everyday
speech, and often parallel to the two types observed i n the Poema: Au amaituta, lasterka
nere lantokira joaten naiz 'this finished, h u r r i e d l y m y office-to going I-aux', or, more freely,
'after finishing this, I rush to m y office'; Andik itzulila, beste zeregin asko izaten ditut, ' T h e r e from returned, other d u t y m a n y h a v i n g t h e m - a u x - I ' , or ' U p o n r e t u r n i n g from there, I
have many other things to d o ' ; Leyotik begiratuaz, kalea ikusi diteke, ' W i n d o w - f r o m lookingadverb, street-the seen it-aux-can', or ' L o o k i n g out o f the w i n d o w , the street can be seen'.
T h e inflections -ta and -az correspond roughly to participial endings, and, as i n Spanish,
the participle m a y 'dangle' or lack explicit reference: ' M i r a n d o por la ventana, se puede
ver la calle'; 'Estas palabras dichas
la tienda es cogida' (212).
T h e presence i n the poem o f other expressions resembling the absolute constructions,
and evidently popular i n character, attests the idiomatic, n o n - L a t i n i z i n g nature o f the
examples cited. T h u s , the distinction is not clear between phrases containing a conjugated
verb and those where i t is omitted to produce the effect o f an absolute: 'esto era dicho,
pienssan de cavalgar' (1473) should, i n a rigorous grammar, either o m i t era or add the
copula e before pienssan. A contrary example: 'hyo sirviendovos sin a r t
e vos conssejastes
pora m i m u e r t ' (2676). A further instance o f granamatical indeterminacy, i n w h i c h the
suffix -dor is perhaps equated w i t h participial -ant, is 'espada tajador
sangriento trae el
brago' (780). A L a t i n i z i n g author m a y bungle, i t is true, b u t these fragments bear the
i m p r i n t o f p o p u l a r speech, and the examples most resembling L a t i n have their place
among an assortment o f adverbial modifiers whose exact g r a m m a t i c a l relationships are
left unspecified b y the language. T h e y belong to the linguistic system o f the poem. W h e n
observed together, their spontaneity and authenticity become evident. I t is only w h e n
they are considered by the inappropriate standards o f L a t i n or m o d e r n Spanish that they
seem to be deviant constructions or lapses.
I n summary, we have observed three grammatical peculiarities o f Spanish w h i c h are
especially frequent i n the Poema de mio Cid, the pleonastic or ethical object pronoun, the
placing o f the verb i n sentence-final position, and the absolute construction, a l l o f w h i c h
appear to reflect Basque influence. I n addition to their considerable linguistic interest
they attest the popular character o f the language o f the poem. T h e absolute constructions,
i n particular, have been regarded by some as Latinisms and indications o f learned composition. C o l i n S m i t h has argued ably a n d explicitly for learned patterns i n the poem,
seeing evidence o f contact w i t h L a t i n chronicles and legal language i n the expressions
virtos, 0 dizen, a ojo de, the identification o f knights b y reference to their property, the
admiratio phrasing ('veriedes . . . ' ) , Biblical expressions, a n d the 'ablative' absolute.*^ H i s
argument on n a m i n g o f knights has been disputed,*' and the admiratio is a familiar device
o f the folktale, k n o w n also i n the French epic a n d Slavic narrative song.** For a w o r k
B A S Q U E M O D E L S F O R S Y I S T A U l l U T R A l Its o r m i i r O D M A trT, M I O C I D
deeply i m b u e d w i t h Christian ideals, the poem does not exhibit an impressive n u m b e r o f
Biblical expressions. T h e absolute, w h i c h m i g h t have provided S m i t h w i t h one o f his
strongest arguments, is at best o f doubtful L a t i n i t y . T h o u g h the poem does indeed contain
learned elements o f various kinds, its i d i o m is remarkably homogeneous and popular. I t
w o u l d have been easy enough for a recaster w h o knew that i d i o m w e l l to make additions
or changes. But any textual or stylistic study o f the poem must begin w i t h the recognition
o f its linguistic authenticity, w h i c h has roots, like the epic form itself, i n centuries o f oral
formulation. Where learned hands have modified the poem, or the p o p u l a r m e m o r y o f
the C i d w h i c h i t embodies, they have done so w i t h a respect and a restraint w h i c h were
rare among mediaeval writers, and bespeak deep familiarity w i t h accepted t r a d i t i o n .
1 F o r the sake of simplicity, I omit the 'allocutive' agreement of f a m i l i a r discourse from consideration.
A good source of information on B a s q u e g r a m m a r is R e n ^ L a f o n , 'Basque', in T h o m a s A . Sebeok, e d . Current
Trends in Linguistics^ IX: Linguistics in Western Europe ( T h e H a g u e - P a r i s 1972), 1 7 4 4 - 9 2 . T h e verbs a r c treated
p a r t i c u l a r l y at p p . 1762-80, the allocutive at p. 1769. L a f o n ' s discussion is based on F r e n c h B a s q u e dialects.
M y citations are from the G u i p u z c o a n dialect as spoken i n S a n S e b a s t i a n ; though forms differ, the pertinent
facts are the same.
2 C i t a t i o n s follow C o l i n S m i t h , ed. Poema de mio Cid ( O x f o r d 1972).
3 R . M e n e n d e z P i d a l , ed. Cantar de Mio Cid, 3* ed., I ( M a d r i d 1954i, 323.
4 A n t o n i o M . B a d i a M a r g a r i t , Gramdlica calalana ( M a d r i d 1962), I , 210.
5 Cantar, I , 400, w i t h m a n y examples on 4 0 0 - 0 2 .
6 W i n f r e d P . L e h m a n n , ' C o n t e m p o r a r y linguistics a n d I n d o - E u r o p e a n studies', PMLA,
(1972), 9 7 6 - 9 3 , discusses eight characteristics of the S O V language. B a s q u e conforms to a l l except i n the
position of the descriptive adjective. N o t e that the B a s q u e order of clauses is occasionally found i n the Poema,
e.g., 'que nos queramos ir de noche no nos lo consintran' (668). R u d o l f P . G . de R i j k , ' I s B a s q u e a n S . O . V .
l a n g u a g e ? ' , Fontes Linguae Vasconum, I (1969), 3 1 9 - 5 1 , studies five S O V traits of the language, of w h i c h only
one, the use of postpositions, is used also by L e h m a n n , a n d finds that they do not p r o v i d e conclusive evidence
for ordering i n the deep structure.
7 T h e o V e n n e m a n n , ' A n e x p l a n a t i o n of drift', in C h a r l e s N . L i , ed. Word Order and Word Order Change
(Austin a n d L o n d o n 1975), 2 6 9 - 3 0 5 , at 289.
8 See R . M e n e n d e z P i d a l , Origenes del espaiiol, 3^ ed. ( M a d r i d 1950), 3 7 9 - 8 1 .
9 W . M e y e r - L u b k e , Grammaire des langues romanes, I I I , tr. A . et G . D o u t r e p o n t ( P a r i s 1900), 474.
10 Cf. H e r b e r t C h e s t e r N u t t i n g , The Ablative Absolute and the Stenographic Ablative (Berkeley 1930).
11 T h e versatility of the S p a n i s h infinitive, w h i c h c a n take the article, form p l u r a l s , a n d replace clauses,
p r o b a b l y reflects B a s q u e influence; el hacerlo, andaresy decires, hasta llegar, por no haberselo pedido nosotros, etc.
12 C . C . S m i t h , ' L a t i n histories a n d v e r n a c u l a r epic i n twelfth-century S p a i n : similarities of spirit a n d
style", BHS, X L V I I I ( 1 9 7 1 ) , 1-19.
13 Peter N . D u n n , 'Poema de mio Cid, vv. 2 3 - 4 8 : epic rhetoric, legal formula, a n d the question of dating',
R, X C V I (1975), 2 5 5 - 6 4 , especially 263.
14 A l b e r t B . L o r d , The Singer of Tales ( C a m b r i d g e , M a s s . 1960), 22.
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