Iberian Peninsula languages

The Iberian Peninsula of antiquity, not to be confused with classical Iberia in the Caucasus, was a swarm of ancient languages. At least four language families were represented in the years during and before the Roman Empire: Semitic, Basque, Iberian, and Indo-European. When writing was introduced to the peninsula, first by the Greeks and Phoenicians and later by the Romans, we see that the Celts had already made enormous headway into the land. After the Roman expansion beginning in 218 BCE, Latin would replace all but Basque.

  1. Indo-Europeans. The Celtic tribes that we know of were the Celtiberi (who spoke Celtiberian), the Gallaeci (speaking Gallaecian), and possibly the Lusitani (speaking Lusitanian, though this language's position as Celtic is currently disputed, as it may be non-Celtic but still Indo-European). Seaports introduced an ancient form of Greek, though this was language was probably more of a lingua franca and not in a position to replace other tongues. By 300 BCE, the Celts already inhabited most of the Peninsula.
  2. SemiticThe Phoenicians established trading outposts along the western and southern coastline. The language of commerce was Punic.
  3. Iberian. The Iberian people were evidently in close contact with the Basque for many years; probably centuries, and perhaps even longer. Iberian is a language isolate but its reconstructed phonology nearly mirrors Basque and both tongues share large sums of loanwords, a cladism resulting from a prolonged and deep relationship. 
  4. Basque. The Basque are the sole survivors of the Roman conquest. While the Basque today live along the northern sea, the land they historically inhabited was probably more central to Iberia. There is no native naval lexicon in the language, which tells us they did not live by the ocean, and ancient Basque toponyms in the south, such as Val d'Aran, affirm a Central Peninsular homeland.

Aside from these four, we also have a number of Pre-Roman lexemes that cannot be retraced to Indo-European tongues. A large number of these are hydronyms but several others have northern connections (*kar(r)-, *silaPur-, etc...) which point to popular Wanderwort of the ancient word. The largest portion of unknown susbtrata hint at Basque/Iberian in the phonologies and morphologies, this is probably not a coincidence. 

As a final note, Eduardo Blasco-Ferrer has argued that Paleo-Sardinian is a sister to Basque, and the two form a Vasconic family rooted in Iberia. This position has not received widespread support and his profferings will not be covered here. 

*al- "to flow" Old European Hydronomy. Villar & Prosper 2005.

*alant-, hydronym. Old European Hydronomy. See *alant-.

*alant-, hydronym. Old European Hydronomy. Villar & Prosper 2005; Curchin 2008.

Alanto, town.

Alantune, toponym.

Alantedoba, goddess.

alcarria, "high barren land." Spanish. Suspected to be of Iberian origin. Roberts 2014.

apitascudis, "gold dust". Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Appears in Pliny the Elder's Historia naturalis as an Iberian Latin mining term. Dworkin 2012.

ARGA- Root to two Iberian loanwords in Spanish, with unknown suffixes. Roberts 2014.

argaña, "wheat/grain beard."

árgoma, "furze." 

arna, "beehive". Spanish. Roberts points to Iberian as source. Roberts 2014.

*-asyo- Name-forming suffix. Unknown; [Old European Hydronomy?]. Curchin 2008.

Turasia, a lake. See also *tur-.

Makasia, personal name. On Botorrita Bronze I.

Kamasio, personal name. Villar & Prosper 2005.

*(a)ur-, "water." Old European Hydronomy. [From Latin aur-um "gold"? See *(h)arus. See also UR.] Villar 2000.

*urc-, a hydronym. See corresponding entry here in the Dictionary.

*balsa, "brambles," "pool." Iberian? Roberts 2014.

balsa, "pool." Spanish.

balsa, "raft." Spanish. Roberts speculates original sense of brambles, the source material for local period rafts.

balsa, English. [I very much doubt this word is related to the others but I include it only because Roberts did so.] 

[*bartsal, "place where brambles grow". Logical pre-form to the following two reflexes which were listed (but unreconstructed) by Roberts.]

barsa, "place where brambles grow". Catalan.

barzal, "place where bramables grow". Spanish


barceo, "mat weed." Spanish. Roberts links this to Iberian. Roberts 2014.

bruja, "witch". Spanish. Possibly from a Celtic source and possibly related to Old Irish Brigit "bright one." Roberts 2014.

(K)ARRUG, ["brook"?, "a shaft for conduit"?] Unknown meaning. Appears in early Roman Iberian mining vocabulary as well as arroyo, which leads one to believe the meaning centers around the ability to carry water. Relationship to *(h)arus is unclear but possible. See *-ruk for further research on the second element. Dworkin 2012; Roberts 2014.

arrugia, "shaft and pit in a gold mine." Iberian Latin. Recorded in Pliny the Elder's Historia naturalis as a mining term. Roberts notes this word must have had masc. variant *arrugium in Vulgar Latin which gives us Modern Spanish arroyo.

arroyo / arroio, "brook," "stream." Spanish & Portuguese. [As arrugia would become **arroya in Spanish/Portuguese], Dworkin points to carrugus as evidence that the word had no established gender. [A gender in flux implies that the origin was genderless and possibly had an incompatible phonology.]

carrugus, "canal," "water conduit in a mine." Iberian Latin.

cuérrago, "riverbed". Spanish.

*(h)arus, original name of a river. Old European Hydronomy? Alternative explanation is that this is a corruption of Latin aurum "gold," as the Greek name for guadiaru was "the gold river." [I would have ignored this squib if it were not for the interesting similarity to *(a)ur-]. Correa 2013.

Guadiaru, a river. From Arabic wadi yaru "the river Yaru." Likely Yaru is from Gothic *aro, a Germanicization of Latin *ar-us [vulgar corruption of aurum? Neuter Latin suffix -um > -o anyway, so why ask for masculine gender?].

cama, "bed". Spanish and Portuguese. Replaced lecho ( < Latin lectus). Dworkin 2012.

CAL/R Relating to animal shells. [*karappa- + *-ko/-to ?] Roberts 2014.

*calappacu "tortoise". 

galápago "tortoise". Spanish.

carapacho "carapace", "crustacean shell". Spanish.

carba "oak tree". Old Spanish. Roberts 2014.

carcoma, "woodworm". Spanish. Roberts 2014.

cazurro, (adj.) "reticent", (m./f. n.) "crafty person". Spanish. Roberts 2014.

cuniculus, "rabbit". Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Dworkin (2012) believes this spread throughout Europe due to Roman soldiers returning to their homes from Iberian posts. It exists in Italic, Germanic, and Celtic tongues. Dworkin 2012; Roberts 2014.

CHURR- Root to two Spanish words. Robets 2014.

churre, "grease," "fat." Spanish.

churro, "dirty," "inhabitant of Murcia/La Mancha." Spanish.

gangadia, "hardened mixed soil and clay". Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. [A reduplicated *gã- ( > *gã-gã-d-) is possible]. Dworkin 2012.

gándara, "low wasteland," "wilderness". Spanish. [Semantically opaque; reduction via syncopation + suffix -(a)ra?].

gusano, "worm". Spanish. Replaced vierme ( < Latin vermis). Dworkin 2012.

*iber- Unknown meaning. Iberian(?). Curchin 2008.

[Ebro, a valley.]

(H)iberus, a river. The h-initial is a Romanism and can be disregarded.

Iberia, a demonym.

idu- Unknown meaning. Unknown. Curchin 2008.

Idubeda, a mountain. Second part -bed(a)- has been hypothesized to be Celtic. 

*-issa-, location suffix of unknown meaning. Unknown. Occurs in Mediterranean words and doubtfully connected to Celtic. Curchin 2008.


Iturissa, a toponym. Basque. Basque itur "town" with unknown suffix.



Stissum (?). First element is probably IE *stei- "stone."

Iologum, a town. Unknown. Of unknown etymology. Curchin (2008) links it to Mount Iolon in Thessaly. 

*kar(r)- "stone," Western European Wanderwort. A generally accepted paleo-IE root. Curchin 2008; Trask 2008; Kroonen 2014.

Cara(e), a town.

Caraca, a town. Modern Carpentani.

Careni, a demonym.

Carietes, a demonym.

Caristi, a demonym.

Caronium, a town. Modern Galicia.

(h)arri, "stone." Basque.

*kark-ú- "pile of stones forming a sacrificial mound." Pre-Proto-Germanic. See entry in Pre-Proto-Germanic. 

*kar-w- "stone." See entry *kar-w-.

*kar-w- "stone." Curchin 2008.

Caravantis, a town in Illyria.

Carvanca, mountains between Noricum and Pannonia.

Karauez, a town. Romanized spelling Caravis.

magüeto, "young steer". Spanish. Roberts 2014.

mannus, "mule", "sterile". Iberian Latin. Roberts 2014.

manteca, "lard". Spanish. Roberts 2014.

maraña, "thicket", "kermes oak". Roberts 2014.


orosiz, "edge," "boundary." Iberian? Curchin (2008) regards similarities to Greek oros "mountain" as coincidental.

Orospeda, a mountain range. Iberian? Second element ped/bed is Iberian. Curchin 2008.

palagae, "gold ingots". Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Dworkin 2012.

PACH? Iberian root indicating sluggishness. Roberts 2014.

pachón, "sluggish person". Spanish.

pachorra, "sluggishness". Spanish.

pachucho, "overripe". Spanish.

*parra, "grapevine". Iberian? Roberts 2014.

parrella, "barilla". Spanish.

perro, "dog". Spanish. One of the classic unknowns of the Spanish language. Replaced earlier can. Pharies 2007; Dworkin 2012.

*ribiccu "climber". [I have no clue what the line of argument is in this entry.] Roberts 2014.

*(i)bicirru "climber". Via metathesis.

becerra "calf". Spanish.

ibex "chamois". Latin.

camox "chamois". Late Latin.

rebeco, "chamois". Spanish.

*-ruk, Unknown. Appears as the second element in a number of words (see (K)ARRUG for some examples not listed here). Roberts 2014.

*sal- Hydronym. Old European Hydronomy. Extra-european cognates with the rivers Salia, Salo, and Sala. Curchin 2008.

Salo, a river. 

SAR Botanical etymon. Roberts 2014.

sarda, "thicket". Spanish. 

zarza, "bramble", "blackberry bush". Spanish. [Also used in compounds indicating wild plants, e.g. zarzarrosa "wild rose".]

sharas, "thorny plant". Arabic. 

sarna, "mange", "itch". Late Latin. Roberts 2014.

*Segia, a town. Pre-Roman. Possibly Celtiberian (Untermann 1975) but this is now in doubt. Cortes-Valenciano 2012.

Seglam/Sekia/Setia/Siya, a town.

Ejea, modern Spanish name of the town Ejea de los cabelleros. Route *segia > ejea is bizarre but likely. 

segutillum, "soil that indicates the presence of gold." Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Recorded in Pliny the Elder's Historia naturalis as an Iberian Latin mining term. [Obvious antonym to talut(at)ium]. Dworkin 2012.

striges, "small gold clump". Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Dworkin 2012.

talut(at)ium, "soil falsely indicating gold." [Obvious antonym to segutillum]. Dworkin 2012.

TAU? Esparto. No reconstruction given. Roberts 2014.

tVVt-? Unreconstructed preform.

atacho "esparto grass". Spanish.

retozo "frolic". Spanish.

*teutia id. 

taucha Mozarabic.

TO/ASK? "white clay" Pre-Roman; Basque? Much studied but a total mess of contradictions. Basque linguists are convinced it comes from a Romance language (Trask 2008); Romance linguists are convinced it comes from Basque (Dworkin 2012). A link to Latin tuscus "Etruscan" is semantically unclear and phonologically difficult and should be jettisoned. Most likely this comes from an substratum language.

tasconium, "white, clay-like soil". Iberian Latin. Recorded in Pliny the Edler's Historia naturalis as a local Latin word.

toska, "white clay". Basque.

tosco/a, "porous limestone". Old Spanish. 

thieldones, type of Spanish horse. Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Dworkin 2012.

*tur- / *ter- Unknown meaning. Unknown; [Old European Hydronomy?]. Traditionally regarded as Iberian but questionable. Curchin 2008.

Nemanturista, a town. Probably Indo-European and not a substratum.

Turasia, a lake. With suffix *-asyo-.

Turia, rivers in the south and north of Spain.

*urc- Old European Hydronym. Derived from *(a)ur-. Villar 2000.

Orcelis, a river.

Orcia, a deity.

Orcia, a town. Most believe this to be Celtic, however. Curchin 2008.

Orcia, rivers in Greece and Dacia.

Orcius, personal name

UR, "water". Basque? [Possibly linked to *(a)ur-]. Dworkin 2012.

ur, "water". Basque.

urium, "mud carried by water". Pre-Roman; Iberian Latin. Dworkin 2012.


Correa, Jose A. "El hidronimo Guadiaro: Nota a Avieno". Palaeohispanica. Vol. 13. 2013.

Cortes-Valenciano, Marcelino. "De sekia a Ejea: la evolucion linguistica de un toponimo controvertido. Palaeohispanica. Vol. 11. 2012.

Clements, J. Clancy. The Linguistic Legacy of Spanish and Portuguese: Colonial Expansion and Language Change. Cambridge University Press. 2009.

Curchin, Leonard A. "Place-Names of the Ebro Valley: Their Linguistic Origins". Palaeohispanica. Vol. 8. 2008.

Dworkin, Stephen N. A History of the Spanish Language: A Linguistic Perspective. Oxford University Press. 2012.

Kroonen, Guus. Etymological Dictionary of Proto-Germanic. Ed. by Alexander Lubotsky. Brill, 2014. 'Brill Online'. 10 February 2014.

Pharies, David. Breve historia de la lengua espanola. University of Chicago Press. 2007.

Roberts, Edward A. Etymological Dictionary of the Spanish Language. XLIBRIS. 2014.

Trask, R. L. Etymological Dictionary of Basque. University of Sussex. 2008.

Villar, Francisco. Indoeuropeos y no indoeuropeos en la Hispania prerromana. Salamanca. 2000.

Villar, Francisco & Blanca M. Prosper. Vascos, celtas e indoeuropeos. Genes y lenguas. Salamanca 2005.