The Baskeet language has – up until now – not been referred to as Baskeet in linguistic, anthropological or historical books. Instead one can find a whole lot of other (albeit quite similar) names in the literature. This is what I have found so far:
BSKT-variants: Basketo, Basketto, Basketa, Basketta, Baskatta, Baskatto, Besketo …
MSKT-variants: Mesketo, Mesketto, Masketo, Misketto …
The consonants of these variants are surprisingly similar while the vowels are represented in umpteen different ways. I had a hard time trying to determine where each of these variants ultimately came from and my quick [sic] search through the literature that I had planned for this post developed almost into a small research project. For hours I was absorbed in the books of early travellers and pioneering linguists in South Ethiopia in the 19th and early 20th century.
Here is what I was able to find out:
Variant 1: Basketo
The term Basketo is by far the most common variant in the scientific literature (see e.g. here and here and here and here and here and here) and elsewhere. It is the name of reference in the Encyclopedia Aethiopica (see picture of the index below) and in Ethnologue. The spelling variant Basketo seems to occur first in Enrico Cerulli’s Studi etiopici (1938).
In Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia, the Baskeet people and their language are also called Basketo, which is written ባስኬቶ in the Ethiopian script (see e.g. the Amharic Wikipedia entry Basketo and the first word on the sign below). Basketo is thus the most common term used in Ethiopia outside the Baskeet area.
Furthermore, the administrative unit in which most Baskeet people live and of which Laska is the capital is the Basketo Special Woreda (ባስኬቶ ልዩ ወረዳ). (Note: When I use Basketo – rather than Baskeet – in this blog, it is to refer to this administrative unit.)
The origin of the final vowel o in Basketo is not yet clear to me. But I can think of two possible reasons why this o-element became an integral part of the name that outsiders use for Baskeet. (i) Basketo could be the name for the Baskeet people in (a) neighbouring language(s), e.g. Gofa, which was taken over in Amharic. (ii) The final o could have resulted from a misinterpretation of phrases such as the following, in which a morpheme –o (meaning: ‘which is from/at/in’) is attached to the noun Baskeet:
Baskeet-o naaraa woydaa? [Recording 4]
Baskeet-LOC.MOD boy.DEF where.Q
‘Where is the boy (who is / has come) from Baskeet?’
It is possible that non-Baskeet speakers understood the –o element, which occurs only in a restricted grammatical context, as being an inseparable part of the name Baskeet. – I must admit, I consider hypothesis (i) much more plausible.
Variant 2: Basketto
The double tt-variant Basketto is also quite frequent. If it is not the spelling of choice in a publication, it is at least given as a variant. The earliest source in which Basketto occurred is, to the best of my knowledge, Eike Haberland’s anthropological article from 1959 (‘Basketto und verwandte Stämme’). The double tt-variant is also found in some linguistic publications and manuscripts of the 1980s and 1990s (e.g. in this MA thesis and this book). Possibly from these sources, or from a common transliteration error of the Ethiopian script (see e.g. here), the variant found its way into the WWW, see e.g. here and here and here.
As double tt-variants such as Basketto (see also variant 4 below) are quite widespread, I should emphasise that the consonant t is definitely not pronounced long (i.e. geminate).
Variant 3: Basketa
The earliest mention of Baskeet is, to the best of my knowledge, in the book Géographie de l’Éthiopie, ce que j’ai entendu, faisant suite à ce que j’ai vu (published 1890) of the French-Basque academic and explorer Antoine T. d’Abbadie. The book is an account of his travels with his brother Arnauld-Michel d’Abbadie through Ethiopia in the 1840s. On p. 118 we find the following section, in which Basketa occurs in a list of seven sub-kingdoms that allegedly constituted the kingdom of “Dokko”:
Variant 4: Basketta
Another early source in which the Baskeet people are mentioned is the book Éthiopie méridionale: Journal de mon voyage aux pays Amhara, Oromo et Sidama, septembre 1885 à novembre 1888 by Jules Borelli, a French traveller and explorer of the Omo River. The following quote is taken from p. 437 of his book:
Here Basketta occurs in a list of eight “small kingdoms” that form part of “Doko”. (More on the meaning of “Doko” in a later post.)
As the spelling Basketta (for Baskeet) shows, Borelli seems to signal vowel length indirectly by doubling the consonant that follows a long vowel, i.e. he uses ett for [e:t]. The same convention is applied in the case of the Arra (= Aari) mountains (see quote above), where arr stands for [a:r]. The origin of the final a in Basketta is still to be investigated.
Variant 5: Baskatta
The term Baskatta is mentioned here and on all websites that have simply copied from there, e.g. here and here. However, I am quite sure that there is no original source using the term Baskatta. Instead Baskatta seems to be a copying error from Jules Borelli’s Basketta (variant 4), which is not listed anywhere as a variant, while the spelling Baskatta cropped up in every list of alternative names (e.g. here).
Variant 6: Baskatto
The variant Baskatto occurs only as a variant name in the Encyclopaedia Aethiopica (see screenshot of the index above) but not in any original source about the Baskeet language or people. It is possibly also a copy & paste-error from Jules Borelli’s book.
Variant 7: Besketo
The spelling variant Besketo, which is found on some travelling websites, originates most likely from a spelling error in this tourist guide.
And what about basket?
Can you think of any other spelling variants for such a short language name? It hard to believe but one perfectly possible BSKT-variant has not yet been used: basket. Which is great, because then I can continue using this English term without creating confusion in this blog. I will use it to refer to woven containers! Which brings us, gottseidank, away from this dry philological argumentation (sorry for that!) to a much more entertaining subject: Baskeet material culture. But more about this in one of my next posts …