The verb root *bʰer- has several paradoxical properties. On the one hand, it’s one of the most securely attested Indo-European roots, documented in Tocharian, Armenian, Greek, Phrygian, Albanian, Indo-Iranian, Balto-Slavic, Germanic, Italic and Celtic. On the other hand, it’s conspicuous by its apparent absence from Anatolian, which means that despite its ubiquity in the rest of the family its Proto-Indo-European status is insecure (but see below on possible Anatolian reflexes). The present stem *bʰér-e/o- is a widespread “simple thematic present”, so familiar as a handbook example that the whole class is often referred to as the *bʰéreti-type. Still, several languages (Latin, Greek, Vedic) show traces of an alternative athematic stem without the *-e/o- suffix – probably a so-called “Narten present” with an underlying long vowel: *bʰḗr-ti, *bʰér-n̥ti). Despite being so common, and despite having such a basic meaning as ‘carry, bear’, the verb lacks some conjugational forms in some Indo-European languages, so that *bʰér- has to team up with other roots to form a complete paradigm. In Latin, for example, the present (ferō), the imperfect (ferēbam) and the infinitive (ferre) are derived from *bʰer-, but the perfect tense (tetulī or tulī) and the perfect passive participle (lātus < *tlātos) are provided by the root *telh₂- ‘lift, raise, support the weight of’. In Greek, we again have reflexes of *bʰer- in the present and the imperfect, while most other forms come from *h₁neḱ- ‘take, acquire’ (and the suppletive future oísō does not even have an established etymology). In Slavic, imperfective *bьrati, 1sg. *berǫ ‘take’ is paired with perfective *ęti, *(j)ьmǫ, from PIE *h₁em- (Lat. emō).
Always collecting stuff...
Photo: Jacek Zięba, CC BY-SA 3.0
Source: EKO KALENDARZ
The oldest reconstructible present, *bʰḗr-/*bʰér- probably meant ‘carry’ in a “telic” sense (as an action with an endpoint: ‘bring or remove by carrying’). The verb gave rise to a root agent noun, *bʰṓr ‘one who takes away’ → ‘thief’ (Latin fūr, Greek pʰṓr). The widespread simple thematic *bʰér-e/o-, which probably originated as the “mediopassive” voice of the original present (with self-benefactive or passive senses), basically inherited its semantics but emphasised the durative shade of the verb and its imperfective character (hence the need to employ some other root to express the perfective and stative aspects).
Vedic alone documents a clear contrast between telic *bʰér(-e/o)- (bhárati, also Rigvedic bhárti) and atelic (iterative, habitual) *bʰi-bʰ(é)r- (bíbharti, Rigvedic bibhárti, 3pl. bíbhrati), but given the fact that CV-reduplicated presents are generally a recessive class of stems in Indo-European, reducing rather than enlarging its membership in the historically known languages, we are probably dealing with an archaism rather than a local innovation. In other words, the distinction between *bʰḗr-/*bʰér- and a reduplicated present (indicating, respectively, events with an endpoint and without one) may be at least as old as the Core Indo-European subfamily. It might even be Proto-Indo-European in the strict sense, assuming that the absence of the root *bʰer- from Anatolian is accidental and due to its having been ousted by (near-)synonyms such as Hittite arnuzi ‘brings, sends, delivers’ or pē-dai ‘carries’.
|... and piling it up.|
The notion of collecting, gathering or bringing together often accompanies the use of *bʰer-. Greek pʰóros (from *bʰór-o-) means ‘earnings, tribute’, and one of the meanings of pʰorā́ (*bʰor-áh₂) is ‘crop’. The abstract noun *bʰr̥-tí- (Ved. bhṛtí- ‘carrying, bringing, support, maintenance’) acquires a concrete meaning in Armenian bard ‘pile, sheaf (of corn)’. Assuming hypothetically that the reduplicated iterative present could form a noun like Hitt. mēmal ‘groats’ (the product of grinding), we might expect *bʰé-bʰr̥ (of perhaps collective *bʰé-bʰōr) ‘the effect of continual collecting, a growing pile’. Like, say, a beaver’s construction – a dam or a lodge. The builder or inhabitant of a *bʰébʰ(o)r- would have been a *bʰébʰros (or possibly *bʰibʰrós, or both; the accent in nominals of this type is hard to predict), and an appropriate epithet referring to the same animal’s prominent behaviour – the assiduous collection and transport of building materials to repair, strengthen and enlarge its constructions – would have been *bʰibʰrús (or *bʰebʰrús) ‘one that’s always gathering stuff’ (timber, twigs, mud, etc.). I think the reduplication makes more sense with the root *bʰer- than with any other similar verb that might refer to something that beavers habitually do. The ability to cut down trees, for example, could be expressed by forming a simple agent noun; iterativity would not need to be emphasised. The male beaver’s legendary defensive stratagem – biting off its testicles and throwing them before hunters – would of course be a one-time trick; and “being brown” is not even eventive, let alone iterative.
So much for beavers, and for the topic of Indo-European nouns showing CV-type reduplication. The next post will be about reduplication in verbs.
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 The simple thematic presents arose in the Core Indo-European group and are absent from the Anatolian languages, as far as we know. Only a small number are known from Tocharian; *bʰér-e/o- is one of them.
 The alternative iterative stem, *bʰor-éje/o-, is attested only in Greek as pʰoréō ‘carry around, wear, possess (a feature)’.
 See Lat. conferō ‘bring together, collect’, and compounds like Vedic iṣu-bhṛ́-t- ‘arrow-carrying’ (describing an archer).