History of the Basque language


Basque is a pre-Indo-European language vocalized in the Basque Country, stretching over a land along with eastern regions of the Bay of Biscay in France and Spain, riding the western Pyrenees. It is listed as a language isolate, having no evident genetic relation to any other known language, except Aquitanian, which is generally considered Basque’s ancestral form.

Aquitanian Language- Ancestor of Basque Language

The Aquitanian language was used on both sides of the western Pyrenees in the regions south of the Pyrenees in the deep valleys of the Basque Nation before the Roman invasion and in ancient Aquitaine (approximately between the Garonne and the Pyrenees, in the region later known as Gascony)

It seemingly survived in Aquitania north of the Pyrenees until the start of the early Middle Ages.

Archaeological, historical, and toponymical data shows that it was a language or combination of languages representing a precursor of the Basque language. The most crucial evidence is a series of votive and funerary texts in Latin that carry about 70 names of gods and 400 personal names.

Some assertions have been made, based on supposed derivations of the words for “ax” (aizkora), “knife” (aizto), and “hoe” (aitzur) from the word for “stone” (Haitz), alleging that the language, therefore, must date to the Neolithic period or Stone Age, when those tools were made of stone, but mainstream researchers do not accept this.

Origin of Basque:

The main hypotheses about the origin of the Basques are:

  • Native origin: the prevailing theory, according to which the Basque language would have evolved over the millennia entirely between the current south of France and the north of the Iberian Peninsula, without the chance of finding any relationship between the Basque language and other modern languages in other regions. Native origin concludes that the current Basque language is the remains of a group of “Basque languages” that were first spoken in the Paleolithic throughout Europe’s upper left part.
  • Basque-Iberism theorizes a kinship between the Basque and the Iberian language, and therefore among their speakers. Others claim there is no direct connection, including Koldo Mitxelena, who claims the similarities between Basque and Iberian are attributed entirely to the environment’s relationship, not to any kinship.
  • Caucasian origin theorizes that the Basque language and the Caucasus languages may have a close relation, explaining why they share some linguistic typologies absent in other Indo-European languages.

History of Basque Language

Map of Basque’s proposed geographic refuge since Roman times

Basque has been hypothesized to be the last part of a pre-Indo-European language family once spoken extensively in Western Europe.

By the Roman period, many of Western Europe was Indo-European-speaking. Still, toponyms, inscriptions, and personal names attest to the presence of languages with lexical roots around the Pyrenees and Basque-like morphology. Since the Middle Ages, Basque has shrunk geographically, and for the past 400 years, it has mainly been limited to the Basque Country. Basque has both shaped and been influenced by its terrestrial neighbor languages, exchanging both structures and loanwords.

Basque venturers took their writing abroad since the 16th century, particularly into the Americas, where it came to be diluted in the larger, popular colonial languages, like French, Spanish, or English. Basque stayed until the late-20th century, a language, little used in writing and steeped in oral tradition, with its first recorded book attested in 1545, the Linguae Vasconum Primitiae. Basque was never used for official records and came to be slowly eliminated as an oral communication language from educative, governing, administrative bodies, and later also from Church.

During the 20th century, writers, scholars, and activists endeavored to develop a long-discussed ambition to create a unified, approved standard, which finally formed in standard Basque (Euskara batua) as of 1968.

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