Most Europeans and Asians speak one of the Indo-European languages, such as German, Hindi and Russian. However, one language, Basque, which is spoken by people in north-eastern Spain and south-western France, is not related to any other tongue. (See map below.) Its origins are shrouded in mystery and some people have even suggested that it was spoken in the ‘lost continent of Atlantis’.
It now seems likely that the ancestors of Basque, who belonged to an Upper Stone Age culture, settled in areas of present day Spain and France long before the Indo-Europeans. There is no doubt that Basque was once spoken over a wider region than it is today. But it was never the language of a major state. The first book in this language – though with a Latin title – was printed in 1545 and serious research on the language may be dated from that time.
Basque has constantly struggled for survival against the more widespread Spanish and French languages. From time to time, it was outlawed in official contexts, in schools and even in all public places. In spite of this, Basque now has about 6,50,000 fluent speakers. The estimate results from adding the number of speakers in Spain to the guessed number in France, where linguistic censuses are not taken. As many as 5,00,000 others know something of the language. The majority of Basque speakers are concentrated in a narrow area of approximately 10,000 square kilometers.
Basque language is also recognized by the name of “Euskera”. It is considered to be a descendent of a language known as Aquitani ,which isas ancient as 200 BC. The reason behind survival of Basque language to date is believed to be the fact that Basque people lived in isolation as compared to other regions of Europe. This helped them in preserving their Basque language. Hence, it is termed as ‘Language isolate’ (A language having no formal genetic relationship with other languages)
Another fact associated with Basque language is that it is unique in its structure and grammar. Some parts of vocabulary can be of Roman language. According to studies based on linguistics, Basque language has six dialects namely;
- Upper Navarrese
- Navarro-Lapurdian dialect
- Eastern Navarrese
- Souletin (Zuberoan)
Before 1960, Basque language was intensely suppressed by not only Spain but in Basque country itself. The former clampdown was based on political reasons only but the later restriction was regarding language and culture as well. From naming new borns to grave stones, every prominent use of language was snubbed by the authorities. The act of suppression did not settle here but taking a step further, speaking of Basque language was considered even as an act of separation from the state. These actions discouraged the spread of Language but it still survived.
During 1960 and later on this phenomenon took an exact opposite shift for the Basque language. A standardized form of language was established and was encouraged to adopt by official Language regulatory authority. The authority in Spain is named as La Real Academia de la LenguaVascahowever in France it is known asAcadémie de la Langue Basque.
Basque is more used as a commerce language not only within Basque boundaries but also in areas where the citizens speaking Basque migrated. Apart from few languages like Spanish, Gescon and Aragonese there are also Pidgins which are influenced by Basque language. These Pidgins served as a great help while communicating with other communities having uncommon language. As far as vocabulary is concerned, Basque has adopted a lot of words from neighboring languages through communication. These languages include Spanish, Latin &Gescon.
Basque takes help of Latin script to be written. The language of Basque consists of 27 letters. The style of lettering associated with Basque is often used for inscriptions. This is influenced by work related to stones and wood carvings. In a sample containing 6,692 letters, the most common Basque alphabet will be ‘a’ and the one with least appearance is ‘v’. Looking at the sound pattern of Basque language, we came to know that Spanish language is the closest one.
Today only around 30% of population in Basque country speak Basque language. The reason being it faced a lot of challenges regarding its recognition and protection by authorities.
Despite its ups and down, Basque language still exists and is connecting people together.