History of the Basque language

Basque (/bæsk,bɑːsk/;[1] euskara [eus̺ˈkaɾa]) is a pre-Indo-European language spoken in the Basque Country, extending over a strip along eastern areas of the Bay of Biscay in Spain and France, straddling the western Pyrenees. It is classified as a language isolate, having no demonstrable genetic relation to any other known language, with the sole exception of Aquitanian, which is generally considered to be an ancestral form of Basque.[2][3]

Map of Basque's postulated geographic retreat since Roman times

Basque has been hypothesized to be the last remnant of a pre-Indo-European language family once spoken widely in Western Europe.[4] By the Roman period, much of Western Europe was Indo-European-speaking, but toponyms, personal names, and inscriptions attest to the presence of languages with Basque-like morphology and lexical roots around the Pyrenees. Since the Early Middle Ages, Basque has receded geographically, and for the past 400 years it has been largely confined to the Basque Country. Basque has both influenced and been influenced by its geographical neighbor languages, exchanging both loanwords and structures.[citation needed]

Basque venturers took their language overseas since the 16th century, especially into the Americas, where it came to be diluted in the larger, prevailing colonial languages, like Spanish, French, or English. Basque remained until the late-20th century a language steeped in oral tradition and little use in writing, with its first written book attested in 1545, the Linguae Vasconum Primitiae. Basque was never used for official documents, and came to be gradually excluded as an oral communication language from governing, educative, administrative bodies, and finally also from Church. During the 20th century, scholars, writers and activists endeavoured to develop a long-discussed aspiration to create a unified, formal standard, which finally crystallized in standard Basque (euskara batua) as of 1968.[citation needed]

See also


  1. ^ "Basque". Oxford English Dictionary (Online ed.). Oxford University Press. (Subscription or participating institution membership required.); [bæsk] is the US pronunciation, in British English it is [bask] or [bɑːsk].
  2. ^ Trask 1997, p. 35.
  3. ^ Lakarra 2017, pp. 60–61.
  4. ^ Trask 1997, p. 10.


  • Lakarra, Joseba A. (2017). "Basque and the Reconstruction of Isolated Languages". In Campbell, Lyle (ed.). Language Isolates. London: Routledge. pp. 59–99.
  • Trask, Robert Lawrence (1997). The History of Basque. Psychology Press. ISBN 9780415131162.

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