Basque Language


The Basque language is much more than just another Spanish dialect. The Basque country covers seven ancient provinces in both Spain and France, meaning that the language itself is influenced by more than one other language – French and Spanish. Back in the 14th century, citizens of Huesca were officially forbidden from speaking Basque. If they did and were caught, they would be required to pay a fine. Basque is called a language isolate because it is unrelated to any known language.

History of Basque

Basque – the language – was incorporated into Castilian Spanish several centuries ago. Castilian Spanish is spoken in the Cantabria area of Spain, which is located right next to the Basque country. Before Cantabria was Romanized, its citizens spoke a language with similarities to the Basque language.

Interestingly, Basque did influence the pronunciation of Castilian Spanish words, with the Castilian language eventually taking some Basque words for usage. Basque grammar has had very little, if any influence on Castilian Spanish, however. One common Spanish word is izquierda (left). This is the Castilian word. Two other languages impacted by the Basque languages are Catalan and Portuguese. The Catalan word for left is esquerra. In Portuguese, left is esquerda. The Basque word is ezkar.

The Basque language is considered to be the last descendant of the pre-Indo-European languages once spoken in Western Europe. After the fall of Rome, the area was forgotten, neglected or ignored, which enabled the ancient version of Basque (Aquitanian) to live on. Other ancient languages (Tartessian and Iberian) died out. Because Basque survived, it was able to coexist along with Romance languages, exchanging words back and forth. The first Romance language source was Latin; Gascon also contributed some words and, in the northeastern part of the Basque country, Navarro-Aragonese contributed some words and, finally, dialects from southwestern Spain added some words.

The Influence of the Basque Language and Country

Features of the Basque language include using the Subject-Object-Verb order rather than the Subject-Verb-Object order, no “f,” the lack of the simple “r” and an initial “s” followed by a consonant – called an “impure s.” The letter “e” must precede an “s” followed by a consonant. Basque contains no consonant clusters and the system of vowels is simple.

As Basque was incorporated into Castilian Spanish, so were these unique linguistic features. A Castilian “Ferdando” became “Hernando” with a silent “H” after being incorporated with Basque. Thus “Hernando” was pronounced [H]Ernando.” The simple “r” is trilled.