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The Basque Language: Origin, Speakers, And Similarities To Other Languages

The Basque Language: Origin, Speakers, And Similarities To Other Languages

There is still so little known about the mysterious Basque language. It is unique in so many ways, most notably in its origins.

Though the language is spoken by a relatively small group of people living in a specific region of the world, its influence has been felt far and wide.

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In this article, we’ll explore the prevailing theories about the origins of the Basque language, where it’s spoken, and assess its similarities (if any) to other languages.

What is Euskara?

Euskara is the original name of the Basque language, i.e., the name used by its speakers.

Basque language origin

Basque is believed to be the only surviving member of a language family called Aquitanian, which was spoken in the areas surrounding the Pyrenees mountains.

Both Basque and Aquitanian are thought to have derived from the Pre-Indo-European languages spoken in Europe before the arrival of Indo-European speakers in the region.

Some linguists believe that Basque may also be a descendant of the Iberian language, which was spoken in the Iberian Peninsula in the pre-Roman era.

Is basque one of the oldest languages in Europe?

It is difficult to determine the age of a language with any degree of accuracy, but there are reasons to believe that Basque is the oldest extant language in Europe.

First, as we mentioned, it is the only surviving member of the Aquitanian language family, which predates the Indo-European languages. That alone makes it older than most European languages.

Second, we know that the Basque language has been spoken in the same general region (the Pyrenees mountains) for several thousand years, and has had little influence from other languages that came into the area during that time.

This suggests that the language has remained relatively unchanged over a long period, which is another indicator of its age.

When was basque first spoken?

As one of the only living descendants of a pre-Indo-European language, it is difficult to determine when Basque was first spoken. The best estimate is that the first speakers of the language appeared in the region between 5,000 and 10,000 years ago.

Where is Basque / Euskara spoken?

Basque is spoken in a region spanning northeastern Spain and southwestern France. This region is called the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria in Basque.

It includes the following provinces:

  • Spain: Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa, Alava, Navarra
  • France: Labourd, Basse-Navarre, Soule

The language is also spoken in the Spanish exclaves of Ceuta and Melilla, as well as in the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department of southwestern France.

In addition, there are several small Basque-speaking communities outside the Basque Country, most notably in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, the United States, and Mexico.

Is Basque an official language in any of these countries?

Yes, Basque is an official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of Navarre and the Basque Country (Euskadi).

It also has co-official status in the French region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine (formerly Aquitaine), which includes parts of the Basque Country and the Pyrénées-Atlantiques department.

How many people speak Basque?

There are over 700,000 Basque speakers worldwide.

Of these, the majority live in the Basque Country itself, while the rest are scattered throughout the aforementioned Basque diaspora communities.

The majority of Basque speakers (93%) live in Spain, while around 7% live in France.

Is Basque a real language or simply a dialect?

Basque is, without a doubt, a distinct language. It is not mutually intelligible with Spanish or French, despite being spoken in both countries, nor is it a dialect of either language.

What language is Basque / Euskara most similar to?

From what you’ve read about the language’s ancient roots, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that Basque is unrelated to any living language. That’s why Basque is considered to be a language isolate.

Some scholars have tried to find similarities between Basque and other languages, but these connections are specious.

For example, there’s one theory that claims that Basque is related to some of the Caucasian languages, like Georgian and Chechen, which are spoken in the Caucasus region of Eurasia. There’s little to support this theory, however.

Is Basque a Latin language?

No, Basque is not a Latin language.

While it is true that many of the languages spoken in Europe today are in some way descended from Latin (due to the Roman Empire), Basque is not one of them.

You will, however, find several Latin loanwords in Basque, as the language has borrowed words from Latin over the centuries, particularly during the Christianization of the Basque Country in the Middle Ages.

Is Basque similar to Spanish?

Though the languages might sound similar in the way they’re spoken (that’s mostly because Spanish speakers make up the majority of the Basque-speaking population, and thus their Spanish accent heavily influences the language), the two languages have nothing at all in common. They’re about as dissimilar as Arabic and Scottish!

What does Basque sound like?

Most non-Basque speakers will say that Basque sounds just like Spanish. In fact, it sounds so much like Spanish that, if you’re familiar with Spanish, your head will probably start spinning when you hear Basque, as you won’t understand a word of it though it feels like you should!

Watch the video below to hear exactly what Basque sounds like, and judge for yourself.


Wrapping things up

Basque is a unique and fascinating language spoken by a proud and determined people. The language has been passed down through the generations, surviving centuries of oppression and persecution.

For this reason, if you’re interested in learning it, we say go for it! It’ll be a challenge, but it’s definitely worth it.

We hope this article has whetted your appetite for learning more about the Basque language and culture. Check out our other articles on the subject for more information.

If you want to get started learning Basque, why not check out some of the books available in the language. We’ve put together a list of the top Basque children’s books that we think are perfect for language learners.