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Basque language

Basque language, tongue of uncertain relationship spoken by close to a million people, most of whom live in NE Spain and some of whom reside in SW France. The language has eight dialects. Speakers of Basque are for the most part bilingual, and there are many Basques who do not speak the language. Basque is definitely not an Indo-European tongue. Some scholars believe it is descended from Aquitanian, which was spoken on the Iberian peninsula and in S Gaul in ancient times. Other linguists think Basque is akin to the Caucasian languages and suggest that its speakers came from Asia Minor to Spain and Gaul c.2000 B.C. However, no relationship between Basque and any other language has been established with certainty. The alphabet used for Basque employs Roman letters. The first printed book in Basque appeared in the 16th cent. Basque is both agglutinative and polysynthetic. In an agglutinative language, different linguistic elements, each of which exists separately and has a fixed meaning, are often joined to form one word. In a polysynthetic language, a number of word elements are joined together to form a composite word that functions like a sentence or phrase in Indo-European languages, but each element has meaning usually only as part of the sentence or phrase and not as a separate item.

See W. J. Entwistle, The Spanish Language, Together with Portuguese, Catalan, and Basque (2d ed. 1962).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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