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Basque remains an isolated language with no known linguistic relatives. The hypothesis of the German philologist Hugo Schuchardt (1842-1927), which once had wide currency, posited an intimate genetic connection between Basque and Iberian (see below) and the Hamito-Semitic (Afro-Asiatic) language group. This theory was superseded by attempts to establish a more or less close link between Basque and Caucasian, the language group indigenous to the Caucasus region. A lack of common linguistic characteristics between the Basque and Hamito-Semitic languages makes Schuchardt's hypothesis extremely dubious. There are, however, some common features that favour the relationship between Basque and Caucasian. Still, proof of a genetic relationship beyond reasonable doubt appears remote. Perhaps the most promising theory involves the comparison of Basque with the long-extinct Iberian, the language of the ancient inscriptions of eastern Spain and of the Mediterranean coast of France. But, despite amazing phonological coincidences, Basque has so far contributed next to nothing to the understanding of the now-readable Iberian texts. Therefore, it is possible that the similarity may have resulted from close contact between Basques and Iberians and not from a genetic linguistic relationship.

 

Language knowledge in the Basque Country
Territory population basque-speaking (%) almost basque-speaking (%) non basque (%)
Araba 271.000 8 15 77
Bizkaia 1.143.000 18 18 64
Gipuzkoa 670.000 44 14 42
Lapurdi 186.000 26 11 66
Nafarroa 519.000 10 10 80
Nafarroa Beherea 34.700 61 - -
Zuberoa 15.800 63 - -
BAC 2.084.000 24 8 67
Northern BC 237.000 27 9 64
Southern BC 2.603.000 21 7 71
Euskal Herria 2.846.000 23 14 63
Source: Population data: 1991. Language data are from 1996 (source: EKB), except for partial data of the Northern BC provinces (these are from 1991). At the same time, the totals for BAC and Southern BC are from 1991, not based on the partial data of 1996.
Initials used: BAC: Basque Autonomous Community, formed by Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa. Northern BC: Three provinces (Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa), under the French State. Southern BC: Four provinces (the 3 of BAC and Nafarroa) under the Spanish State. Euskal Herria: the whole Basque Country. See map.
Almost basque-speaking is a term coined by Basque sociolinguists to name those who understand Basque but do not speak it, or have poor command of the language.
 

 


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08/15/2001

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