Basque 101

It is likely that an early form of the Basque language was already present in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages, which means that in a sense the Basque culture can claim one of the longest unbroken traditions on the continent. Most scholars see Basque as a language isolate. Consequently, its prehistory cannot be reconstructed by means of the comparative method, and little is known of its origins.

Latin inscriptions in Aquitania preserve a number of words with cognates in proto-Basque, for instance the personal names Nescato and Cison (neskato and gizon mean "girl" and "man" respectively in modern Basque). This proposed language is called "Aquitanian" and was presumably spoken before the Romans brought Latin to the western Pyrenees. Roman neglect of this hinterland allowed Aquitanian Basque to survive while the Iberian and Tartessian languages died out. Basque did come to acquire some Latin vocabulary, both before and after the Latin of the area developed into Gascon (a branch of Occitan) and Navarrese Romance.

Given that the genetic border between Basque and Gascon country is more diffuse than that of Basque and Castilian country, it is commonly assumed that the Basques' origin was in Aquitaine and that they migrated southward.

In June 2006, archaeologists at the site of Iruña-Veleia discovered an epigraphic set with a series of 270 Basque inscriptions and drawings from the third century. Some of the words and phrases found were "urdin" (blue), "zuri" (white), "gori" (red), "edan" (drink) "ian" (eat), "lo" (sleep), "Iesus, Iose ata ta Mirian ama" (Jesus, the father Joseph and the mother Mary), and "Geure ata zutan" (Our father in you). Further analysis of this discovery could show that the Basque language is more stable than previously thought.

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