The Basques: Their Struggle for Independence

By Luis Núñez Astrain; Meic Stephens | Go to book overview

Chapter 2

THE SLOW DEATH OF AN ANCIENT
LANGUAGE

'The Basque language,' wrote the linguist Koldo Mitxelena, 'is a small language, that is to say comparatively not very extensive, which survives in a community which is itself restricted to the western part of the Pyrénées and the Gulf of Biscay, on both sides of the Franco- Spanish border.'

The Basque word for the language is euskara. It is sometimes said that Basque, which is indigenous to the area where it is spoken today and which has no known connections with any other language, is the oldest language in Europe. What is meant when we say that Basque is the oldest language in Europe, since all languages are derived one from another and, ultimately and in a certain sense, each is as ancient as the others? It means that Basque is the only pre-Indo-European language spoken in Europe today. The language was already in existence during the Bronze Age, some two thousand years before the birth of Christ, when Indo-European tribes who were familiar with agriculture and the use of the wheel began to move into Europe. Almost all European languages are derived from this Indo-European source, whether they belong to the Latin, Germanic, Slavonic or Celtic groups, or to the smaller groups such as Greek or Albanian. Some other languages, like Magyar, Estonian, Lapp and Finnish, do not belong to this common stock at all, but they arrived in Europe after the Indo-European invasion. The only language which arrived prior to the invasion was Basque. This means that the Basque language is the oldest in Europe. The others may also be considered as having great antiquity, but not within the borders of Europe. The Basque language is the sole survivor of those languages which were spoken on the continent before the arrival of the Indo-Europeans about 4,000 years ago.

The Basque language is autochthonous to the territory in which

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