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1. a member of a people of unknown origin living around the W Pyrenees in France and Spain
2. the language of this people, of no known relationship with any other language
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.



(Basque, euzkera; Spanish, vasco; French, basque), language of the Basques, who live in the Spanish provinces of Álava, Vizcaya, Guipúzcoa, and partly in the district of Pamplona (Navarre); in France, in the department of Basses-Pyrénées (the districts of Bayonne and Mauléon); in Latin America, principally in Uruguay (Montevideo) and Argentina (where they settled in 1865–75), and in Mexico (immigrations from Spain in the first half of the 17th century). The Basque language is spoken by more than 900,000 people. The language of the Basques is presently classified as a linguistic isolate, genetically unrelated to any other known group of languages. Numerous theories have been proposed, relating it to the Caucasus languages (C. C. Uhlenbeck, N. Ia. Marr), the Finno-Ugric languages (L. L. Bonaparte), the Hamitic languages (A. Trombetti), American Indian languages (K. A. Mahn, A. d’Abbadie), the Etruscan language (Arana Goiri), and others. The most widespread theory is that of the Iberian origin of the Basque language (W. von Humboldt, A. Luchaire, H. Schuchardt, E. Bourciez, etc.) which, however, has occasioned substantial objections (J. Vinson, W. van Eys, etc.).

The history of the Basque language in the medieval period is little known, due to the absence of written texts. Only isolated words (approximately 50) are encountered in Spanish and French documents of the tenth to the 12th centuries. The Basque language is quite differentiated locally. Modern Bascologists recognize two basic dialect groupings, that is, the western, or Vizcayan (spoken around Bilbao), and the central eastern group, including the dialects of Labourdin (spoken around Bayonne), lower Navarrais (spoken around St. Jean-Piéd-de-Port), and Souletin (spoken in the Mauléon area), in France. The western (Vizcayan) dialect—that is, the speech of Bilbao—provides the basis for the literary language.

The Basque language has no grammatical gender. A noun may have a definite article (-a“the”: gizon“man”, gizon-a“the man”) or an indefinite article (-bat“some, a”:gizon-bat “a man, some man”). Like the article, the demonstrative pronoun and the adjective are placed after the noun. The declension system consists of case markers (postpositions) which are added after the article. The Basque language has a system of counting based on units of 20. Approximately 20 verbs, including auxiliaries, have preserved historic forms. The rest of the Basque verbs express tense and modal relationships periphrastically. Basque has indicative, imperative, and optative moods and present, past, and future (the latter expressed analytically) tenses. Transitive verbs have an ergative construction in the present tense. Studies by Basque scholars in France and Spain began appearing in the 1820’s, and since then the study of Basque has become a subject of linguistic research throughout the world. In the 20th century the Basque language was introduced into the schools, and Basque literary works were published in the language. Fictional works and periodicals appeared in the Basque language after the country of the Basques was declared autonomous on Oct. 1, 1936. The fascist regime of Franco, however, destroyed Basque autonomy and liquidated the Basque press.


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Shishmarev, V. Ocherki po istorii iazykov Ispanii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1941.
Shishmarev, V. “Baskskii iazyk.” In Kul’tura Ispanii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1940.
Schuchardt, H. “Baskskii iazyk i iazykoznanie.” In Izbrannye stat’i po iazykoznaniiu. Moscow, 1950. (Translated from German.)
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Eleas, A. El vasco, análisis de la lengua vasca. Tucuman, 1935.
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Gramática vasca, 2nd ed. [San Sebastián] 1959.
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Estornés, Lasa B. Orígenes de los vascos, 2nd ed., vol. 2. 1907.
Azkue, R. M. de. Diccionario Vasco-español-françés, vols. 1–2. Bilbao, 1905–06.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.