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History And Origin of Basque Language And Culture


Legend has it that in the Flood myth “some men escaped, rare like the olives that remain on the tree after the harvest, like the clusters hanging from the vine branches after the harvest, and of this number was Aitor, ancestor of the Basques”.

A people apart

The Basques are a people apart. By their blood: since around 1918 it was established that the distribution of blood groups was not uniform, we know that the frequency of group O, like the rarity of A and especially B, distinguish the Basques from any other white population, and that no group in the world has such a high rate of negative rhesus, while this rate is very low in the rest of Europe. By their language too, which is not related to any other in Europe.

Countless dialects

The first texts available are not earlier than the 16th century, and there are eight different dialects, with variations from village to village, even from house to house. This may explain why the Basque language holds the record for comparisons with other languages, from Carthaginian to Turkish and Finnish, via Chukchi, in the northeast of Siberia. At the beginning of the 20th century, certain linguists brought it closer to the Hamitic, a family comprising certain Ethiopian languages, Egyptian, as well as Berber.

The Italian Trombetti, in search of the original language of men, that before Babel, also points to similarities with Georgian and the other more or less related Caucasian dialects. It is this direction that gives the best results. Some add the Etruscan, the Burushaski, isolated in the northwest of the Himalayas, or some aspects of the Armenian ... In 1936, in a more limited, but more precise, Georges Dumézil presents the elements, coincidences of vocabulary, syntax affinities, which establish a relationship between the languages ​​of the Caucasus and Basque.

Archeology muddles the waters

There is therefore a relationship between a language spoken in western Europe and those between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. But when did they differentiate? Common roots, meaning “to plow”, “to sow”, “to braid”, “to spin”, “to grind”, make place the rupture after the Neolithic, from 5000 to 2500 years BC, since this is when these activities appear. One could imagine that the Basques descend from Caucasians who came to the West after this date. But in 1936, the same year that kinship between the two linguistic groups was established, two archaeologists, T. De Aranzadi and J.-P. De Barandiaran, discovered skulls in the cave of Urtiaga, in the Basque Country. Unlike those unearthed since the excavations of Paul Broca in the 1880s, some are identical to those of the current Basques. However, they date from Paleolithic, the period preceding the Neolithic. This is proof that the Basques are natives, “aborigines of Western Europe” present since the dawn of time, who probably evolved in a specific way from the Cro-Magnon man, therefore independently of the Georgians or Chechens …

An imported language?

The Basques would therefore have been there forever, or almost, but their language was not differentiated from that of the Caucasus until five or six thousand years ago. One can imagine the same language spoken by the natives of all Europe, even of the North of Asia. It is however very surprising that a language spoken on an entire continent has disappeared, except at the two ends. Especially since there is no lack of lost corners where it could have been preserved much better than in the border region of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, very accessible to outside influences.

It is therefore logical to hypothesize that the Basques, an indigenous people, may have adopted a language from elsewhere. It would have arrived with metallurgy, which was brought from Asia Minor in the third millennium BC. Whatever solution is proposed, it raises problems. The discoveries of 1936 shed light on the origin of the Basques and their langage but they did not solve the mystery.

The Basque country

Euskadi (the word only dates from 1893) means “the country of the Basque language”. The Franco-Spanish border hardly cuts these people in two, because of the feeling of cultural community and the tradition of smuggling, firmly established. In Spain, the Basque Country goes from Bilbao to Pic d'Anie (2,504 meters) and is one of the industrial centers of the country. From west to east, it includes the provinces of Biscay, with the cities of Bilbao, Durango and Guernica, Alaya, Gipuzkoa and Navarre. In France, it is less extensive, occupying the southwest of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, from the edge of the Gave d'Oloron to the Ocean, Bayonne or Biarritz being partly Basque; there are three provinces, Labourd, with the cities of Hendaye and Saint-Jean-de-Luz, French Navarre, with Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and finally Soule, around Mauléon-Licharre.

A divine language, incomprehensible to Satan!

Tradition does little to help us locate the origin of the Basque language. For some, it would come from God himself, and would be “as natural as the cooing with the pigeon, the barking with the dog”. But tradition also says that after seven years in the region, Satan himself could not learn to say "yes" and "no"; the same Satan, having acquired a Basque manual, furious at not understanding anything, would have ended up throwing it into the sea ... More seriously, when Manuel de Larramendi wrote the first Basque grammar in the 17th century, he called it El Imposible Vencido, as much to say “a victory over the impossible”.