Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Basque And The Lonely Life Of A Language Isolate

As we demonstrated the other day, languages often have families due to their shared roots. Some languages, however, do not. These loners are rebels without causes and though they are a headache for anyone who needs everything in neat little boxes, they are very interesting and unique.

What are these languages and how are they so distinct that we can't just throw them in with other languages? A few of the more widely spoken language isolates include Korean and Basque. It should be noted that an unclassified language is not the same as a language isolate, since language isolates are languages that have been shown to be unrelated rather than not having been classified as of yet.

City hall in Bilbao, the largest city of the Basque Country.
Having already covered Korean in a language profile, we thought we'd show you a little about a fascinating language isolate that isn't hidden away in the Amazon rainforest or spoken only by solitary tribes on a Pacific island. Basque is spoken in northern Spain, and sticks out like a sore thumb against the backdrop of Romance languages such as Spanish, Portuguese and French that are its almost immediate neighbours.

Though the Basque Country (País Vasco in Spanish and Euskadi in Basque) exists as an autonomous region of Spain, the true Basque region (Euskal Herria in Basque) is said to extend beyond and stretch as far as southwestern France. It is here where the Basque language, known natively as Euskara, is spoken by around 715,000 native speakers.

Despite the obvious link between the Basque language and Basque separatism, it should be noted that though the political organisation ETA obviously speaks Basque, it is by no means representative of the speakers of this fascinating and unique language nestled amongst historically Latin languages.