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Basque: A Language Isolate

Street Sign Basque
Basque: A Language Isolate
on January, 13 2014

Basque, one of the oldest languages in the world, is one of the most difficult languages to learn as it is not related to any other language. Its vocabulary and word structure are quite complicated. The language is spoken in Southwestern France and Northwestern Spain. It is what is known as a language isolate.

Where Basque is spoken

According to, it is a language in Spain, but this is localized in the Basque Country, which comprises a small part of Álava, parts of Navarra or Navarre and Vizcaya or Biscay and the Guipúzcoa province. In France, the French Basque Country is concentrated in the western section of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques département. The ethnic group calls themselves Euskaldunak, from one of the alternate name of the language, Euskara. Other alternate names are Vascuense and Euskera. As of 2012 there are 720,000 native speakers of Basque.


The origin of the language is still undetermined. It is believed to be the last of the pre-Indo-European languages that existed in Western Europe before the Indo-European languages arrived. There were authors that believe that the language was from the Neolithic period or the Stone Age. The assumption was made because some of the Basque words such as aizto (knife), aitzur (hoe) and aizkora (axe) were all derived from haitz, the Basque word for stone, which was the material used in the tools produced during the Stone Age although there were others that disagree with this theory.


Basque as a language also suffered from restrictions during the dictatorial reigns of Francisco Franco and Miguel Primo de Rivera. In the late 1960s the Basque Language Academy developed a standardized form of the language called the Euskara Batua. With this, the language can now be understood easily by all speakers of the language in the formal setting and remains in use to this day.

Still, there are five Basque dialects used in the Basque countries in France and Spain. In France, there are the Zuberoan and Navarrese-Lapurdian while in Spain, the dialects include Upper Navarrese, Gipuzkoan and Bizkaian.

Basque uses the Latin script, including ü and ñ but the letters c, q, v, w and y are only seen on loan words. It has picked up words from French, Castilian and Latin as well as Arabic and Celtic. What is interesting is that the Castilian words for scrap (chatarra) and left (izquierda) are from Basque. Likewise, the English and French word bizarre originated in the Basque word bizar, meaning beard. Moreover, the letter H, which is silent in the Spanish language, is present in Basque.

Some words and phrases

Here are words and phrases that show the uniqueness of the language:

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Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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