Why is Basque so different?

“You’re in the Basque Country, not in Spain” – an example of Basque nationalism in a Bilbao lamp post (from Wikipedia). Similar posters can be found on the streets of Bilbao, but also on the streets of Santiago de Compostela (Galicia) and Barcelona (Catalonia). Why?

Spain consists of several autonomous regions, including Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia. These regions have their own regional government, their own police and their own airports. Even Catalonia tried to declare its independence, only to give up the plan a few hours later because the new state didn’t have any international recognition. But enough about politics.

These three autonomous regions differ from Spain especially in terms of language. In Galicia, the Basque Country and Catalonia, Spanish is NOT spoken (or at least not in a majority). Galician, Basque and Catalan are spoken in these three regions. And as Galician is similar to Spanish and Portuguese, and Catalan, to Spanish and French, Basque is similar to… nothing.

Basque (sau Euskara) is the official language spoken by a part of people in Basque country (an autonomous region of Spain, but, historically speaking, it also incorporates a small part of France). 30.1% of the population were fluent Basque speakers, 18.3% are passive Basque speakers, while the rest of the inhabitants of the Basque Country do not speak Basque at all. A total of 750,000 people understand the Basque language.

While Basque is geographically surrounded by Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese and French), it isn’t related to them or any other language and is instead considered an isolate language. And, although there is very little accurate information about the origin of the Basque language, we know that it is a pre-Indo-European language. In fact, it is one of the few pre-Indo-European languages still spoken (only Basque, Telugu, Namil and a few less spoken languages belong to this category).

Let’s take some examples:

Kalean behera noa – I am walking down the street

kalea– the street

behera– down

Janari dendara noa – I am going to the grocery store

janari-denda – grocery store

Zurekin ibiltzen naiz – I walk with you

Do you see the difference between Basque and other languages? Why does the translation into Basque have far fewer words? This is due to the fact that prepositions and possessive pronouns are placed at the end of the word, as a suffix. For example, the translation of the word “with” is -rekin, meaning this suffix is added to the noun.

Basque is unlike any other language. And, although the Basque Country is surrounded by Romance-speaking countries and regions, almost no lexical influence of other languages exist.

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