Euskera: the oldest language in Europe. Being a language isolate, surrounded by Romance languages, Euskera has managed to stay alive within several regions in both France and Spain. But, even with it being so ancient yet active, Basque has been nothing but a mystery to linguists. It's known that it was related to Aquitanian (which is extinct), but it has no relation to any popular languages. Well, what exactly is Euskera?
Many may not have heard of Euskera, but you may have heard of Basque. Basque is the French given name for Euskera, which has been the popularized name throughout the world. Having only 750,000 native speakers, this language is thought to have existed before the Roman Empire. Being conquered somewhere between the 2nd century BCE and 1st century BCE, somehow this language has managed to last through countless invasions and conquerings. Sadly, the origins of this language are nothing but a mystery. Ever since the 1960s, linguists have struggled to find any relative of Basque. Some think it may be related to Georgian, some say Berber languages, and some think it is a unique situation of having zero relatives. But, sadly, this language has been past down via oral history until c.1,000-1,500CE. In fact, one of the most prominent languages, Spanish, has lexical influence from Basque with no true relation other than sharing the land. Even with this language being veiled in mystery, linguists have been able to predict the age of Basque.
The true origin of Basque is heavily debated upon. Some think it's been around since the Neolithic age, some think even further as a part of the agricultural revolution. This is most likely why it has been able to stay prominent within the area, a cultural connection more ancient than most known kingdoms, empires, dynasties, and communities. Even with these unknown origins, linguists have been able to trace the history via both the knowledge of the Aquitanian language, from Basque communities, and from archaeological studies around the Basque regions. Like all languages, Basque has evolved over time, adding some ambiguity to the language itself; but, luckily, linguists have been able to analyze the language into oblivion.
Let's look at some of the known historical contexts behind Basque. To be frank, Basque has been ambiguous until the 9th century, no one made in-depth notes about this language or community. There are records of Gauls commenting and the Roman Empire commenting, but even these notes are sparse. Alongside this, Latin has given some influence on the Basque dictionary. Words like Book and King were unknown to the Basque people, literature nor monarchial society were of importance. So, Basque borrowed Vulgar Latin words, while also changing it to fit their phonemes: Liburu (book) became LIBRU, Regerre (king) became REGE, Diru (money) became DANARIU, Lege (law) became LEGE. This happens to every language, sharing words has been part of language nature. And after the Roman Empire was no longer prominent in the region, Basque dealt with Celtic warfare. Oddly enough, instead of a linguistic invasion, this brought the Basque people into a political and militaristic mindset, wanting to protect themselves which resulted in a new kingdom: Navarre. In fact, the creation of Navarre is the sole reason linguists have any records of the language. And, even though Basque is part of the influence of the Kingdom of Navarre, it was never declared the official language. This is mainly due to the fact Romance languages became more and more popular. This resulted in Basque borrowing more words from Spanish.
After Navarre fell, the Protestant Reformation mixed with the Catholic Counter-Reformation caused a divide in Basque, creating two dialects dependent on which religion the speakers follow. This caused some prominent figures in Basque to attempt to standardize the language, having one singular form of Basque spoken by all Basque people. But, c.17th century, one dialect gained a higher status than the other, causing the other to lose some prominence. During the 18th century, the Basque language and literature had a major decline, mainly due to both France and Spain pressuring Basque people to abandon this root. The two countries did their best to enforce their respective language on Basque counties, but the Basque people fought back, becoming prouder and had a literature revolution. This fighting back continued until the 19th century, when the Basque people became too isolated, causing many native speakers to not be able to understand anyone in France or Spain. Come 1918, Basque created an Academy, attempting to keep the language alive, but this was soon seen as an attempt to purge any non-Basque language from the community, which was impossible for the region. This caused Basque to finally meld with their respective countries, causing several alphabet changes and orthography changes.
Entering the modern era, Basque is still barely holding on to their existence. The main powerhouse keeping the language active is the Academy founded in 1918. And to this day, Basque speakers are split on whether or not dialects should die out or stay as they are.
Like that of isiXhosa, this language is full of mystery. Although it's fascinating to look at, linguists still don't know as much as they want. Hopefully, a related language will be found.
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