THE Basque Language is one which is particularly attractive to specialists. Its place in the general series of idioms has at last been well defined--it is an agglutinative and incorporating language, with some tendency to polysynthetism. It consequently finds a place in the second great morphological linguistic group, between the Finnic and the North American family of languages. I shall now attempt a very short sketch of its general features; but I must ask permission, first, briefly to state some of the most essential principles of the science of language.
It is acknowledged that the science of language--that is to say, the science of the characteristic phenomenon of the human species, is a purely natural science. It has nothing in common with philology, which is mainly a historical study. Whether it be called linguistique, glottology, phonology, or even, by a too common abuse, comparative philology, the science of language follows the same method as the other natural sciences, and advances by observation and experience. The direct subject-matter of this science is
those vocal organisms which express, by sensible sounds, thought and its divers modes of existence. These organisms are the spontaneous and unconscious product of organs which, as natural phenomena, fall under the general law of perpetual variation, acted on by their surroundings, climate, &c.; but as incapable of being modified by the external or internal exercise of human volition as any other of the organized beings which surround us.
But as the object of language is to express thought in all its niceties, both the fact that gives rise to it, and the modifications of it caused by time and space, so it is seen that different idioms have adopted different methods of expressing, in the best and readiest manner, the idea, the conception or intuition, with its variable forms, in order to translate with precision its signification, and its relations. From this point of view language has been divided into three great groups: the first, that of isolating languages, wherein the monosyllabic roots all retain their meaning, and wherein the relations are only expressed conventionally, i.e., were not originally expressed at all; the second, that of agglutinative languages, in which the relations are expressed by roots once significative, but now reduced to a secondary and subordinate office; lastly, the third, that of inflectional languages, in which the change of relations is expressed by a modification in the root itself, and even in the radical vowel. It is clear that the idioms of the second group were once isolating, and that inflectional idioms have passed through both the former states. We conclude from this that language is essentially progressive and variable in the sense of a constant improvement in the expression of relations. And yet, in the study of existing languages we find, on the contrary, that they are often in this respect inferior to their ancestors.
This contradiction, however, is only an apparent one. Thus, as Schleicher has demonstrated, languages are born,
grow up, become stationary, decline and die; in a word, live after the same fashion as do organized beings. There are in every language two principal periods--that, of formal development, during which the idiom passes from the first (monosyllabic) stage to the second (agglutinative) by reducing certain roots to a secondary and dependent office, then from the second to the third (inflectional) by a new effort to express simultaneously signification and relation; and that of formal decay, during which the original meaning of the relative affixes is more and more forgotten, they get worn out, change by degrees, and often end by perishing altogether. Formal decay begins when a language becomes historical, and it often gives rise to remarkable cases of regressive metamorphosis. One remark which we must make on this subject is that the known agglutinative languages have not spontaneously arrived at historical life--that is to say, have not commenced their decay, except under the influence of a foreign idiom either isolating or inflectional. Nevertheless, during their decay, languages can adopt fresh forms, but these are merely composed, of words already in use; man in the historical period has no longer bare roots at his service. 1
These linguistic elements are, moreover, subject to the terrible law of the struggle for existence, and of vital competition. Many of them have perished and have left no trace; others are preserved to us merely in some scanty records. The Basque, pressed hard by Latin and its derived languages, has lost ground, especially in Spain. Beyond its actual limits, there are in Navarre many villages, the names of which are Basque, but in which Spanish only is spoken; and all along the frontiers of the actual region of the Basque
in the Spanish provinces this idiom is spoken only by a minority of the inhabitants. It is, moreover, undergoing modification everywhere; the children often replace the old expressive native terms by a vocabulary drawn from the Romance tongues. In those places which are most in contact with strangers, and in which the movement of modern life is most keenly felt--at St. Sebastian and at St. Jean de Luz, for instance--the language has become exceedingly debased and incorrect. Everything presages the speedy extinction of the Escuara or Euscara, which is the name given to the Basque by those who speak it. The word, apparently, means merely "manner of speaking." All people have, in a greater or less degree, the pretension which caused the Greeks to treat all foreigners as barbarians--that is, as not properly-speaking men.
Prince L. L. Bonaparte reckons the actual number of the Basques, not including emigrants established in Mexico, at Monte Video, and at Buenos Ayres, at 800,000, of whom 660,000 are in Spain, and 140,000 in France.
The phonetic laws of the Escuara are simple; the sounds most frequently employed are the sibilants, nasals, and hard gutturals; the soft consonants are often suppressed between two vowels. The mixed sounds, between palatals and gutturals, characteristic of the second large group of languages, are also frequently met with. One of the predominant features is the complete absence of reduplication of consonants, the aversion to groups of consonants, and the care taken to complete the sound of final mute consonants by an epenthetic vowel. It is probable that originally the words were composed of a series of syllables formed regularly of a single consonant and a vowel. We must mention, besides, the double form of the nominatives, one of which is used only as the subject of an active verb; the other serves equally for the subject of the intransitive,
and the object of the active verb. This is absolutely the same distinction remarked by M. Fried. Müller in the Australian languages between the subjective and the predicative nominative.
Formal derivation is accomplished by means of suffixing the elements of relations; pronominal signs are nevertheless not only suffixed, but also prefixed to verbs. Except in this respect, nouns and verbs are not treated in two distinct manners; they are both equally susceptible of receiving suffixes which mark the relations of time and space, and many of which have preserved in their integrity both their proper signification and their primitive sonorous form. The article is the remote demonstrative pronoun. The pronouns "we" and "ye" are not the plurals of "I" and "thou," but have the appearance of special individualities. There are no possessive derivative terms; "my house," for example, is expressed by "the house of me," and has no analogy with "I eat," or any other verbal expression. There are no genders, although some suffixes are specially replaced by others in the names of animate beings; and in the verb there are special forms to indicate if a man or woman is being spoken to. There is no dual. The sign of the plural is interposed between the article and the suffixes. In the singular alone can there be an indefinite or indeterminate declension without the article.
The conjugation is exceedingly complicated. The Basque verb includes in a single verbal expression the relations of space; of one person to another--(1) subjective (the idea of neutrality, of action limited to its author), (2) objective (the idea of action on a direct object), and (3) attributive (the idea of an action done to bear on an object viewed indirectly, the idea of indirect action); the relations of time; the relations of state, corresponding to as many distinct moods; the variations of action, expressed by different
voices; the distinctions of subject or object, marked by numerous personal forms;. the conditions of time and state which are expressed by conjunctions in modem languages to each of these relations is appropriated an affix, often considerably abbreviated and condensed, but almost always recognisable.
The primitive Basque verb--that is to say, in its full development--did not differ from that of other languages of the globe. It comprised only two moods, the indicative, and the conjunctive, which was derived from the indicative by a suffix; and three tenses, the present, the imperfect, and a kind of aorist indicating eventual possibility. There was only one secondary voice, the causative, formed by a special affix. To these forms it joined the signs of the direct and indirect object, which is the essential characteristic of incorporating idioms.
During its historic life, during its period of formal decay, the verb has experienced in Basque modifications which are not found to a similar extent elsewhere. The primitive conjugation, or, so to say, the simple and direct one of verbal nouns, has little by little fallen into disuse, and has been replaced by a singular combination of verbal nouns, of adjectives, and of some auxiliary verbs. Thus it is that the Escuara, in all its dialects, has developed eleven moods and ninety-one tenses (each of which has three persons in each number), variable according to the sex or rank of the person addressed; it receives besides a certain number of terminations, which perform the office of our conjunctions. Moreover, from the totality of these auxiliaries two parallel series have been formed, which, joined alternatively to nouns of action, produce the active and middle voices, or rather the transitive and intransitive. The auxiliaries of the periphrastic conjugation are almost the only verbs that have been preserved belonging to the simple primitive system.
With regard to syntax, the Basque resembles all agglutinative languages. The sentence is always simple. The phrases are generally short; relative pronouns are unknown. The complexity of the verb, which unites many ideas in a single word, contributes to this simplicity of the sentence, in which the subject and the attribute, with their respective complements, tend to form but one expression. This object is attained by the invariability of the adjectives, and especially by composition.
The adjective is placed after the noun it qualifies, whilst the genitive, on the contrary, precedes the governing noun.
Composition is of such common use in Basque, that it has caused several juxta-posed words to be contracted and reduced, so as to be partially confounded one with the other. This phenomenon is familiar to languages of the New World; it is this which properly constitutes polysynthetism, and which we must carefully distinguish from incorporation. This last word should be reserved to designate more particularly the phenomena of objective or attributive conjugation common to idioms of the second form.
The Basque vocabulary appears to be very poor. Although it is still imperfectly known (for the old books, and the names of places, as well as certain little studied dialectic variations, must have retained some words generally forgotten), we are yet able to assert that pure Basque terms do not express abstract ideas. Except in words borrowed from the Gascon, French, Spanish, and Latin, we find no trace of any advanced civilization, and we can discover but very few expressions which imply collectivity or generalization--e.g., there is no word which has the wide signification of our word "tree," of our "animal." "God" is simply, by anthropomorphism, "the Master on High." One and the same Word translates our ideas of "will, desire, fancy, thought." Borrowed words
are more numerous, from the fact that the influence of Aryan dialects has been felt through many ages; it is probably owing to their contact with the Indo-European races that the Basques, or those who used to speak the Basque, have any historical existence.
Thus, in order to study this singular idiom, it is necessary to understand thoroughly the history of the intervention of Latin in the Pyrenean region. No assistance is to be obtained from written documents, for there is not (and there cannot have been) any primitive Basque literature. The oldest book was published in 1545. 1 The second is the Protestant version of the New Testament, printed at La Rochelle by order of Jeanne d'Albret, in 1571. 2
Another difficulty arises from the extreme variability of the language. There are, perhaps, not two villages where it is spoken absolutely in the same manner. This is natural enough among an unlettered people, and one which can only rise to the level of the surrounding civilization by forgetting its ancient language. These different varieties are easily grouped into secondary dialects. Prince L. L. Bonaparte recognises twenty-five of them, but they are reduced without difficulty to eight great dialects. A closer inspection further reduces these eight divisions to three; that is to say, the differences between the eight principal dialects are unequal, and admit of partial resemblances.
The eight dialects are: (1) The Labourdine, (2) The Souletine, (3) The Eastern Lower-Navarrese, (4) The Western Lower-Navarrese, (5) The Northern Upper-Navarrese, (6) The Southern Upper-Navarrese, (7) The Guipuzcoan, (8) The Biscayan. The Souletine and the two
[paragraph continues] Lower-Navarrese dialects form the first group, which may be called the Oriental division. The Biscayan alone forms the Western, and the four others form the Central group. These names are taken from territorial divisions. La Soule was formerly a province feudatory to Navarre, and now embraces, within the French department of the Basses-Pyrénées, the cantons of Mauléon and Tardets, as well as some parishes of the canton of St. Palais, in the arrondissement of Mauléon. The Labourd, a viscounty, vassal of the Duchy of Aquitaine, corresponded to the cantons of Bayonne (excepting the city itself and three other parishes), of St. Jean de Luz, of Ustaritz, of Espelette, and part of Hasparren, in the arrondissement of Bayonne. The remaining part of the two French arrondissements which we have just named composes Lower Navarre, which is again subdivided into the districts of Cize, Mixe, Arberoue, Ostabaret, and the valleys of Osses and Baigorry. This was originally the sixth merindad of Navarre, a kingdom which extended into Spain as far as the Ebro, from Garde and Cortés on the one side to Vera and Viana on the other. Basque is still spoken along the French frontier and in several valleys forming the upper part of the territory. Guipuzcoa contains the cantons (partidos) of St. Sebastian, Tolosa, Azpeitia, and Vergara. Biscay comprises all the territory between Ondarroa and the river of Sommorostro, between La Carranza and the Peña de Gorbea.
The dialects do not correspond exactly to the territorial subdivisions whose names they bear. Thus the Western Lower-Navarrese is spoken in a part of the ancient Labourd; the Biscayan in Guipuzcoa. Lastly, on the Spanish maps, there is another Basque province, Alava; but Basque is scarcely spoken there, excepting in a narrow strip along the northern frontier. The dialect of these Alavese districts is included in the Biscayan. To resume, the Biscayan dialect
is now spoken in Alava, Biscay, and the western third part of Guipuzcoa, in Vergara, and in Las Salinas; the Guipuzcoan in almost all the rest of Guipuzcoa; the Northern Upper-Navarrese in some villages of Guipuzcoa on the French frontier, in Fontarabie, Irun, and in the northern part of Navarre; the Southern Upper-Navarrese in the rest of Basque Navarre; the Labourdine in the south-western part of the arrondissement of Bayonne; the Western Lower-Navarrese in the north-eastern part of the same arrondissement; the Souletine is spoken in the two cantons of Mauléon and Tardets, and at Esquiule in the arrondissement of Oloron; the Eastern Lower-Navarrese extends into the arrondissement of Bayonne as far as St. Pierre d'Irube, by Meharrin, Ayherre, Briscous, Urcuit.
Of these arrondissements, of these provinces, none is entirely Basque in a linguistic point of view, except Guipuzcoa, Navarre is only half so, Alava only a tenth part. A little less than a fourth part has to be subtracted from Biscay, and certain Gascon villages from the arrondissements of Mauléon and Bayonne in France. Neither Bayonne, nor Pampeluna, nor Bilbao are Basque. 1 And, moreover, skirting the districts where the Basque is the native idiom of the majority of the inhabitants, on many points there is an intermediate zone in which Basque is known only by a minority of the population; nevertheless, this zone must be included in the geographical area of the idiom, since the persons who speak Basque in it know it as their native language, and have never learnt it. This zone is most extensive in Navarre, but exists also in Alava and in Biscay. In France there is no analogous mixed zone; and, as M. P.
[paragraph continues] Broca remarks ("Sur l'Origine et la Repartition de la, Langue Basque," Paris, 1875, p. 39), "the demarcation is brusque, and may be indicated by a single line." The Basques, moreover, in this respect, present some curious points for study. "In the valley of Roncal the men speak Spanish together; with the women they speak Basque, as do the women to each other. A similar state of things is to be observed at Ochagavia in Salazar. But this custom is not observed in the Roncalese villages of Uztarroz and Isaba, where the men among themselves speak indifferently Basque or Spanish." (Prince L. L. Bonaparte, "Etudes sur les Dialects d'Aezcoa," &c.) p. 3).
The preceding description justifies the opinion advanced at the beginning of this notice. The Basque is an agglutinative idiom, and must be placed, in a morphological point of view, between the Finnic family, which is simply incorporating, and the North American incorporating and polysynthetic families. But we must not conclude thence that the Escuara, is a near relation either of the Finnic or of the Magyar, of the Algonquin or of the Irokese. The relationship of two or more languages cannot, in fact, be concluded merely from a resemblance of their external physiognomy. To prove a community of origin, it is indispensable that (if compared at the same stage of development) their principal grammatical elements should not only be analogous in their functions, but should also have a certain phonetic resemblance, in order to render the hypothesis of their original identity admissible. It is better to abstain from asserting that such languages are derived from the same source, if the significant roots--which, after all, constitute the proper basis, the true originality of a language--should be found to be totally different. At present, no language has been discovered which presents any root-likeness to the Basque, analogous to that which exists
between the Sanscrit, Greek, and Gothic, or between Arabic and Hebrew.
Nevertheless, there are in the world minds so devoted to the worship of their own fixed ideas, so smitten with their own metaphysical dreams, so full of faith in the necessity of the unity of language, that they have acquired the habit of torturing the radical elements of a language, and of making them flexible and variable to an inconceivable degree. They pass their lives in seeking etymologies, such as those which Schleicher calls "Etymologizerungen ins blanc hinein," and in discovering phonetic miracles--worthy children of those students of the last centuries who, in the general ignorance of the science of language, traced up all languages to Hebrew. The adventurous spirits to whom I allude have invented a theory of languages in which the vocabulary is incessantly renewed, and have formed the great "Turanian" family, in which everything which is neither Aryan, nor Semitic, nor Chinese, must be perforce included. In this olla podrida, where the Japanese elbows the Esquimaux, and the Australian shakes hands with the Turkish, where the Tamul fraternizes with the Hungarian, a place is carefully reserved for the Basque. Many amateurs, more daring still, have wedded the Escuara, or at least those who speak it, to the soi-disant Khamitic tribes of Egypt; others have united them to the ancient Phoenicians; others have seen in them the descendants of the Alans; others again, thanks to the Atlantides, make them a colony of Americans. It is not long since it was seriously affirmed, and in perfect good faith, that the Basques and the Kelts, the Welsh or Bretons, understood each other, and could converse at length, each using his native tongue. I refer these last to the poet Rulhière:
La contrariété tient souvent au langage:
On peut s'entendre moins parlant un même son,
Que si l'un parlait Basque et l'autre Bas-Breton." p. 231
The more serious of these foes of negative conclusions, of these refiners of quintessences, assert that the ancestors of the Basques are incontestably the Iberians. In the first place I will remark that, supposing this proved, the Basques, or, if you will, the Iberians, would not be the less isolated; for how could the Iberian, any more than the Basque, be allied to the Keltic or to the Carthaginian? But this Iberian theory is not yet at all proved, and it will be easy to show it to be so in a few words. It reposes first of all on the following a à priori--the Iberians have occupied all Spain and the south of Gaul, but the Escuara lives still at the foot of the Pyrénées; therefore the Escuara is a remnant of the language of the Iberians. The error of the syllogism is patent; the conclusion does not follow, and is wrongly deduced from the premises. As to the direct proofs, they are reduced to essays of interpretation, either of inscriptions called Iberian or Keltiberian, or of numismatic legends, or of proper, and especially of topographical names. 1 The inscriptions and legends are written in characters evidently of Phoenician origin, but their interpretation is anything but certain. All the readings, all the translations into Basque, proposed by MM. Boudard, Phillips, and others, are disputed by the linguists who are now studying the Basque. The names collected from ancient authors form a more solid basis; but the explanations proposed by W. von Humboldt, and after him by many etymologists without method, 2 are equally for the most part inadmissible. The Iberian theory is not proved, though it is perfectly possible.
The Basques do not present, in an anthropological point of view, as far as we know at present, any original and well-defined
characteristic other than their language. 1 Nothing in their manners or customs is peculiar to them. It is in vain that some writers have tried to discover the strange custom of the "couvade" among them, a custom still observed, it is said, by the natives of South America and in the plains of Tartary. It consists in the husband, when his wife is confined, going to bed with the new-born infant, and there he "couve," "broods over it," so to say. No modern or contemporaneous writer has found this custom among the Basques; and as to historical testimony, it is reduced to a passage of Strabo--which nothing proves to be applicable to the ancestors of the present Basques--and to certain allusions in writers of the last two centuries. These allusions always refer to the Béarnais, the dialect whence the word "couvade" is borrowed.
Prince L. L. Bonaparte has discovered that in the Basque dialect of Roncal the moon is called "Goicoa;" Jaungoicoa is the word for "God" in Basque, and would mean "the Lord Moon," or rather "our Lord the Moon." He cites, with reference to this, "the worship of the moon by the ancient Basques." The only evidence in favour of this worship is a passage of Strabo (Lib. iii., iv. 16), where it is said that the Keltiberians, and their neighbours to the north, honour a certain anonymous God by dances before their doors at night during the full moon. But it must be proved that the Keltiberians and their neighbours to the north were Basques.
Another passage of Strabo has furnished arguments to the "Iberists." He says (Lib. iii., iv. 18) that among the Cantabrians the daughters inherited, to the detriment of their brothers. M. Eugène Cordier has endeavoured, after
[paragraph continues] Laferrière ("Histoire du Droit Français"), to establish that this arrangement is the origin of the right of primogeniture without distinction of sex, and which is found more or less in all the "coutumes" of the Western Pyrénées. He has developed this theory in an interesting essay, "Sur l'Organisation de la Famille chez les Basques" (Paris, 1869). But an able lawyer of Bayonne, M. Jules Balasque, has shown in Vol. II. of his remarkable "Etudes Historiques sur la Ville de Bayonne" (Bayonne, 1862-75) that there is nothing peculiar to the Basques in this fact; and we can only recognise in it, as in the opposite custom of "juveignerie" in certain northern "coutumes," an application of a principle essentially Keltic or Gallic for the preservation of the patrimony.
In conclusion, I beg my readers to excuse the brevity of the preceding notes; but, pressed for time, and overwhelmed with a multitude of occupations, it has not been possible for me to do more. If I am still subject to the reproach which Boileau addresses to those who, in striving to be concise, become obscure, I have at least endeavoured to conform to the precept of the Tamul poet, Tiruvalluva--"To call him a man who lavishes useless words, is to call a man empty straw" (I. Book, xx. chap., 6th stanza).
Bayonne, August 28, 1876.
221:1 I am not unaware that certain portions of the theory above stated have been recently disputed, especially by Mr. Sayce ("Principles of Comparative Philology," Trübner, London, 1874). But I am unable, for the present at least, to accept all these criticisms, and I have here no opportunity of discussing them fully, or to good purpose.
226:1 "Poésies Basques de Bernard Dechepare." A most careful reprint, word for word, was published by Cazals, Bayonne, in 1874.
226:2 An exact reprint of the Gospel of St. Mark in this version, with notes, &c., by M. J. Vinson, was also published at Bayonne (Cazals), 1874.
228:1 For more minute and complete topographical details, see the excellent linguistic maps of Prince L. L. Bonaparte, which are models of the application of geography to the aid of philological study. The peculiar dialect spoken in every village, and, in some instances, in almost every house, may be there traced.
231:1 M. Van Eys has consecrated an excellent article to these etymologies in the "Revue de Linguistique," Juillet, 11874, pp. 3-15.
231:2 It must, however be acknowledged that M. Luchaire, in various pamphlets relating to the ancient toponymy of Spain, has made certain of these explanations more acceptable.
232:1 A form of skull, postero-dolichocephalous, with good facial angle, ortho- or opistho-gnathous, but of comparatively small cerebral content, is claimed by some as peculiar to the Basques.--W. W.