Public Lecture: "The Basque Language and People – intriguing origins, complex context"

02/23/2016 - 7:00pm to 8:30pm
UKAA Auditorium (W.T. Young Library)
Speaker(s) / Presenter(s): 
Dr. Karlos Arregi (University of Chicago)

Basque, a minority language spoken in a region straddling the border between Northeastern Spain and Southwestern France, has fascinated linguists and nonlinguists alike for centuries. Part of the mystique surrounding the language is the perception that it is an 'old language': it is an isolate with no demonstrable genealogical relationship with any other language, and has been spoken in the Basque Country for over 2,000 years, a surprising fact given its minority status. This puzzlement about Basque has led many to look for connections to languages spoken in places as far apart from the Basque Country and each other as the Caucasus, India, and North America, or to claim that Basque is the remnant of a language family that was spoken in a much larger area than it is now.

One of the goals of this talk is to demystify Basque, concentrating on a fact often overlooked by those not familiar with the language, namely, that it has been in continuous contact with other languages, especially with Latin and its descendant Romance languages for the last 2,000 years or so. This contact situation has had profound effects, both on the language itself and on its social status, as well as on our scholarly understanding of the structure of the language. On the one hand, the study of the influence that Latin and Romance languages have had on Basque has been one of the main tools that have allowed Basque linguists to elucidate certain aspects of the structure of the language as it was spoken about 2,000 years ago, a scholarly accomplishment that would probably not have been possible if Basque hadn't been in such a contact situation. On the other hand, it would be impossible to understand the current situation of Basque as a minority language without an understanding of its relation to the majority languages spoken in the Basque Country (Spanish and French).

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