Basques, a people inhabiting the three Basque Provinces - Biscay, álava and Guipúzcoa - and Navarre in Spain, and the arrondissement of Bayonne and Mauléon in France. The number of those who can be considered in any sense pure Basques is probably about 600,000 in Europe, with perhaps 100,000 emigrants in the Americas, chiefly in the region of La Plata in South America. The word Basques is historically derived from Vascones, which, written Wascones, has also given the name Gascons to a very different race. The Basques call themselves Eskualdunak, i.e. "those who possess the Eskuara," and their country Eskual-Herria.
The original and proper name of the language is Eskuara (euskara, uskara), a word the exact meaning of which has not yet been ascertained, but which probably corresponds with the idea "clearly speaking." The language is highly interesting and stands as yet absolutely isolated from the other tongues of Europe, though from the purely grammatical point of view it recalls the Magyar and Finnic languages. It is an agglutinative, incorporating and polysynthetic system of speech; in the general series of organized linguistic families it would take an intermediate place between the American on the one side and the Ugro-Altaic or Ugrian on the other.
Basque has no graphic system of its own and uses the Roman character, either Spanish or French; a few particular sounds are indicated in modern writings by dotted or accented letters. The alphabet would vary according to the dialects. Prince L. L. Bonaparte counts, on the whole, thirteen simple vowels, thirty-eight simple consonants. Nasal vowels are found in some dialects as well as "wet" consonants - ty, dy, ny, etc. The doubling of consonants is not allowed and in actual current speech most of the soft consonants are dropped. The letter r cannot begin a word, so that rationem is written in Basque arrazoin.
Declension is replaced by a highly developed postpositional system; first, the definite article itself a (plural ak) is a postposition - zaldi, "horse," zaldia "the horse," zaldiak, "the horses." The declensional suffixes or postpositions, which, just like our prepositions, may be added to one another, are postponed to the article when the noun is definite. The principal suffixes are k, the mark of the plural, and of the singular nominative agent; n, "of" and "in"; i, "to"; z, "by"; ik, "some"; ko, "from," "of" (Lat. a); tik, "from" (Lat. ex); tzat, kotzat, tzako, "for"; kin, gaz, "with"; gatik, "for the sake of"; gana, "towards"; ra, rat, "to," "into," "at," etc. Of these suffixes some are joined to the definite, others to the indefinite noun, or even to both.
The personal pronouns, which to a superficial observer appear closely related to those of the Semitic or Hamitic languages, are ni, "I"; hi, "thou"; gu, "we"; zu, "you" in modern times, zu has become a polite form of "thou," and a true plural "you" (i.e. more than one) has been formed by suffixing the pluralizing sign k - zuek. The pronouns of the third person are mere demonstratives. There are three: hura or kura, "that"; hau or kau, "this"; ori or kori, "this" or "that." Other unexplained forms are found in the verbal inflexions, e.g. d, it, and t, "I" or "me"; d-akus-t, "it see I" = I see it; d-arrai-t, "it follows me." The demonstratives are used as articles: gazt-en-or, "this younger one"; andre-ori, "this lady at some distance." The reflective "self" is expressed by buru, "head." The relative does not exist, and in its place is used as a kind of verbal participle with the ending n: doa, "he goes"; doana, "he who is going"; in the modern Basque, however, by imitation of French or Spanish, the interrogative zein, zoin, is used as a relative. Other interrogatives are nor, "who"; zer, "what"; zembait, "how much," etc. Bat, "one"; batzu, "several"; bakotch, "each"; norbait, "some one"; hanitz or hainitz, "much"; elkar, "both"; are the most common indefinite pronouns.
The numeral system is vicesimal; e.g. 34 is hogoi ta hamalaur, "twenty and fourteen." The numbers from one to ten are: 1, bat; 2, bi; 3, hiru; 4, lau; 5, bortz or bost; 6, sei; 7, zazpi; 8, zortzi; 9, bederatzi; 10, hamar; 20, hogoi or hogei; 40, berrogoi (i.e. twice twenty); 100, ehun. There is no genuine word for a thousand.
The genders in Basque grammar are distinguished only in the verbal forms, in which the sex of the person addressed is indicated by a special suffix; so that eztakit means, "I do not know it"; but to a woman one says also: eztakinat, "I do not know it, oh woman!" To a man one says: eztakiat (for eztakikat), "I do not know it, oh man!" moreover, certain dialectic varieties have a respectful form: eztakizut, "I do not know it, you respectable one," from which also a childish form is derived, eztakichut, "I do not know it, oh child!"
The Basque conjugation appears most complicated, since it incorporates not only the subject pronouns, but, at the same time, the indirect and direct complement. Each transitive form may thus offer twenty-four variations - "he gives it," "he gives it to you," "he gives them to us," etc., etc. Primitively there were two tenses only, an imperfect and a present, which were distinguished in the transitive verb by the place of the personal subject element: dakigu, "we are knowing it" (gu, i.e. we), and ginaki, "we were knowing it"; in the intransitive by a nasalization of the radical: niz, "I am"; nintz, "I was." In modern times a conjectural future has been derived by adding the suffix ke, dakiket, "I will, shall or probably can know it." No proper moods are known, but subjunctive or conjunctive forms are formed by adding a final n, as dakusat, "I am looking at it"; dakusadan, "if I see it." No voices appear to have been used in the same radical, so that there are separate transitive and intransitive verbs.
In its present state Basque only employs its regular conjugation exceptionally; but it has developed, probably under the influence of neo-Latin, a most extensive conjugation by combining a few auxiliary verbs and what may be called participles, in fact declined nouns: ikusten dut, "I have it in seeing," "I see it"; ikusiko dut, "I have it to be seen," "I will see it," etc. The principal auxiliaries are: izan, "to be"; and ukan, "to have"; but edin, "to can"; eza, "to be able"; egin, "to make"; joan, "to go"; eroan, "to draw," "to move," are also much used in this manner.
The syntax is simple, the phrases are short and generally the order of words is: subject, complement, verb. The determining element follows the determined: gizon handia, "man great the" - the great man: the genitive, however, precedes the nominative - gizonaren etchea, "the man's house." Composition is common and it has caused several juxtaposed words to be combined and contracted, so that they are partially fused with one another - a process called polysyntheticism; odei, "cloud," and ots, "noise," form odots, "thunder"; belar, "forehead," and oin, "foot," give belaun, "knee," front of the foot. The vocabulary is poor; general and synthetic words are often wanting; but particular terms abound. There is no proper term for "sister," but arreba, a man's sister, is distinguished from ahizpa, a woman's sister. We find no original words for abstract ideas, and God is simply "the Lord of the high."
The vocabulary, however, varies extremely from place to place and the dialectic varieties are very numerous. They have been summed up by Prince L. L. Bonaparte as eight; these may be reduced to three principal groups: the eastern, comprising the Souletine and the two lower Navarrese; the central formed by the two upper Navarrese, the Guipúzcoan and the Labourdine; and the western, formed by the Biscayan, spoken too in álava. These names are drawn from the territorial subdivisions, although the dialects do not exactly correspond with them.