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Review of The Basque language

posted March 13th, 2013

The Basque language. By W.J. Van Eys. Munich: LINCOM Europa, 2010. (LINCOM gramatica 13.) Pp. 66. ISBN 9783895861970. $68.

Reviewed by John Ryan, University of Northern Colorado

The Basque language by W.J. Van Eys was originally published in 1883 with the title Outlines of Basque grammar, by Trübner & Co., as part of a series of simplified grammars. Following a brief preface and introduction, the book is divided into eleven numbered chapters, another section on syntax, and a final section called ‘Literal translation’. The book’s introduction reveals E’s opinion of the limitations of the scant and former work of Manuel Larramendi (1725), and other unnamed authors of the period whose primary focus was on the verb and the serious misassumption for a time that there was only one verb in Basque, or the lack of understanding of the functions of an agglutinative language. On a more positive note, the introduction closes with the hopes for discovery of the definitive origins of both Basque and Ancient Iberian languages, which at the time were being suggested as one and the same by Wilhelm von Humboldt and others.

Ch. 1 provides the geographical context for Basque and lists its six different dialects. Ch. 2 discusses the manner in which the Latin alphabet has been adopted in place of the original Basque alphabet, which is to this day unknown. Ch. 3 provides a discussion of phonetic/phonological processes that are typical in Basque. Ch. 4 concerns the definite article. Ch. 5 covers agglutination. Chs. 6 through 8 treat the nature of nouns and adjectives (Ch. 6), the various suffixes that may attach to these depending on the case attributed to them (Ch. 7), and pronouns (Ch. 8). Before proceeding to a discussion of verbs, Ch. 9 addresses numbers.

The most comprehensive chapter is Ch. 10, on the Basque verb, which includes both regular and irregular verbs, moods, and auxiliaries. Ch. 11 completes the chaptered sections, making some brief remarks about adverbs and conjunctions. Following Ch. 11, an unnumbered, antepenultimate section briefly discusses Basque syntax and how the various parts of speech individually explained in the preceding chapters agglutinate to form a Basque sentence. Finally, the last section of the book provides a brief text in Basque with corresponding word-for-word translation in English, as well as a commentary with partial parsing.

Despite the book’s age of almost 150 years, it still serves, although on a very basic level, as an adequate introduction to the most important aspects of the Basque language. Both the short length and readability of the text make it ideal as supplemental reading for either an introductory course on language typology or a survey course on languages (both Romance and non-Romance) of the Iberian Peninsula. The book also has great historical importance, as it documents the earlier belief as suggested by Humboldt and others that Basque and Ancient Iberian shared a common linguistic ancestor.