The Basques

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Sorcerer, Jan 14, 2014.

  1. Sorcerer Put a Spell on you Registered Senior Member

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    I read somewhere that the Basques are genetically distinct from any of their neighbours, and that their language is 'isolate', which means that it's not related to any other language. Is that right? How does a language develop in isolation like that? Obviously the mountain environment helps, but there must be other reasons.
     
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  3. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    The origin of the Basques will probably always be a bit of a mystery, but I believe the hypothesis with the most support is that they are the world's last remaining Cro-Magnons. AFAIK no Cro-Magnon skeletons have been found in good enough condition for a DNA analysis.

    The Cro-Magnon were the first Homo sapiens to establish a successful population in Europe, as the current ice age began to end around 30KYA. Until then the Neanderthals had Europe to themselves, with physiology much better suited for the cold climate and for hunting the large, slow-moving, energy-efficient herbivores that lived there at that time. The sapiens were better suited for the warming weather; their lighter bodies and more versatile musculature were just right for hunting the faster, smaller herbivores who made the migration with them, and of course being buoyant (unlike the Neanderthals) they could fish safely in the now-liquid rivers.

    DNA evidence tells us that there was no Neanderthal Holocaust, but rather that the Cro-Magnon simply became the dominant species and intermarried with them as their numbers dwindled.

    Around 4KYA a new population of H. sapiens began migrating into Europe, the Indo-Europeans. The Celts were the first tribe, followed by the Germanic, Hellenic and Italic tribes; and much later by the Slavs and Albanians. (The Finns, Huns, Magyars, Turks and Jews are not Indo-European peoples.) They brought agriculture with them (the twin technologies of farming and animal husbandry) as well as metallurgy, making them the new masters of the continent. Just like the Cro-Magnon, they too interbred with the native population, but there's very little left of Cro-Magnon culture since Bronze Age societies tend to tear up the landscape with their metal tools--just some lovely cave paintings and the very sophisticated artist kits used to make them, a flute made from a mammoth tusk tuned perfectly for the pentatonic scale, and a few other tantalizing bits.

    And (arguably) the Basque people, of course. But the Basques have been surrounded by Indo-European cultures for so long that it's virtually impossible to find any vestiges of their earlier culture, so we can't really be sure who their ancestors were. There were other people in Europe before the Indo-Europeans came, notably the Etruscans. Perhaps the Basques are related to them, which doesn't help us at all since we know nothing of the Etruscans' ancestry either.

    There's a long shot that the Basque language could be related to Etruscan--there aren't enough Etruscan writings to work with. But it may well be the last living member of the language family spoken by the ancient Cro-Magnon 25 thousand years ago. Or the Basques could be descendants of another adventurous band of Homo sapiens who migrated out of Asia before the Indo-Europeans.

    As for a language developing "in isolation," all that really means is that any relatives it once had are extinct and left no written records.
     
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  5. Sorcerer Put a Spell on you Registered Senior Member

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    That's very interesting, thanks.

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  7. barcelonic Registered Senior Member

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    Great response from fraggle there i can't top that.

    I'm fascinated by the Basque history/mystery

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    Like FR said there was a wave of Middle-Eastern farmers folk who moved into Europe. Genetically everyone in Europe should be able to trace their mtDNA back to one of seven women who lived in Eurasia around that time. For whatever reason, the Basque country was able to remain isolated throughout this period. Some say the Nahuatl languages of Central America are the closest linked languages to Basque, but this isn't accepted. It;s interesting though because some believe in an small migration in ancient times across the atlantic, and there are lots of X and Z in those languages, here's one of their words.. 'Axolotl'

    If you look at a map of the region it is very mountainous and the narrowing between france and spain imo can be likened to the mountainous narrowing of Armenia between the black sea and the caspian. So there may have been a strong geopolitical influence on their isolation; perhaps it was easier to defend or perhaps settlers/invaders prized the lands to the south more and they were rushing to get there, basques may have been overlooked.

    But who knows right? If i knew perhaps i wouldn't be so fascinated any more

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  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Just last week it was published in the daily newspapers that a new set of human fossils has been found in the British Isles. They were dated much older than the earliest known migrations from Europe--and in fact seem to even predate the arrival of Homo sapiens in Europe itself. But even more surprisingly, their DNA appears to be related to the Basques. I haven't got the newspaper article handy, so I can't give specific details. I'll come back with them later unless somebody beats me to it.
     
  9. barcelonic Registered Senior Member

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    Humans are homos sapiens. Tis interesting nonetheless; the contemparies of the Basques who lived in Europe wouldn't have had the same genetic and linguistic differences we have today. So these people in the British Isles might give us a clue about the type of humans who lived before that last influx changed the continent forever.

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    Just saying is all, they couldn't have predated homo sapiens unless the fossils are not human.
     
  10. Sorcerer Put a Spell on you Registered Senior Member

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    Would appreciate it if you can.
     
  11. mathman Valued Senior Member

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    These fossils are estimated to be about 700,000 years old. Homo sapiens is at most 200,000 years old and reached Europe about 100,000 years ago (or later). There is no way that these fossils could be homo sapiens.
     
  12. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    It does seem that way. But it's a remarkable anomaly. There is no other evidence of primates in that part of the world that far back (IIRC). So how did they get there? Our earlier ancestral species invented flint blades, controlled fire, and various other Paleolithic technologies, but not boats.

    As for the migrations of our species, the first wave out of Africa occurred 60KYA, not 100KYA. There was a famine in Africa at that time because of an ice age, so they kept walking and boating until they reached Australia, ironically a paradise due to the vagaries of weather patterns. They were the ancestors of the Native Australians.

    Another wave came out about 10KY later. The climate had improved so they settled in nearby southwestern Asia and slowly expanded. They reached eastern Asia around 40KYA, and about 10KY later another band walked into Europe. These were the Cro-Magnon, who eventually replaced H. neanderthalensis, interbreeding in the process so most modern Europeans have a few bits of Neanderthal DNA.

    Between 15KYA and 10KYA, a group of eastern Asians migrated across Beringia to North America, becoming the ancestors of all of the New World tribes except the Eskimo-Inuit, who are rather recent arrivals.

    Then around 3-4KYA a second band of southwestern Asians reached Europe: the Western Indo-Europeans (the Celtic, Hellenic, Italic and Germanic tribes). These people had learned the technologies of farming and animal husbandry (which make up agriculture) in Asia, so they easily out-competed the Cro-Magnon, who today are (perhaps) represented only by the Basques.

    Oddly enough, one of our biggest mysteries is the origin of the modern Afro-Asiatic people: the Egyptians, Ethiopians, Berbers and other North Africans, as well as the Semites. Their languages comprise a distinct family, and they live in a region that has been walked over by half the ethnic groups on earth so their DNA is an indecipherable hodgepodge. They sprang up about the time of the Agricultural Revolution 12KYA. Were they sub-Saharan Africans who invented agriculture on their own and used it to reclaim the Sahara after its long desertification? Or were they southwestern Asians who brought agriculture with them?
     
  13. barcelonic Registered Senior Member

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    FR i think the point he's trying to make is that while you are talking about various species of hominins there could not have been homo sapiens (humans) 0.7mya in any part of the world because we hadn't evolved yet.

    I like your info though - i do find all of this stuff fascinating!

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  14. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Sure. And I made the additional point that (AFAIK) there were no primates anywhere near the British Isles in that era, much less a Great Ape that resembled humans!
     
  15. Aqueous Id flat Earth skeptic Valued Senior Member

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    I guess it's hard to reconcile the presence or absence of various archaelogical evidence of earliest modern humans against this question of oldest language in Europe. There's a pretty big gap in time. But I think it's fascinating that some descendants of an ancient culture might genetically be more similar to the DNA recovered from some of the later Cro Magnons. (I'm actually confused about this. Did Cro-Magnons branch into a genetically similar population with distinctive features [flat brow / square jaw ?] and remain isolated for most of the late Pleistocene? )

    If I had no other information to go by, I might have guessed that Basque has influences of Romance and . . .Finnic? languages. The vowels sound familiar but that may be a late corruption from its neighbors. In any case I started thinking about the way Old English seems so foreign to us. If anything remotely resembling the language impact of the Roman arrival in Britain ever occurred in the Basque lands then isn't it conceivable that it may have stemmed from a prehistoric (pre-Beowulf in this case I guess) root long lost, maybe even substantially different?

    I was also wondering when they may have actually settled in their present homeland. The location almost suggests arrival by sea, with quick refuge from invaders up in the highlands. Either that or people who were pushed or migrated there from the south and were stopped by the sea. There's no telling whether the base language evolved in some other place, followed by emigration to upper Iberia.

    It also came to mind how the Celtic/Gaelic influence is seen in Galicia (i.e., musical influences). Also remarkable about this region are the 7 centuries of Moorish occupation. In that regard, insofar as it suggests the Portuguese were cut off from their ancestors (depending on how much any travel or trade made have been impeded) when you compare the quasi French phonemes of Portuguese, it almost seems the reverse should be true: that something like Portuguese should have evolved in eastern Iberia and the less similar language, something closer to Spanish, should have evolved in the west. If I'm not mistaken the Moors were less effective in Galicia and I'm also noting that the language there resembles Spanish with a Portuguese accent.

    Also, there are quite a few extant Basque dialects which seem almost as remotely related as one Romance language is to another. I even wonder if the ways language evolve have something to due with a cultural pressure not well understood (certainly not to me). I think isolation is easy enough to identify, esp. just looking at the natural boundaries that influence it. But I wonder what happens during encroachment and occupation by enemies and not-so-friendly neighbors (even other Basque villages)? I wonder if the natives alter their speech intentionally so they can speak covertly without being so easily detected. (Like kids speaking in "Pig Latin" realizing that it's not to hard to do something similar.) Although I find arguments against it (Spanish is closer to Latin/Italian than their neighbors) if what I'm suggesting were remotely plausible, then it might account for the reason Spanish stands apart from its neighbors.

    Following this, I suppose it's easier to assume that Spanish is the mongrel, from blending Moorish speech with the pre-Moorish Spanish. Obviously division of lands into kingdoms naturally produces its own isolation. And I'm basing this on the wild guess that archaic Spanish may have sounded a little more like modern French. It at least addresses why Portuguese sounds more like French than Spanish does.

    All of this is sheer speculation. But it's a curiosity. When you travel short hops and notice the diversity of tongues, it conveys that there is some deeper story about the history of a region, even if they are only details long lost or poorly understood.
     
  16. mathman Valued Senior Member

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    What is your source for that assertion? Homo erectus was all over Eurasia as well as Africa. Why not Britain?
     
  17. barcelonic Registered Senior Member

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    Sorry FR I just still dont know what to search for about these fossils. If they aren't humans what was found there?

    Btw boats wouldn't have been needed to get to the British Isles back then

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  18. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

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    Sorry! My mistake. However, Wikipedia insists that H. erectus only got as far as Georgia.
     
  19. barcelonic Registered Senior Member

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    One thing to consider might be that of all the places in the world, North Europe is a fantastic place to find fossils of any kind. In order to survive this long they need certain things which preserve them and the temperate climates of the region are among the best in the world for finding fossils with recoverable DNA. This is why so many findings tend to be in France. The UK and france basically share a very similar climate and therefore the earth in both places is great for fossil preservation.

    It may well be the case that certain fossils found in the region existed elsewhere just as much but are not ever found. As an example, North Africa is a terrible place for that because of the deserts and the scorching heat, so bodies there would be very difficult to preserve. I'm going to guess the ancient Egyptians knew this and that is why the mummification process there is so refined.
     
  20. mathman Valued Senior Member

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