Most Europeans and Asians speak one of the Indo-European languages, such as German, Hindi and Russian. However, one language, Basque, which is spoken by people in north-eastern Spain and south-western France, isn’t related to any other tongue. (See map below.) Its origins are shrouded in mystery and some people have even suggested that it was spoken in the ‘lost continent of Atlantis’.
|Region of Basque speaking people|
It now seems likely that the ancestors of Basque, who belonged to an Upper Stone Age culture, settled in areas of present day Spain and France long before the Indo-Europeans. There is no doubt that Basque was once spoken over a wider region than it is today. But it was never the language of a major state. The first book in this language – though with a Latin title – was printed in 1545 and serious research on the language may be dated from that time.
Basque has constantly struggled for survival against the more widespread Spanish and French languages. From time to time, it was outlawed in official contexts, in schools and even in all public places. In spite of this, Basque now has about 6,50,000 fluent speakers. The estimate results from adding the number of speakers in Spain to the guessed number in France, where linguistic censuses are not taken. As many as 5,00,000 others know something of the language. The majority of Basque speakers are concentrated in a narrow area of approximately 10,000 square kilometers.