By jingo it’s Basque

I have just finished reading a wonderful book on language called WORDS: the evolution of western languages (Edited by Victor Stevenson, Van Nostrand Rheinhold Company Inc.). It looks at how the early Indo-European language created most of the modern languages now used in Europe, Turkey, Iran and all the way to India.

The Basque language is an exception and is considered one of Europe’s oldest languages. The authors suggest it survives from the stone age; and was probably spoken when the earliest Europeans were cave painting.

The Etxepare Basque Institute is a public organisation that works to enhance the international presence and visibility of the Basque language. It describes the Basque language as follows.

The Basque people speak to the world in Euskara. The Basque language, or Euskara, is spoken in Spain and France at the western edge of the Pyrenees. Alava, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and Navarre are the areas where Euskara is spoken on the Spanish side of the border. In the Northern Basque region on the French side of the border (Le Pays Basque) are the provinces of Labourd, Lower Navarre and Soule. Together, these seven regions or provinces are called Euskal Herria in Euskara.

The latest figures show that out of a total population of around three million, some 900,000 people speak Basque. The dialectal differences in Euskara are very pronounced. There is probably only one other small region in Europe, Slovenia, with such a considerable degree of dialectal diversity.

Throughout history, the Basque language has demonstrated an enormous capacity to absorb words and structures from other languages. If not, it would surely have disappeared centuries ago, as is the case with other languages spoken two thousand years ago in what is today Spain and France.

Basque has contributed little vocabulary to the other language groups around it—Spanish, Occitan, or French. However, Basque family and place-names are frequent in Spain and Latin America, for example, Aramburu, Bolívar, Echeverría, and Guevara.

There is much debate about what words English has taken from Basque. The strongest candidate is  jingo. It is used in the word jingoism for a chauvinistic patriot and the expression by jingo (as a euphemism for by God). However the Oxford English Dictionary suggests that the this suggestion is “not impossible” but is “as yet unsupported by evidence”.

The Basques converted to Christianity in about 600AD. Jingo is thought to be derived from Jinkoa one of their ancient gods.