Basque is a language isolate spoken in the Pyrenees by approximately 700,000 people on either side of the France-Spain border. It is an agglutinating language with an extensive case system and verbal morphology.
|Point of Articulation||Stop||Nasal||Trill||Tap||Fricative||Lateral||Approximant||Affricate|
|Labial||p b||m||f (1)|
|Alveolar||t d||n||rr||r||s z (2)||l||ts tz|
|Palatal|| tt dd
- f is quite rare, and mostly occurs in loan words such as kafe. It is arguably not a sound originally present in Basque
- the distinction between s and z is not one of voicing, but rather s is apical (the tongue tip rather than the blade creates the sound). s sounds somewhat like [S].
Voiced stops are also often softened inside words until they become fricatives (b → β, d → ð, g → ɣ) or vanish entirely. The Basque vowel system is a standard i e a o u similar to Spanish, with no distinction for length, and no nasal vowels (except in one dialect). There are several diphthongs including eu au ai ei.
The Noun Phrase
The constituents of the Noun Phrase are ordered as follows:
relative_clause noun adjective adjective .... determiner
Every noun phrase must have a determiner and in almost every case it has exactly one. Most go at the end of the NP, but numbers greater than one and certain others such as zein "which" precede the NP. Note that Basque is somewhat unusual in that the heavy relative clause precedes the noun while adjectives follow it.
The Case System
The Determiner -a
The default determiner in Basque, often translated as "the", is the suffix -a added onto the end of the noun phrase. THis often combines with the case affixes. For example:
in the bus
If these did not combine with would have *autobusan.
Basque has a large number of case affixes, including:
- The genitive and possessive genitive have different functions. The genitive is used for such things as origin (and never with animates), whereas the possessive genitive is used for possession and in the construction of some post-positional phrases.
The case endings in Basque always apply to noun phrases, and since adjectives always follow their noun this means that it is often not the noun itself which recieves the case marking. It is also common for determiners to recieve the case marking. Many of the determiners have slightly irregular case forms. For example:
In the street
In a street
In the old street
The case system reflect number with a three way distinction: case ending with article (always singular), indefinite number (when the number is specified by a determiner or number elsewhere in the NP), and plural number. For example:
to the mountain
to the mountains
to two mountains
As you can see, when the NP is qualified by "bi" (two), then the plural -e- vanishes leaving the indefinite case ending, since the number is already specified.
Basque is probably most famous for being an ergative language (I have often seen it used as an example). What this means (in the case of Basque) is that in transitive clauses the Patient is unmarked, as is the single argument of an intransitive verb, and the Actor takes a separate marker. Some examples:
mutila joan da
mutil-a joan da
boy-NP go pres.3st.sing.abs
the boy goes
mutilak kafesnea nahi luke
mutil-a-k kafesne-a nahi luke
boy-NP-erg coffee-NP want cond.3rd.abs.3rd.erg
the boy would like some coffee
As you can see, in the transitive sentence the Actor (the boy) takes an extra marker -k, whereas the Patient (coffee) does not. Interestingly, a common continuous construction results in agreement with the Actor only. For example:
ni etxea egiten ari naiz
ni etxea egi-ten ari naiz
I-abs house-NP make-prog act pres.1st.abs
I am making the house
here, an intransitive auxilliary agreeing with the Actor is used even though egin (to make) is transitive. Both arguments are marked as abs although the verb disambiguates in this case. This is because ari which has come into use as an auxilliary is an intransitive verb.
The Verbal System
The Basque verbal system works in a way relatively rare outside of the Caucassian Languages. Most verbs have no finite forms of their own, only participles and must be used with an auxilliary to obtain a finite form. There are at most 12 commonly used verbs with their own finite forms, including the verbs eduki "to have", egon "to be located", and izan "to be" (used as an auxilliary). However, the Basque verbal paradigm is still formidable, with two tenses past vs non-past, three aspects marked on the participles, various moods including indicative, subjunctive and hypothetical and extensive person agreement with the Ergative, Absolutive and Dative arguments if present. The verb may also agree with the gender of the 2nd person, if the Ergative or Dative "slot" is free. Some examples:
The preference for the use of non-finite forms whenever possibly is strong, with chains of participles without auxilliaries common in normal "flowing" speech. For example:
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