DS08 - Sociétés innovantes, intégrantes et adaptatives

Basque in the Making: A Historical Look at a Language Isolate – BIM

Submission summary

This project has two basic goals: the first one is to launch a systematic diachronic study of some of the central grammatical features of Basque grammar as we know it today, by pointing out their evolution in the attested history of Basque and analyzing them in the context of the recent theoretical advances in diachronic morphosyntax and theoretical linguistics. We are particularly interested in those features of Basque grammar that contribute to its special profile in the European context: those are also the aspects that may be thought to contribute most significantly to the understanding of wider typological generalizations. The project will combine the efforts of specialists in Basque philology and historical linguistics, dialectologists, language contact specialists and theoretical linguists working on the generative and typological frameworks. Unlike the main strand of Basque historical linguistics as it is practiced today, the project will not be particularly concerned with the idea of reconstructing previous stages of the language (like the traditional effort to reconstruct protobasque, or more recently, pre-protobasque), as with examining in the light of current comparative and typological work the successive attested stages of the language in a number of basic linguistic features, in order to extract information not only about the diachronic evolution of Basque but also about general aspects of language change. Basque is a privileged standpoint from which to address some of the questions related to language change: besides its very special typological status in the context of so-called Standard Average European (it is an agglutinative language, with ergative case alignment, discourse configurational, strictly analytic in its productive verbal forms, and allowing null arguments for all three argument positions, among other rare properties in the European context) it is historically in contact with three existing romance languages: Spanish, French and Occitan, which are themselves also richly attested since the middle ages, and have been the object of study of well-established philological and linguistic traditions. Basque has also a rich tradition in dialectological studies, starting with the pioneering efforts of Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte in the middle of the XIXth century, and a written output which starts out consistently in the XVth century. The singular typological status of Basque in the European context, the wealth of dialectal and textual data at the disposal of the researchers, and its unique contact configuration provide an optimal landscape to study structural change.

The second goal is to create a comprehensive annotated historical database of Basque that will allow for systematic searches in diachronic research and will set a model for future works on historical database construction in Basque. This database, with an extension of about 750.000 words, will comprise both part-of-speech and syntactic annotation, and a rich set of metadata structure. The database will be constructed out of a reference corpus that will encompass the most representative written production between the XVth and the mid XVIIIth century. This is the time span that corresponds to Archaic and Old Basque. No such resource exists for Basque, and similar resources are rare for other regional languages in Europe. Given the various issues that will have to be addressed in the constitution of the corpus, the practical problems arising from a highly diversified grammatical material, and the lack of an established annotation system for many of the historical forms of Basque, the project is technically a pioneering one too. The absence of such instruments in the Basque scholar domain constitutes a major hindrance for the development of Basque historical linguistics, and therefore an important obstacle in the potential contribution of Basque studies to the European linguistic research.

Project coordination

Ricardo Etxepare (IKER CNRS)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


Sciences Formelles du Langage (SFL)

Help of the ANR 308,942 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: December 2017 - 48 Months

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