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Aquitanian language

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Title: Aquitanian language  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
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Subject: Basque language, History of the Basques, Aquitaine, List of extinct languages of Europe, Basques
Collection: Aquitaine, Basque, Extinct Languages of Europe, Pre-Indo-Europeans
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Aquitanian language

Native to France, Spain
Region West of the Pyrenees
Extinct by the Early Middle Ages
(except in the Northern Basque Country)
Language codes
ISO 639-3 xaq
Linguist list
Glottolog None
The Aquitanian language south of the Pyrenees c. 300 BC

The Aquitanian language was spoken on both sides of the western Pyrenees in ancient Aquitaine (approximately between the Pyrenees and the Garonne, the region later known as Gascony) and in the areas south of the Pyrenees in the valleys of the Basque Country before the Roman conquest.[1] It probably survived in Aquitania until the Early Middle Ages.

Archaeological, toponymical, and historical evidence show that it was a Vasconic language or group of languages that represent a precursor of the Basque language.[2] The most important pieces of evidence are a series of votive and funerary texts in Latin which contain about 400 personal names and 70 names of gods.


  • History 1
  • Persons' names and gods' names 2
  • Relations with other languages 3
  • Geographical extent 4
  • See also 5
  • Further reading 6
  • References 7


The Aquitanian c. 200 BC including the area north of the Pyrenees

Aquitanian and its related descendant, Basque, are commonly thought to be a remnant of the languages spoken in Western Europe before the arrival of Indo-European speakers. Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza's studies of the genetic history of Europe identified a cline of genes with highest frequencies in the Basque country, and lower levels beyond the area of Iberia and Southern France. Cavalli-Sforza describes this weakest of the five patterns he obtained[3] as isolated remnants of the pre-Neolithic population of Europe. It corresponds roughly to the geographical spread of rhesus negative blood types. Cavalli-Sforza's conclusion that the Basques are a genetic isolate as well as a linguistic one has since been widely discussed and sometimes challenged.

It may be possible to trace the Aquitanians more or less directly back to the Chalcolithic culture of Artenac, but the age of the Aquitanian language, and of the Basque language, is uncertain. Some contend that Basque dates to the age of metal;[4] others, citing the derivation of words for "knife" (aizto), "ax" (aizkora) and "hoe" (aitzur) from the word for "stone" (haitz), conclude that the language dates to the Stone Age or Neolithic period, when those tools were made of stone.[5][6]

Persons' names and gods' names

Almost all of the Aquitanian inscriptions that have been found north of the Pyrenees are in the territory that Greek and Roman sources assigned to Aquitanians.

  • Anthroponyms: Belexeia, Lavrco, Borsei, Andereseni, Nescato, Cissonbonnis, Sembecconi, Gerexo, Bihossi, Talsconis, Halscotarris etc.
  • Theonyms: Baigorixo, Ilunno, Arixoni, Artahe, Ilurberrixo, Astoiluno, Haravsoni, Leherenno etc.

Some inscriptions have also been found south of the Pyrenees in the territory that Greek and Roman sources assigned to Vascones:

  • Anthroponyms: Ummesahar, Ederetta, Serhuhoris, Dusanharis, Abisunhar etc.
  • Theonyms: Larrahe, Loxae / Losae, Lacubegi, Selatse / Stelaitse, Helasse, Errensae.

Relations with other languages

Most Aquitanian onomastic elements are clearly identifiable from a Basque perspective, matching closely the forms reconstructed by the Vascologist Koldo (Luis) Mitxelena for Proto-Basque:

Aquitanian Proto-Basque Basque Basque meaning
adin *adiN adin age, judgment
andere, er(h)e *andere andre lady, woman
andos(s), andox *andoś lord
arix *aris aritz oak
artahe, artehe *artehe arte holm oak
atta *aTa aita father
belex ?*beLe bele crow
bels *bels beltz black
bihox, bihos *bihos bihotz heart
bon, -pon *boN on good
bors *bors bortz five
cis(s)on, gison *gisoN gizon man
-c(c)o *-Ko -ko diminutive suffix
corri, gorri *goRi gorri red
hals- *hals haltza alder
han(n)a ?*aNane anaia brother
har-, -ar *aR ar male
hars- *hars hartz bear
heraus- *herauś herauts boar
il(l)un, ilur *iLun il(h)un dark
leher *leheR leher pine
nescato *neśka neska, neskato girl, young woman
ombe, umme *unbe ume child
oxson, osson *otso otso wolf
sahar *sahaR zahar old
sembe *senbe seme son
seni *śeni sein boy
-ten *-teN -ten diminutive suffix (fossilized)
-t(t)o *-To -t(t)o diminutive suffix
-x(s)o *-tso -txo,-txu diminutive suffix

The vascologist Joaquín Gorrotxategi, who has written several works on Aquitanian,[7] and Mitxelena have pointed the similarities of some Iberian onomastic elements with Aquitanian. In particular, Mitxelena spoke about an onomastic pool[8] from which both Aquitanian and Iberian would have drawn:

Iberian Aquitanian
atin adin
ata atta
baiser baese-, bais-
beleś belex
bels bels
boś box
lauŕ laur
talsku talsco[9] / HALSCO
taŕ t(h)ar [10] / HAR
tautin tautinn / hauten
tetel tetel[11]
uŕke urcha [11]

For other more marginal theories see Basque language: Hypotheses on connections with other languages.

Geographical extent

In red the pre-Indo-European tribes that might have spoken Aquitanian, Basque or other possibly related languages in the 1st century

Since ancient times there have been indications of a relationship between Southwestern France and the Basques. During the Roman conquest of Gaul by Julius Caesar, Aquitania was the territory between Garonne and the Pyrenees. It was inhabited by tribes of horsemen who Caesar said were very distinct in customs and language from the Celts of Gaul. During the Middle Ages, this territory was named Gascony, derived from Vasconia and cognate with the word Basque.

There are many clues that indicate that Aquitanian was spoken in the Pyrenees, at least as far east as Val d'Aran. The placenames that end in ‑os, ‑osse, ‑ons, ‑ost and ‑oz are considered to be of Aquitanian origin, such as the place-name Biscarrosse, which is directly related to the city of Biscarrués (note the Navarro-Aragonese phonetic change) south of the Pyrenees. "Biscar" (modern Basque spelling: "bizkar") means "ridge-line". Such suffixes in place-names are ubiquitous in east of Navarre and Aragon, with the classical medieval ‑os > ‑ues taking place in stressed syllables, pointing to a language continuum both sides of the Pyrenees. This strong formal element can be traced at either side of the mountain range as far west as an imaginary line roughly stretching from Pamplona to Bayonne (compare Bardos/Bardoze, Ossès/Ortzaize, Briscous/Beskoitze), where it ceases to appear.

Other than place-names and little written evidence, the picture is not very clear at the west of the Basque Country, as the historical record is scant. The territory was inhabited by the Caristii, Varduli and Autrigones, and has been claimed as either Basque or Celtic depending on the author, since Indo-European lexical elements have been found underlying or intertwined in place-names from nature, like rivers or mountains (Butron, Nervion, Deba/Deva, suffix ‑ika etc.) in an otherwise generally Basque linguistic landscape, or Spanish, especially in Álava.

Archaeological findings in

  1. ^ See late Basquisation.
  2. ^ Trask, L. The History of Basque Routledge: 1997 ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  3. ^ European genetic variation maps
  4. ^ S.F. Pushkariova, Primario e secundario en los nombres vascos de los metales, Fontes linguae vasconum: Studia et documenta, vol. 30, no.79 (1998), pp. 417-428.
  5. ^ Journal of the Manchester Geographical Society, volumes 52-56 (1942), page 90
  6. ^ Kelly Lipscomb, Spain (2005), page 457
  7. ^ Gorrochategi (1984, 1993)
  8. ^ Michelena (1977), pp. 547–48: "...cada vez soy más escéptico en cuanto a un parentesco lingüístico ibero-vasco. En el terreno de la onomástica, y en particular de la antroponimia, hay, sin embargo, coincidencias innegables entre ibérico y aquitano y, por consiguiente, entre ibérico y vasco. Como ya he señalado en otros lugares, parece haber habido una especie de pool onomástico, del que varias lenguas, desde el aquitano hasta el idioma de las inscripciones hispánicas en escritura meridional, podían tomar componentes de nombre propios."
  9. ^ Trask (1997), p. 182
  10. ^ Trask (2008) thinks this could be related to the Basque ethnonym suffix -(t)ar, but this is unlikely because the personal names where it appears (sometimes as the first element, as in Tarbeles) don't look at all like ethnonyms.
  11. ^ a b For Gorrochategui (1984), the personal name Urchatetelli (#381) is "clearly Iberian."
  12. ^ Tremlett, Giles (November 24, 2008). "Finds that made Basques proud are fake, say experts".  


  • Ballester, Xaverio (2001): "La adfinitas de las lenguas aquitana e ibérica", Palaeohispanica 1, pp. 21–33.
  • Gorrochategui, Joaquín (1984): Onomástica indígena de Aquitania, Bilbao.
  • Gorrochategui, Joaquín (1993): La onomástica aquitana y su relación con la ibérica, Lengua y cultura en Hispania prerromana : actas del V Coloquio sobre lenguas y culturas de la Península Ibérica : (Colonia 25–28 de Noviembre de 1989) (Francisco Villar and Jürgen Untermann, eds.), ISBN 84-7481-736-6, pp. 609–34
  • Gorrochategui, Joaquín (1995): "The Basque Language and its Neighbors in Antiquity", Towards a History of the Basque Language, pp. 31–63.
  • Hoz, Javier de (1995): "El poblamiento antiguo de los Pirineos desde el punto de vista lingüístico", Muntanyes i Població. El passat dels Pirineus des d'una perspectiva multidisciplinària, pp. 271–97.
  • Michelena, Luis (1954): "De onomástica aquitana", Pirineos 10, pp. 409–58.
  • Michelena, Luis (1977): Fonética histórica vasca, San Sebastián.
  • Núñez, Luis (2003): El Euskera arcaico. Extensión y parentescos, Tafalla.
  • Rodríguez Ramos, Jesús (2002): "La hipótesis del vascoiberismo desde el punto de vista de la epigrafía íbera", Fontes Linguae Vasconum 90, pp. 197–219.
  • Rodríguez Ramos, Jesús (2002): "Índice crítico de formantes de compuesto de tipo onomástico en la lengua íbera", Cypsela 14, pp. 251–75.
  • Trask, L.R. (1995): "Origin and relatives of the Basque Language: Review of the evidence", Towards a History of the Basque Language, pp. 65–99.
  • Trask, L.R. (1997): The History of Basque, London/New York, ISBN 0-415-13116-2
  • Trask, L.R. (2008): Etymological Dictionary of Basque PDF (edited for web publication by Max Wheeler), University of Sussex
  • Velaza, Javier (1995): "Epigrafía y dominios lingüísticos en territorio de los vascones", Roma y el nacimiento de la cultura epigráfica en occidente, pp. 209–18.

Further reading

See also

The Vascones who occupied modern Navarra, are usually identified with the Basques (Vascos in Spanish), their name being one of the most important pieces of evidence. In 1960, a stele with Aquitanian names was found in Lerga, which could reinforce the idea that Basques and Aquitanians were related. The ethnic and linguistic kinship is confirmed by Julio Caro Baroja, who considers the Aquitanian-Basque relation an ancient and medieval stage ahead of the well-attested territorial shrinking process undergone by the Basque language during the Modern Age.

The Cantabrians are also mentioned as relatives or allies of Aquitanians: they sent troops to fight on their side against the Romans.


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