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We reconstruct parts of their common protolanguage and then use those reconstructions to study and compare the changes that have occurred in the various daughter languages.
In other words, to be useful to a historical linguist, a hypothesis of genetic relationship must be fruitful: a valid genetic grouping will permit reconstruction and thus lead to be a better understanding of the member languages and their histories.
Mitxelena dated Old Common Basque (OCB), toward the 5th–6th centuries (see 9th section), a thousand years after Late Proto-Basque (LPB), which is a stage of language defined as “the language that the Romans encountered”.
The Basque language has been the object of many attempts to link it genetically to languages nearby and distant in both space and time.
The prehistory of the language – a period lacking any direct or indirect information – ends at the beginning of the Common Era, thanks to the Aquitanian inscriptions (between the 1st and 3rd centuries ad), which contain some 300 to 400 anthroponyms and theonyms.
Here we enter into protohistory, a period without any texts written in Basque but with abundant information, especially in the medieval era, thanks to the large number of names and toponyms included in Latin and Romance (Navarrese, Gascon, Castillian) texts; here, Luchaire was a pioneer, as Mitxelena (1964) points out.
Following diverse prestructuralist essays (by Campión, Azkue, Schuchardt, Gavel, Uhlenbeck, and others), Martinet (1950) approached the study of B in order to test diachronic phonology with a specific case – the well-known voicing of initial plosives in B – just as he had done with other language – Semitic, IE, Slavic, Celtic, and Romance languages.
In calling for the need for a structural view of the problem – not the change of isolated sounds but of the system as a whole – he transformed the bases of research in this field.
No standard evidence of genetic relationship has ever been provided (nor attempted) discovering phonetic rules (sound correspondences) relating – for example – Iberian and Basque or elaborating the historical grammar, and the few “promising” cognates (homophones) have dwindled to such an extent that they have all but disappeared from the literature (cf.
In language families with a long developed tradition of diachronic research, such as Indo-European (IE), Uralic, or Semitic, demonstration of genetic relationships has not signified the culmination of comparativists’ work but rather the start of their true vocation as historical linguists.
Their work must be based on the regularity of phonetic change and on homologies, not on analogies, similarities, and superficial or casual resemblances, such as the spurious “similarities”, that, as Trask (1996: 220) shows, one could find between Ancient Greek and Hawaiian or between Hungarian and Basque (1997: 412–415), which only make for an amateur entertainment.
That the Basque language is genetically isolated has been an obvious statement for a long time now: its structural differences with respect to other languages, whether geographically close or not (Romance, Germanic, Semitic, and so on), are clear for all to see.
In the past, when Bascophiles or Basque apologists have sought to transform historical, political, or religious issues into linguistic questions they often claimed that in ancient times Basque (B) was spoken in the whole of the Iberian Peninsula (more so than in Gaul or elsewhere in Europe), generally without attempting to establish genetic relationships (see Tovar 1981, Madariaga 2008).If a genetic hypothesis does not lead to new insights of these kinds, therein it is sterile and, within linguistics, useless.