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Basque Provinces

BASQUE PROVINCES {Provincias Vascongadas). The three Spanish provinces known by this name, which are distinguished from all the other divisions of Spain by the character, language, and manners of the inhabitants, and by the enjoyment of political privileges which make the form of their government nearly republican, are Biscay (Vizcaya), Guipuzcoa, and Alava. The territory occupied by them is in the form of a triangle, bounded on the N. by the Bay of Biscay, S. by Soria, E. by Navarra and part of France, and W. by Santander and Burgos. It com-prises an area of 2958 square miles; population in 1857, 414,146. These three provinces are more particularly described under their respective heads. The French Basque provinces now form the arrondissements of Bayonne and Mauleon. The Basque language, which is also prevalent in Navarre, is still spoken by about 600,000 Spaniards and French. Its native name is Eskuara. It cannot be classed with any Indo-European or Semitic tongue, and appears to be of earlier origin, presenting some grammatical analogies with Mongol, North American, and certain East African languages. The forms of ordinary grammar are therefore imperfectly applicable to it. The substantive has no distinction of gender; it is made to express, by means of an extensive system of affixes, all the ordinary declen-sional and conjugational relations, and many which in other languages can only be expressed by periphrasis. The termination of a word may thus express together mood, tense, person, number, the case and number of the object, and also the sex, rank, and number of the individuals addressed, besides other relations. Foreign words are thus easily assimilated, but with modifications to suit the Basque ear, the latter varying according to local dialect. Diminutives and other general affixes increase the delicacy of expression, and a wide range of speech is early acquired by the natives. Compound words are readily formed by mere juxtaposition, or by elision of syllables, with peculiar modifications for euphony. The article has two forms—a for the singular, ak for the plural —affixed to the substantive. There appears to be no genuine Basque word beginning with r. In the usual structure of the sentences the noun, with the article affixed, occupies the first place; it is followed by the adjective, then the adverb, next the verb, and lastly the object with its prepositional affix. No written Basque is known of earlier date than the 15th century, and little genuine literature exists; the orthography is therefore arbitrary, and the earliest writings are difficult to inter-pret. All that has yet been noticed regarding manners, customs, institutions, and legends may be paralleled by those of other Pyrenean peoples, or traced to foreign influences. But, through their moral qualities, physical situation, and historical circumstances the Basques have built up and preserved a body of customs and institutions highly original in the mass. Each province is governed by a parliament composed of representatives selected partly by election, partly by lot, among the householders of each country parish or town. A deputation, named by the parliament, ensures the strict observance of the special laws and customs of the province, and negotiates with the representative of the Spanish Crown. Delegates from the three parliaments meet annually to consider the common interests of the provinces; they employ a seal representing three interlaced hands, with the motto Iruracbat, " the three are one;" but no written federal pact exists. Much speculation regarding the origin of the Basques has been indulged in without sufficient special knowledge. The belief that they originally occupied great part of Spain and Southern France, founded on the apparently Basque character of certain local names, is very generally accepted. The best introduction to all Basque questions is Blade's Etudes sur Vorigine des Basques, which gums up the literature of the subject to 1870. Elements de Grammaire Basque, by L. Geze, Bayonne, 1873, is a good practical grammar and vocabulary with exercises ; the Dictionnaire Basque Français of Van Eyss is a par-ticularly instructive lexicon.

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