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Basque and Gascon Language Contact
by Martin Haase
Universit Osnabrck, Germany
Basque and Gascon are genetically unrelated and typologically very different languages, yet they happen to be in close contact in the Southwest of France. Overcoming genetical and typological differences, they have thus been able to influence each other over the centuries. Moreover, in this century, French has gained more and more impact on both languages.
1. THE SCENARIO
1.1. Bilingual communities
As the parents-child transmission of Gascon has almost completely stopped after the second Word War and substituted by French, it is nearly impossible to find speakers of Gascon under the age of forty. Basque speakers are slightly more loyal to their language. Some families keep on raising their children in Basque and French, although French monolingualism is the rule.
There is a strong political movement in favor of Basque, whereas efforts to conserve Gascon are very weak. So it happens that children of traditionally Gascon (i.e. non-Basque) families may start learning Basque in evening courses or the like. As a result, even in bilingual communities with a considerable proportion of non-Basque Gascon speakers (e.g. Bastida / Labastide-Clairence with about 70%) the Basque proportion is increasing, although this will not delay the rise of French.
1.2. Commerce (market-place language)
The important market places of this area are in Bastida / Labastide-Clairence and Garruze / Garris, the latter having been transferred to Donapaleu / St. Palais about 25 years ago (with a remarkable change in linguistic habits from Gascon to French).
People used to go to the market not only for commercial reasons, but also for their amusement and in order to meet people. Among the social functions that they fulfilled, they were a favorite place to pave the way for marriages. Traders from Gascony came here to sell their goods, Basque farmers from behind the contact zone also went to these markets, and had to have at least some basic knowledge of Gascon in the field of commercial exchange.
1.3. Migrant farm hands
The market-place contacts and the migration of young people can explain the high number of Basco-Gascon intermarriages, which in their turn account for Basque names in surrounding parts of Gascony and vice versa.
1.4. Other ways of contact
A similar case is that of smugglers, although smuggling is not a traditional craft of this area, since the political frontier became a customs-frontier only in the second half of the 19th century.
2. CONTACT-INDUCED LANGUAGE CHANGE
Three ways of contact-induced change will have to be distinguished:
It has to be emphasized that the phenomena we encounter in each of these cases differ very much from each other (for the first two types of interference cf. Thomason / Kaufman 1985).
2.1. Gascon influence in Basque
Here is an example of a lexically based structural change: Negations are formed on the basis of question words, to which an element e- or i- is prefixed (in some dialects with metathesis, by which i¤or becomes nehor 'nobody'). If a sentence contains such an element a negation marker is (additionally) inserted before the finite verb of the negative sentence. Here is a table of the ques- tion/negation correlatives:
(1) nor 'who' i¤or, nehor 'nobody' non 'where' i¤on, nehon 'nowhere' noiz 'when' i¤oiz, nehoiz 'never' nola 'how' i¤ola, nehola 'no way' zer 'what' ezer 'nothing' zein/zoin 'which' ezein/ezoin 'none'
Especially in the Northern contact zones, some of the negative correlatives are substituted by new negative words (negator nouns):
(2) instead of ezoin: bihi(r)ik 'none' instead of ezer: deus(ik), fitxik 'nothing' instead of nehoiz: sekula(n) 'never'
These nouns originally were independent lexical borrowings (bihi can still be found independently), which have been grammaticalized as negator nouns in the course of the time. With the exception of bihi, all of them can be used as negators only.
Lexically initiated structural changes include the introduction of new phonemes, a number of modifications in the case system, restructuring of the tense-aspect-mood system, new subordination strategies and other innovations. I have treated this kind of contact-induced changes in Haase (1992).
2.2. Basque influence in Gascon
Basque words cannot begin with an [r]. Foreign words are integrated by prefixing an anaptyctic [e], so the Latin loan word rege(m) becomes errege. Basque speakers shifting to Romance were confronted with lots of words beginning with [r], which they could not pronounce without an anaptyctic vowel. Since they did not use Basque as a model language, the inserted vowel did not necessarily have to be [e]. Actually, Gascon inserts [a] in such a context. Allires (1987) gives examples of phenomena in Gascon which may be explained by substratum interference.
The important point here is that substratum interference does not result in a 1:1 correspondance of linguistic items between LS and LT, all the more as LS is not used as a model to draw upon.
An interesting morphosyntactic example in this context is the so called enunciative (cf. Pilawa 1990 for details). In the dialects in contact with Basque, every main clause contains an obligatory que (cf. (3) and (4), my own field-work data).
(3) La hemna qu' arrit. - Qu' arrit la hemna. ART woman ENC laugh.3S.PRS 'The woman is laughing.' (ART: article, ENC: enunciative, PRS: present) (4) Que lo bon diu que '[n]s perdoni. COMP ART good god ENC us forgive 3S.SBJ 'May God forgive us.' (SBJ: subjunctive)
In Basque we find an element which is often taken to be the source for the Gascon phenomenon, and therefore also called enunciative, viz. preverbal ba-. The equation of the two forms is made too easily, because ba- can appear under conditions where que would not (e.g. as marker of a conditional protasis), whereas it would not appear with imperatives or subjunctives as in (4). The use of que can be better explained: It serves as a delimitator of the verbal complex of a clause, the enclitic object pronouns can 'lean' upon it (cf. (4) above), and just as in Basque the verbal complex (containing both subject and object marking) can freely be moved around in the sentence (cf. (3), scrambling word order).
2.3. Changes due to language loss
Here is just one example: Rusty speakers of Gascon tend to reduce the three-level system of demonstratives and local adverbs (proximal, medial, and distal deixis) to a two-level system; even Basco-Gascon bilinguals do so, although Basque has a three-level system as well.
In this paper I could give only some limited insight into the contact situation of the Western Pyrenees.
When we get nearer to the Spanish border, Castilian and Aragonese enter the scenario (cf. 1.3. and 1.4.). The complex contact situation, including prestigious 'national' languages overlaying others, can explain the structural convergences, which can be seen as the outset of a Sprachbund.
The distinction of different types of contact-induced change is crucial for the understanding of the relation between language contact and change in general. It also shows that contact-induced change depends on the sociolinguistic setting (language prestige, shift, maintenance etc.) of the contact situation.
Allires, J. (1987), Gasc¢n y euskera: afinidades e in- terrelaciones ling”sticas, in: Cierbide Martinena, Ricardo (ed.) (): Pirenaico navarro-aragons gasc¢n y euskera (V. cursos de verano en San Sebasti n), Euskal Herriko Uniber- tsitatea: 181-198.
Haase, M. (1992), Sprachkontakt und Sprachwandel im Baskenland: Die Einflsse des Gaskognischen und Franzsischen auf das Baskische, Hamburg: Buske.
Pilawa, J. (1990), Enunziative. Eine sprachliche Neuerung im Spiegel der gaskognischen Schriftkultur (= ScriptOralia 15), Tbingen: Narr.
Thomason, S.G. / Kaufman, T. (1988), Language Contact, Creolization, and Genetic Linguistics, Berkeley etc.: Univer- sity of California Press.