San José State University

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Basque and the Language of the Iberians

The term Iberian is used for the aboriginal inhabitants of the peninsula now occupied by Spain and Portugal. Originally the term was applied to the people residing near the mouth of the Ebro River in eastern Spain, but gradually was expanded to include the ancient inhabitants of all of the peninsula.

There are a few inscription left by the Iberians. The longest and most famous is the lead tablet of Alcoy. This incription has not yet been translated but phonetic values of the symbols have been established. The transliteration given by M. Gómez Moreno in 1925 is:

Irike or'ti garokan dadula bask/buistiner' bagarok ssxe turlbai/lura
legusegik baserokeiunbaida/urke basbidirbar'tin irike baser/okar'
tebind belagasikaur isbin/ai asgandis tagisgarok binike/bin salir'
kidei gaibigait.
Ar'nai/sakarisker.
Iunstir' salir'g basirtir sabadi/dar bir'inar gurs boistingisdid/sesgersdiran
sesdirgadedin/seraikala naltinge bidudedin ildu/niraenai
bekor sebagediran.

This inscription is not close enough to Basque to allow translation but it does have some notably Basque-like features; i.e.,

It is thus highly probable that Basque is a descendant of some dialect of the Iberian language. The Basque language itself has fissured into numerous dialects which are not mutually intelligible. This is a natural development in a language spoken by people living in isolated communities. The diversity of the Iberian languages would have been even greater. The Basque language was not recorded until the sixteenth century when the New Testament was translated. Until that time it was not subject to the anchor that a literature provides for a language. Therefore it is not surprising that the Iberian of the Alcoy lead tablet and modern Basque are not mutually intelligible in as much as they were separated by centuries and hundreds of miles. Nevertheless Basque, as mentioned previously, is very likely a descendant of some member of the Iberian family of languages.


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