Proto-Basque (known in Basque as Aitzineuskara, in Spanish as protoeuskera or protovasco, and in French as proto-basque) is a reconstructed predecessor of the Basque language, prior to the Roman conquests in the Western Pyrenees.
The first linguist to scientifically approach the question of the historical changes that the Basque language had undergone over the centuries was Koldo Mitxelena. His work on Proto-Basque focused mainly on the period between the 5th century BCE and the 1st century CE, the period just before and after initial contact with the Romans.
The main method he employed was that of internal reconstruction as Basque had—and still has—no known genetic relatives, rendering comparative methods unworkable. By comparing variants of the same word in the modern dialects, as well as the changes Latin loanwords had undergone, ancestral forms, along with the rules for historical sound changes, were deduced.
Koldo Mitxelena's groundbreaking work, which culminated with the publication of his book Fonética histórica vasca was mostly carried out before the Aquitanian inscriptions were found, which fully backed up Mitxelena's proposed Proto-Basque forms.
Since then, a number of other prominent linguists such as Larry Trask, Alfonso Irigoien, Henri Gavel and most recently Joseba Lakarra, Joaquín Gorrotxategi and Ricardo Gómez have made further contributions to the field. Some of these, for example Lakarra, have focused their attention on even older layers of the language (Pre-Proto-Basque) preceding the Celtic invasion of Iberia.
Studying the behaviour of Latin and early Romance loanwords in Basque, Koldo Mitxelena discovered that proto-Basque *n became lost between vowels, and similarly that proto-Basque had no *m. Both are relatively unusual changes cross-linguistically, although /n/ was also deleted between vowels in the history of the nearby Portuguese language.
|*eLana ~ *eNala||elai ~ enara||barn swallow|
One of the puzzles of Basque is the large number of words that begin with vowels, where the initial and second vowels are the same. Joseba Lakarra proposes that in pre-proto-Basque there was extensive reduplication, and that later certain initial consonants were deleted, leaving the VCV pattern in proto-Basque:
|*dar → *da-dar||*adaR||adar||horn (anatomy)|
|*dats → *da-dats||*adats||adats||long hair|
|*der → *de-der||*edeR||eder||beautiful|
|*dol → *do-dol||*odoL||odol||blood|
|*gor → *go-gor||*gogoR||gogor||hard|
|*nal → *na-nal||*anaL||ahal||can|
|*nan → *na-nan||*anan-tz||ahantz-||to forget|
|*nin → *ni-nin||*inin-tz||ihintz||dew|
|*nol → *no-nol||*onoL||ohol||board|
|*nur → *nu-nur||*unuR||hur||hazelnut|
|*zal → *za-zal||*azal||azal||bark|
|*zen → *ze-zen||*zezen||zezen||bull|
- Trask, R. L. (2008), Wheeler, Max W., ed., Etymological Dictionary of Basque (PDF), Falmer, UK: University of Sussex, archived from the original (PDF) on 2011-06-07
- (Spanish) Joseba Lakarra (2006), "Protovasco, munda y otros: Reconstrucción interna y tipología holística diacrónica", in "Oihenart. Cuadernos de Lengua y Literatura".
- (Spanish) Ricardo Gómez, "De re etymologica: vasc. -(r)antz ‘hacia’", UPV-EHU / “Julio Urkixo” Euskal Filologia Mintegia