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The Vasconic substratum theory is a proposal that many western European languages contain remnants of an old language family of Vasconic languages, of which Basque is the only surviving member. The proposal was made by the German linguist Theo Vennemann, but has been rejected by other linguists. According to Vennemann, Vasconic languages were once widespread on the European continent before they were mostly replaced by Indo-European languages. Relics of these languages include toponyms across Central and Western Europe and some vocabulary in Germanic and Balto-Slavic languages that cannot be traced to a common Indo-European ancestor.


Vennemann proposes that after the last Ice Age, Vasconic people from today's Southern France and Northern Iberia (modern Spain and Portugal) resettled the European continent. They gave names to the rivers and places. These names often persisted after the Vasconic languages were replaced by Indo-European languages. This is based on parallelisms in European hydronymy that have been noted by Hans Krahe, and in culture by Marija Gimbutas, that are suggested to be relics of a pre-Indo-European substratum. Theo Vennemann believes that one of the substrata is Vasconic because typical elements of pre-Indo-European toponyms can be explained through the Basque language, for instance the element aran, Unified Basque haran "valley", in names like Val d'Aran, Arundel, Arendal or Ahrntal. However, most linguists believe that the probability of the hydronyms to have Indo-European origins is greater.[1]

Another alleged evidence for the Vasconic language is the persistence of vigesimal (base-20 counting) traits in Celtic, French, Georgian, and Danish. Vennemann thinks that the vigesimal system is a trait of the Vasconic language.

Vennemann also adduces evidence from genetics and blood types that show that the Basques share characteristics found throughout Central and Western Europe, especially in typical areas of retreat like mountains.

Vennemann has developed his ideas in a series of papers which were collected in a book called Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica. A long critical review of this appeared in Lingua 116.[2] The hypothetical Vasconic substratum has been largely rejected by historical linguists. Vennemann's theories on "Vasconic" toponymy and hydronymy were refuted by the British linguist P. R. Kitson in 1996.[3] German linguist Dieter Steinbauer argued that a language isolate like Basque is unfit for the reconstruction of a substratum language, as there are few historical data for Basque and that Basque itself has adopted many loanwords from Indo-European languages. Steinbauer critizises Vennemann for assuming Basque roots with initial consonant clusters (which are commonly believed to be loan words from other languages), for ignoring indications that the ancient Etruscan language seems more closely related to western Anatolian languages, and for several methodological flaws, stating that "a scientific discourse with Vennemann must face insurmountable obstacles".[4]

See alsoEdit


  • Alfred Bammesberger, Theo Vennemann: Languages in prehistoric Europe. Winter, Heidelberg 2003, 319-332. ISBN 3-8253-1449-9
  • Theo Vennemann; Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica, Berlin 2003.
  • (German) Theo Vennemann: Zur Frage der vorindogermanischen Substrate in Mittel- und Westeuropa. In: Patrizia Noel Aziz Hanna (ed.): Europa Vasconica. Trends in Linguistics. Studies and Monographs. Bd 138. Europa Semitica. de Gruyter, Berlin 2003, 517-590. ISBN 3-11-017054-X
  • (German) Theo Vennemann: Basken, Semiten, Indogermanen. Urheimatfragen in linguistischer und anthropologischer Sicht. In: Wolfgang Meid (ed.): Sprache und Kultur der Indogermanen. Akten der X. Fachtagung der Indogermanischen Gesellschaft, 22.-28. September 1996. Innsbrucker Beiträge zur Sprachwissenschaft. Bd 93. Innsbruck 1998, 119-138. ISBN 3-85124-668-3
  • (German) Elisabeth Hamel, Theo Vennemann: Vaskonisch war die Ursprache des Kontinents. In: Spektrum der Wissenschaft. Spektrumverlag, Heidelberg 25.2002,5,32ff. ISSN 0170-2971
  • (German) Dieter H. Steinbauer: Vaskonisch - Ursprache Europas? In: Günter Hauska (ed.): Gene, Sprachen und ihre Evolution. Universitätsverlag, Regensburg 2005. ISBN 3-930480-46-8
  • Philip Baldi and Richard Page; Review of Europa Vasconica - Europa Semitica in Lingua 116, 2183-2220 (2006).
  • P.R. Kitson; British and European River-Names in Transactions of the Philological Society 94, 73-118 (1996).

External linksEdit

it:Vasconico pl:Języki waskońskie ru:Васконская гипотеза

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