An outline of a Basque computerized grammar

Research output: Working paper


Basque is spoken by approximately 660,000 people (Trask 1997) in the Basque Country, straddling the border between northern Spain and southern France, particularly in rural areas of the Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa coastline, as well as inland Gipuzkoa and the foothills of the Pyrenees in Navarre. Virtually all Basque speakers are bilingual with either Spanish or French. Nevertheless, Basque is, due to its official status in the Basque autonomous region in northern Spain, no longer as seriously endangered as previously. Basque has several dialects which differ greatly from one another. The present paper deals with the standard version, which is, together with Spanish, the official language of the Basque autonomous region. This variety is commonly termed euskara batua (lit. ‘Unified Basque’). The genetic origin of Basque is unknown. Its only known relative is Aquitanian, which was spoken in a large area of south-western Gaul during the time of the Roman occupation (Trask 1997), and of which fragmentary inscriptions have survived. Other than that, no genetic relationship between Basque and any other language has been proven. Typologically, Basque shares certain features with Caucasian languages in particular, but these common features are not necessarily evidence of genetic relationship. Basque is a morphologically ergative language with accusative syntax. Morphological ergativity implies that the subject of a transitive verb is realized in ergative case, as opposed to the object of a transitive verb and the subject of an intransitive verb, which are realized in absolutive. Syntactic accusativity implies that the ergative noun phrase behaves like a clause subject according to standard diagnostic tests such as control, clausal coreference and reflexive binding (cf. Ortiz de Urbina 1989, Holmer 1999). Neutral word order is SOV, but other orders are also common. It has postpositions (both suffixal and free), and G-N word order within the noun phrase. A relative clause precedes its head. However, unusually for an SOV language, it has N-Adj word order within the noun phrase. Basque has triple verb agreement (subject, object and indirect object; indirect object agreement is optional in northern dialects of Basque).
The (relatively) free word order and the complex inflectional system offer interesting challenges to grammatical models. This paper presents a computerized formal grammar of Basque and shows how the free word order and the complicated agreement can be handled by a computerized formal grammar called Permutational Grammar (PG; cf Eeg-Olofsson & Sigurd
2001). This grammar is a variant of SWETRA (Referent) Grammar which has been presented in various publications, notably Sigurd (ed.), Computational grammars for analysis and machine translation (1994). We will present the characteristics of Permutational Grammar at the same time as the different Basque grammatical patterns are outlined. Some basic morphological rules are also presented, but only a few lexical items. The Permutational Grammar of Basque can be used in automatic translation given equivalent grammars. A Basque-Chinese translation example will also be demonstrated.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • General Language Studies and Linguistics
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Publication categoryResearch

Publication series

NameWorking Papers, Lund University, Dept. of Linguistics
ISSN (Print)0280-526X

Bibliographic note

The information about affiliations in this record was updated in December 2015. The record was previously connected to the following departments: Linguistics and Phonetics (015010003)

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