Surprising patterns between Japanese and Basque

Among all the language isolates, Japanese and Basque are possibly the furthest apart from one another. Japanese is spoken in an East Asian island, while Basque is spoken in the Pyrenees area, sandwiched between Spain and France.

The Basque language is very different from other European languages, and has more similarities with Japanese.

While studying these both languages, I noticed that the grammar of these two languages follow certain common patterns. I did quite a bit of research on this comparison, but I only found a couple of papers mentioning this relationship. The one I liked the most is “Japanese and Basque Language Similarities” by Ronald W Thornton. A short treaty

Below I present a few points that I found while studying and comparing both languages in detail. Feel free to comment or elaborate any ideas in the comments section.

I am no expert in linguistics (although I have to admit that it’s one of my passions), so if i say anything nonsensical please don’t hesitate to reach out or leave a comment!

1. Word order

Word order is “the order of the syntactic constituents of a language” – basically, how the components of a sentence are ordered. Some languages have a relatively fixed word order, and use the order to convey grammatical information or emphasis. Other languages use a more flexible word order, but still have a preferred (or standard) order.

We known that about half of the world’s languages deploy subject-object-verb order (SOV), and about one third of the world’s languages deploy subject-verb-object (SVO).

For example:

  • SOV: used by Japanese, Basque, Korean, Mongolian, Turkish, among others. These languages form sentences like “I apples eat”.
  • SVO: used by English, Spanish, Serbo-Croatian, the Chinese languages, among others. These languages form sentences like “I eat apples”.

Other word orders also exist: the Hixkaryana language, for example, spoken by just over 500 people on the Nhamundá River in Brazil, uses OVS (“him loves she”).

Both Basque and Japanese use the SOV word order, so standard phrases take the form:

田中さんはテレビを見る。
Mr Tanaka television watch.
Mr Tanaka watches television.

Aitorrek telebista ikusten du.
Aitor-ERG television watch-GER AUX.3OBJ.
Aitor watches television.

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