Guest blog by Lily Finnie (South West London, UK)
In my last year of school, I was planning on doing an Extended Project Qualification, which is basically an extra qualification answering a question on any topic of your choice. At first I had no idea what I wanted to do it on. My initial idea was an investigation into sound symbolism, but after admitting defeat due to a severe lack of supportive information, I was back to square one.
As it happened, I had just finished reading the book Lingo, which has a chapter on Basque. It made a question pop into my head: ‘Why is this language so weird?’ Having never heard of ergativity before and experiencing a rapidly increasing, reasonably obsessive interest in different language grammars, I decided to use my project as a way of delving into the world of Basque. And it was with that vague idea as my inspiration that I decided to undertake the project of answering the question, ‘How and why is Basque a linguistic isolate?’
Quite swiftly, I realised that this was a more demanding endeavour than I had anticipated, and on top of four A-levels it was too much. I didn’t want to give up though; the small dip into the wonderfully exotic world of Basque grammar that I had received was way too exciting to just leave it unfinished. The opportunity to carry out this project was due to my volunteering at my old school at the same time. I was primarily helping in the language department, for the languages I studied at A-level, Spanish and French, which has been useful to keep the languages going when Bascologists don’t translate French quotes!
Deciding to take a gap year to get my head straight, I delayed the project until the next September. That is how I got where I am now, still going. Meanwhile, I have changed the question around twelve times, finally arriving at ‘Why is Basque a present-day surviving linguistic isolate, and to what extent can its main typological characteristics be explained historically?’
This gives me lots of leeway to go into detail about Basque’s frankly awesome grammar and how it is most likely to have come to exist among all the Indo-European that surrounds it. And of course, there is also the very thing that inspired me to take on this project in the first place: its strangely anomalous ergative morphology.
By the end of this project I will have produced an essay answering this question, as per the specification of Extended Projects in order to receive the qualification. However, it has a maximum word limit, unfortunately, and the amount of information I have collated probably quite easily exceeds it! I would say therefore that the most significant product of this endeavour is the detailed knowledge of the grammar and history of the Basque language that I am developing, and the inspiration to continue on my linguistic odyssey that it has given me: as of next year I will start a degree in Philosophy and Linguistics. I have been given a brief taste of the world of Bascology, its prominent figures and extensive debates, somewhere which once this is over I hope to visit again in the future.