Katharina Hauptmann has just published a thrilling article in the Iceland Review about the existence of a Basque-Icelandic pidgin while also discussing the history of the Basques on the island.  It’s quite a topsy-turvy tale.

First page of the Basque-Icelandic glossary compiled by Jóns Ólafssonar úr Grunnavík in the 18th century, held at the Árni Magnússon Institute for Icelandic Studies

For those not well versed in the finer points of linguistics, we’ll refer to the Wikipedia definition to illustrate what a “pidgin” is:

pidgin[1][2][3] /ˈpɪɪn/ is a grammatically simplified means of communication that develops between two or more groups that do not have a language in common: typically, its vocabulary and grammar are limited and often drawn from several languages. It is most commonly employed in situations such as trade, or where both groups speak languages different from the language of the country in which they reside (but where there is no common language between the groups).

Fundamentally, a pidgin is a simplified means of linguistic communication, as it is constructed impromptu, or by convention, between individuals or groups of people. A pidgin is not the native language of any speech community, but is instead learned as a second language.

We’ve already touched on the Basque presence in Iceland and the existence of this Basque-Icelandic pidgin.  But now this report gives us the clearest, deepest view yet on this part of the history of the Basques.  Plus, it provides us with a direct link to see the scans of the two glossaries of this pidgin, one from the 17th century, and another from the 18th, written by Icelandic erudite Jóns Ólafssonar úr Grunnavík.  It’s worth noting that in the latter, they use the terms “Bizkaia” and “bizkaino”, which were common at the time to use for all Basques.

Iceland Review – 17/1/2013 – Iceland

The Basques in Iceland (KH)

While reading up on the history of the Icelandic language, I came across a rather strange linguistic phenomenon I had never ever heard of before: a Basque-Icelandic pidgin (Basknesk-íslenskt blendingsmál). What? A pidgin language blending the Icelandic and the Basque languages? This seems like a very unlikely match.

(Follow) (Automatic translation)


Arnastofnun –   – Island

Basknesk-íslensk orðasöfn

Hér eru myndir af fjórum basknesk-íslenskum orðasöfnum. Þau voru sennilega samin á 17. öld þegar baskneskir hvalveiðimenn sóttu á Íslandsmið. Elstu handritin eru frá um 1700 en hin tvö eru frá miðri 18. öld og fyrri hluta 19. aldar. Það síðast nefnda er aðeins útdráttur úr lengra safni.