Basque Fact of the Week: Who was Larry Trask?

I often quote linguist Larry Trask in many of my posts about Euskara. I had the great fortune to “meet” Larry virtually through a number of Basque-related Internet forums that were popular in the day (mailing lists and the like that seem to have all but disappeared). Larry was noted for being critical of most theories and ideas related to the origins of the Basque language, but he backed up his criticism with rigorous arguments, or so it seemed to me as a non-expert. Larry kept a website where he would post various articles about the Basque language, which I was allowed to mirror on this site.

Larry Trask with two of his most famous books, Language: the Basics and The History of Basque.
  • Robert Lawrence Trask was born on November 10, 1944, in Olean, New York. Larry described his childhood home as “quite literally in the middle of the woods. We have practically no people there, but we have loads of animals: woodchucks, rabbits, possums, raccoons, and gazillions of deer.” As he grew older, he was originally interested in astronomy and then chemistry, obtaining an undergraduate degree in chemistry from Rensselaer College and beginning his PhD at Brandeis University.
  • He began his teaching career in chemistry, teaching courses in North America, the United Kingdom and Turkey. However, after his time in the Peace Corp, his interests shifted; his graduate work was in the field of linguistics and he earned his doctorate in 1971 from the University of London. His thesis work focused on the phonetics and morphology of Euskara. After a nine-year stint at the University of Liverpool, he moved to the University of Sussex.
  • Perhaps the crowning achievement of his career, Trask wrote The History of Basque which was published in 1997. This book has become an essential reference in Basque linguistics. At the time of his death, he was working on an etymological dictionary of the Basque language. An incomplete draft was compiled by his friend Max Wheeler and can be found here.
  • In addition to his focus on the Basque language, Trask also did extensive research into historical linguistics, or how languages evolve over time. He is perhaps best known for his book Language: the Basics, which introduces the concepts of linguistics to a general audience.
  • In a field where everyone seems to think they can contribute – after all, we all speak languages – Trask maintained a level of rigor that sought to provide a solid foundation. At the time of his death, he was working on an article about so-called bongo-bongo theories of Basque: “there is no shred of persuasive evidence that Basque is related to any other language at all, living or dead.”
  • Larry died in 2004 from motor neuron disease – he was 59 years old.

A full list of all of Buber’s Basque Facts of the Week can be found in the Archive.

Primary sources: Auñamendi Eusko Entziklopedia. Trask, Robert Lawrence. Available at:; Larry Trask’s Obituary in The Guardian; A Way With Words, an Interview of Larry Trask by Andrew Brown in The Guardian; Larry Trask, Wikipedia

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