|Unmistakable evidence: beret-wearing Chinese!|
(humorously borrowed from Zubia-Qiao blog,
which is about real Basque-China relations)
Linguistic speculation haunts us and today I stumbled on this paper, which has an interesting introduction but ends up claiming the extremely unlikely Sino-Caucasian family (including Basque and what-not):
Murray Gell-Mann, Ilia Peiros & George Starostin, Distant Language Relationships: The Current Perspective. Available at academia.edu → LINK
I admit I have been skeptic of the Sino-Caucasian hypothesis since I tried once to learn some Chinese and was surprised of how little this language actually resembles Basque. Probably a random African or Australian language is not more different than Chinese is to Basque, or so I thought without having performed until now any formal test of the hypothesis.
There are a lot of reasons: the general skepticism of most linguists but also the lack of any apparent archaeological or meaningful genetic relationship since maybe 60 Ka ago (or, if Sino-Tibetan is related to Amerind and other Native American languages, since c. 45 Ka ago at the latest).
But the hypothesis continues to have some currency and today I finally decided to test it following the Swadesh-100 method suggested in the paper. The result:
→ Sino-Tibetan/Basque/English Swadesh-100 comparison (open office ODT format, similar to Excel - if anyone has a problem, please ask and I will upload an Excel version of it).
Conclusion: Basque is not more related to Sino-Tibetan (either Mandarin or Burmese) than English is. If anything, the opposite is true, although the low level of plausible cognates for both languages (5-7%) seems merely stochastic noise, or maybe in some case wanderworts. Of course, the exact number of similar words (possible cognates) depends on one's permisivity but the pattern is so similar for the three possible pairings that, if there is any relationship at all, it must include English and therefore Indoeuropean.
Check it yourself, of course.