The Basque language
Where is Basque spoken nowadays?
Nowadays Basque language (Euskera) is spoken in the seven Basque territories. Of these seven provinces, three are in France (Lapurdi, Nafarroa Beherea and Zuberoa). The other four are provinces in the Spanish State, in two autonomous communities: Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Araba, in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, and Nafarroa, the single-province Autonomous Community of Navarre.
What are the origins of Basque?
There are many theories as to the genetic origins of Euskera - the Basque-Iberian theory, the Basque-Caucasian theory, and also Basque-Berber. However, Basque has been compared with dozens of languages in the search for its beginnings, although none of these possible origins can be taken as proven. In fact, the more scientific comparisons are made, the more we perceive its isolation as a language.
How long has Basque been spoken in the Basque Country?
Nobody can put a date on it, but in general researchers think Basque was spoken around here thousands of years ago.
Where has it been spoken?
The Basque-speaking territories have changed down through the centuries, and at some point the language was spoken outside what is now known as the Basque Country, as far afield as Aquitaine, the Pyrenees, the Val d'Aran, La Rioja, and Burgos province, as shown by the local place names in these areas.
How has Basque developed down through the years?
Taking these territories as our point of reference, the language has lost many of its features over the last few centuries. Indo-European languages were the first to arrive in what were Basque-speaking territories at the time (1st millennium B.C.), and then Latin spoken by the Romans and its derivatives, the Romanic languages, sprang up around Basque-speaking areas (1st millennium A.D.).
The newcomers expanded their prominence in terms of social customs, institutions and culture over the second millennium, and political and economic affairs simply gained a head start over a small country. Over the years, Basque became isolated from administrative affairs, to the detriment of a richer future. Thus the Langue d'Oc, French, Spanish, Navarre-Romanesque or Latin itself all became more prominent than Basque.
However, this process was not always linear. During the Middle Ages, for example, Basque expanded towards La Rioja and Burgos, in the new territories seized from the Arabs by Basques in the northern mountains.
Events in France and Spain over the last few centuries must be borne in mind for an understanding of today's situation. With regard to the south of the Basque Country, it should be said that use of the Basque language was banned during Francisco Franco's dictatorship in the 20th century.
Has Basque been written?
The first signs of written Basque date back to Roman times. Roman correspondents wrote of the different tribes in Basque families on both sides of the mountains, and the word «andere» (woman) was found written on a gravestone in Aquitaine.
More recently, the archaeological site of Iruña-Veleia has already produced significant finds, including the oldest written examples of the Basque language. Some examples are «zuri urdin gorri» (white, blue and red), «edan ian lo» (drink, eat, sleep), and «Iesus, Ioshe ata ta Mirian ama» (Jesus, the father Joseph and the mother Mary).
The first books in Basque were published in the northern Basque Country, in what is now French territory. In 1545 Bernart Etxepare wrote a book in St. Jean Pied de Port, Linguae Vasconum Primitiae, and this was published in Bordeaux. The New Testament was translated into Basque in 1564 when Queen Jeanne Albret III issued an order from the Court of Navarre for Joannes Leyçarraga to carry out this task. Leyçarraga did not, however, carry out his task alone, and it was eventually translated by a group of people.
During the same period, in the southern Basque Country, i.e., on the Spanish side, a writer in Araba, Juan Perez de Lazarraga, wrote a collection of poems in Basque, published recently by the Gipuzkoa Provincial Council.
Since then, local Basque literature has not been so abundant or plentiful. The language held close ties to religion, and, just as a new generation was arriving to renovate it, Spain was plunged into civil war. The Civil War put an end to the language movement, although by the second half of the 20th century another generation had appeared to revamp the language.
Some mention should be made of two books written in Euskera which won the Spanish National Literature Prize: Bernardo Atxaga's Obabakoak (1989), and SPrako tranbia (2002) by Unai Elorriaga. Further information on Basque literature: www.basqueliterature.com.
Today over 1,500 books are published in Basque every year.
Is Basque a standardised language?
Euskaltzaindia, the Basque academy, was founded in 1919 to develop and protect the Basque language. After much work and many incidents, in 1968 the Arantzazu Conference met for the first time, and laid down the basic rules of unification for written Basque (in relation to spelling, vocabulary, morphology and declensions). Younger generations took due note, and the unified model provided at the Conference became a basic necessity to spread the use of Basque to schools, administration and the media.
Is Basque an official language?
This depends on the location. Like Spanish, Basque is an official language in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country, it has limited official status in Navarre, and in the northern Basque Country, unfortunately, Euskera has no official status.
Further information on Basque language:
- Basque language (from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)
- Basque language official site (from Basque Autonomous Government)