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the Guanches, Basques, Berbers & Sea People => Guanches, Basques & Berbers => Topic started by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 08:56:42 am

Title: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 08:56:42 am

                                                           E U S K A R A

                                          THE LANGUAGE OF THE BASQUE PEOPLE

Basque (native name: Euskara) is the language spoken by the Basque people who inhabit the Pyrenees in North-Central Spain and the adjoining region of South-Western France.

It is spoken by approximately a quarter of the Basques, with its stronghold in the contiguous area from central Biscay (Bizkaia) through Guipúzcoa (Gipuzkoa), northern Navarre (Nafarroa) and parts of Labourd (Lapurdi) to sparsely populated Lower Navarre (Nafarroa Behera) and Soule (Zuberoa). Until reintroduced into the education system, it had not been spoken in most of Álava (Araba), in western Biscay, or in the southern half of Navarre in the recent past. Out of a total of nearly 3,000,000 Basques, it is estimated that some 1,063,000 speak Basque in which 632,000 are native speakers. Approximately 566,000 of the latter live in the Spanish Basque country, with the rest residing in the French part.

The Basque language has been standardized and updated by the end of the 20th century by means of its Batua version. This standard is mainly used in the Spanish Basque country, and to a lesser extent in the Northern Basque Country due to the limited availability of schools teaching in Basque or as a subject. Nevertheless, there are six main Basque dialects, comprising Bizkaian, Gipuzkoan, and Upper Navarrese (in Spain), and Lower Navarrese, Lapurdian, and Zuberoan (in France). However, the dialect boundaries are not congruent with political boundaries.

The Basques occupy a Spanish autonomous community known as the Basque Country (Euskadi), which has significant cultural and political autonomy, the Northern Basque Country in the French department of the Pyrennées Atlantiques, and the autonomous community of Navarre in Spain, which together make up the greater Basque Country (Euskal Herria). The Spanish portion of the Basque historical territory is referred to by Basques as Hegoalde, while the French Basque provinces are referred to as Iparralde.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of th Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 08:58:34 am


Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:01:20 am


              Location of the Basque provinces
              within Spain and France

History and classification

Geographically surrounded by Indo-European languages, Basque is classified as a language isolate, the last remaining pre-Indo-European language in Europe.  Consequently its prehistory may not be reconstructible by
means of the comparative method except by applying it to language internal dialectal differences.

Little is known of its origins but it is likely that an early form of the Basque language was present in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages to the area.

Latin inscriptions in Aquitania preserve a number of words with cognates in proto-Basque, for instance the personal names Nescato and Cison (neskato and gizon mean "young girl" and "man" respectively in modern Basque). This proposed language is called "Aquitanian" and was presumably spoken before the Romans brought Latin to the western Pyrenees. Roman neglect of this hinterland allowed Aquitanian Basque to survive while the Iberian and Tartessian languages died out. Basque did come to acquire some Latin vocabulary, both before and after the Latin of the area developed into Gascon (a branch of Occitan) in the northeast, Aragonese in the southeast, and Spanish in the southwest.

In June 2006, Montserrat Rius at the site of Iruña-Veleia claimed to find an epigraphic set with a series of 270 Basque inscriptions and drawings from the third century.  Some of the words and phrases found were remarkably similar to modern Basque and, therefore, were hailed as the first written evidence of Basque. However the whole finding has come under serious question, even to the point of tarnishing Rius's scholarly pedigree. Recently, after an independent team assessed the so-called evidence and concluded that it was false, the suspicion of an archaeological forgery has widespread.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:06:16 am

Hypotheses on connections with other languages

The impossibility of linking Basque with its Indo-European neighbours in Europe has inspired many scholars to search for its possible relatives elsewhere. Besides many pseudoscientific comparisons,
the appearance of long-range linguistics gave rise to several attempts at connecting Basque with geographically very distant language families.

Many hypotheses on the origin of Basque are controversial, and the suggested evidence is not generally accepted by most linguists. Some of these hypothetical connections are as follows:

Iberian: another ancient language once spoken in the peninsula, shows several similarities with Aquitanian and Basque. However, there is not enough evidence to distinguish areal contacts from genetic relationship. Iberian itself is considered an isolate.

Georgian: The Georgian hypothesis, linking Basque to South Caucasian or Kartvelian languages, seems now widely discredited. The hypothesis was inspired in part by the ancient Georgian kingdom of Kartli, which the Greeks and Romans referred to as Iberia.[citation needed] According to J.P. Mallory, in his 1989 book "In Search of the Indo-Europeans," the hypothesis was also inspired by a Basque place-name ending in -adze.

Northeast Caucasian languages, such as Chechen, are seen by some linguists, like Michel Morvan, as more likely candidates for a very distant connection.

Dene-Caucasian superfamily: Based on the possible Caucasian link, some linguists, for example John Bengtson and Merritt Ruhlen, have proposed including Basque in the Dene-Caucasian superfamily of languages, but this proposed superfamily includes languages from North America and Eurasia, and its existence is highly controversial.

Vasconic languages: This theory, proposed by the German linguist Theo Vennemann, claims that there
is enough toponymical evidence to conclude that Basque is the only survivor of a larger family that once extended throughout most of Europe, and has also left its mark in modern Indo-European languages spoken in Europe.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:07:38 am


              Percentage of fluent speakers of Basque

              (areas where Basque is not spoken are included within the 0-20% interval).

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:08:57 am


              Percentage of people fluent in Basque language in Navarre (2001).

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:10:18 am

Geographic distribution

The region in which Basque is spoken is smaller than what is known as the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria in Basque. Basque toponyms show that Basque was spoken further along the Pyrenees than today. An example is the Aran Valley (now a Gascon-speaking part of Catalonia), since haran itself is the Basque word for "valley". However, the growing influence of Latin began to drive Basque out from the less mountainous portions of the region.

The Reconquista temporarily counteracted this tendency when the Christian lords called on northern Iberian peoples — Basques, Asturians, and "Franks" — to colonize the new conquests. The Basque language became the main everyday language, while other languages like Spanish, Gascon, French, or Latin were preferred for the administration and high education.

Basque experienced a rapid decline in Alava and Navarre during the 1800s. However, the rise of Basque nationalism spurred increased interest in the language as a sign of ethnic identity, and with the establishment of autonomous governments, it has recently made a modest comeback. Basque-language schools have brought the language to areas such as Encartaciones and the Navarrese Ribera, where it may have disappeared as a native language in the Middle Ages.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:15:05 am


              Official status of the Basque language in NavarreHistorically

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:16:37 am

Official status

Historically, Latin or Romance languages have been the official languages in this region. However, Basque was explicitly recognized in some areas. For instance, the local charter of the Basque-colonized Ojacastro valley (now in La Rioja) allowed the inhabitants to use Basque in legal processes in the 13th and 14th centuries.

Today Basque holds co-official language status in the Basque regions of Spain: the full autonomous community of the Basque Country and some parts of Navarre. Basque has no official standing in the Northern Basque Country of France and French citizens are barred from officially using Basque in a French court of law. However, the use of Basque by Spanish nationals in French courts is allowed (with translation), as Basque is officially recognised on the other side of the border.

The positions of the various existing governments differ with regard to the promotion of Basque in areas where Basque is commonly spoken. The language has official status in those territories that are within the Basque Autonomous Community, where it is spoken and promoted heavily, but only partially in Navarre, which is divided by law into three distinct language areas: Basque-speaking, non-Basque-speaking, and mixed (this law is strongly rejected by the Basque nationalists of Navarre). The law is called the "Ley del Vascuence", since vascuence (from Latin vasconice loqui, "to talk in the Vascon way") is the traditional name for the Basque language in Spanish (though euskera and vasco are also used).

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:18:26 am

Louis-Lucien Bonaparte's original 1866 map of Basque dialects.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:21:57 am


Between 6 and 9 Basque dialects are distinguished, the boundaries of which do not coincide directly with current political or administrative boundaries.

One of the first scientific studies of Basque dialects, regarding the auxiliary verb forms, was made by Louis-Lucien Bonaparte, a nephew of Napoleon. His original dialect map was regarded as the authoritative guide for centuries.

The dialects of Basque



     Western Upper Navarrese

     Eastern Upper Navarrese

     Lapurdian and Lower Navarrese


Most recently though, Koldo Zuazo, Professor of Basque Philology at the University of the Basque Country has redefined the dialect classifications slightly, amongst other things grouping Lapurdian with Lower Navarrese and distinguishing Easter and Western Upper Navarrese and recognising several mixed areas:



Western Upper Navarrese
Eastern Upper Navarrese (including Baztanese, Aezcoan, Salazarese and the extinct Roncalese)

Lapurdian and Lower Navarrese


The names for the language in the dialects of Basque (Euskara in Standard Basque) for example are highly divergent and to some degree exemplify the dialectal fragmentation of the Basque speaking area. The most divergent forms are generally found in the Eastern dialects.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:25:23 am

The dialects of Basque



     Western Upper Navarrese

     Eastern Upper Navarrese

     Lapurdian and Lower Navarrese


Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:27:49 am

Standardized dialects

The most-widely-used standardized dialect is Batua ("unified" in Basque), which is the language taught in most schools and used by media and in official papers. Batua is based largely on the Gipuzkoan regional dialect, where it is the most used, although it allows use of Northern and Navarrese vocabulary and grammar. It is also referred to as Standard Basque.

Azkue's Gipuzkera Osotua, promoted in 1935, was the first attempt to create a standard Basque language. It did not succeed.

In the 1940s, a group (Jakintza Baitha, "Wisdom House") gathered around the academian Federico Krutwig, who preferred to base the standard on the Lapurdian of Joanes Leizarraga's Protestant Bible and the first printed books in Basque. However they did not receive official or popular support.

In 1944, Pierre Laffite published his Navarro-Labourdin Littéraire, based on Classical Lapurdian, which has become the de facto standard form of Lapurdian. It is taught in some schools of Lapurdi and used on radio, in church, and by the newspaper Herria.

The most distinct dialects, Biscayan and Zuberoan, also are standardized.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:29:46 am

Influence on other languages

The Romance languages of Gascon, Aragonese, and Spanish display marked Basque influence, as a result of substratum, language contact, and bilingualism. A notable example is that of the Pyrenean and Iberian Romance words for "left (side)" (izquierdo, esquerdo, esquerre, quer, esquer) derived from Basque ezker to avoid the
ominous connotations of Latin sinister.

In the case of Spanish and Gascon, the following Basque substrate influences are found.

lack of "v" sound (replaced by "b")

lack of initial "r" sound in Basque and Gascon (replaced by err-/arr-)

simple five vowel system

transformation of initial "f" into mute "h": fablar → hablar (this is even more marked in Gascon).

The f sound did not exist in old Basque.

However, there are alternate explanations based on internal developments.

In the 16th Century, Basque sailors mixed many Basque words with a European Atlantic pidgin in their contacts with Iceland.  Another Basque pidgin arose from contact between Basque whalers and Aboriginal inhabitants in the Gulf of St. Lawrence and Strait of Belle Isle.

Several travelling professional groups of Castile used Basque words in their jargon: examples are the gacería, the mingaña, and the Galician fala dos arxinas.

A small part of the Gypsies living in the Basque Country spoke Erromintxela, which mixes Romany vocabulary with Basque syntax and morphology (it is comparable with the Caló of Spanish-speaking Gitanos).

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:32:07 am


               An example of Basque lettering in a funerary stela.

Writing system

Basque is written using the Latin alphabet. The universal special letter is ñ; sometimes ç and ü are also used. Basque does not use Cc, Qq, Vv, Ww, Yy except for loanwords; nevertheless, the adopted Basque alphabet (established by Euskaltzaindia) does include them.

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Ññ Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

The phonetically meaningful digraphs dd, ll, rr, ts, tt, tx, tz are treated as double letters.

All letters and digraphs represent unique phonemes. The main exception is when l or n are preceded by i, that in most dialects palatalizes their sound into /ʎ/ and /ɲ/, even if these are not written. Hence, Ikurriña can also be written Ikurrina without changing the sound, while the proper name Ainhoa requires the mute h to break the palatalization of the n.

H is mute in most regions, but in the Northeast is pronounced in many places, the main reason for its existence in the Basque alphabet. Its acceptance was a matter of contention during the standardization since the speakers of the most extended dialects had to learn where to place these silent h's.


The letters of the alphabet in a Basque style font.

In Sabino Arana's (1865-1903) orthography, ll and rr were replaced with ĺ and ŕ, respectively.

A typically Basque style of lettering is sometimes used for inscriptions. It derives from the work of stone and
wood carvers and is characterized by thick serifs.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:40:20 am


               An example of the number system employed by millers.

Number system used by millers

Basque millers traditionally employed a separate number system of unknown origin.[23] In this system the symbols are either arranged along a vertical line or horizontally. On the vertical line the single digits and fractions are usually off to one side, usually at the top. When used horizontally, the smallest units are usually on the right and the largest on the left.

The system is, as is the Basque system of counting in general, vigesimal. Although the system is in theory capable of indicating numbers above 100, most recorded examples do not go above 100 in general. Interestingly, fractions are relatively common, especially 1/2.

The exact systems used vary from area to area but generally follow the same principle with 5 usually being a diagonal line or a curve off the vertical line (a V shape is used when writing a 5 horizontally). Units of ten are usually a horizontal line through the vertical. The twenties are based on a circle with intersecting lines.

This system is not in general use anymore but is occasionally employed for decorative purposes.

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on November 28, 2008, 09:44:45 am


BENGTSON, John D., 2004. "Some features of Dene-Caucasian phonology (with special reference to Basque)." Cahiers de l'Institut de Linguistique de Louvain (CILL).

BENGTSON, John D., 2006. "Materials for a Comparative Grammar of the Dene-Caucasian (Sino-Caucasian) Languages."

BENGTSON, John D., 1997. Review of "The History of Basque". London: Routledge, 1997. Pp.xxii,458" by R.L. Trask.

BENGTSON, John D., 1997. "Ein Vergleich von Burushaski und Nordkaukasisch". In "GEORGICA (Zeitschrift für Kultur, Sprache und Geschichte Georgiens und Kaukasiens)."

BENGTSON, John D., 1996. "A Final (?) Response to the Basque Debate in Mother Tongue 1."

HUALDE, José Ignacio & ORTIZ DE URBINA, Jon (eds.): A Grammar of Basque. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003. ISBN 3-11-017683-1.

MORVAN, Michel, 1996. The linguistic origins of basque (in French). Bordeaux: Presses universitaires. ISBN 2-86781-182-1

ORPUSTAN, Jean-Baptiste, 1999. The basque language in the Middle Ages (in French). Baigorri. ISBN 2-909262-22-7.

SOTA, M. de la, et alii, 1976: Diccionario Retana de autoridades de la lengua vasca: con cientos de miles de nuevas voces y acepciones, antiguas y modernas, Bilbao: La Gran Enciclopedia Vasca. ISBN 8424802489.

TRASK, R. Larry: History of Basque. New York/London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN 0-415-13116-2.

MORVAN, Michel: Etymological Dictionary of the Basque Language (forthcoming).

Retrieved from

Title: Re: EUSKARA - The Language of the Basque People
Post by: Bianca on February 21, 2009, 06:03:32 pm

                                 As the world's languages disappear, Basque revives

Julie Sell,
Mcclatchy Newspapers
– Fri Feb 20, 2009

— The world is losing languages at an alarming rate, a United Nations agency reported Thursday, with thousands of tongues expected to disappear by the end of this century.

Yet amid the losses, one community — the Basque people, who live in the mountainous region of southern France and northern Spain — is reviving a language that many once feared would die out.

In St. Jean de Luz, a seaside town near the Spanish border at the western edge of the Pyrenees, efforts are under way to revitalize the Basque language, which 30 years ago was rarely heard outside mountain villages. Among a population of about 3 million in the Basque region, which comprises seven provinces in Spain and France , an estimated 700,000 people speak Basque today.

Bilingual signs dot the roads and mark storefronts, and an annual festival celebrates the Basque language, music and culture. Public and private schools full of children and adults learn Basque.

Every Sunday, a mass is celebrated entirely in Basque — complete with Basque music — at the local church, Eglise Saint Jean Baptiste .

At the week's major food market here, Bixente, a 32-year-old man in jeans, tennis shoes and a tight wool cap, was selling such regional specialties as ewe's milk cheese, black cherry jam and spicy pimento powder from his stand to a steady stream of customers in the early morning chill.

"I grew up speaking Basque, and did all my baccalaureate exams, even biology and philosophy, in Basque," said Bixente, who hails from Bayonne and declined to identify himself further. "My parents' generation built private Basque schools in the 1980s. They gave their money, their energy, their efforts to make it happen."

In contrast, he said, when his mother was young, she "was punished at school for speaking Basque."

Fabienne Perrin , a 37-year-old woman employed by the local tourism office, grew up speaking Basque in a small mountain town a half-hour's drive from St. Jean de Luz. She recalled that her grandfather spoke only Basque, never French. Now, though, "the generation that spoke only Basque is gone," she said. "To work, you have to speak French."

France recognizes Basque as a distinct regional language — the departmental government has an office dedicated to the Basque language — but Basque doesn't have official status in France , meaning that it can't be used in a court of law, for instance. On the Spanish side of the border, Basque has been one of two official languages in the Basque autonomous region since 1979.

Many locals acknowledge that foreigners mistakenly associate all Basques with the extremist group ETA, whose members are known to slip back and forth across the rugged mountain border.

"There are lots of cliches," Perrin said. "But when people get here, they find we're really interested in something authentic. This isn't just folklore."

As successful as this region has been in preserving its unique language, however, others aren't as lucky.

The language report, released by UNESCO , the U.N. agency based in Paris , provides vivid detail of the linguistic diversity that still exists in the world — more than 6,000 languages are spoken on the planet — and the threats that it faces.

India , the United States , Brazil , Indonesia and Mexico have the greatest linguistic diversity, it says, but also the greatest number of languages at risk.

Among 2,500 endangered languages in the agency's online atlas, 538 are classified as "critically endangered." Seventy-five of these are in the United States , many of them obscure American Indian tongues found in the Western states. They include Tubatulabal, spoken by just three elders in California's Kern River Valley in the southern Sierra Nevada , and Lushootseed, spoken by fewer than five people on reservations in Washington state .

Beyond Basque, which UNESCO labeled "unsafe," the agency notes that some endangered languages can be saved through a combination of government intervention and community will.

Welsh, for instance, has made a comeback in the past few decades after nearly dying out when Wales was exclusively under English rule.

UNESCO's most recent estimate of Welsh speakers: 750,000.

(Sell is a McClatchy special correspondent.)


UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger