Basque language

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Basque – or Euskara – is spoken by a population of approximately 600,000 – 700,000 people. It is spoken in the Basque Country (Euskal Herria in Basque) in Spain – an area located on the French-Spanish border in the western Pyrenees. The Basque Country is divided, with provinces split between Spanish and French states: Alava (Araba), Biskaia (Biskay) and Gipuzkoa are situated in the Spanish state; and Zuberoa, Lapurdi and Behe-Nafarroa are situated in the French state. Of a total number of 632,000 Basque-speakers, some 566,000 live within the Spanish state, and some 66,000 in the French state.  The word euskaldun means ‘Basque-speaker’ (‘one who has Basque’), and Basque people normally refer to themselves as euskaldunak.

Linguists believe that Euskara has always been spoken by a relatively small community – a maximum of 600,000 – 700,000 people. Euskara’s reach as the main language of communication has decreased significantly since the Middle Ages, when it covered all the Basque provinces. Today, a minority of the population knows the language (only a quarter of the inhabitants of the Basque country). Although Basque holds official language status in the territories in the Spanish state (see above), they do not in the provinces in the French state.

Although scholars have tried to link Basque to other languages, it is generally considered to be a ‘language isolate’ – i.e. it is a natural language with no demonstrable genetic relationship with other languages.  However, Basque has borrowed words from other languages, including Latin, Spanish, French, Celtic and Arabic, although its influence on neighbouring languages has been minimal. One example of a word in the English language which is Basque in origin, is bilbo, meaning ‘a sword of outstanding quality’, which appeared in Shakespeare’s day.  The The word  Thousands of new words have been introduced into the language in recent years in the areas of technology and linguistics etc, to reflect new interest in areas such as these.  

Basque is written using the Latin alphabet.  Basque lacked a standard orthography for many years, and it was written with spelling conventions of the Romance languages. Any sounds not present in the Romance sounds would be represented with various additional devices. In 1964, the Royal Basque Language Academy (Euskaltzaindia) promulgated a new standard orthography to counter the difficulties of writing the language; this system is now used almost universally. The Basque alphabet is as follows: a b d e f g h i j k l m n ñ o p r s t u x z. Although the letters c q v w y are not considered part of the alphabet, they are nevertheless used when necessary to write foreign words and names.  There is no standard pronunciation of Basque, but the regional variation is not great, and the standard orthography represents most regional accents rather well.

During the dictatorship which followed the Spanish Civil War, Basque was banned, and was not taught in schools. Attempts were made to allow for the provision of Basque-language teaching; today, some fruits of this are being seen, with Basque schools established.

It is interesting to compare the Basque situation of Basque with that of Catalan.  All students are educated in Catalan, which has resulted in almost all the population being able to understand the language.  In contrast, the Basque population has had less success with nation buildnig through language, partly because of the teorrorism by ETA.  However, when Franco dies in 1975, efforts were made to revive the language, largely through education.  A movement to open schools which teach all subjects in Basque (called ikastolas) was started at about this time, as were Euskaltegi, night schools which taught adults how to speak the Basque language.  The population is able to choose from three models of education:

Model A: Spanish is used as the language of education and Euskera ia taught as a single subject

Model C: Lessons are taught in both Spanish and Euskera 

Model D (the Ikastolas): Euskera is taught as the language of education and Spanish is taught as a subject.

Generally speaking, it is impossible to manage only speaking Basque, and Basque-speakers tens to use French or Spanish as well, with switches between the languages common in everyday conversation. 

Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersintranslation/magazineofliteratureintranslat/basquecountry/basquelanguage/

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