It is spoken by approximately a quarter of the Basques, with its stronghold in the contiguous area from central Biscay through Guipuscoa, northern Navarre and parts of Labourd to sparsely populated Lower Navarre and Soule. Until reintroduced into the education system, it had not been spoken in most of Álava, in western Biscay, or in the southern half of Navarre in the recent past. Out of a total of nearly 2,800,000 Basques, it is estimated that some 632,000 are Basque language speakers, of which approximately 566,000 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 historical Basque Country (Euskal Herria). The Standard Basque name for the language is euskara. In dialectal forms it is known as euskara, euskera, eskuara, or üskara.
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 Castilian 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 "urdin" (blue), "zuri" (white), "gori" (red), "edan" (drink) "ian" (eat), "lo" (sleep), "iesus iose ata ta mirian ama" (Jesus [with] the father Joseph and the mother Mary), and "geure ata zutan" (Our father in you). These words are remarkably similar to modern Basque. However the whole finding has come under serious question, even to the point of tarnishing Rius's scholarly pedigree.
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:
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 less-mountainous areas of this region.
The Reconquista temporarily counteracted this tendency when the Christian lords called on northern peoples — Basques, Asturians, and "Franks" — to colonize the new conquests. The Basque language became the main everyday language, while other languages like Castilian, 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, after Basque nationalism took the language as an identity sign, and with the establishment of autonomous governments, it has made a modest comeback. Basque-language schools have taken the language to areas like Encartaciones and the Navarrese Ribera where it may have disappeared natively spoken in the Middle Ages.
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. Interestingly, 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 usage is common. 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).
There are eight Basque dialects, comprising Biscayan, Guipuzcoan, Northern High Navarrese, Southern High Navarrese, Labourdin (including Baztanese), Western Low Navarrese (including Aezcoan), Eastern Low Navarrese (including Salazarese), and Souletin (including the extinct Roncalese). However, the dialect boundaries are not congruent with political 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.
In 2005 the daily Berria published a new map of dialects, moderninzed by Koldo Zuazo, Basque Philology Professor at the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU). In this new map, the distinguished dialects are Western, Central, Navarrese, Navarrese-Lapurdian, and Zuberoan.
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 Labourdin of Joannes Leyçarraga'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.
The Romance languages Gascon, Aragonese, and Castilian have marked Basque influence in them, 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 Castilian (Spanish) and Gascon, the following Basque substrate influences are found.
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.
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).
Basque is an ergative-absolutive language. The subject of an intransitive verb is in the absolutive case (which is unmarked), and the same case is used for the direct object of a transitive verb. The subject of the transitive verb (that is, the agent) is marked differently, with the ergative case (shown by the suffix -k). This also triggers main and auxiliary verbal agreement.
The auxiliary verb, which accompanies most main verbs, agrees not only with the subject, but with any direct object and the indirect object present. Among European languages, this polypersonal system (multiple verb agreement) is only found in Basque, some Caucasian languages, and Hungarian. The ergative-absolutive alignment is also unique among European languages, but not rare worldwide.
Consider the phrase:
Martin-ek is the agent (transitive subject), so it is marked with the ergative case ending -k (with an epenthetic -e-). Egunkariak has an -ak ending which marks plural object (plural absolutive, direct object case). The verb is erosten dizkit, in which erosten is a kind of gerund ("buying") and the auxiliary dizkit means "he/she (does) them for me". This dizkit can be split like this:
The phrase "you buy the newspapers for me" would translate as:
The auxiliary verb is composed as di-zki-da-zue and means 'you pl. (do) them for me'
In spoken Basque, the auxiliary verb is often dropped when redundant: "Zuek niri egunkariak erosten ", you pl. buying the newspapers for me. Whenever it is not dropped, the pronouns are almost always dropped: "egunkariak erosten dizkidazue", the newspapers buying be-them-for-me-you(plural). The pronouns are used only to show emphasis: "egunkariak zuek erosten dizkidazue", it is you (pl.) who buy the newspapers for me; or "egunkariak niri erosten dizkidazue", it is me for whom you buy the newspapers for.
Modern Basque dialects allow for the conjugation of about fifteen verbs, called synthetic verbs, some only in literary contexts. These can be put in the present and past tenses in the indicative and subjunctive moods, in three tenses in the conditional and potential moods, and in one tense in the imperative. Colloquial Basque, however, only uses indicative present, indicative past, and imperative. Each verb that can be taken intransitively has a nor (absolutive) paradigm and possibly a nor-nori (absolutive-dative) paradigm, as in the sentence Aititeri txapela erori zaio ("The hat fell from grandfather['s head]"). Each verb that can be taken transitively uses those two paradigms for passive-voice contexts in which no agent is mentioned, and also has a nor-nork (absolutive-ergative) paradigm and possibly a nor-nori-nork (absolutive-dative-ergative) paradigm. The last would entail the dizkidazue example above. In each paradigm, each constituent noun can take on any of eight persons, five singular and three plural, with the exception of nor-nori-nork in which the absolutive can only be third person singular or plural. (This draws on a language universal: *"Yesterday the boss presented the committee me" sounds at least odd, if not incorrect.) The most ubiquitous auxiliary, izan, can be used in any of these paradigms, depending on the nature of the main verb.
There are more persons in the singular (5) than in the plural (3) for synthetic verbs because of the two familiar persons—informal masculine and feminine second person singular. The pronoun hi is used for both of them, but where the masculine form of the verb uses a -k, the feminine uses an -n. This is a property not found in Indo-European languages. The entire paradigm of the verb is further augmented by inflecting for "listener" (the allocutive) even if the verb contains no second person constituent. If the situation is one in which the familiar masculine may be used, the form is augmented and modified accordingly; likewise for the familiar feminine. (Gizon bat etorri da, "a man has come"; gizon bat etorri duk, "a man has come [you are a male close friend]", gizon bat etorri dun, "a man has come [you are a female close friend]", gizon bat etorri duzu, "a man has come [I talk to you]") Notice that this nearly multiplies the number of possible forms by three. Still, the restriction on contexts in which these forms may be used is strong since all participants in the conversation must be friends of the same sex, and not too far apart in age. Some dialects dispense with the familiar forms entirely. Note, however, that the formal second person singular conjugates in parallel to the other plural forms, perhaps indicating that it used to be the second person plural, started being used as a singular formal, and then the modern second person plural was formulated as an innovation.
All the other verbs in Basque are called periphrastic, behaving much like a participle would in English. These have only three forms total, called aspects: perfect (various suffixes), habitual (suffix -t[z]en), and future/potential (suffix. -ko/-go). Verbs of Latinate origin in Basque, as well as many other verbs, have a suffix -tu in the perfect, adapted from the Latin -tus suffix. The synthetic verbs also have periphrastic forms, for use in perfect tenses and in simple tenses in which they are deponent.
Within a verb phrase, the periphrastic comes first, followed by the auxiliary.
A Basque noun-phrase is inflected in 17 different ways for case, multiplied by 4 ways for its definiteness and number. These first 68 forms are further modified based on other parts of the sentence, which in turn are inflected for the noun again. It's been estimated that, with two levels of recursion, a Basque noun may have 458,683 inflected forms.
Basic syntactic construction is Subject-Objects-Verb (unlike Spanish, French or English where Subject-Verb-Objects construction is more common). The order of the phrases within a sentence can be changed with thematic purposes, whereas the order of the words within a phrase is usually rigid. As a matter of fact, Basque phrase order is topic-focus, meaning that in neutral sentences (such as sentences to inform someone of a fact or event) the topic is stated first, then the focus. In such sentences, the verb phrase comes at the end. In brief, the focus directly precedes the verb phrase. This rule is also applied in questions, for instance, What is this? can be translated as Zer da hau? or Hau zer da?, but in both cases the question tag zer immediately precedes the verb da. This rule is so important in Basque that, even in grammatical descriptions of Basque in other languages, the Basque word galdegai (focus) is used.
In negative sentences, the order changes. Since the negative particle ez must always directly precede the auxiliary, the topic most often comes beforehand, and the rest of the sentence follows. This includes the periphrastic, if there is one: Aitak frantsesa ikasten du, "Father is learning French," in the negative becomes Aitak ez du frantsesa ikasten, in which ikasten ("learning") is separated from its auxiliary and placed at the end.
|Plosive||p/p/||b/b/||t/t/||d/d/||tt, -it-/c/||dd, -id-/ɟ/||k/k/||g/g/|
|Rhotic||Trill||r-, -rr-, -r /r/|
Basque has a distinction between laminal and apical articulation for the alveolar fricatives and affricates. In the laminal consonants the friction occurs across the blade of the tongue, while in apical ones, it occurs at the tip (apex).
The laminal alveolar fricative (s̻) is made with the tongue tip pointing toward the lower teeth; its affricate counterpart is [ʦ̻]. These are written with an orthographic z (z, tz). The voiceless apicoalveolar fricative (/s̺/) is written s; the tip of the tongue points toward the upper teeth. The corresponding affricate (/ʦ̺/) is ts. In the westernmost parts of the Basque country, only the apical s and the alveolar affricate tz are used.
Basque also features postalveolar sibilants (/ʃ/, written x, and /ʧ/, written tx), sounding like English sh and ch.
There are two palatal stops, voiced and unvoiced, as well as a palatal nasal and a palatal lateral (the palatal stops are not present in all dialects). These and the postalveolar sounds are typical of diminutives, which are used frequently in child language and motherese (mainly to show affection rather than size). For example, tanta "drop" vs. ttantta /canca/ "droplet". A few common words, such as txakur /ʧakur/ "dog", use palatal sounds even though in current usage they have lost the diminutive sense; the corresponding non-palatal forms now acquiring an augmentative or pejorative sense: zakur "big dog". Many dialects of Basque exhibit a derived palatalization effect in which coronal onset consonants are changed into the palatal counterpart after the high front vowel /i/. For example, the /n/ in egin "to act" becomes palatal when the suffix -a is added: /egina/ = [egiɲa] "the action".
The sound represented by j has a variety of realizations according to the regional dialect: (the last one is typical of the Spanish Basque Country).
The vowel system is the same as Spanish for most speakers. It consists of five pure vowels, . Speakers of the Zuberoan dialect also have a sixth, front rounded vowel (represented in writing by ü but pronounced /ø/, much like a German ö), as well as a set of contrasting nasalized vowels, indicating a strong influence from French.
Basque features great dialectal variation in stress, from a weak pitch-accent in the central dialects to a marked stress in some outer dialects, with varying patterns of stress placement. Stress is in general not distinctive (and for historical comparisons not very useful); there are, however, a few instances where stress is phonemic, serving to distinguish between a few pairs of stress-marked words and between some grammatical forms (mainly plurals from other forms). E.g., basóà ("the forest", absolutive case) vs. básoà ("the glass", absolutive case; an adoption from Spanish vaso); basóàk ("the forest", ergative case) vs. básoàk ("the glass", ergative case) vs. básoak ("the forests" or "the glasses", absolutive case). Given its great deal of variation among dialects, stress is not marked in the standard orthography and Euskaltzaindia (the Academy of the Basque Language) only provides general recommendations for a standard placement of stress, basically to place a high-pitched weak stress (weaker than that of Spanish, let alone that of English) on the second syllable of a syntagma, and a low-pitched even-weaker stress on its last syllable, except in plural forms where stress is moved to the first syllable. This scheme provides Basque with a distinct musicality which sets its sound apart from the prosodical patterns of Spanish (which tends to stress the second-to-last syllable). Euskaldun berriak ("new Basque-speakers", i.e. second-language Basque-speakers) with Spanish as their first language tend to carry the prosodical patterns of Spanish into their pronunciation of Basque, giving rise to a pronunciation that is considered substandard; e.g., pronouncing nire ama ("my mum") as nire áma (- - ´ -), instead of as niré amà (- ´ - `).
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.
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 ll and ñ, 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.
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.
Basque millers traditionally employed a separate number system of unknown origin. 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.
|0||zero, or huts|
|30||hogeita hamar||(literal meaning split: hogei-ta-hamar = twenty-and-ten = 20+10)|
|31||hogeita hamaika||(hogei-ta-hamaika = twenty-and-eleven = 20+11)|
|40||berrogei||(ber-hogei = two times-twenty = 2×20)|
|50||berrogeita hamar||(ber-hogei-ta-hamar = two times-twenty-and-ten = 2×20+10)|
|60||hirurogei||(hirur-hogei = three times-twenty = 3×20)|
|70||hirurogeita hamar||(hirur-hogei-ta-hamar = three times-twenty-and-ten = 3×20+10)|
|80||laurogei||(laur-hogei = four times-twenty = 4×20)|
|90||laurogeita hamar||(laur-hogei-ta-hamar = four times-twenty-and-ten = 4×20+10)|
|number _____||_____ zenbaki (train, bus, etc.)|
The blacksmith slave
Captive in the rainforests of the West
they brought you to Rome, slave,
they gave you the blacksmith work
and you make chains.
The red iron that you carry out the oven
can be adapted as you want,
you can make swords
in order that your people could break the chains,
but you, this slave,
you make chains, more chains.
Sartaldeko oihanetan gatibaturik
erromara ekarri zinduten, esklabua,
erremintari ofizioa eman zizuten
eta kateak egiten dituzu.
Labetik ateratzen duzun burdin goria
nahieran molda zenezake,
ezpatak egin ditzakezu
zure herritarrek kateak hauts deitzaten,
baina zuk, esklabu horrek,
kateak egiten dituzu, kate gehiago.