Basque


Basque
   Basque (euskera), unlike the other languages of Spain, is not a Romance or even an Indo-European language, but is one of the oldest languages spoken in Europe. Very little is known about its provenance or early development. In Spain it is spoken in the autonomous communities of the Basque country (Alava, Guipúzcoa and Vizcaya) and Navarre, and in France in Basse Navarre, Labour and Soule. Given the geographical isolation of Basque communities from each other, and the absence of a strong unifying written tradition, a number of distinct subvarieties emerged. These can be divided into two main groups: western Basque (Vizcayan) and central/ eastern Basque (including Guipúzcoan).
   Grammatically, the most distinctive feature of Basque is that it is an agglutinative language heavily reliant on affixation, e.g., gizon-a (the man), gizon-a-ren (of the man), gizon-a-ren-a-ri (to that of the man). These affixes may vary between varieties. Word order differs significantly from Indo-European languages, e.g. neska bat naz (girl a I am). Though its basic lexis is unrelated to Romance, making lexical creation difficult, Basque has borrowed extensively from Romance sources, e.g. arbola (Spanish árbol, "tree"). Phonetically, Basque does not differ greatly from Spanish.
   In 1968, after years of Francoist repression and even prohibition, an attempt was made to preserve the language and extend its use in education, administration and the media. Euskaltzaindia (The Royal Academy of the Basque Language) codified a standard Basque (called batúa), based on the central/eastern varieties. This choice, rejected by many as "artificial" and discriminating against speakers of Vizcayan, was nonetheless eventually adopted by the Basque Autonomous Government in its Language Planning Law. Standard Basque is co-official with Spanish in Euskadi and in the Basque-speaking areas of Navarre. Knowledge of Basque across the population is low compared with Catalonia or Galicia, with only 20 percent of the population in Euskadi as habitual users, and some 5 percent in Navarre. It is spoken in greatest proportion by agricultural workers as well as a significant number of professional, technical and managerial staff (most involved in its revival, for political reasons), and least by industrial workers, many of whom are Spanish-speaking immigrants. However, its use is retreating in rural areas and increasing among young urban populations.
   The autonomous government has expended more on the promotion of Basque than has any other minority language area, owing partly to the symbolic value the language acquired during the Franco regime and partly to the difficulty of extending its use to non-Basque speakers. Educationally, its presence has extended well beyond the ikastolas (Basque-language primary schools). In the media, sections of the daily newspapers Deia and Egin appear in Basque, there are Basquelanguage radio stations (e.g. Radio Euskadi) and a Basque television channel (Euskal Telebista).
   Further reading
   - García Mouton, P. (1994) Lenguas y dialectos de España, Madrid: Arco Libros (a clear overview).
   - Siguán, M. (1992) España plurilingüe, Madrid: Alianza (a comprehensive study of language planning in Spain).
   MIRANDA STEWART

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.