Basque Language Day – Savoring my roots

Basque forest

Basque forest

In 1948 Eusko Ikaskuntza-Basque Studies Society established the Basque Language Day which since has been celebrated yearly throughout the world on December 3rd.

The Basque Language Day is specially directed to Basque Diaspora communities, which even if they are thousands of kilometers far from the Basque Country, fight for keeping Basque culture alive.

Now that I am back “home”, in this special day I want to write my first post in English, to share a bit of knowledge on my very special language. I believe this video I am posting does a very nice summary of its mystery, mostly at its beginning.

It is in Spanish, so I will go ahead and translate most of it next. If you know some spanish you can tell every time there is a video about basque language on YouTube, most of the comments end up being an argument or fight on politics, which I find really saddening.

How different is Basque from Spanish? I hear this question very often. It is completely different. The sound and writing might be almost the same (of course, we were influenced by Spanish), but the language itself, is indecipherable for a Spanish speaker, or anyone else.

Euskararen misterioa – El misterio del euskera

First part of the video talks about a very important topic in Basque culture: mythology. (00.00-02.30)

The horizon became bright red in the warm August sunrise. Mikel left his mountain house (Caserio) to lead the flock to the mountain heights. As usual, the young shepherd had to cross Oba River, but this time the river was overflowing. This was not usual, as in summer the rains are not abundant. At the other side of the creek, a beautiful “Lamia” (Basque mermaid with duck feet) was combing her hair with her shiny golden comb.

– Beautiful lady, how may I go across the river with my flock?
– You must predict the name of the baby I carry before nightfall arrives. If I like it, I will build a bridge so you and the flock can go across the river. If I don’t, I will drown the valley in the waters.

Mikel remembered his father’s story. He never met his mother because she died at childbirth. Then, he started to speak saying

– “Aita, hor” (there, my father)….”Aitor” (common basque name), you will name your child Aitor!

All of a sudden, the beautiful Lamia transformed into a stone bridge, and the Shepherd crossed the river safely.

Legend says, Aitor had 7 children, and these created the 7 provinces of the Basque Country (Euskal Herria, which means, the land of those who speak Basque, that’s how important our language is to us).

Mari, the most important Basque Goddess

Then, we discover how there isn’t much knowledge on the origins of our Language. (02.30-03.00)

If we go back to 6,000 BC people in between the Cantabrian mountains and the Pyrenees spoke Basque. Koldo Mitxelena stated:

“Basque has no origin, it’s a little isolated island, that has endured from a bigger language family”

Next, the origin, reach and development of the language (03.00-04.37)

(The images we see, are from te caves nearby the current limits of the Basque Country, Altamira Caves host the oldest human paintings of al times)

The expansion of Basque Language decreased when the Roman Empire arrived. During the I an III centuries AC Protobasque arrived until Garoña, Andorra and Zaragoza in the South and Burgos at South East. (the image shows other Iberian languages as well)

Iberian Languages before Spanish

Iberian Languages before Spanish

Linguists agree on Basque not being related to any other languages, current or ancient. After XVI century, there have been many questions about his geographical and genetic origin. The answers have been many, and varied. It’s one of the Languages with no European Roots (it’s actually, the only pre-Latin language still alive here). Many linguists have tried to compare this language to others, or to find similarities, ever since. Berber, Guanche, Somali, Egyptian, Georgian, Russian,  but no results were good enough.  Basque is still a language of unknown origin.

How did Basque escape the most powerful empire? (04.37-05.50)

II Century BC, Roman’s arrived. The differences between the Basque traditional economy and the Roman city economies, will determinate the language’s future.  Basque has always been connected to traditions, protected from external influences. Cities, however, welcomed Roman languages, creating a social-linguistic separation. Basque language slowly disappeared from the cities.

Eastern Roman Empire fell and people went back to the mountain and seaside villages. This, brought establishment and strength to the language. (The map shows different conquers of the Roman Empire)

Modern Basque language (05.50-06.50)

During the I Century AC, Euskera’s extension was the largest it’s ever been. First words in Basque appear in Tombstones in Aquitania (France today), but the first book completely written in this language did not exist until XVI Century. During the XIX Century, there was the Basque Renaissance. Magazines in Basque began to pop up.

Industrialization, in the XX Century influenced the development of the language, to the point it became a minority. People moved to the big  cities from the Basque Country, but also from different regions in Spain, bringing loads of Spanish-speaking work force to the region. The Government imposed spanish-speaking schooling.

Will Euskera disappear with industrialization? (06.50-07.20)

Francisco Franco

Francisco Franco

1936-1976 Franquism (Franco General’s dictatorship) persecuted Basque language and its speakers, mostly in the regions of Gipuzkoa and Bizkaia. After this dark time, it all started to get better. (There is so much to say about this! deaths, wars and persecution for years)

How many dialects do we have in such a small land? (07.20-09.05)

Louis Lucien Bonaparte traveled around and distinguished 8 different ones. (Map with the lands they covered). Many researchers kept creating dialectical maps for its study and protection.

Euskaltzandia was created, and they studied the push of Basque language, creating a brand new dialect for its unification. (this is an issue I do not agree with, as I believe they clearly invented a new language out of scratch) They took as a model certain dialects, and tried to keep the Batua (Unified) Basque as close as possible to the language in Gipuzkoan and Araban Regions.

Batua now has become a reference and serves to nurture the dialects back, today. It also serves to make our language official, and to protect its roots. (This video is from a foundation that agrees with this Batua language)

Evolution or death? (09.05-10.00)

In the 1960’s recuperation of Basque language gets started. The first Ikastolas (Schools solely in Basque language), and people start bringing Basque culture back to life. (I don’t know if you can tell, but this girl is speaking in Euskara from a region close to France, she’s got a bit of an accent, cute!)

Many actions were taken. For example, AEK is born, to alphabetize and teach euskara to adults in the Basque Country (most of them, due to their Spanish immigrant origin, or because this language was forbidden to them as kids during the dictatorship). Euskaltzaindia (The protectors of Euskara) works hard for the language normalization. Along with the Ikastolas, Public schools will add a new model of learning, D model, which is completely in Basque Language, except for Spanish and English language subjects.

Communications in Basque (10.00-11.57)

From the different media outlets, only one newspaper written solely in basque still exists (Many newspapers were closed down by the Central Government of Spain) We do have several TV and Radio stations in Euskera, though, and almost all local newspapers and magazines are in our language. Nowadays, we are working hard to be visible on the modern communication outlets, and internet and globalization are helping for this purpose.

People going online in Basque, has doubled in the last 10 years, from 100.000 to 200.00. We realized how important the internet to spread the knowledge on our language.

Why hasn’t it disappeared? (11.57-11.57)

Easy! Our lands, language and people were isolated for the last 2.000 years. We are also the result of our ancestor’s hard work: Euskera is still alive, and we need to adapt and embrace it in order to protect this valuable treasure, and to make it last 2.000 more years.

Well, that’s all the video with some opinions in between lines… This may have been tough, but I find it very interesting, and I have realized that I am more aware of my roots and my culture while far from them. There is so much more to know.

I want to add another video (this one’s in English! a short piece from The Guardian) that is shorter and more anthropologically interesting than the previous one. Also, the song at the end, and its meaning, is quire moving and touches me….

Some people may think this vision of our people is racist, because we say we are different, because we believe we are special…We do not say that we are better, or that the rest of the people is common, ordinary. In our own way, each of us is different, and I don’t think there is anything wrong about it. Rejoice.




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