Every week NABO’s “Astero” hits my email with two or three upcoming or recently celebrated Basque related events. Last night’s email was specially interesting as it covered a presentation given by Lourdes Auzmendi from the Basque Government at the Elko NABO Convention in July about the status of Basque today, including the twist that Euskara is Europe’s oldest and youngest language at the same time.
You can also be up to date by signing up for Astero (means “weekly” in Basque) at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, enjoy the “Euskara Munduan” (“Basque in the world”) video and Lourdes’ presentation. You can download the PDF of the “Euskara Munduan Powerpoint” here.
ADDRESS TO N.A.B.O. DELEGATES
at the annual meeting of the North American Basque Organization
Elko NABO Convention July, 2012
By Lourdes Auzmendi
Ministry for Language Policy
of the Basque Government
Lourdes Auzmendi: The Status of Euskara Today
Egun on! I’d like to wish our friends in the NABO a very good morning!
I am delighted to be here before you to talk about how Basque has evolved over the last few years. I would like to thank the Organisers most sincerely for the opportunity that they have given me to take part in their annual meeting. It is vital for the Deputy Ministry for Language Policy of the Basque Government to reinforce the links between Basques on both sides of the Ocean. And, of course, the Basque language must take up its rightful place in this relationship. In this lecture I aim to provide you with some up-to-date information about the Basque language, its most recent history and its current situation.
And now, without further ado, let’s get right into the subject. As you know, Basque, the only non-Indo-European language in Western Europe, is spoken on both sides of the Western Pyrenees, in areas that form part of Spain and France. In Spain in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country or Euskadi –that includes the provinces of Alava, Guipuzcoa and Biscay– as well as in the Foral Community of Navarre. In both communities, there are still important differences in the presence of the language depending on the area. In France, Basque is spoken in the old provinces of Labourd, Lower Navarre and Soule, which occupy the most westerly part of the Département of the Atlantic Pyrenees, in the Aquitaine region.
Basqueland has traditionally been a crossing point between the Iberian Peninsula and the rest of the continent. Contrary to what a hackneyed, but now fortunately discredited viewpoint has tried to make us believe, Basqueland has never been an island; quite the opposite in fact. For this very reason the survival of Basque is so surprising. Among other peoples, Iberians, Celts, Carthaginians, Romans, Goths and Arabs passed through the Basque territories, each with their own language. All of them left their mark on the vocabulary of Basque (for example, the word gutun, “letter”, comes from the Arabic qutub) and some of them even influenced the structure and phonetics of the language.
I can’t spend too much time now in the various theories about the origin of Basque, most of which are utterly outlandish.
But I don’t want to resist the temptation to refute the hypothesis, that I am sure you have heard on some occasion, that makes Basque a Stone Age language, as would be proved, for example, by the word aizkora, “axe”, whose first element was supposed to be haitz, “rock”. Nothing could be further from the truth: Aizkora is a loan from post-classical Latin (asciola), not a palaeolithic term. If, something that is rather unlikely, a pre-historic Basque were to appear in this hall and speak to me in his language, I would understand nothing or almost nothing. In fact, in Aquitaine inscriptions have been found from that period written in a language that might be the direct forerunner of Basque, but you need to be a linguist to understand what they mean. One difference between Spanish and Basque is that we don’t call the Spanish of two thousand years ago Spanish, but Latin, whereas we still call the Basque of two thousand years ago Basque.
This semantic trap leads us to assume that Basque from the 1st century and from the 21st are the same language, which is not true, unless we accept that Latin and Spanish are also the same language. All languages have to adapt to changing times. If they don’t, they disappear. Basque is no exception. What I’m trying to say is: if Basque hadn’t evolved, and its evolution includes having borrowed a lot of words and structures from Latin and other languages, mainly from Spanish, Gascon and French (some say as much as fifty percent of its vocabulary), today it would be an extremely pure language, but it would have died out, just like Celtiberian or Iberian, other languages that were spoken in the Iberian Peninsula before the Romans arrived.