Basque Independence Definition Essay

PronunciationIPA: [eus̺ˈkaɾa]
Native toSpain, France
RegionBasque Country, Basque diaspora

Native speakers

(550,000 cited 1991–2012)[1]
to 751,500 (2016),[2] 1,185,500 passive speakers included.

Language family

Language isolate

Early forms


Writing system

Basque alphabet (Latin script)
Basque Braille
Official status

Official language in

Basque Autonomous Community
Regulated byEuskaltzaindia
Language codes
ISO 639-1
ISO 639-2
ISO 639-3

Schematic dialect areas of Basque. Light-colored dialects are extinct. See dialects below for details.

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Basque ( or ;[4] Basque: euskara, IPA: [eus̺ˈkaɾa]) is the language spoken in the Basque country. Linguistically, Basque is unrelated to the other languages of Europe and indeed, as a language isolate, to any other known living language. The Basques are indigenous to, and primarily inhabit, the Basque Country, a region that straddles the westernmost Pyrenees in adjacent parts of northern Spain and southwestern France. The Basque language is spoken by 28.4% of Basques in all territories (751,500). Of these, 93.2% (700,300) are in the Spanish area of the Basque Country and the remaining 6.8% (51,200) are in the French portion.[2]

Native speakers live in a contiguous area that includes parts of four Spanish provinces and the three "ancient provinces" in France. Gipuzkoa, most of Biscay, a few municipalities of Álava, and the northern area of Navarre formed the core of the remaining Basque-speaking area before measures were introduced in the 1980s to strengthen the language. By contrast, most of Álava, the western part of Biscay and central and southern areas of Navarre are predominantly populated by native speakers of Spanish, either because Basque was replaced by Spanish over the centuries, in some areas (most of Álava and central Navarre), or because it was possibly never spoken there, in other areas (Enkarterri and southeastern Navarre).

Under Restorationist and Francoist Spain, public use of Basque was frowned upon, often regarded as a sign of separatism;[5] this applied especially to those regions that did not support Franco's uprising (such as Biscay or Gipuzkoa). However, in those Basque-speaking regions that supported the uprising (such as Navarre or Álava) the Basque language was more than merely tolerated. Overall, in the 1960s and later, the trend reversed and education and publishing in Basque began to flourish.[6] As a part of this process, a standardised form of the Basque language, called Euskara Batua, was developed by the Euskaltzaindia in the late 1960s.

Besides its standardised version, the five historic Basque dialects are Biscayan, Gipuzkoan, and Upper Navarrese in Spain, and Navarrese–Lapurdian and Souletin in France. They take their names from the historic Basque provinces, but the dialect boundaries are not congruent with province boundaries. Euskara Batua was created so that Basque language could be used—and easily understood by all Basque speakers—in formal situations (education, mass media, literature), and this is its main use today. In both Spain and France, the use of Basque for education varies from region to region and from school to school.[7]

A language isolate, Basque is believed to be one of the few surviving pre-Indo-European languages in Europe, and the only one in Western Europe. The origin of the Basques and of their languages is not conclusively known, though the most accepted current theory is that early forms of Basque developed prior to the arrival of Indo-European languages in the area, including the Romance languages that geographically surround the Basque-speaking region. Basque has adopted a good deal of its vocabulary from the Romance languages, and Basque speakers have in turn lent their own words to Romance speakers.

The Basque alphabet uses the Latin script.

Names of the language[edit]

See also: Basques § Etymology of the word Basque

In Basque, the name of the language is officially Euskara (alongside various dialect forms). Three etymological theories of the name Euskara are taken seriously by linguists and Vasconists.

In French, the language is normally called basque, though in recent times euskara has become common. Spanish has a greater variety of names for the language. Today, it is most commonly referred to as el vasco, la lengua vasca, or el euskera. Both terms, vasco and basque, are inherited from Latin ethnonymVascones, which in turn goes back to the Greek term οὐασκώνους (ouaskōnous), an ethnonym used by Strabo in his Geographica (23 CE, Book III).[8]

The Spanish term Vascuence, derived from Latin vasconĭce,[9] has acquired negative connotations over the centuries and is not well-liked amongst Basque speakers generally. Its use is documented at least as far back as the 14th century when a law passed in Huesca in 1349 stated that Item nuyl corridor nonsia usado que faga mercadería ninguna que compre nin venda entre ningunas personas, faulando en algaravia nin en abraych nin en basquenç: et qui lo fara pague por coto XXX sol—essentially penalising the use of Arabic, Hebrew, or Basque in marketplaces with a fine of 30 sols (the equivalent of 30 sheep[10]).

History and classification[edit]

See also: Origin of the Basques

Basque is geographically surrounded by Romance languages but is a language isolate unrelated to them. It is the last remaining descendant of one of the pre-Indo-European languages of Western Europe, the others being extinct outright.[8] Consequently, its prehistory may not be reconstructible by means of the traditional comparative method except by applying it to differences between dialects within the language. Little is known of its origins, but an early form of the Basque language likely was present in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages to the area.

Authors such as Miguel de Unamuno and Louis Lucien Bonaparte have noted that the words for "knife" (aizto), "axe" (aizkora), and "hoe" (aitzur) derive from the word for "stone" (haitz), and have therefore concluded that the language dates to prehistoric Europe when those tools were made of stone.[11][12] Others find this unlikely: see the aizkora controversy.

Latin inscriptions in Gallia Aquitania preserve a number of words with cognates in the reconstructed proto-Basque language, for instance, the personal names Nescato and Cison (neskato and gizon mean "young girl" and "man", respectively in modern Basque). This language is generally referred to as Aquitanian and is assumed to have been spoken in the area before the Roman Republic's conquests in the western Pyrenees. Some authors even argue for late Basquisation, that the language moved westward during Late Antiquity after the fall of the Western Roman Empire into the northern part of Hispania into what is now Basque Country.[8]

Roman neglect of this area allowed Aquitanian to survive while the Iberian and Tartessian languages became extinct. Through the long contact with Romance languages, Basque adopted a sizable number of Romance words. Initially the source was Latin, later Gascon (a branch of Occitan) in the northeast, Navarro-Aragonese in the southeast and Spanish in the southwest.

Hypotheses on connections with other languages[edit]

The statistical improbability and chronological difficulty of linking Basque with its Indo-European neighbors 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 to connect Basque with geographically very distant language families. Almost all 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:

  • Iberian: another ancient language once spoken in the Iberian Peninsula, shows several similarities with Aquitanian and Basque. However, not enough evidence exists to distinguish geographical connections from linguistic ones. Iberian itself remains unclassified. Eduardo Orduña Aznar claims to have established correspondences between Basque and Iberian numerals[13] and noun case markers.
  • Indo-European: possibly close to (Italo-)Celtic or an Indo-European creole possibly with a donor language akin to Brittonic on a substrate language akin to Italic.[14][15] Forni considers it unrealistic that Basque is a non-Indo-European language that allegedly borrowed the majority of its basic lexicon (including virtually all verbs) and most of its archaic bound morphemes from neighboring Indo-European languages.[14] In response, a non-Indo-European line of descent with waves or stages of Indo-European influence and minor discontinuities over probably millennia prior to the Roman conquest[16] was suggested as the most likely alternative by John T. Koch in his review of Forni's paper outlining why an Indo-European classification of Basque cannot be accepted, even if some of Forni's data is accepted.[16]
  • Vasconic substratum theory: This proposal, made by the German linguist Theo Vennemann, claims that enough toponymical evidence exists to conclude that Basque is the only survivor of a larger family that once extended throughout most of Western Europe, and has also left its mark in modern Indo-European languages spoken in Europe.
  • Ligurian substrate: This hypothesis proposed in the 19th century by d'Arbois de Joubainville, J. Pokorny, P. Kretschmer and several other linguists encompasses the Basco-Iberian hypothesis.
  • Georgian: Linking Basque to Kartvelian languages is now widely discredited. The hypothesis was inspired by the existence of the ancient Kingdom of Iberia in the Caucasus and further by some typological similarities between the two languages.[17] According to J. P. Mallory, the hypothesis was also inspired by a Basque place-name ending in -dze.[18]
  • Northeast Caucasian, such as Chechen, is seen by the French linguist Michel Morvan as more likely candidates for a very distant connection.[19]
  • Dené–Caucasian: Based on the possible Caucasian link, some linguists, for example John Bengtson and Merritt Ruhlen, have proposed including Basque in the Dené–Caucasian superfamily of languages, but this proposed superfamily includes languages from North America and Eurasia, and its existence is highly controversial.[8]
  • Dogon: The philologist Javier Martín Martín investigated on the subject and states that Basque is derived from Dogon. This has been harshly contested by Xabier Kintana from Euskaltzaindia, who says that this theory makes no sense and is made from "cheap speculations", and who criticises the lack of methodology.[20]

Geographic distribution[edit]

The region where Basque is spoken has become smaller over centuries, especially at the northern, southern, and eastern borders. Nothing is known about the limits of this region in ancient times, but on the basis of toponyms and epigraphs, it seems that in the beginning of the Common Era it stretched to the river Garonne in the north (including the southwestern part of present-day France); at least to the Val d'Aran in the east (now a Gascon-speaking part of Catalonia), including lands on both sides of the Pyrenees;[21] the southern and western boundaries are not clear at all.

The Reconquista temporarily counteracted this contracting tendency when the Christian lords called on Northern Iberian peoples—Basques, Asturians, and "Franks"—to colonise the new conquests. The Basque language became the main everyday language,[where?] while other languages like Spanish, Gascon, French, or Latin were preferred for the administration and high education.

By the 16th century, the Basque-speaking area was reduced basically to the present-day seven provinces of the Basque Country, excluding the southern part of Navarre, the southwestern part of Álava, and the western part of Biscay, and including some parts of Béarn.[22]

In 1807, Basque was still spoken in the northern half of Álava—including its capital city Vitoria-Gasteiz[23]—and a vast area in central Navarre, but in these two provinces, Basque experienced a rapid decline that pushed its border northwards. In the French Basque Country, Basque was still spoken in all the territory except in Bayonne and some villages around, and including some bordering towns in Béarn.

In the 20th century, however, the rise of Basque nationalism spurred increased interest in the language as a sign of ethnic identity, and with the establishment of autonomous governments in the Southern Basque Country, it has recently made a modest comeback. In the Spanish part, Basque-language schools for children and Basque-teaching centres for adults have brought the language to areas such as Enkarterri and the Ribera d'Ebre in Navarre, where it is not known if it has ever been spoken before; and in the French Basque Country, these schools and centres have almost stopped the decline of the language.

Official status[edit]

Historically, Latin or Romance languages have been the official languages in this region. However, Basque was explicitly recognised in some areas. For instance, the fuero or charter of the Basque-colonised Ojacastro (now in La Rioja) allowed the inhabitants to use Basque in legal processes in the 13th and 14th centuries.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 states in Article 3 that the Spanish language is the official language, but allows autonomous communities to provide a co-official language status for the other languages of Spain.[24] Consequently, the Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Autonomous Community establishes Basque as the co-official language of the autonomous community. The Statute of Navarre establishes Spanish as the official language of Navarre, but grants co-official status to the Basque language in the Basque-speaking areas of northern Navarre. Basque has no official status in the French Basque Country and French citizens are barred from officially using Basque in a French court of law. However, the use of Basque by Spanish nationals in French courts is permitted (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 is commonly spoken. 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. The Ley del Vascuence ("Law of Basque"), seen as contentious by many Basques, but considered fitting Navarra's linguistic and cultural diversity by some of the main political parties of Navarre,[25] divides Navarre into three language areas: Basque-speaking, non-Basque-speaking, and mixed. Support for the language and the linguistic rights of citizens vary, depending on the area. Others consider it unfair, since the rights of Basque speakers differ greatly depending on the place they live.


The 2006 sociolinguistic survey of all Basque-speaking territories showed that in 2006, of all people aged 16 and above:[26]

  • In the Basque Autonomous Community, 30.1% were fluent Basque speakers, 18.3% passive speakers and 51.5% did not speak Basque. The percentage was highest in Gipuzkoa (49.1% speakers) and lowest in Álava (14.2%). These results represent an increase from previous years (29.5% in 2001, 27.7% in 1996 and 24.1% in 1991). The highest percentage of speakers can now be found in the 16–24 age range (57.5%) vs. 25.0% in the 65+ age range. The percentage of fluent speakers is even higher if counting those under 16, given that the proportion of bilinguals is particularly high in this age group (76.7% of those aged between 10 and 14 and 72.4% of those aged 5–9): 37.5% of the population aged 6 and above in the whole Basque Autonomous Community, 25.0% in Álava, 31.3% in Biscay and 53.3% in Gipuzkoa.[27]
  • In French Basque Country, 22.5% were fluent Basque speakers, 8.6% passive speakers, and 68.9% did not speak Basque. The percentage was highest in Labourd and Soule (55.5% speakers) and lowest in the Bayonne-Anglet-Biarritz conurbation (8.8%). These results represent another decrease from previous years (24.8% in 2001 and 26.4 in 1996). The highest percentage of speakers is in the 65+ age range (32.4%). The lowest percentage is found in the 25–34 age range (11.6%), but there is a slight increase in the 16–24 age range (16.1%)
  • In Navarre, 11.1% were fluent Basque speakers, 7.6% passive speakers, and 81.3% did not speak Basque. The percentage was highest in the Basque-speaking zone in the north (60.1% speakers) and lowest in the non-Basque-speaking zone in the south (1.9%). These results represent a slight increase from previous years (10.3% in 2001, 9.6% in 1996 and 9.5% in 1991). The highest percentage of speakers can now be found in the 16–24 age range (19.1%) vs. 9.1% in the 65+ age range.

Taken together, in 2006, of a total population of 2,589,600 (1,850,500 in the Autonomous Community, 230,200 in the Northern Provinces and 508,900 in Navarre), 665,800 spoke Basque (aged 16 and above). This amounts to 25.7% Basque bilinguals overall, 15.4% passive speakers, and 58.9% non-speakers. Compared to the 1991 figures, this represents an overall increase of 137,000, from 528,500 (from a population of 2,371,100) 15 years previously.[26]

The 2011 figures show an increase of some 64,000 speakers compared to the 2006 figures to 714,136, with significant increases in the Autonomous Community, but a slight drop in the Northern Basque Country to 51,100, overall amounting to an increase to 27% of all inhabitants of Basque provinces (2,648,998 in total).[28]

Basque is used as a language of commerce both in the Basque Country and in locations around the world where Basques immigrated throughout history.[29]


Main article: Basque dialects

The modern Basque dialects show a high degree of dialectal divergence, sometimes making cross-dialect communication difficult. This is especially true in the case of Biscayan and Souletin, which are regarded as the most divergent Basque dialects.

Modern Basque dialectology distinguishes five dialects:[30]

These dialects are divided in 11 subdialects, and 24 minor varieties among them. According to Koldo Zuazo (“Euskalkiak. Herriaren lekukoak”. Elkar, 2004), the Biscayan dialect or "Western" is the most widespread dialect, with around 300,000 speakers out of a total of around 660,000 speakers. This dialect is divided in two minor subdialects: the Western Biscayan and Eastern Biscayan, plus transitional dialects.

Influence on other languages[edit]

See also: List of Spanish words of Basque origin

Although the influence of the neighbouring Romance languages on the Basque language (especially the lexicon, but also to some degree Basque phonology and grammar) has been much more extensive, it is usually assumed that there has been some feedback from Basque into these languages as well. In particular Gascon and Aragonese, and to a lesser degree Spanish are thought to have received this influence in the past. In the case of Aragonese and Gascon, this would have been through substrate interference following language shift from Aquitanian or Basque to a Romance language, affecting all levels of the language, including place names around the Pyrenees.[31][32][33][34][35]

Although a number of words of alleged Basque origin in the Spanish language are circulated (e.g. anchoa 'anchovies', bizarro 'dashing, gallant, spirited', cachorro 'puppy', etc.), most of these have more easily explicable Romance etymologies or not particularly convincing derivations from Basque.[8] Ignoring cultural terms, there is one strong loanword candidate, ezker, long considered the source of the Pyrennean and Iberian Romance words for "left (side)" (izquierdo, esquerdo, esquerre).[8][36] The lack of initial /r/ in Gascon could arguably be due to a Basque influence but this issue is under-researched.[8]

The other most commonly claimed substrate influences:

The first two features are common, widespread developments in many Romance (and non-Romance) languages.[8][specify] The change of /f/ to /h/ occurred historically only in a limited area (Gascony and Old Castile) that corresponds almost exactly to areas where heavy Basque bilingualism is assumed, and as a result has been widely postulated (and equally strongly disputed). Substrate theories are often difficult to prove (especially in the case of phonetically plausible changes like /f/ to /h/). As a result, although many arguments have been made on both sides, the debate largely comes down to the a priori tendency on the part of particular linguists to accept or reject substrate arguments.

Examples of arguments against the substrate theory,[8] and possible responses:

  1. Spanish did not fully shift /f/ to /h/, instead, it has preserved /f/ before consonants such as /w/ and /ɾ/ (cf fuerte, frente). (On the other hand, the occurrence of [f] in these words might be a secondary development from an earlier sound such as [h] or [ɸ] and learned words (or words influenced by written Latin form). Gascon does have /h/ in these words, which might reflect the original situation.)
  2. Evidence of Arabic loanwords in Castilian points to /f/ continuing to exist long after a Basque substrate might have had any effect on Castilian. (On the other hand, the occurrence of /f/ in these words might be a late development. Many languages have come to accept new phonemes from other languages after a period of significant influence. For example, French lost /h/ but later regained it as a result of Germanic influence, and has recently gained /ŋ/ as a result of English influence.)
  3. Basque regularly developed Latin /f/ into /b/.
  4. The same change also occurs in parts of Sardinia, Italy and the Romance languages of the Balkans where no Basque substrate can be reasonably argued for. (On the other hand, the fact that the same change might have occurred elsewhere independently does not disprove substrate influence. Furthermore, parts of Sardinia also have prothetic /a/ or /e/ before initial /r/, just as in Basque and Gascon, which may actually argue for some type of influence between both areas.)

Beyond these arguments, a number of nomadic groups of Castile are also said to use or have used Basque words in their jargon, such as the gacería in Segovia, the mingaña, the Galician fala dos arxinas[37] and the AsturianXíriga.[38]

Part of the Romani community in the Basque Country speaks Erromintxela, which is a rare mixed language, with a KalderashRomani vocabulary and Basque grammar.[39]

Basque pidgins[edit]

A number of Basque-based or Basque-influenced pidgins have existed. In the 16th century, Basque sailors used a Basque–Icelandic pidgin in their contacts with Iceland.[40] The Algonquian–Basque pidgin arose from contact between Basque whalers and the Algonquian peoples in the Gulf of Saint Lawrence and Strait of Belle Isle.[41]


Main article: Basque grammar

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 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 agreement is found only in Basque, some languages of the Caucasus, Mordvinic languages, Hungarian, and Maltese (all non-Indo-European). The ergative–absolutive alignment is also rare among European languages—occurring only in some languages of the Caucasus—but not infrequent worldwide.

Consider the phrase:

 Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit. (help·info)



Martin-ek egunkari-ak erosten di-zki-t

Martin-ERG newspaper-PL buy-GER AUX.(s)he/it/they.OBJ-PL.OBJ-me.IO[(s)he/it_SBJ]

"Martin buys the newspapers for me."

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:

  • di- is used in the present tense when the verb has a subject (ergative), a direct object (absolutive), and an indirect object, and the object is him/her/it/them.
  • -zki- means the absolutive (in this case the newspapers) is plural, if it were singular there would be no infix; and
  • -t or '-da-' means "to me/for me" (indirect object).
  • in this instance there is no suffix after -t. A zero suffix in this position indicates that the ergative (the subject) is third person singular (he/she/it).

The phrase "you buy the newspapers for me" would translate as:

 Zuek egunkariak erosten dizkidazue (help·info)



Zu-ek egunkari-ak erosten di-zki-da-zue

you-ERG newspaper-PL buy-GER AUX.(s)he/it/they.OBJ-PL.OBJ-me.IO-you(pl.).SBJ

The auxiliary verb is composed as di-zki-da-zue and means 'you pl. (do) them for me'

  • di- indicates that the main verb is transitive and in the present tense
  • -zki- indicates that the direct object is plural
  • -da- indicates that the indirect object is me (to me/for me; -t becomes -da- when not final)
  • -zue indicates that the subject is you (plural)

The pronoun "zuek" (you, plural) has the same form both in the nominative or absolutive case (the subject of an intransitive sentence or direct object of a transitive sentence) and in the ergative case (the subject of a transitive sentence). In spoken Basque, the auxiliary verb is never dropped even if it is redundant: "Zuek niri egunkariak erosten dizkidazue", you pl. buying the newspapers for me. However, 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 buys the newspapers for me; or "egunkariak niri erosten dizkidazue", it is me for whom you buy the newspapers.

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. 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]").[42] Each verb that can be taken transitively uses those two paradigms for antipassive-voice contexts in which no agent is mentioned (notice that Basque lacks a passive voice, and displays instead an antipassive voice paradigm), 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 (or filamentous) 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 rarely 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 calls for the familiar masculine, 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 (Sir / Madam)]")[43] 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 was originally the second person plural, later came to be used as a formal singular, and then later still 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 in total, called aspects: perfect (various suffixes), habitual[44] (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 perfect passive -tus suffix. The synthetic verbs also have periphrastic forms, for use in perfects and in simple tenses in which they are deponent.

Family transmission of Basque language (Basque as initial language)
Percentage of students registered in Basque language schools (2000–2005).
Location of the Basque-language provinces within Spain and France
Percentage of fluent speakers of Basque (areas where Basque is not spoken are included within the 0–4% interval)
Percentage of people fluent in Basque language in Navarre (2001), including second-language speakers
Official status of the Basque language in Navarre
Map showing the historical retreat and expansion of Basque within the context of its linguistic neighbors between the years 1000 and 2000
Testimonies of Basque sociolinguistic dynamics (French Basque Country)
The modern dialects of Basque according to 21st-century dialectology.

  Western (Biscayan)

  Central (Gipuzkoan)

  Upper Navarrese

  Lower Navarrese–Lapurdian

  Souletin (Zuberoan)

  other Basque areas ca 1850 (Bonaparte)

Spain and the Basque Country: A Case Study

By Stefan Vedder

Basques are living in seven provinces at the Bay of Biscay on the territories of France (three rather small provinces) and Spain, which constitute the ‘greater Basque Country’ or ‘Euskal Herria’. In Spain the southern - and by far bigger - part of Euskal Herria consists of the autonomous community Navarra and the autonomous community Basque Country (‘Euskadi’) with its three provinces Alava, Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya. Basque nationalists in Euskadi claim especially Navarra as part of their territory.[1] The Basque conflict can be de­scribed as a nationalist struggle based on ethnicity which is particularly vital - and violent - in Euskadi. Nationalists in the Basque Country[2] are claiming the right for self-determination and sovereignty in contrast to the Spanish government, which is reluctant to grant the Basques sovereignty. Attacks executed by the separatist terrorist group ETA, which have yet left more than 800 dead, are the violent excesses of the conflict. The case study pays special attention to the distinct features of the conflict by analysing the Basque society. As there has not yet been any progressed peace process, the hitherto existing efforts towards peace are being traced and those problems revealed (especially the issue of ‘spoiling’) that prevented a sustainable peace process from getting kicked off. A glance into the future is then dared that takes into consid­eration recent political changes.

Origins and causes of the conflict

When the Basque provinces, Alava, Guipuzcoa and Vizcaya were incorporated in the Kingdom of Castile and the Kingdom of Spain, respectively, they enjoyed distinct legal codes (the so called ‘fueros’) and autonomous political institutions. In the 19th century however, the Basque provinces felt more and more constrained by increased liberal centralism in Spain and supported the Carlists in the Spanish Civil Wars. The Carlists were defeated and the onset of the industrial revolution made for mass migrations of Spaniards to the Bazque Country. This led to the founding of the Basque Nationalist Party (Partido Nacionalista Vasco-Euzko Al- derdi Jetzalea , PNV-EAJ) in 1895, which was claiming independence for the Basque Coun­try.[3] During the Franco dictatorship in Spain (1939-1975) the Basque country suffered fero­cious oppression, e.g. the prohibition of the Basque language in all public areas, causing an even greater awareness of their ethnic heritage.[4] The ‘Franquismo’ bound the Basque people together more tightly as a political force and paved the way for autonomist and nationalist movements.[5] The idea of armed resistance was born in the 1950s, when the hopes of a prompt demise of the Franco regime were dashed and frustration and despair spread out. In 1959 the ETA (Euskadi Ta Atasuna = Basque Country and Freedom) was founded, originating primar­ily from youth movements that voiced more radical claims towards Basque independence than the NPV, which was at that time conducting an exile government of the Basque Country in France. The ETA saw itself as a revolutionary movement for national liberation.[6] In 1961 ETA conducted its first act of political violence by attempting to derail several trains carrying Francoist Civil War veterans. In response to the failed assault 110 ETA prisoners were im­prisoned and more than 100 were forced into exile. In the following years, the ETA came un- der the control of young radicals and the organization adopted a paramilitary form with a first political murder occurring in 1968.[7] During the transition period following Franco’s death in 1975 the Basque Country was described as being like a “pressure cooker” about to explode after all the years the expression of dissent has been suppressed so sharply.[8] In 1978, ETA killed more people than in all the preceding years combined.

The social and economic situation

The general status of autonomy granted to the Basque Country after the Franco regime is very high. Besides establishing Basque and Spanish as official languages the region was given a high degree of fiscal autonomy. The Basque Country possesses the highest level of self-governance of any sub-national entity in Europe, including an autonomous Basque police force and autonomous education and health systems.[9] These rights were granted through the Basque statute of autonomy which was approved by almost 95% of the Basques in 1979.[10] The Spanish constitution - established per referendum one year earlier - was approved by almost three quarter of th]e Basque Country. However, only 44,7% participated in the voting.[11] This low turnout indicates how little the Basques identified themselves with the Spanish state at the birth of the constitutional democracy and demonstrates a shortage in public legitimacy on the part of the Basques inherent in the Spanish constitution.

According to a socio-linguistic survey conducted by the Basque Government in 2006 just over a third of the Basques speak the Basque language (= Euskara) fluently (with an addi­tional 17% of passive speakers[12] ) and it is spoken in just about one fifth of the Basque house­holds.[13] Today 47% of the Basques however, define themselves to be Basques rather than Spaniards whereas only 9% feel to be rather Spanish than Basque. 37% stated that they define themselves as Basques as much as they define themselves as Spaniards.[14] Although it is ap­parently not the language that unites the Basque people they nevertheless have a strong feel­ing of Basque identity. However, the Basque Country may not be mistaken for a region with a strong majority supporting separatist visions. According to a poll conducted by the Basque government in March 2009, merely 25% of the Basques support the independence of the Basque Country while 30% refuse it.[15] This popular sentiment is interesting considering the claim of Nationalist parties to have the population decide over the future status of auton­omy/independence for the Basque country.

Economically, the Basque Country is one of the richest regions within Spain and within the European Union. According to numbers for 2007, the GDP[16] per capita is 40% higher than the average of the European Union.[17] Apparently, grievances stemming from so­cial deprivation or linguistic discrimination, for instance that are at the very bottom of other conflicts do not exactly apply to the Basque Country. On the contrary, independence aspira­tions are believed to be rather fuelled by the sentiment that the Basques are paying too much to the central government to subsidise the southern Spanish communities.[18][19]


[1] Letamendia, F. and Loughlin, J.: ‘Peace in the Basque Country and Corsica?’ in Farewell to Arms? From ‘Long War’ to Long Peace in Northern Ireland, edited by Cox, M. et al. (Manchester, Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 236.

[2] In the following the term ‘Basque Country’ refers to the respective autonomous community in Spain and not to ‘Euskal Herria’ unless otherwise stated.

[3] Moreno, L. Divided Societies, Electoral Polarisation and the Basque Country. (Madird, CSIC Working Paper 01-07, 2001), pp. 1-2.

[4] Clark, R. The Basque Insurgents - ETA, 1952-1980. (Madison, The University of Wisconsin Press, 1984), p.


[5] Morena, L. Divided societies, p. 3.

[6] Clark, R. The Basque Insurgents, pp. 20-27.

[7] Conversi, D: The Basques, the Catalans and Spain: Alternative Routes to Nationalist Mobilisation. (London, C. Hurst & Co, 1997), pp. 91-99.

[8] Clark, R. The Basque Insurgents, pp. 88-90.

[9] USIP, The Basque Conflict: New Ideas and Prospects for Peace. (Washington USIP Special Report 161, 2006), pp. 3-4.

[10] Gobierno Vasco, Archivo de resultados electorales, 2009a.

[11] Gobierno Vasco, Archivo de resultados electorales, 2009a.

[12] ‘passive speakers’ are defined in the survey as those who understand Euskara well, but are do not speak the language well.

[13] Gobierno Vasco, Mapa Sociolingüistico, p. 35

[14] Gobierno Vasco: Sociometro Vasco 41 - Noviembre 2009, 2009c, pp. 14-15.

[15] Gobierno Vasco, Sociometro Vasco 40 - Abril 2009, 2009b, p. 38.

[16] The GDP discribes the overall economic output (= market value of all final goods and services) achieved within a country/region and is considered a reliable indicator for measuring economic wealth.

[17] Eustat, Producto Interior Brutoper capita 2007, 2008, p. 1.

[18] Letamendia and Loughlin, Peace in the Basque Country and Corsica?, p. 237.

[19] That the conflict nevertheless had a significant negative effect on the economy of the Basque country was shown by Abadie, A. and Gardeazabal, J.: ‘The Economic Costs of Conflict: A Case Study of the Basque Coun­try’, The American Economic Review, Vol. 93 No. 1 (2002).

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