Language Trivia

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Did you know this about... Basque?

01Basque language, called EUSKARA in Basque, is believed to be one of the oldest European languages. It is a pre-Indo-European language whose origins are unknown, and it remains unrelated, unclassified, in relation to the world's language families. A person who speaks Basque is called euskalduna.

02Basque is a language spoken in a geographical area that straddles the westernmost Pyrenees in adjacent parts of Northern Spain (the BAC-Basque Autonomous Community of the Basque Country and the Autonomous Community of Navarre) and Southwestern France (the three provinces of Labourd, Basse-Navarre and Soule). According to the Sixth Sociolinguistic Survey of Basque (2016), Basque is spoken by 28,4% of the population (751.527 Basque speakers aged 16 years or more) in all Basque territories. (Total population aged 16 years or more in all Basque geographical areas: 2.647.422).

03Basque dialects are linguistic varieties of the Basque language, which show a high degree of dialectal divergence and differ in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar from each other and from Standard Basque. Modern Basque dialectology distinguishes five dialects, divided into 11 subdialects and 24 minor varieties.

04Standard Basque (euskara batua or simply batua) is a standardised version of the Basque language, developed by Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language in the late 1960s. Heavily based on the central Basque dialect, it is the version of the language that is commonly used in education at all levels, on television and radio, and in the vast majority of all written production in Basque. Euskara batua enjoys official language status in Spain (in the BAC and in a part of Navarre) but remains unrecognised as an official language in France.

05Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language, is the official academic language regulatory institution, which watches over the Basque language. It carries out research on the language, seeks to protect it, and establishes standards of use.

06Hitano (toka/noka) is one of the treatments of the Basque language that takes into account the interlocutor. This treatment is generally used colloquially. There are several personal pronouns to refer to the conversational partner: hi, zu, xu, berori. The choice of the pronoun hi requires the use of a special verb, called "allocutive", which involves the grammatical marking of the gender of the addressee in the verb form itself: hik dun, "you (female) have it"; hik duk, "you (male) have it".

07Some morphological characteristics: Basque is an ergative language that distinguishes the transitive subject (zuk - "You") and the intransitive subject (zu - “You”) and it is an agglutinative language: multiple prefixes or suffixes can be added to a root word to create phrases or even sentences, so one base form can contain an enormous amount of inflections. The conjugation of verbs is done by adding different prefixes or suffixes to the root of the verb: for example, dakartzat, which means "I bring them", is formed by da (indicates present tense), kar (root of the verb ekarri → bring), tza (indicates plural) and t (indicates subject, in this case, "I").

08Basque is largely gender-free. Nouns have no gender, though there are in some cases different words for the same concept depending on the speaker (arreba, “sister for a man”, ahizpa, “sister for a woman”).

09Basque has a vigesimal number system, based on the counting system of 20, like French. To express a number greater than 20 and less than 100, firstly the number of 20s in the number is stated and the remaining number is added. For example, 93 is expressed as laurogeita hamahiru (literally, four-times-twenty-and-thirteen).

10The Basque language features five vowels: /a/, /e/, /i/, /o/ and /u/. In the Zuberoan (Soule) dialect, extra phonemes are featured: the close front rounded vowel /y/, graphically represented as ⟨ü⟩; and a set of contrasting nasal vowels, indicating a strong influence from Gascon.

What does Basque sound like? Listen to Basque Public TV (ETB1) or Basque Public Radio (Euskadi Irratia).

We are most grateful to the members of the Network to Promote Linguistic Diversity for their support in providing information on the Basque language for this page.