Basque Language Day 2020

Celebrating Euskararen Eguna

The language of the Basques, called Euskara, is spoken by about 700,000 people around the world, primarily around the Bay of Biscay in the area between NW Spain and SW France, known as the Basque Country. There are several dialects, each with unique properties that reflect the local culture, along with a standardized form called batua developed by the Basque Language Academy in the 1960's.

Euskara is an agglunative ergative-absolutive language in which syllables are “glued” together to create words on-the-fly that describe agents, in a manner that is often loosely compared to subject-object verb order. Examples of other agglunative languages include Inuktitut (Inuit), Japanese, and Korean. Other ergative-absolutive languages include Georgian, Tibetan, and Mayan.

Learning Euskara will naturally be easier for someone who already speaks a language with agglunative, ergative-absolutive, or SOV properties, requiring fewer concepts to learn and paradigms to understand than if coming from a language such as English or Spanish, which have entirely different syntax.

Euskara is an ancient language that descends from Aquitanian and is the lone survivor of the the Vasconic language family, surviving the Proto-Indo-European expansion that began around 6000 BC and continuing to thrive to this day, in Basque Country and in many diasporas around the world.

Vasconic languages may have been in use since the beginning of the holocene epoch (the current period after the last glacial period). This makes Euskara the modern variant of a language that is at least 8000–12000 years old, and possibly much older. These properties make Euskara a popular choice of study for professional linguists and enthusiasts alike.

Traditional dance is deeply rooted within Basque culture

While Euskara is an isolated language, similarities do exist with other languages which are fun to discover, sparking a cross-culture revival with events such as Basque Week in Tokyo. These are fascinating opportunities to connect with cultures around the world and to learn more about the human experience as a whole. The age of the Euskara language and the long tradition of Basque shipbuilding and exploration are foundations for deep cultural links with other communities around the world.

Basques are fiercely proud of their culture and heritage. Many Basque communities exist, largely in the Americas where Basques have immigrated for hundreds of years (or longer). A long tradition of shipbuilding and whaling have spread Basque culture around the world for centuries.

Historically, the Basques have struggled to maintain autonomy from Spain and France, so many of the early Basque settlements, especially in the Americas, were established under French or Spanish rule.

Ikurriña, the flag of Basque Country

The Basque flag (Ikurriña, pictured above) was adopted in 1978 when the Basque Country was recognized as an autonomous community in Spain. The increased awareness of Basque culture and the Euskara language over time has led newer settlements of Basques, such as Boise, Idaho in the United States, to retain much more of their cultural heritage than before.

Within the United States in general for example, there are cities along the East Coast and Gulf of Mexico with sizable populations of Basque heritage, however cities in the Western half of the country are more likely to have Basque cultural centers, events, and educational resources.

Basque dancing at the San Inazio festival in Boise Idaho

The modern era of the internet and social media has greatly contributed to the revival of Euskara and Basque culture overall, as people connect with each other over great distances and organize events that attract people with Basque heritage to learn more about the unique and interesting culture of their ancestors.

To fully understand a language, one should also learn about the underlying culture that produced and carried that language throughout history.

Cultural immersion is generally regarded as the best way to learn a language, and while a trip to Basque Country is not always an option, a good approach is to study Euskara while also exploring traditions in food, music, and other areas on social media and the internet in general.

If there is an Euskal Extea (Basque House) in your local area, they will have Information is provided below for researching the language and connecting with other Euskaldunak (Basque-speakers) around the world.

Photo by Juan Gomez on Unsplash

Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed this article, I encourage you to learn more about the Basque culture and how it has shaped our world today. From shipbuilding and navigation to culinary perfection, the Basques have left a mark on the world that will continue to shape Earth for generations.


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