A journey through the history and evolution of a language

Euskara. Kultura. Mundura.


Iván Igartua and Xabier Zabaltza are the authors of the ‘The Basque Language’, one of the twelve books in the Basque collection. The book examines topics including the characteristics and evolution of the language, books written in Basque, Basque literacy, and the relationship of the language with Spanish and French in recent centuries. The first edition of the collection, promoted by the Etxepare Basque Institute, came out eight years ago and now the entire series is being updated.

Igartua and Zabaltza first focus on the region in which the Basque language is spoken. The authors explain that the Basque language (Euskara in Basque) is spoken on both sides of the Franco-Spanish border at the westernmost end of the Pyrenees. In Spain, the language is spoken in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country or Euskadi—made up of the provinces of Alava (Araba in Basque), Guipuzcoa (Gipuzkoa) and Biscay (Bizkaia)—and Navarre (Nafarroa), with significant differences in the predominance of the language depending on the area. In France it is spoken in the the Basque region which incorporates the historical provinces of Labourd (Lapurdi), Basse Navarre (Baxenabarre) and Soule (Zuberoa), as well as in some of the valleys bordering Soule in the neighbouring province of Béarn. These seven provinces are known collectively as Euskal Herria in Basque. This is the territory the authors refer to when they use the term ‘Basqueland’.

Igartua and Zabaltza then go into the various structures of the language, including morphology, phonology, lexical analysis and syntax structures. Basque is what is known as a language isolate, meaning that it does not belong to any known linguistic family. This book covers the evolution of the language, the diverse dialects, as well as theories about its origin and ideas about its kinship with other systems.

Luis Michelena

Luis Michelena used to say that the real mystery of the history of Basque lay not in its origin, but the fact that the language managed to survive to the present day. With some exceptions, Basque was a non-written language until the sixteenth century, and apparently neither the governing bodies nor the ruling classes held the language in esteem.

According to UNESCO, Euskara is considered vulnerable in Euskadi and especially in Navarre, and ´severely endangered´ in the French Basqueland.

About Basque Culture

This project originated in 2012 when the Etxepare Basque Institute first published the twelve monographic books on Basque cultural expression that make up the collection. The idea behind the initiative was to provide up-to-date, engaging, accurate information that would be easily accessible for anyone interested in learning more about Basque creation.

The titles and authors of the books were: ‘A Brief History of the Basque Language’ by Ivan Igartua and Xabier Zabaltza; ‘Basque Literature in the Twentieth Century’ by Estibalitz Ezkerra; ‘Basque Classical Music’ by Karlos Sánchez Ekiza; ‘Basque Song: Pop, Rock, Folk’ by Jon Eskisabel; ‘A Collection of Prints’, dedicated to visual arts, written by Miren Jaio; ‘Basque Cinema’ by Joxean Fernandez; ‘Architecture and Design’ by Peio Aguirre; ‘Basque Dance’ by Oier Araolaza; ‘Bertsolarismo’ by Joxerra Garzia; ‘Traditions’ by Joseba Zulaika; and ‘On Basque Cuisine’ by Hasier Etxeberria.

Most of the books in the collection are being republished in 2021 and 2022 in three bilingual formats: Basque and Spanish, Basque and English, and Basque and French. All of them are available free of charge in digital format.


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