Basque language

Basque (Euskara)
Spoken in: Spain and France
Region: Basque Country
Total speakers: 580,000
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Language isolate
Official status
Official language of: Basque Country (Spain)
Regulated by: Euskaltzaindia
Language codes
ISO 639-1eu
ISO 639-2baq (B) / eus (T)
See also: LanguageList of languages

Basque (Euskara in Basque) is the language spoken by the Basque people, who live in northern Spain and the adjoining area of southwestern France. The Standard Basque name for the language is euskara; other dialectal forms are euskera, eskuara and skara. Although it is geographically surrounded by several Indo-European languages, it is believed to be a language isolate.


History and classification

The ancestors of Basques are among the oldest inhabitants of Europe, and their origins are still unknown, as are the origins of their language itself. Many scholars have tried to link Basque to Etruscan, African languages, Caucasian languages and so on, but most scholars see Basque as a language isolate. It was spoken long before the Romans brought Latin to the Iberian Peninsula, and the inability of the Romans to conquer the Basque furthered the distinction.

Geographic distribution

The region in which Basque is spoken is known as the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria in Basque.

Official status

Basque holds official language status in the Basque regions of Spain: the full autonomous community of the Basque Country and some parts of Navarre.

In the 13th and 14th centuries, the local charter of the Basque-colonized Ojacastro valley allowed the inhabitants to use Basque in legal processes.

The positions of the various existing governments in the Basque Country with regard to the promotion of Basque are very different. The language has official status in those territories which are within the Basque Autonomous Community, but only partially in Navarre, which is divided by the law in three distinct language areas (this law is strongly rejected by the Basque-speaking people of Navarre).

Basque has no official standing in the Northern Basque Country, the part under France. French nationals cannot use Basque to declare in a French court, but Spanish nationals can, as Basque is officially recognised on the other side of the frontier.


There are six main Basque dialects, comprising Biscayan, Guipuzcoan, and High Navarrese (in Spain), and Low Navarrese, Labourdin, and Souletin (in France). The dialect boundaries do not match political boundaries. One of the first scientific studies of Basque dialects, in particular the auxiliary verb forms, was made by Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (a nephew of Napoleon).

Derived languages

There is now a unified version of Euskara called Batua ("unified" in Basque), which is the language taught in schools. Batua is based largely on the Gipuzkoa regional dialect.

In the 16th century, Basque sailors mixed Basque words with a European Atlantic pidgin in their contacts with Iceland.

Several travelling professional groups of Castile used Basque words in their secret jargons: examples are the gacera, the mingaa and the Galician fala dos arxinas.


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 (that is, the agent) 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 the direct object and the indirect object, if present. Among European languages, this polypersonal system (multiple verb agreement) is only found in Basque and some Caucasian languages. The ergative-absolutive alignment is also unique among European languages, and rather rare worldwide.

Consider the phrase:

Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit.
"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 indicates:

  • di- marks a verb with both a direct object and an indirect one, in the present tense;
  • -zki- is the number of the direct object (in this case the newspapers; if it were singular there would be no suffix); and
  • -t is the indirect object mark: "for me".

A Basque noun is inflected in 17 different ways for case, multiplied by 4 ways for its definiteness and number. These first 68 forms are further modified based on other parts of the sentence, which in turn are inflected for the noun again. It's been estimated that at two levels of recursion, a Basque noun may have 458,683 inflected forms (Agirre et al, 1992 (


Template:IPA notice

Basque has a distinction between laminal and apical articulation for the alveolar fricatives and affricates. In the laminal consonants the friction occurs across the blade of the tongue, while in apical ones, it occurs at the tip (apex).

The laminal alveolar fricative is the familiar English , and its affricate counterpart is . These are written with an orthographic z (z, tz). The apical fricative is written s and it is pronounced like normal s in Spain's Spanish; the corresponding affricate is ts.

Basque also features postalveolar sibilants (, written x, and , written tx), sounding like English sh and ch.

There are two palatal stops, voiced and unvoiced, as well as a palatal nasal and a palatal lateral (the palatal stops are not present in all dialects). These and the postalveolar sounds are typical of diminutives, which are used frequently in child language and motherese (mainly to show affection rather than size). For example, tanta "drop" vs. ttantta "droplet". A few common words, such as txakur "dog", use palatal sounds even though in current usage they have lost the diminutive sense; the corresponding non-palatal forms now acquiring an augmentative or pejorative sense: zakur "big dog". Many dialects of Basque exhibit a derived palatalization effect in which coronal onset consonants are changed into the palatal counterpart after the high front vowel . For example, the in egin "to act" becomes palatal when the suffix -a is added: = "the action".

The sound represented by j has a variety of realizations according to the regional dialect: (the last one is typical of the Spanish Basque Country).

The vowel system is the same as Spanish for most speakers. It consists of five pure vowels, . Speakers of the Souletin dialect also have a sixth, front rounded vowel (represented in writing by but pronounced , much like a German ), as well as a set of contrasting nasalized vowels.

Stress and pitch

Basque features great dialectal variation in stress, from a weak pitch-accent in the central dialects to a marked stress in some outer dialects, with varying patterns of stress placement. Stress is in general not distinctive; there are, however, a few instances where stress is phonemic, serving to distinguish between a few pairs of stress-marked words and between some grammatical forms (mainly plurals from other forms). E.g., bas ("the forest", absolutive case) vs. bso ("the glass", absolutive case; a borrowing from Spanish vaso); bask ("the forest", ergative case) vs. bsok ("the glass", ergative case) vs. bsoak ("the forests" or "the glasses", absolutive case). Given its great deal of variation among dialects, stress is not marked in the standard orthography and Euskaltzaindia only provides general recommendations for a standard placement of stress, basically to place a high-pitched weak stress (weaker than that of Spanish, let alone that of English) on the second syllable of a syntagma, and a low-pitched even-weaker stress on its last syllable, except in plural forms where stress is moved to the first syllable. This scheme provides Basque with a distinct musicality which sets its sound apart from the prosodical patterns of Spanish (which tends to stress the second-to-last syllable). Euskaldunberris ("new Basque-speakers", i.e. second-language Basque-speakers) with Spanish as their first language tend to carry the prosodical patterns of Spanish into their pronunciation of Basque, giving rise to a much despised decaffeinated pronunciation; e.g., pronouncing nire ama ("my mom") as nire ma (- - -), instead of as niré am (- - `).


By contact with neighbouring peoples, Basque has borrowed words from Latin, Spanish, French, Gascon, among others, but accepted relatively few compared to other Indo-European languages. Some claim that many of its words come from Latin, but phonetic evolution has made many of them appear nowadays as if they were native words, e.g. lore ("flower", from florem), gela ("room", from cellam).

Writing system

Basque is written using the Latin alphabet. The universal special letter is , sometimes and were also used. Basque does not use c, q, v, w, y except for loan words; they are not considered part of the alphabet.

Aa Bb Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Rr Ss Tt Uu Xx Yy Zz

dd, ll, rr, ts, tt, tx, tz are not treated as digraphs.

In Sabino Arana's orthography, ll and rr were substituted with ĺ and ŕ, respectively.


Basic phrases

  • Bai = Yes
  • Ez = No
  • Kaixo!, Agur!= Hello
  • Agur!, Adio!= Goodbye!
  • Ikusi arte = See you!
  • Eskerrik asko! = Thank you!
  • Egun on = Good morning (literally: Good day)
  • Egun on, bai = Standard reply to Egun on
  • Arratsalde on = Good evening
  • Gabon = Good night
  • Mesedez = Please
  • Barkatu = Excuse (me)
  • Aizu! = Listen! (To get someone's attention, not very polite, to be used with friends)
  • Kafe hutsa nahi nuke = Can I have a coffee?
  • Kafe ebakia nahi nuke = Can I have a machiatto?
  • Kafesnea nahi nuke = Can I have a caf latte?
  • Garagardoa nahi nuke = Can I have a beer?
  • Komunak = Toilets
  • Komuna, non dago? = Where are the toilets?
  • Non dago tren-geltokia? = Where is the train station?
  • Non dago autobus-geltokia? = Where is the bus station?
  • Ba al da hotelik hemen inguruan? = Where is the (nearest, only) hotel?
  • Zorionak = Happy holidays (During Christmas and new years), congratulations

Advanced phrases

  • Eup!= The real way to greet someone on the street, also apa or aupa.
  • Kaixo aspaldiko! = Like Kaixo, but adds "Long time, no see"-meaning.
  • Ez horregatik = You're welcome
  • Ez dut ulertzen = I don't understand
  • Ez dakit euskaraz= I don't speak Basque
  • Ba al dakizu ingelesez?= Do you speak English?
  • Neska polita / Neska ederra= (Youre a) beautiful girl
  • Zein da zure izena? = What is your name?
  • Pozten nau zu ezagutzeak = Nice to meet you
  • Ongi etorri! = Welcome!
  • Egun on denoi = Good morning everyone!
  • Berdin / Hala zuri ere = The same to you (E.g. after Kaixo or Egun on)
  • Jakina!/Noski! = Sure! OK!
  • Nongoa zara? = Where are you from?
  • Non dago...? = Where is...?
  • Badakizu euskaraz? = Do you speak Basque?
  • Bai ote? = Really? Maybe?
  • Bizi gara!! = We are alive!!
  • Bagarela!! = So we are!! (Answer to the above)
  • Topa! = Cheers!
  • Hementxe! = Over / right here!
  • Geldi!= Stop
  • Lasai= Take it easy
  • Ez dut nahi= I don't want

See also

External links





  • HUALDE, Jos&eacute Ignacio & DE URBINA, Jon Ortiz (eds.): A Grammar of Basque. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, 2003. ISBN 3-11-017683-1.
  • TRASK, R. Larry: History of Basque. New York/London: Routledge, 1996. ISBN

de:Baskische Sprache als:Baskisch et:Baski keel es:Euskera eo:Eŭska lingvo eu:Euskara fr:Basque nl:Baskisch ja:バスク語 oc:Basc pl:Język baskijski pt:Basco ro:Limba bască ru:Баскский язык fi:Baskin kieli sv:Baskiska zh:巴斯克語


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