Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Basque language usage stuck

The situation of the Basque language is rather worrisome. 

The region where Basque language is doing better is Gipuzkoa, looking rather stuck in Biscay and Araba and in clear recession in Navarre, where culturally genocidal policies are in practice (the so-called Napartheid). On the possitive side the usage of Basque language in the North (French occupation zone) is showing some quite apparetnt increase among children and youngsters.

Still children are the ones who speak Basque the most overall (19%), while elderly people the less (10%). This is because of the huge cultural-linguistic damage that fascist repression (mostly) caused in the 20th century. 

Basque usage per age groups: children, young, adults, elderly

Notably Basque language usage is stuck in the cities:

Most of the latest decline is attributable to the growth of third languages, because of immigration and tourism. This pressure is shared with Spanish.

Whatever the case the overall situation is most worrisome: it is too easy to harm a small language and too difficult to heal afterwards.

Source: Bilboko Branka[eu]: report (PDF), article.


  1. In deep Lower Navarre or Labourd, Basque is the language used by most people, one just needs to visit the land, both youngsters and elderly people speak Basque, for all uses.

    The situation is quite contrasted on the coast because of "heliotropism" : it'd be suicidal for Basque movements to believe stats in the "BAB" should be taken into account. Bayonne has not spoken Basque for one millenium, Anglet and Biarritz for 3 centuries, results are actually quite encouraging considering there was no vernacular Basque language in those areas (I mean, Bayonne used to be mostly populated by people with roots in the Landes, now it's a mixed French town : that people may elect learning Basque is already good news).

    No official statistics as far I know but Soule seems to be on the verge of a strong decrease of natural locutors. Pretty logical : Soule is too peripheral, its socioeconomic problems are similar to other valleys in the Pyrenees, with vernacular culture being rapidly wiped out. Still, whenever I visit Soule, I can hear Basque being spoken whereas in Béarnaise valleys, Gascon is a dead language.

    IMO, statistics would be more interesting if they only took areas where the Basque language was still spoken in the 20th century into account. They'd be more encouraging as well.

    Stats on the use of the Basque language in the whole of Araba are useless. The language was probably lost in Vitoria in the early 18th century. That there are Alavans who are willing to learn Basque even though their ancestors had relinquished this idiom centuries ago is a miracle.

    In Gipuzkoa, stats seem to be encouraging. Whenever I visit Gipuzkoa, I hear Basque being spoken. 15% in Donostia is high considering the town has always been a Romance bridgehead (Gascon in the Middle-Ages, Spanish after the 18th century). In towns like Tolosa, I would not be surprised of scores close to 70%.

    The only truly worrying situation is in Navarre where, I agree, a true cultural genocide is being implemented. Still, it seems to be a sharp trend in Navarrese history. In the decades to come, I would not be surprised if UPN succeeds in erasing the aboriginal Basque culture in Navarre. This is very sad considering Lower Navarre on the other side of the border remains a stronghold of Basque culture. I must say I don't get what really happened in the 80s : even conservatives in Navarre used to know they were part of the Basque world (except La Ribera).

    1. According to Muturzikin (who is trustworthy and draws on statistics), Basque language receeded notably in the Western half of Iparralde between 1991 and 2006. Areas from Inner or Southern Lapurdi that in 1991 were 50-80% Basque-speaking, were just 25-50% 15 years later. Similar results can be seen in other parts of the Northern Country.

      That's considering bilinguals. What this study does is to consider actual street usage, which is very low wherever Spanish or French has encroached.

      "... Gascon is a dead language"...

      That's because romance languages compete with each other much more naturally. It happened also for example in Rioja, Erribera and Aragon, as Castilian (Spanish) took over the Navarrese-Aragonese dialects in the late Middle Ages. The main exception is where a strong identitarian movement exists (as in Catalonia), maybe with political or economic perks.

      A friend of mine said that Basque could hardly compete with Spanish (or French) because you don't (normally) do business in such language, so it tends to become marginal, home-bound and die out. Political and cultural activism can counter that but they must be very persistent.


Please, be reasonably respectful when making comments. I do not tolerate in particular sexism, racism nor homophobia. The author reserves the right to delete any abusive comment.

Comment moderation before publishing is... ON