Languages of Spain: Basque

September 2, 2019 11:15 am

The Basque language, also known as Euskera or Euskara, is an isolated language and the only surviving Pre-Indo European language of those spoken in the southwestern of Europe before the region was romanized in the 1st and 2nd centuries BC.

Written Basque appeared in the 11th Century AD in Latin religious texts, the Glosas Emilianenses and the first published book in the basque language turns out to be a collection of poems “Linguæ Vasconum Primitiæ” that were published by Bernard Etxepare in 1945.

The Euskera attained an official status as a language for a short period during the Spanish Civil War (1935-39) between 1936 and 1937 however, the regime placed legal restrictions on the use of the language, which was suppressed from official discourse, education, and publishing, making it illegal to register new-born babies under Basque names, and even requiring tombstone engravings in Basque to be removed. In some provinces, the public use of the language was suppressed, with people fined for speaking Basque.

Yet again, in 1978 Euskera and Spanish became official languages of the autonomous Basque country of Spain.

An orthography standardised form was set as part of the promoting process for the language. This was denominated Euskara Batua and it was developed by the Royal Basque Language Academy (Euskaltzaindia).  But it was not the only standardised way to speak the language as it was promoted all together with the standardisation of its 5 dialects: Biscayan, Gipuzkoan, Upper Navarrese and, in the French side, Navarrese-Lapurdian and Souletin.

Currently Euskera is spoken by 37% of the Basque people in an area that comprises approximately 10,000 square kilometres between Spain and France and there are an average of a million euskaldunak, a Basque word that means “Euskera speakers”. These speakers live in territories on both sides of the Pyrenees and the Euskera is used in the everyday life in the public institutions, businesses, schools and homes.

Sources: Accessed August 16, 2019.

Basque (euskara). Basque language, alphabet and pronunciation. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Basque language, the oldest language in Europe. Bizkaia Talent. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Busquets J. Casi tres siglos de imposición. EL PAÍS. Published April 28, 2001. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Calderon J. Travel – The surprising story of the Basque language. BBC. Published June 4, 2019. Accessed August 16, 2019.

La prohibición del euskera en el franquismo. Published May 31, 2017. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Rijk RPGde, Michelena L. Basque language. Encyclopædia Britannica. Accessed August 16, 2019.

Written by Maria Blanca Escudero Fontan, trainee in the Direction of the Directorate B and in TermCoord. Holds a Degree in Translation and Interpretation ( Universidade de Vigo) and a MA in International Studies (USC).



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