What is Basque? A Beginner’s Guide to the Basque Language

What is Basque? A Beginner's Guide to the Basque Language

Basque is a very unique European language because it isn’t related to any others across the continent – or, actually, to any other language in the world! In this post, find out where Basque is spoken, its connections with Spanish, and learn a few words and phrases you can use on your next trip to the Basque Country.

Where is Basque spoken?

Basque – or Euskara in Basque – is primarily spoken in the Basque Country, an area of land in the western Pyrenees that straddles the border between France and Spain. The region, which is also called Euskal Herria, meaning ‘land of the Basque language’, is made up of the Autonomous Communities of the Basque Country and Navarre in Spain, and the Northern Basque Country in France.

The Basque spoken in these areas is mostly Euskara Batua, which is a standardised form of the language that was developed by the Euskaltzaindia in the late 1960s. The Euskaltzaindia (lit. ‘group of keepers of the Basque language’, or Royal Academy of the Basque Language) is the official academic language institution that watches over the language. The Euskaltzaindia decided to standardise the language to give it a better chance of survival after it was banned under the rule of Spanish dictator General Francisco Franco and the number of native speakers declined.

More than three million people are estimated to live in Euskal Herria although many of these people do not consider themselves Basque, and Spanish and French are still dominant languages in these areas.

Around 28.4% of Basques (751,500) in all these territories speak the language. Most of these (93.2% or 700,300) are in the Spanish area of the Basque Country, with 6.8% (51,200) being in the French portion. Basque is, alongside Spanish, an official language of the Basque Autonomous Community and Navarre and is a recognised minority language in Nouvelle-Antiquaine, France.

No, it isn’t! Despite their geographical

proximity, Spanish is a Romance language and descended from Latin, whereas Basque is a language isolate, meaning it is not related to any other existing language.

Currently, the mainstream view of Basque is that early forms of the language developed before Indo-European language arrived in the area. Fascinatingly, this means that Basque existed as a language in Europe before the Celtic and Romance languages did!

Still, Basque today is surrounded by Romance languages and has been influenced by them. It is suspected that up to 40% of Basque vocabulary is borrowed from Romance languages, and the Latin script is used to write Basque.

Some linguists believe that Basque has influenced some of the Romance languages, too. These connections are sometimes tenuous and unsupported by concrete evidence, but the most likely example of a Basque word being borrowed into Romance languages is the word esker.

In modern Basque, esker means ‘gratitude’, ‘benefit’, or ‘merit’. It makes up part of the phrase eskerrik asko, which means ‘thank you’. Linguists suspect that esker is the source of the Pyrenean and Iberian Romance words for ‘left (side)’: izquierdo (Spanish), esquerdo (Galician), and esquerre (Catalan).

How to say hello (and 10 other phrases) in Basque

Our app features 2,500 useful words and phrases in Basque, so we’ve picked some out here for you to take a look at. You can see their translations in Spanish and French, too, so you can really see how different Basque is to everything else.

Don’t forget – if you want to hear the audio for any of these words, it’s all available on our app!

Egun on.Good morning.Buenos días.Bonjour.
Arratsalde on.Good afternoon.Buenas tardes.Bonjour.
Gabon.Good evening.Buenas noches.Bonsoir.
Zer moduz?How are you?¿Cómo estás?Comment ça va?
Ongi, eskerrik asko.Fine, thanks.Bien, gracias.Ça va bien, merci.
Eskerrik asko.Thank you.Gracias.Merci.
Mesedez.Please.Por favor.S’il vous plaît.
Nola duzu izena?What’s your name?¿Cómo te llamas?Comment vous appelez-vous?
… dut izena.My name is…Me llamo …Je m’appelle…
Agur.Goodbye.Adios.Au revoir.

We hope you’ve enjoyed learning about Basque with us today. Learn more by checking out Basque on the uTalk app! Every language on our app (over 150 of them!) features 2,500 useful words and phrases, all voiced by native speakers. Learn by playing games and having fun, and you’ll find those new words coming to you naturally in no time.

Already speak Basque? You can use our app to learn all those languages from Basque, too! Go to Settings (the little cog) in the app, then select Application Language and choose ‘Basque’ (or ‘Euskara’) from the menu to change the language you’re using the app in.

Happy language learning!

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