The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






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 639-1 eu
ISO 639-2 baq (B) / eus (T)

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 üskara. Although it is geographically entirely surrounded by Indo-European languages, it is believed to be a language isolate.


History and classification

The ancestors of Basques are among the ancient 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.

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 Basque Country and some parts of Navarre.

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


Now there are eight dialects, which do not match with the political divisions. One of the first scientific studies of Basque was made by Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (a descendant 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 jargon s: examples are the gacería , the mingaña and the Galician fala dos arxinas .


Basque has some grammatical forms unusual in Europe, such as the ergative case, which forces the addition of a -k to the subject when it has a transitive verb. The auxiliary verb also reflects the number of the direct object, so the auxiliary verb can contain a lot of information (about the subject, the number of direct object, if it is singular or plural, and the indirect object). Among European languages, this system (inflection of the auxiliary) is only found in Basque and some Caucasian languages.

For example, in the phrase:

Martinek egunkariak erosten dizkit

which means "Martin buys the newspapers for me", Martin-ek is the subject (more precisely, an ergative), so it has the -k ending. Egunkariak has an -ak ending which marks plural object (plural absolutive, to be exact). 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".

Basque distinguishes between laminal sibilants (z, tz) where friction occurs across the blade of the tongue (like in a French or English s), and apical sibilants (s, ts) where friction occurs at the tip of the tongue (like in a Castilian s). It also features palatal sibilants (x, tx), sounding like English sh and ch.

Palatal sounds (plosive: tt /c/, dd /J\/; sibilant: x /S/, tx /tS/; nasal: ñ /J/; lateral: ll /L/) are typical of diminutives, which are used frequently in child language and motherese (mainly to show affection rather than size). E.g., 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 [i]. For example, the [n] in [egin] (to act) becomes a palatal [ñ] when the suffix -a is added, changing /egina/ to [egiña] (the action).

Letter j is pronounced as [j], [j\], [J\], [Z], [S] or [x] according to region ([x] is typical of the Spanish Basque Country). The vowel system is the same as Spanish for most speakers, namely /a, e, i, o, u/. It is thought that Spanish took this system from Basque. Speakers of the Souletin dialect also have a sixth, front rounded vowel, represented in writing by ü but represents /2/ much like a German ö, rather than a German ü or French u /y/.

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., basóà ("the forest", absolutive case) vs. básoà ("the glass", absolutive case; a borrowing from Spanish vaso); basóàk ("the forest", ergative case) vs. básoàk ("the glass", ergative case) vs. básoak ("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 áma (- - ´ -), instead of as nir&eacute amà (- ´ - `).


By contact with neighbouring peoples, Basque has borrowed words from Latin, Spanish, French, Gascon etc. Some studies claim that half 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.


Basic phrases

  • Bai = Yes
  • Ez = No
  • Kaixo! (in Spain), Agur! (in France)= Hello
  • Agur! (in Spain), Adio! (in France)= Goodbye!
  • Ikusi arte = See you!
  • Eskerrik asko! = Thank you!
  • Egun on = Good morning
  • 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?
  • 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 year´s)

Advanced phrases

  • Eup!= The real way to greet someone on the street, pronounced 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?= Dou you speak English?
  • Neska polita = (You´re 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

  • Ethnologue report for Basque
  • Center for Basque Studies at University of Nevada, Reno


  • University of the Basque Country: A Brief Grammar of Euskara, the Basque Language
  • Basque Verb Tables
  • Larry Trask: A Linguistic Sketch of Basque
  • Larry Trask: Some Important Basque Words (And a Bit of Culture)


  • Morris Student Plus: Basque - English - Basque dictionary (67,000 headwords + 120,000 expressions and idioms)
  • Webster's Online Dictionary - the Rosetta Edition: Basque - English Dictionary


  • 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 0415131162.

Last updated: 02-05-2005 00:45:51
Last updated: 04-25-2005 03:06:01