Iurgi de excursion

19 mayo 2008

Basque Language

Basque. Euskera. One of my mother tongues. Less than a million speakers, mainly in the North of Spain, South of France and some speakers all around the world, usually children of Basque migrants. Nevertheless it is not the first language but for few people and most are able to speak other languages. That way in Bilbao, my hometown, and surrounding area Spanish is the main spoken language and for a foreigner visiting whole Basque Country knowing a little Spanish is more than enough to communicate with everyone, although being able to say some words like "gabon" (good night), "bai" (yes), ez (no) will bring a smile to local people.

Basque. Ancient and strange language. It is believed to be a language isolate. Somehow the rest of the European languages have links among them, obvious in the case of Latin languages (Spanish, French, Italian...) for example, but Euskera was alone for centuries. Nowadays more and more words are introduced from Spanish, French and English for all those words that were not present (TV, computer, etc...) before.

Some Spaniards say that "it sounds bad". Exactly as most foreigners say so about Cantonese. The main reason I guess is that sounds strange for them. There are a lot of "k" sounds and in rare positions (the main reason because instead of "s" for plural we use "k"), the words are long (we add prepositions and other suffixes to nouns), the sentences also. But I guess that for a Chinese the same thing happens when they hear for the first time Spanish with those strong and unpronounceable "R" and "J" sounds.

Lot make fun saying that Basque is useless and that actually nowadays needs to use too many words from Spanish cause it does not have its own. It is true that the language is very old and that words need to be included from neighbor languages, but the reality is that there are more similarities for example between English and Spanish than for Spanish and Basque. Just an example, same sentences in three languages (Spanish, English, Basque).

Los verbos en inglés son simples de estudiar. Apenas necesitas practicar para aprender como utilizarlos. En vasco sin embargo son muy muy complicados. Hay docenas de formas verbales que cambian dependiendo de la persona, el tiempo, el objeto directo e indirecto de la frase.

The verbs in English are easy to study. You hardly need to practice to learn how to use them. In Basque however they are very very complicated. There are dozens of verbal forms that change depending on the person, tense, direct and indirect object of the sentence.

Aditzak ingeleraz oso errazak dira ikasten. Ozta-ozta praktikatzen hastea behar da nola erabiltzen diren ikasteko. Euskeraz berriz oso oso korapilotsuak dira. Dozenaka aditzera daude esaldiaren pertsona, denbora, objektu zuzen eta ez zuzenaren arabera aldatzen direnak.

An English speaker patiently could try to guess the broad meaning of the sentences in Spanish as those words in bold+blue have the same roots. In the case of a Spanish speaker guess the task is completely impossible. Actually, in Philippines I met a funny Chinese guy who had lived in Spain who explained me that learning Spanish was not so difficult "you only need to take English words and add some letters behind, that way interesting becomes interesante, direct directo and so on". Of course, it is not as easy as that, but somehow there is some true behind.

And for me Basque is just my "private" language. Once I left Basque Country I thought that I was going to loose it. But, after years almost without using it in my daily life, still is there. I have discovered that it is part of me. It is, somehow, the way of expressing my feelings, it has connections with my inner kid. May be because in the school we studied in Basque, because those first concerts with Basque music, first loves, my mother's words before goingo to sleep. When I play the guitar, when I compose, Basque words flow easy. There are some words that have special (real) meaning in Basque, kiss is "musu" or "muxu", good night is "gabon", my parents are "ama" and "aita", my grandparents "aitxitxe" and "amuma". Little words that I like to share with my "close people".

Update: A little Basque - English - Spanish - Chinese dictionary I prepared for migrants to my hometown


  • Egun euritsuak tenpora egunetan, udarako bazatoz ez pentsa hondartzan emango dozunik egun osoa. Goraintziak eta besarkadak mundoko bestaldeko lagunen partez.

    By Anonymous Anónimo, at 20/5/08 12:13 a. m.  

  • "Az angol igéket könnyű megtanulni. Aligha kell gyakorolnia az embernek, hogyan kell használni őket. A baszkban ezzel szemben nagyon bonyolultak az igék. Több tucatnyi igealak van, melyek a személytől, az időtől és a mondat tárgyának határozottásgától vagy határozatlanságától függően változnak" (your example sentences in Hungarian :D)

    By the way, Basque is a very interesting language, I would love to learn it - right after learning Spanish and German. (I'm a maniac.)

    Is it true, that you conjugate verbs by the definiteness of the object? I thought that only Hungarian did so...

    By Blogger naisa, at 11/6/08 2:46 a. m.  

  • Hi Naisa!

    Never saw this comment before (blogger comment manager again not working correctly I guess...).

    I guess the answer to your question is yes. Actually among the lots of different peculiarities of Basque we have the conjugation of verbs. Polypersonal system. Depends on the verb but usually it agrees to subject, direct and indirect object. Hungarian and some caucasian languages have the same supercomplicated system :P I did not realize about how difficult it is till an exgf tried her best to learn the basics.

    Hungarian, English, Spanish, German, Basque... Nice! Good luck!

    By Blogger iurgir, at 3/12/08 2:31 p. m.  

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