Standard Basque (Basque: euskara batua or simply batua) is a standardised version of the Basque language, developed by the Basque Language Academy in the late 1960s, which nowadays is the most widely and commonly spoken Basque-language version throughout the Basque Country. Heavily based on the central Basque dialect, this is the version of the language commonly used in education at all levels—from elementary school to the university—, on television and radio, and in the vast majority of all written production in Basque.
It is also used in common parlance by new speakers that have not learnt any local dialect, especially in the cities, whereas in the countryside, with more elderly speakers, people remain attached to the natural dialects to a higher degree, especially in informal situations; i.e. Basque traditional dialects are still used in the situations where they always were used (native Basque speakers speaking in informal situations), while batua has conquered new fields for the Basque language: the formal situations (where Basque was seldom used, apart from religion) and a lot of new speakers that otherwise would not have learned Basque.
Euskara batua enjoys official language status in Spain (in the whole Basque Autonomous Community and in sections of Navarre), but remains unrecognised as an official language in France, the only language officially recognised by this country being French.
The standard version of Basque was created in the 1970s by the Euskaltzaindia (Royal Academy of the Basque Language), mainly based on the central Basque dialect and on the written tradition. Having been for centuries pressured by acculturation from both Spanish and French, and particularly under the rule of Franco in which the Basque language was prohibited and came closer to extinction in Spain, the Academy felt the need to create a unified dialect of Basque, so that the language had a greater chance of survival.
The 1968 Arantzazu Congress took place in the sanctuary of Arantzazu, a shrine perched in the highlands of Gipuzkoa and a dynamic Basque cultural focus, where the basic guidelines were laid down for achieving that objective in a systematic way (lexicon, morphology, declension and spelling). A further step was taken in 1973 with a proposal to establish a standard conjugation.
The debate arising from this new set of standard language rules (1968–1976) did not prevent Standard Basque from becoming increasingly accepted as the Basque standard language in teaching, the media, and administration (1976–1983), within the context of burgeoning regional government (Statute of Autonomy of the Basque Country, 1979; Improvement of the Charter of Navarre, 1982).
Reasons for basing on the central dialect
- Linguistic reasons: the central dialect is the meeting point of all Basque-language speakers. The westernmost dialect – Biscayan—is strange for the speakers from other dialects; and the same occurs with the easternmost dialect—Zuberoan.
- Demolinguistic reasons: the central area and the western area were in 1968—and still are—the zones where most Basque-language speakers live. Moreover, it was—and it is—in Gipuzkoa and the surrounding areas where the Basque language is strongest.
- Sociolinguistic reasons: since the 18th century, the central dialect—and, more precisely, the Beterri sub-dialect—is the most prestigious one.
- Economic and cultural reasons: Bilbao is certainly the most important Basque city, but it is not Basque-speaking. The same goes for Gasteiz, Iruñea, and Baiona-Angelu-Biarritz. So Gipuzkoa, the only Basque province with a multipolar structure—i.e. with no head city, all the province being a big city—is the main Basque-speaking city.
Koldo Zuazo (a Basque-language scholar, apologist of the use of Basque dialects, especially his own, the Biscayan) says that "taking all these characteristics into account, I think that it is fair and sensible having based the euskara batua on the central Basque dialect, and undoubtedly that is the reason of the Batua being so successful."
Advantages of Standard Basque
According to Koldo Zuazo, there are six main advantages that euskara batua has brought to the Basque language:
- Basque speakers can easily understand each other by using batua. When using historical dialects, the difficulties to understand each other are bigger, especially between speakers of non-central dialects.
- Before the creation of batua, Basque speakers had to turn to Spanish or French to discuss highbrow topics or work subjects—Euskara Batua gives them a suitable tool for this.
- Thanks to batua, more adult people than ever have been able to learn the Basque language.
- Basque language has broken its ever-retreating boundaries. If we look at old maps showing the area where Basque was spoken, we will see that this area was always diminishing. But now, thanks to the euskaltegis and ikastolas that teach batua, the Basque-speaking area is getting bigger and bigger, Basque speakers can be found in any place of the Basque Country, or even outside it.
- Batua has given prestige to the Basque language, because now it can be used in high-level usages of society.
- Basque speakers are more united: since batua was made, the internal boundaries of the language have also been broken, and the sense of being a community is more alive. With a stronger speakers' community, Basque language becomes stronger.
Standard Basque has been described as an "artificial language" by its critics, as it is at times hardly mutually intelligible with the dialects at the extremes (namely the westernmost one or Biscayan, and the easternmost one or Zuberoan). Then, Basque purists (such as Oskillaso and Matías Múgica) have argued that its existence and proliferation will kill the historic and genuine Basque languages. Others argue that Standard Basque has safeguarded the future of a language which is competing with French and Spanish.
Research by the Euskaltzaindia shows that Basque is growing most in the areas where euskara batua has been introduced and taught in preference of local dialects. Indeed, this has permitted a revival in the speaking of Basque, since many of the current elder generations cannot speak the language in part as a result of the prohibition during most part of Francisco Franco's dictatorship.
Another point of contention was the spelling of ⟨h⟩. Northeastern dialects pronounce it as an aspiration while the rest do not use it. Standard Basque requires it in writing but allows a silent pronunciation. Opponents complained that many speakers would have to relearn their vocabulary by rote.
Federico Krutwig also promoted the creation of an alternative literary dialect, this time based on the Renaissance Labourdine used by Joanes Leizarraga the first translator of the Protestant Bible. It also featured an etymological spelling.
The mainstream opinion accepts the batua variant because of the benefits it has brought:
|“||The benefits that the Academy’s standard has brought to Basque society are widely recognized. First of all, it made possible for Basque speakers to discuss any topic in their language. Secondly, it has eliminated the (sometimes serious) obstacles that previously existed in communication between speakers from different areas of the Basque Country. At the same time, euskara batua is still nobody’s "real" native language, a situation that not uncommonly creates feelings of linguistic insecurity, together with a willingness to accept external norms of linguistic use.||”|
|— José Ignacio Hualde and Koldo Zuazo|
On the other side, some Basque authors or translators such as Matías Múgica note that the batua works as a mere pidgin and, as such, it implies a severe loss of spontaneity and linguistic quality over the traditional dialects.
The following dialects were the pre-batua Basque and make up the colloquial or casual register of Basque, the euskara batua being the formal one. They were created in the Middle Ages from a previously quite unified Basque language, and diverged from each other since then due to the administrative and political division that happened in the Basque Country.
They are spoken in the Spanish and French Basque regions. Standard Basque was then created using Gipuzkoan as a basis, also bringing scattered elements from the other dialects. They are typically used in the region after which they are named, but have many linguistic similarities.
- Egunkaria newspaper, and its successor Berria.
- EITB, Basque television and radio broadcasting corporation
- Ethnologue on languages in Spain
- Languages of the European Union
- Hualde, José Ignacio, and Zuazo, Koldo (2007) "The standardization of the Basque language", Language Problems and Language Planning 31.2 (2007): 143–168.
- Zuazo, Koldo (2001): "Euskara normaltzeko bideak", Euskaltzaindia, 2001.
- "Ezaugarri hauek guztiok kontuan izanda, zuzena eta zentzuzkoa begitantzen zait Euskara Batua erdialdeko euskalkian oinarritu izana, eta horren ondorioa da, ezbairik gabe, lortu duen arrakasta." Zuazo, Koldo (2001): "Euskara normaltzeko bideak", Euskaltzaindia, 2001.
- Zuazo, Koldo (2005). Euskara batua: ezina ekinez egina. Elkar, 2005. ISBN 978-84-9783-316-5.
- "Euskalkien Aldeko Agiria" ("Document in favor of Basque Dialects"), from the Badihardugu website. Retrieved 2010-11-25.
- "Euskaldunizar a la fuerza". Retrieved 2015-10-19.
- William Haddican is a lecturer in the Department of Language of Language and Linguistic Science of the University of York, whose research focuses on language change, syntax and language contact particularly as these relate to Basque and dialects of English. See his page in the website of the University of York (retrieved 2010-09-03).
- Haddican, William (2005): "Standardization and Language Change in Basque", Penn Working Papers in Linguistics, Volume 11.2 (2005). Selected papers from NWAV 33.
- Mitxelena, Koldo (1981). "Lengua común y dialectos vascos". Anuario del Seminario de Filología Vasca Julio de Urquijo (15): 291–313.
- Zuazo, Koldo (2010). El euskera y sus dialectos. Alberdania. ISBN 978-84-9868-202-1.
- Rijk, Rudolf P.G. de (2008), Standard Basque: A Progressive Grammar, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press