Category: bilingualism

Plans for Welsh-language revitalization: Lessons from and for the Basque Country

Sign promoting the learning of Welsh. Photo by Alan Fryer, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The August 6 edition of Basque-language daily Berria included an interview with Alun Davies, the Welsh Government Minister for Lifelong Learning and Welsh Language. In the interview, Davies speaks about Cymraeg 2050 – the Welsh government’s ambitious plan to double the amount of Welsh speakers, to one million, by 2050.

In the interview, Davies explains that the first stage of the plan is to extend knowledge of the Welsh language, to be followed later by focusing on encouraging people to use it, all as part of a 3-point plan. With 22% of the Welsh population (of approximately 3 million people) enrolled in Welsh-language medium schools at present, the plan seeks first to increase this figure to 30% by 2030 and 40% by 2050. It will then attempt to put mechanisms in place whereby students continue to use Welsh on leaving the school system (with the objective that 70% of all students leaving the school system will be able to speak Welsh), but with the main aim of creating new Welsh speakers. Finally, the plan envisages creating a wider context in which knowledge and use of Welsh are encouraged, especially in the workplace.

For Davies, the Basque experience has been a frame of reference and the Welsh Government can learn much from its Basque counterpart.

See the full Berria article (in Basque) here.

And check out the Welsh Government’s own outlining of the plan here.

Check out Estibaliz Amorrortu’s Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture, available free to download here.

See, too, The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi.

 

New figures just released on Basque-speaking population in the Basque Country

Street sign in Basque in Iparralde. Image by Lucyin, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In a press conference organized today, July 5, in Baiona (Lapurdi) by the Basque government, the Navarrese Institute of Basque (part of the Navarrese government), and the Public Office for Basque in Iparralde, the findings of the Sixth Sociolinguistic Survey (2016) were announced. These are surveys carried out every five years to gauge the health of Basque and serve as a basis for pro-Basque initiatives in education as well in wider society as a whole.

Sign in Basque and Spanish signaling the Trail to Santiago, Barakaldo, Bizkaia. Image by Tuc Negre, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Taking into account the whole Basque Country in Spain and France, 28.4% of the population aged 16 or over can speak Basque, and a further 16.4% are passive Basque speakers (in other words, people able to understand Basque, without being able to fully communicate in the language). Compared to the findings of the first survey, which was organized twenty-five years ago, approximately 223,000 more people speak Basque today. The largest percentage of Basque speakers is to be found among young people aged 16-24 (55.4% of whom speak the language), whereas the lowest percentage of Basque speakers is now to be found among those aged 65 or older (20.4%).

Among the major findings are the following points:

According to the findings of the 1991 survey, 22.3% of the population spoke Basque, so these latest data demonstrate an approximately 6% growth rate in the last 25 years. The driving force behind this change is clearly that of young people, who now occupy the largest percentage of Basque speakers; in contrast to 25 years ago when older people enjoyed a greater prominence among the total percentage of Basque speakers.

As regards Basque-language use (in contrast to mere knowledge of the language), 25.7% of the total population speak Basque in one way or another (10.3% more typically than Spanish or French; 6.2% about equally as those two languages; and 9.2% in less of a way than the two other languages). Moreover, a further 5.2% of the total population speak Basque “a little,” that is, in a residual way.

In terms of transmission, where both parents are Basque speakers, in 93% of cases they only speak to their children in Basque, and in 7% of cases, in Basque and Spanish or French. When just one parent is a Basque speaker, in 83% of cases parents speak to their children in Basque and Spanish or French; and in 17% of cases just in Spanish or French.

And when it comes to attitudes toward Basque, 55.8% of all people aged 16 or over is in favor of pro-Basque language initiatives; 28.2% is neither for or against such initiatives; and 16% is against any such initiatives. Moreover, 85.5% of people aged 16 or over believe that in the future everyone should speak Basque and either Spanish or French in the Basque Country, while 9.2% think that just Basque should be spoken, and 4.1% would prefer that just Spanish or French was spoken.

Finally, with regard to primary and secdondary education, 57.6% of the population favor complete immersion in the Basque language for their children (Basque as the vehicular language with Spanish or French as subjects), while 23.7% favor a bilingual model (equal teaching hours devoted to Basque and Spanish or French).

Check out Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture, by Estibaliz Amorrortu, free to download here.

See, too, The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi.

 

 

 

 

Day of the Basque Language Around the World

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Last Saturday, December 3, was the International Day of the Basque Language, and it was celebrated around the world through a variety of different events. Here in the United States, the UC Santa Barbara’s Basque Studies department held a day-long event with traditional dances, a book presentation, and food. They also inaugurated their Basque Club, zorionak!

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UCSB Poster

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UCSB Basque Studies Students

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Meanwhile in Boise, the Ikastola, or Basque-language school, and students at the Basque Museum put together a video inviting us all to speak in Basque: “Guk euskaraz, zuk zergatik ez?” or we speak in Basque, why don’t you?  The music is by Jose Antonio Larrañaga Etxabe, better known as Urko, but the song is based on a text by Gabriel Aresti.

This day was officially put in place in 1995 by the Basque Autonomous Government and the Royal Academy of the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia), and is celebrated by many associations and public enterprises through conferences, exhibits, and festivals, among other activities. Eusko Ikaskuntza originally set the day in 1949, which was the first official celebration, even though the organization has always done so much to protect and promote the language. According to the Basque Parliament’s 2010 institutional declaration:

“Basque is the heritage of Basque society, an essential component in its history and culture. But like the rest of the world’s languages, it is the patrimony of all those who have it as a sign multilingualism. If you want to protect the diversity of languages, it is necessary to care for and promote Basque.”

“Euskera has a very long history, but we know very little about its beginnings. It is a modern and up-to-date language that society wants to continue to use and which is gaining increasing recognition in all fields. From the fundamental agreement for Euskera, embodied in the Standardization Law of 1982, until the current attempts for a renewed agreement, some time has passed, perhaps not a very extensive period of time, but a period in which the knowledge and the use of Euskera in the Basque Autonomous Community has advanced in a firm and spectacular way ”

“With the celebration of the International Day of Euskera we want to open a window to the present and future of Euskera, convinced that multilingualism can exert a favorable influence on our democratic coexistence and social cohesion.”

For a complete version of the declaration visit: http://www.euskara.euskadi.eus/contenidos/noticia/euskararen_eguna_2012/es_berria/adjuntos/Euskararen%20eguna.%20Adierazpena.pdf

For a list of the activities around the world, please visit Euskal Kultura’s website, which lays out the many events carried out in partnership with the Etxepare Basque Institute: http://www.euskalkultura.com/espanol/noticias/los-lectorados-del-instituto-etxepare-difunden-el-dia-del-euskera-por-las-universidades-del-mundo

The EITB also has a webpage dedicated to many different aspects of the Day of the Basque Language and Basque-related questions: http://www.eitb.eus/es/tag/dia-internacional-del-euskera/

Lastly, don’t forget to visit the Basque Government’s page dedicated to Basque, complete with dictionaries and translation software. It’s a great source for Basque learning, so what’s stopping you? Poliki poliki, you could be speaking and living in Basque too! http://www.euskara.euskadi.eus/r59-734/es/

Fun fact: The Day of the Basque Language is celebrated on the 3rd of December to coincide with the feast day of Saint Francis Xavier, the Navarrese Jesuit, who is said to have spoken his last words in Basque, his mother-tongue.

For more on Basque in general, check out some of the Center’s publications, like This Strange and Powerful Language by Iban Zaldua, an engaging essay that traces the development of Basque-language literature while contemplating along the way the reasons why bilingual people choose to write in smaller languages.

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See, too, Writing Words, Pello Salaburu’s compelling account of how a standard form of Basque was established, amid much heated debate, and how this served as a springboard for the revival of the language, through education, the media, and various cultural initiatives, all within a remarkably short space of time.

Other works that may be of interest include The Dialects of Basque by Koldo Zuazo; Basque Sociolinguistics by Estibaliz Amorrortu (free to download here); The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi; and Basque Literary History, edited by Mari Jose Olaziregi.

October 3-5, 1968: The Arantzazu Congress and the Creation of Standard Basque

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The Sanctuary of Arantzazu, in Oñati, Gipuzkoa. Image by Keta, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

In the Fall of 1968 one of the most important ever meetings was held regarding the fate of the Basque language. Organized by Euskaltzaindia, the Royal Academy of the Basque Language, the Arantzazu Congress in Oñati, Gipuzkoa, was designed as a forum in which to debate and discuss the possibility of creating a unified or standard version of the Basque language from among its rich and diverse dialects.

The leading Basque-language experts of the day gathered that October to work out a suitable model on which a potential Euskara Batua (Unified Basque) could be based. The meetings within the congress were often heated and arriving at agreement was by no means a smooth process. There was clear resistance on the part of many influential thinkers to creating such a unified model. Yet many others, including the leading theoretician of the day, Koldo Mitxelena, believed that Basques needed a standard version of their language–something that, at the end of the day, the “big” cultures had already implemented in previous centuries–for Basque culture itself to survive.

In addition to the specific subject of the congress itself, one should also remember the wider context in which it was held: 1968 was the year of major civil unrest in Paris and this had a significant effect on the rest of Europe; there was widespread protest against the Vietnam War; and, more generally, social turmoil, protest, and change were sweeping across the old continent, with the Basque Country also experiencing the beginnings of a major social, cultural, and political upheaval in what would ultimately prove to be the final years of the Franco dictatorship.

The dramatic and often highly charged story of how standard Basque was designed and later successfully implemented in wider society through education, the media, and literature, all remarkabaly within the space of a generation, is recounted by Pello Salaburu in Writing Words: The The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque.

See, too, other Center publications on the Basque language:

The Dialects of Basque by Koldo Zuazo  charts the diversity of the Basque language in its dialects but, as the author contends, mutual comprehension among native speakers is not as difficult as has been previously contended.

Basque Sociolinguistics by Estibaliz Amorrortu examines various dimensions of the Basque language and its role in Basque society as a whole, including a chapter on the use of Basque in the United States. Download a copy free here.

The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi, is a multiauthored work that explores a wide range of topics associated with the challenges implied by encouraging a bilingual society: from how to implement this idea in legal terms to language-use in education and the media.

Any reflection on the Basque language must include some consideration of the work of Koldo Mitxelena: Koldo Mitxelena: Selected Writings of a Basque Scholar, compiled and with an introduction by Pello Salaburu, is a marvelous English-language introduction to the prodigious contribution of Mitxelena to the study of Basque.

 

Quick video guide and introduction to the Basque language taking internet by storm!

Check out the following video, from LangFocus, which offers a nice clear and concise introduction to the Basque language, and is generating a lot of online traffic, at least in our humble little world of Basque Studies!

Here at the Center we’ve published a number of books that will be of interest to anyone who wants to learn more about the various aspects of the Basque language (Euskara, Euskera, or Eskuara).

As its title suggests, Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture by Estibaliz Amorrortu offers an introduction to the place of Euskara in contemporary Basque society. It discusses the history of Basque as well as current planning strategies to foment knowledge of the language. It also includes a brief introduction to its linguistic structure. The work is available free to download here.

The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, meanwhile, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi, is a multiple-authored work that includes among its many topics chapters on the legal implications of advocating a bilingual society, attempts to revive the language, and how Basque is viewed by both native and nonnative bilinguals.

In The Dialects of Basque, Koldo Zuazo takes on a fascinating journey into the history and current reality of Basque dialectal variation. This very informative and accessible study discusses not only the differences one might expect, but also connections running through the different dialects. The work is enhanced by numerous explanatory maps and figures.

As a complement to Zuazo’s study, Pello Salaburu’s Writing Words: The Unique Case of the Standardization of Basque charts in detail, from a first-hand perspective, the often dramatic story behind efforts to create a standard modern Basque; and the eventual success of implementing this new standard model in contemporary Basque society; all, somewhat remarkably, within the space of a generation.

In our Classic Series we also publish Koldo Mitxelena: Selected Writings of a Basque Scholar, compiled and introduced by Pello Salaburu. This is a comprehensive selection of articles by the premier Basque linguist discussing, among other things, the history of the language and the influence of contact with other tongues as well as the issue of standardization and the importance of dialects.

Why not check out the first ever work published in Basque? Bernard Etxepare’s Linguae Vasconum Primitiae (1545) includes a facsimile version of the original text, plus a bilingual Basque-English transcription of this classic and, despite its religious nature, often bawdy and funny poetic tome.

Finally, if you haven’t already got a copy, we would really encourage you to check out the practical and informative CBS-Morris English-Basque / Basque-English Dictionary. More than just a dictionary, this is a useful reference tool that includes an introduction to the Basque language, a concise grammar section (including a guide to pronunciation), and even a handy guide to writing letters in Basque (and English if you prefer). Now where else would you be able to find out that “lickety-split” is ziztu batean in Basque!?

 

Groundbreaking Cross-Border Agreement Foments Trilingual Education in the Two Navarres

On March 15, the Navarrese government’s Department of Education approved a groundbreaking scheme to pool public school resources in the neighboring towns of Luzaide (Valcarlos in Spanish), Hegoalde, and Arnegi (Arnéguy in French) in Iparralde, during the 2016-2017 school year.

This plan has been on the table since since September 2015 and responds not only to educational, cultural, and linguistic demands, but also to a demographic deficit in this rural mountain area. Barely two miles separate the towns and next fall, if fully approved by all interested parties, there will be a regular exchange of pupils between its two public school systems.

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This new educational initiative seeks to encourage cultural and linguistic exchanges of all colors. Photo by Onderwijsgek. Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

According to the draft agreement, preschoolers from both towns will attend the public school in Luzaide every morning and study primarily in Basque. Then on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons, the same joint groups will attend school in Arnegi and study primarily in French. Meanwhile, elementary school students from Luzaide will study French in the public school in Arnegi on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday afternoons.

As well as being a necessary educational initiative, it is also hoped that joint schooling will help social ties between Luzaide and Arnegi, as well as fomenting the trilingual nature of this particular geographical area straddling the “two” Navarres, and serving as the basis for the future development of the area.

While the plan has still not be officially rubber-stamped by the respective authorities on both sides of the border, all relevant parties (including parents) have expressed their approval, and it is just a matter of time before it this becomes a reality. In many ways, then, this little (and often overlooked) rural corner of the Basque Country will be at the vanguard of multi-lingual and multicultural education at a European and even global level.

See a report on the scheme at the Noticias de Navarra site (in Spanish) here and at Mediabask (in French) here.

Equality, Equity, and Diversity: Educational Solutions in the Basque Country, edited by Alfonso Unceta and Concepción Medrano, is a collection of different articles on various aspects of the Basque educational system, with a special emphasis on efforts to emphasize equality in the classroom and the challenges faced by a multilingual society.

March 18, 1795: French Revolutionary proclamation in Basque

On March 18, 1795 (28 Ventôse, year III in the Republican calendar), the French Revolutionary “people’s representative” or envoy to the High and Low Pyrenees, (Jean-François) Auguste Izoard (1765-1840), issued a declaration. Tellingly, the declaration was published jointly in French and Basque.

Izoard

Freedom, Equality. In the Name of the French Republic: The people’s representative sent to the two départements in the mountains of the High and Low Pyrenees

This proclamation is particularly interesting because it indicates a backtracking of sorts, on the part of the Revolutionary authorities, when it comes to Basques who had fled from Iparralde to Hegoalde (on this, and particularly the internment and deportation of thousands of Basques, see our March 3 post here). Previously, under the infamous “Reign of Terror,” many Basques had suffered persecution, for their religious beliefs, for speaking their language, and for refusing to fight in France’s Revolutionary Wars.

By the spring of 1795, however, Izoard’s declaration would indicate a relaxing of attitudes (to some extent at least). The text refers to numerous inhabitants of Uztaritze (Lapurdi) who had fled to Hegoalde in the wake of the Terror and internment. It suggests that they may not be aware of a new amnesty-like law that would allow them to return unpunished. In Izoard’s words:

The inhabitants, all Basques, driven into the interior of Spain, deprived of all relations with their relatives and friends, all speaking a particular language, unaware of either the French language or the Spanish language, cannot, or only with great difficulty, manage to understand the beneficent decrees of the National Convention

The proclamation goes on to extend the amnesty period, and underscores the fact that:

The present decree shall be translated into the Basque language, read, and published wherever it should be necessary.

Quite apart from the general importance of the document as regards the history of the Basque Country during the French Revolution–for example, to see how the language attitudes expressed here contradict, to some extent, previous Revolutionary notions, see our previous post in this respect here–the fact that the declaration was published in Basque would appear to reveal that, not only was it widely spoken at the time, but that it was also a literary language for a literate people. The French Revolutionary authorities had to publish in Basque, a language they were not especially interested in and even hostile toward, to get their message across.

On the Basque experience during the French Revolution, check out The Transformation of National Identity in the Basque Country of France, 1789-2006, by Igor Ahedo Gurrutxaga. See, also, Hills of Conflict: Basque Nationalism in France, by James E. Jacob.

Why learn a minority language? An inspirational lesson from Wales

If you’re reading this, chances are you’ll have some connection to or interest in Basque culture, however fleeting or incidental that may be. And I’m going to assume that many of you, too, if you don’t speak or understand some Basque, may have toyed with the idea of studying the language at some point, or may even be studying it now. As a native English speaker who learned Basque I routinely get into situations in which people ask why I bothered to learn a minority language in the first place. “What’s the point?” they ask. What’s more, they say, Basque is a “difficult” language to learn, so why go to all that bother?

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There are some answers to these questions in a wonderful book, in English, which I think can also serve as a source of inspiration and encouragement to anyone thinking about studying or actually studying Basque. It charts one person’s progress in studying a minority language, in this case another supposedly “difficult” tongue: Welsh. Published originally in 2011, Bred of Heaven: One Man’s Quest to Reclaim his Welsh Roots, by Jasper Rees, is a funny, charming, and poignant account of how one English speaker decided to learn Welsh, as well as learn as much as he could about Welsh culture in general. And the parallels for those of us, especially native English speakers, who have studied, are studying, or are thinking about studying Basque are obvious. Indeed, the two examples I mention below from the book–one negative, one positive–mirror my own experiences of studying Basque in the Basque Country.

First, there is the thorny issue of an “outsider” meeting Welsh people themselves who do not speak Welsh and see no particular point in speaking or studying it – a not untypical and always dispiriting phenomenon for the adult learner of minority (and minoritized) languages.

I’ve been learning Welsh for a few months now, but I’ve yet to have a conversation in Welsh in Wales. Something is holding me back. It’s not just common-or-garden self-consciousness . . . There’s a political dimension to my anxiety too. The overarching fear is that you summon up the courage to ask a question in Welsh, spend an age building the sentence in the language lab in your head . . . and then you go and waste it on a very Welsh-looking person who is di-Gymraeg: a Welsh non-Welsh speaker. In the minefield of the two Waleses, you can very easily cause offence.

However, I’m learning to play the percentages. There are parts of Wales where you can be fairly certain of not being understood . . . In a Black Mountains pub I meet a chirpy old waitress from Pontypool who chats with classical Welsh abandon about her health. I mention I’m learning Welsh. It’s as if I’ve slapped her violently across the face, then spat in her eyes. ‘Oh, are you?’ she sniffs peremptorily, turning her back on me. ‘Nobody speaks Welsh around here,’ she says over her shoulder as she struts out. Her implication is clear: if I were you I wouldn’t bother.

Then there are, though, more uplifting experiences. One afternoon, Rees sets off on a hike in the hills of Carmarthenshire (Sir Gaerfyrddin or Sir Gâr in Welsh), but soon gets lost. Seeking a shortcut to his intended destination, he hurriedly walks past a farm on private land but, on hearing voices behind him, turns around and heads back to a not particularly friendly looking couple in their sixties staring at him.

‘Where are you going?’ It’s the hunched figure of the farmer who calls back. He’s come out of the barn.

‘Over the hill to Caio.’

‘This is private land here.’

‘I’m very sorry. I didn’t realise.’ If I’m honest I did realise.

‘But if you keep on up you get to the path by there.’ He points begrudgingly up the hill, not quite having the heart to send me all the way down into the valley and round. I don’t know how it happens, but the permission kicks a tripwire in my brain.

‘Diolch yn fawr iawn,’ I say. Thank you very much indeed. The farmer’s wife pipes up.

‘Dych chi’n siarad Cymraeg?’ She wants to know if I speak Welsh.

‘Dw i’n dysgu ar hyn o bryd.’ I’m learning at the moment. Then something marvellous happens. Two stony weathered faces crease into the warmest, broadest smiles. It’s as if these few words have raised a portcullis and I’ve passed through to a sunlit inner sanctum.

. . . I suddenly feel I’ve cracked it. I am on the right path.

Check out this article about the book, and for more on Jasper Rees, click here.

Coincidentally, a delegation from the Welsh further education  sector visited the Basque Country recently in order to share good practice on bilingualism in  the post-16 education and training sector. See the delegation’s  fascinating daily blog posts about this four-day visit, which reveal much about just how much progress is being made in regard to sustaining and developing Basque in the education and training sectors, here, here, here, and here.

The CBS publishes a number of books about various aspects of the Basque language. Basque Sociolinguistics: Language, Society, and Culture, by Estibaliz Amorrortu, is a great introduction. It takes a brief look at the history of Basque, outlines its main characteristics, and discusses several issues concerning the language such as gender, social identity, language maintenance/revitalization, and ethnicity. What’s more the book is available free to download here.

The Challenge of a Bilingual Society in the Basque Country, edited by Pello Salaburu and Xabier Alberdi, picks up on many of these same themes and discusses them in more detail. Topics covered include how a legal system is shaped to reflect a bilingual society, the search for and implementation of a standard form of Basque, and the current state of the language (how many people can speak it,  how many people actually use it, and so on),

In The Dialects of Basque, meanwhile, Koldo Zuazo introduces readers to the rich dialectical variation in the language, including a new and groundbreaking classification for these dialects. And Zuazo also makes a case for demonstrating that mutual comprehension among speakers of the different dialects is not as difficult as has previously been assumed.

If you’re interested in studying Basque, check out Alan King’s The Basque Language: A Practical Introduction and Linda White’s two-volume Aurrera! A Textbook for Studying Basque (also available in separate volumes). And a great accompaniment to these grammars is The CBS-Morris Compact English-Basque/Basque-English Dictionary-Hiztegia.