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.