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


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.



  1. bienvenido andino

    October 9, 2016 at 8:34 am

    Well, I thought only 8 Basque dialects were in use….
    Seeing your info:
    “of creating a unified or standard version of the Basque language from among its rich and diverse dialects”……I have serious doubts…
    Aiming at learning about the “Basque language”, please, will you, clarify my doubt? Does the Euskaltzaindia communicate in “just one and correct Basque language?”
    Eskerrik asko.

    • katu

      October 10, 2016 at 9:06 am

      Hi there,

      Thanks for your questions!

      Classification schemes for the different Basque dialects have varied throughout the ages and, as with many other academic issues, have been the subject of much debate. In The Dialects of Basque, Koldo Zuazo–today widely regarded as the leading figure in the study of Basque dialects–discusses these different classifications through history. He then goes on to offer his own classification system, which identifies the main dialects as: Zuberoan, Western, Navarrese, Central, and Navarrese-Lapurdian. Within these main Basque dialects, he also identifies several sub-dialects.

      As far as we know, Eusklatzaindia carries out its day-to-day communication in Euskara Batua, Unified or Standard Basque. In fact, the 2nd revised edition of its main dictionary of Standard Basque, Euskaltzaindiaren Hiztegia, was just published a few days ago.

      We’re really proud of the Center publications mentioned in the post and think they offer readers interested in the Basque language a great introduction to this fascinating topic.

      Hopefully this information has been of some use!

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