15 Facts About Basque: Dialects, Vocab and Pronouns

Basque is a language spoken in Basque country and beyond within the Basque diaspora. Most native speakers exist in the Spanish side of the Basque Country, though some also exist on the French side. Across all territories, it is a language with very small numbers when compared to others; as of 2016, there were only 750,000 speakers of Basque worldwide, many of whom are not fully fluent speakers.

The following facts are some of the most interesting details and numbers about Basque as a language. Learning them is a good way to help keep the language alive! 

1. Of the 750,000 speakers, only a few are unilingual speakers

6,000 people speak Basque as their only language. Meanwhile, 434,000 are passive speakers who have native-like understanding due to exposure in their youth, but don’t have full command of the language. The rest are bi- or multi-lingual people.

2. As well as Standardized Basque, there are five historical dialects.

In Spanish provinces, these are Biscayan, Gipuzkoan, and Upper Navarrese. In French provinces, you can find Navarrese-Lapurdian and Souletin. Standard Basque is called Euskara Batua and was created for every Basque speaker to understand each other.

3. Like Korean, Basque is a language isolate

Although it is surrounded by Romance languages, it does not belong to any other linguistic group.

4. Over 40% of Basque words are loan words from Romance languages

This includes Spanish, French, and others. This happened due to the location of the Basque Country and the later reconstruction of the language from Proto-Basque.

5. Even in the Basque Autonomous Region, most people don’t speak Basque

Only around 30% are fluent, while around 20% are passive speakers and just over half can’t speak Basque. These numbers are generally on the rise.

6. In Basque Country, Basque is used as the language of commerce

This is also the case in areas where Basque people have immigrated over the years.

7. Spanish has actually borrowed many words from Basque

It borrows words directly, changes them to fit, and also borrows from Proto-Basque

8. Proper nouns and names have different declensions depending on how a person is referred to by the speaker.

For example, let’s use a person named Danel. With Danel would be rendered as Danelekin, to Danel would be Danelengana, and Danelen is of Danel.

9. There are six personal pronouns in Basque

The following are these pronouns in base, indefinite, relative, reciprocal, and reflexive form.

PronounEnglish EquivalentPerson Referred
ZuYouSecond person
HeHura / BeraMale third person
SheUra / BeraFemale third person
TheyHaiekThird person plural
PronounEnglish EquivalentPerson Referred
DuzuYouSecond person
HimZuenMale third person
HerBereFemale third person
ThemHoriekThird person plural
PronounEnglish EquivalentPerson Referred
ZureaYoursSecond person
HisBereaMale third person
HersBereaFemale third person
TheirsHaienaThird person plural

10. Several hypotheses exist to relate Basque to other languages

Some of the commonly included languages in these theories include: Pre-Roman Ligurian, Ancient Iberian, Old Vasconic languages, Georgian, Northeast Caucasian languages, Dené-Caucasian languages, and Indo-European languages.

11. Erromintxela or Basque Caló, is a mixed Romani-Basque language

The speakers of this are descendants of the Kalderash Roma people who entered Basque Country from France.

12. The Basque language has 27 letters and a few letter variants used in foreign words.

All of these letters and their pronunciations are listed below. The second column refers to a word in English with the equivalent sound.

LetterBasque namePronunciationIPA pronunciation
AaSimilar to trap/a/
BbeSimilar to ball or volley/b/ or /β/
CzeSkate or seat/k/ or /s/
Çze hautsiaOnly used in Spanish loanwords like Curaçao/s/
DdeThat or dog/d/ or /ð/
GgeGab/ɡ/ or /ɣ̞/
HHatxeDeux or ham /∅/ or /ɦ/
IiSee/i/ or /i̭/
JjotaLoch or yawn or gyno or similar to gold/j/ or /x/ or /ʝ/ or /ɟ/
RerreRule or burr/r/ or /ɾ/
UuToo or do/u/ or /u̯/
VuveSimilar to ball or volley/b/ or /β/
Wuve bikoitzaWho/u/
Yi grekoaYell or leave/i/ or /i̭/ or /j/

Of these, six (C, Ç, Q, V, W, and Y) are not a part of traditional Basque, but adapted in for loan words and foreign words. H is mostly silent except in some dialects.

13. Basque also has seven diagraphs

Diagraphs are when combination letters make a single sound, such as the English ch (chin), th (thick) and others.

In Basque, these are:

DiagraphIPAExample word
DD/ɟ/Similar to gold
TS/t͡s̺/Similar to cats
TZ/t͡s̻/Similar to tzatziki

14. The Basque linguistic diaspora spreads over continents

Some of the most relevant major Basque communities include:

Europe: United Kingdom, Netherlands, Belgium, previous countries of the Soviet Union including Russia.

South America: Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Uruguay

North America: Canada, Mexico, United States of America, Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, Cuba

Asia: The Philippines

15. The Basque name for the language is Euskara.

The territory itself is Euskadi.

Final Thoughts

Basque and the Basque Country as a whole are a small but important cultural part of the world. With languages and cultures dying out and forgotten, it’s very important to learn more about these marginalized nations and peoples and dedicate ourselves to keep them alive for future generations.

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