Learning About Basque Culture Through Their Language

Not much is known about the origins of the Basque language, however it is believed that the language emerged roughly three thousand years ago in the North-Eastern region of the Iberian Peninsula and South-Western France. The language is entirely unique and isolated within the Basque region, which differentiates it from all other European languages that are derived from older Indo-European languages, most notably Latin. Basque speakers have faced harsh oppression and discrimination throughout their history by the harsh and unaccepting Spanish governments of the twentieth century. Francisco Franco, a brutal nationalistic Spanish dictator of the time period made attempts to eradicate the language by making it illegal to speak in public in order to “unite” Spain under a common Spanish language. The preservation of the language can be credited to family households that were only able to speak it in their homes, which led to minor changes in pronunciations throughout the districts of the Basque Country. The people of the region are proud of their heritage, taking pride in the strength, perseverance, and beauty that is represented through their speech. In fact, someone who does not descend from the area can actually be considered ethnically Basque if they are able to speak the language.

Learning Basque in el Parque de Cristina Enea

Stuart, our Basque language teacher for the day, is a hilarious, lively, and crude man who was very enjoyable to learn from. His charisma, strong Scottish accent, and knowledge of the Basque language made him a one of a kind human being who I will never forget. He has lived in the Basque country for roughly thirty years and has been learning the language ever since. He admits to not being an “expert,” however he has developed an understanding that is more than enough to allow him to live comfortably and be accepted by the community. At the end of our lesson, Stuart said that “learning a new language is learning a new way to think about life,” which is absolutely true. By learning foreign languages, you are introduced to new concepts that give you an understanding of the culture. It opens up unexplored ways of thinking that simply do not exist within your native language. As he is fluent in English, Spanish, and Basque, his mind has been expanded to better interpret and enjoy the world around him.

From an outside perspective, the Basque language is a daunting and long road to learn. One may assume it to be close to Spanish or French due to the location of the Basque Country, but it could not be more different. It incorporates sounds that are completely new and feel unnatural to produce and letter patterns that look as if they just should not be next to each other. For example, a “tx” yields a “ch” sound as in the word Pintxo, which are small, simple portions of food traditionally served on a skewer with beer, wine, or hard cider. Also, there are multiple words that can mean the same thing but change due to the context. The word “aizpa” and “arreba” both mean sister, but the first refers to a sister of a man and the ladder indicated a sister of a woman. Numbers only go up to forty, so to say larger numbers you have to do a little math. To say sixty, you say “berrogei eta hogei” which directly translates to “forty and twenty.” There were some words that we learned that I know I have heard on the streets or in bars and it was a cool feeling to recognize and realize what they meant. “Kaixo” and “epa” are common greetings and “agur” and “aio” are used to say goodbye. 
Successful Lesson

During our three weeks in the Basque Country, my eyes have opened up to a whole new way of living. A lot of the problems that we see in America do not occur here or happen at a substantially lower rate. Things that I just accepted as normal back home have legitimate alternatives that the Basques seem to have gotten just right. The people here live in such harmony and do not look for problems that do not exist. They put funding into the right things such as excellent free healthcare, a feeling of genuine safety, and a lifestyle that best supports its people mentally and physically. Many of the values in America like an unfulfillable need for excessive wealth, wanting to be perceived as perfect, and a lack of patience form problems that could be avoided with better systems in place. I will be taking home with me this knowledge and applying it to my life.