Basque, the Language of Culture

The Basque Country is a very unique part of this world we are all a part of. Perhaps the most unique quality of the Basques is their language. It is truly like no other with origins dating back to the Pre-Indo-European time. Unlike Latin-based languages, it is completely unique. Arriving in San Sebastián it was sort of shocking to hear people speak Spanish, that I am very familiar with, and then switch over to Basque, which is a completely different entity. During our time here in San Sebastián my classmates and I were fortunate enough to have a Basque language class as to try and fit in with the locals a little more. We had a great instructor, Stuart, who was very enthusiastic and passionate about the language. We went over simple words used every day to at least try and communicate a little with the Basques. It was very interesting to see that almost every word had almost no similarity with its English translation. Language is the one completely unique aspect of a certain group of people like the Basques. Although ideas and views change throughout the years, one thing stays the same, language. In my opinion, language is the building block of culture. The best way to absorb the language and the culture is just through yourself into it. That is what the UMass Lowell Honors College did this summer. For three weeks we threw ourselves into the rich culture of the Basques. It is truly eye opening and something that must be done with an open mind. The Basque culture is truly so different than anything we have back home: children play in the streets, pets roam the streets without a leash, and everyone seems to be so connected even if they don’t know each other. Highly due to their distinct language, the Basques have a sense of pride and dignity in their humbling past. Being bilingual myself, I can definitely attest to this. Whenever I hear another person speaking Spanish, I am immediately interested in where they are from and it sparks a conversation. That is also how things seem to be here in the Basque Country, everyone is connected to their very unique language.

Fortunately for me I have been bilingual since I was a baby. Growing up, my grandparents, who only spoke Spanish, babysat me and naturally I picked up the language. I think it is very important for people to be multilingual. It shows a high level of education and understanding and opens up many doors in life. Language helps resolve problems, from a simple argument with a person on the street to conflicts between nations. People tend to be a little more comfortable if they speak the same language. If there is a language barrier, it adds another level of discomfort and problem that usually does not help resolve a problem. It also opens doors professionally. Being multilingual usually gives people an extra edge when applying for jobs and sometimes even a little higher pay. It has also been proven that multilingual children have enhanced communication skills. By being exposed to different cultures through language they are able to understand different perspective making them more effective communicators. Studies have also shown that multilingual people show superior executive functioning, this means they are able to reason, plan, and problem solve at a higher rate than their monolingual counterparts. Multilingualism is something that everyone should take part in and explore once in their life. That is what San Sebastián did for my classmates and me. Many people are exposed to Spanish, one of the most common languages worldwide, but never have been introduced to Basque. We were all taken by surprise by the complexity of the language, well what may seem complex to us, and shocked to see almost no connection to Spanish. After all, we are in Spain. I think being in Spain and listening to two completely different languages from each other is a true testament to language connecting people to their roots regardless of change in the world.

The Basque class, ultimately, was very humbling. Coming from the United States, the melting pot of the world, and have never heard Basque is truly eye opening of how big this world really is. However, the people always find a way to stay connected to their roots regardless of change, many times using their distinct languages. I left the language class with an interested spark in learning more about the language and hopefully one day be able to hold a conversation in Basque when I come back to visit the beautiful city of San Sebastián. Agur!