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Basque language

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Native to Spain, France
Region Spanish Basque Country
Spanish Navarre
French Basque Country
Ethnicity Basque
Native speakers 715,000  (2012)[1]
Language family
Early forms:
Writing system Latin (Basque alphabet)
Official status
Official language in Basque Country
Regulated by Euskaltzaindia
Language codes
ISO 639-1 eu
ISO 639-2 baq (B)
eus (T)
ISO 639-3 eus
Linguasphere 40-AAA-a
Basque Country in Spain and France
Basque dialects

Basque (in Basque: Euskara) is the language spoken by the Basque people in the Basque Country and diaspora. The Standard Basque name for the language is euskara. Although it is surrounded by Indo-European languages, Basque is perhaps a language isolate, that is, not related to the Indo-European languages.

History and classification

The ancestors of Basques are among the oldest residents of Europe, and their beginnings are still unknown, as are the origins of Basque itself. Many scholars have tried to link Basque to Etruscan, African languages, Caucasian languages and so on, but most see Basque as a language isolate. A connection with the Iberian language gave some hope, but it is unclear whether similarities are due to genetic relations or mere vicinity. It was spoken long before the Romans brought Latin to the Iberian Peninsula.

Geographic distribution

Percentage of fluent speakers of Basque.

The region where Basque is spoken is smaller than what is known as the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria in Basque. Basque used to be spoken over a larger area, but Latin took over in some places.

Official status

Historically, Latin or Romance has been the official language.

Today Basque holds co-official language status in the Basque regions of Spain: the full autonomous community of the Basque Country and some parts of Navarre. Basque has no official standing in the Northern Basque Country of France and French citizens are barred from using Basque in a French court of law.


There are six main Basque dialects, comprising Biscayan, Guipuzcoan, and High Navarrese (in Spain), and Low Navarrese, Labourdin, and Souletin (in France). The dialect boundaries are not however congruent with political boundaries. One of the first scientific studies of Basque dialects, in particular the auxiliary verb forms, was made by Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (a nephew of Napoleon).

Derived languages

There is now a unified version of Euskara called Batua ("unified" in Basque), which is the language taught in schools. Batua is based largely on the Gipuzkoa regional dialect.


Basque is an ergative-absolutive language. It is very complicated, having many different cases for nouns.

The vowel system is the same as Spanish for most speakers. It consists of five pure vowels, /i e a o u/. It is thought that Spanish took this system from Basque.


By contact with neighbouring peoples, Basque has borrowed words from Latin, Spanish, French, Gascon, among others, but accepted relatively few compared to many Indo-European languages. Some claim that many of its words come from Latin, but phonetic evolution has made many of them appear nowadays as if they were native words, e.g. lore ("flower", from florem), errota ("mill", from rotam, "[mill] wheel"), gela ("room", from cellam).

Writing system

Basque is written using the Latin alphabet. The universal special letter is ñ, which is pronounced like the n in onion; sometimes ç and ü are also used. Basque does not use c, q, v, w, y except for loan words; they are not considered part of the alphabet. The X is pronounced as a sh, as in shine.


Basic phrases

  • Bai = Yes
  • Ez = No
  • Kaixo!, Agur! = Hello
  • Agur!, Adio! = Goodbye!
  • Ikusi arte = See you!
  • Eskerrik asko! = Thank you!
  • Egun on = Good morning (literally: Good day)
  • Egun on, bai = Standard reply to Egun on
  • Arratsalde on = Good evening
  • Gabon = Good night
  • Mesedez = Please
  • Barkatu = Excuse (me)
  • Aizu! = Listen! (To get someone's attention, not very polite, to be used with friends)
  • Kafe hutsa nahi nuke = Can I have a coffee?
  • Kafe ebakia nahi nuke = Can I have a macchiato?
  • Kafesnea nahi nuke = Can I have a café latte?
  • Garagardoa nahi nuke = Can I have a beer?
  • Komunak = Toilets
  • Komuna, non dago? = Where are the toilets?
  • Non dago tren-geltokia? = Where is the train station?
  • Non dago autobus-geltokia? = Where is the bus station?
  • Ba al da hotelik hemen inguruan? = Where is the (nearest, only) hotel?
  • Zorionak = Happy holidays (During Christmas and new year's), congratulations
  • Ez dakit euskaraz= I do not speak Basque
  • Ba al dakizu ingelesez?= Do you speak English?
  • Nongoa zara? = Where are you from?
  • Non dago...? = Where is...?
  • Badakizu euskaraz? = Do you speak Basque?
  • Bai ote? = Really?
  • Topa! = Cheers!
  • Hementxe! = Over / right here!
  • Geldi!= Stop
  • Lasai= Take it easy
  • Ez dut nahi= I do not want


  1. Gobierno Vasco (July 2012). "V. Inkesta Soziolinguistikoa". Servicio Central de Publicaciones del Gobierno Vasco. Retrieved 18 July 2012.

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