Basque 101

The region in which Basque is spoken is smaller than what is known as the Basque Country, or Euskal Herria in Basque. Basque toponyms show that Basque was spoken further along the Pyrenees than today. An example is the Aran Valley (now a Gascon-speaking part of Catalonia), since haran itself is the Basque word for "valley". However, the growing influence of Latin began to drive Basque out from less mountainous areas of this region.

The Reconquista temporarily counteracted this tendency, when the Christian lords called on northern peoples — Basques, Asturians and "Franks" — to colonize the new conquests. Later the Basque language came to be used mainly by peasants, while people in the cities preferred Castilian, Gascon, Navarrese Romance, French or Latin for high education.

Basque experienced a rapid decline in Navarre during the 1800's. However, after Basque nationalism took the language as an identity sign, and with the establishment of autonomous governments, it has made a modest comeback. Basque-language schools have taken the language to areas like Encartaciones or the Navarrese Ribera where it may have never been natively spoken in historic times.

Official Status

Historically, Latin or Romance has been the official language in this region. However, Basque was explicitly recognized in some areas, as the local charter of the Basque-colonized Ojacastro valley (now in La Rioja) allowed the inhabitants to use Basque in legal processes in the 13th and 14th centuries.

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 officially using Basque in a French court of law. Paradoxically, the use of Basque by Spanish nationals in French courts is allowed (with translation), as Basque is officially recognised on the other side of the frontier.

The positions of the various existing governments, in areas where Basque usage is common, differ with regard to the promotion of Basque. The language has official status in those territories which are within the Basque Autonomous Community where it is spoken and promoted heavily, but only partially in Navarre, which is divided by the law in three distinct language areas, Basque-speaking, non-Basque-speaking, and mixed (this law is strongly rejected by the Basque-speaking people of Navarre). The law is called the "Ley del Vascuence", as vascuence (from Latin vasconice loqui, "to talk in the Vascon way") is the traditional name for the Basque language in Spanish (euskera and vasco are also used).

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