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The dialects and unified basque


The history and geography of the Basque Country have given its language a rich variety of dialects: eight in the first map drafted by Louis Lucien Bonaparte in 1869 and five in the updated classification by philologist Koldo Zuazo, with their respective sub-dialects and variants. As with most of the world's languages, it therefore became necessary to develop a common language for education, writing and the media. Following years of studies and debate, in 1968 Euskaltzaindia proposed "euskera batua", unified Basque. Although dialectal varieties would be maintained in the speech of each region, batua, whose grammar and spelling rules are established and supervised by the academy, now became the language used in literature, education and public life.

261 Linguistic map Carte des Sept Provinces Basques. In 1869, Prince Louis Lucien Bonaparte (Thorngrove, 1813-1891), made the first classification of dialects of Basque using only linguistic criteria. Based on studies by Manuel Larramendi, the philologist and linguist identified eight dialects: Biscayan, Gipuzkoan, Northern Upper-Navarrese (Leitza, Bera, Ultzama, etc.), Southern Upper-Navarrese, Eastern Lower-Navarrese (area of Donibane Garazi (Saint-Jean-Piedde-Port) and Zaraitzu), Western Lower-Navarrese (Baigorri, eastern area of Labourd, Aezkoa), Souletin (which would include the Roncal dialect) and Labourdin. Within these dialects, he found 25 sub-dialects and 50 variants. 262. More than a century later, the linguistic panorama has changed greatly, and the most recent classification by the philologist Koldo Zuazo uses another categorisation based on different forms of speech. Zuazo considered that the dialects were formed in the Middle Ages, and identifies five today: Western, Central (including much of Gipuzkoa and the areas of Araitz, Larraun, Imotz and Basaburua), Navarrese variety (stretching from Cinco Villas to Aezkoa), Navarrese-Labourdin (which includes the speakers of Lower Navarre, Labourd and Luzaide) and Souletin. He also identifies 11 sub-dialects and 24 varieties. 263. In the Erronkari/Roncal valley, a local form of Basque survived until well into the twentieth century. Fidela Bernat, of Uztarrotz, was the last person to speak Roncalais. She died in 1992. Basque has now been revived in the valley (18% of its inhabitants now speak it) and nearly 80 children in the valley are being schooled through euskera batua. 264. Many authors consider that since the sixteenth century, the administrative fragmentation of the Basque lands has been the cause its dialectal differentiation, with the territory divided by the French and Spanish crown, in the eighteenth centuries, and today by the French state (with the Department of the Atlantic Pyrenees)and by the Spanish state (with two separate autonomous communities: the Basque Autonomous Community and the Community of Navarre). 265. In a land of such geographical variety as the Basque Country, topography has played an important role in maintaining the dialects of some of the more isolated communities. In other cases, it is the topography that unites the speech of administratively separate areas. 266. Since its foundation in 1918, Euskaltzaindia —the Academy of the Basque Language— has promoted the unification of the Basque language, reflecting the interest of many writers —beginning with Axular— who argued in favour of a shared literary tongue. The first proposals –formulated before the Civil War by Campion, Broussain and Azkue, among others– were not put into practise, and in the troubled period between 1936 and 1945, the work came to a halt. 267. Azkue proposed using "Completed Gipuzkoan" (gipuzkera osotua) as the basis for euskera batua: this language would include elements of Gipuzkoan and Labourdin, the two most developed dialects with the greatest literary tradition. Orixe believed that all the dialects should be considered equally important and proposed unifying only written Basque. Krutwig, for his part, proposed using classic Labourdin as the standard language. 268. One of the great stumbling blocks in the arguments for and against a unified language was the aspirated H, which some saw as a symbol of a break with more traditional positions. The aspirated h is still common in the speech of northern dialects, but has been in disuse in the south since the sixteenth century. It was finally agreed that it should be represented in written, though not spoken, batua. 269. Arantzazu Congress, 1968. 270. Eventually, in 1968 the Euskaltzaindia Congress in Arantzazu laid the foundations for euskera batua, taking as its base the Gipuzkoan-Navarrese dialect and, secondly, the optional variants of the peripheral dialects. Koldo Mitxelena was the author of this first project. 271. The linguist Koldo Mitxelena (Errenteria, 1915-1987) was one of the maximum authorities on the Basque language and one of the architects of its unification. Creator of modern Basque linguistics and author of hundreds of works of linguistic analysis, Mitxelena taught at the University of Salamanca and in the Sorbonne. He was actively involved in creating the University of the Basque Country, and in the process of political and cultural normalisation. 272. Euskera batua has unified Basque spelling, verbs and declinations, as well as loan-words, lexicon, pronunciation, vocabulary and onomastics. Time, usage and scholarship have meant that today euskera batua plays a predominant role in education, the media and the administration, although local dialects are still in use. As Zuazo stated, batua and the dialects are not at variance, but complementary. 273. In 1970, Luis Villasante succeeded Lekuona at the head of Euskaltzaindia, performing important work as the guarantor of the Arantzazu agreements and in keeping the academy together, essential at that key moment in consolidating a literary language.
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