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Bertan > The Basque language > The heritage of all
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The heritage of all


At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the Basque language is well on the way to recovery. Since the last two decades of the twentieth century, major advances have been made in developing and modernising the language and also in its use and social ambit. As a result, UNESCO has removed it from its list of endangered languages, reclassifying it as "vulnerable". Full standardisation of the language continues to require the combined effort of society and public institutions. As well as being a language of communication for many, Basque is a linguistic treasure, whose roots go back to prehistoric times. In its original form, it is believed to have been spoken by the first groups of Homo Sapiens to populate Europe. With no known relation anywhere else in the world, Basque deserves to be treated as part of World Heritage. This short history look at the development of the language and the many prohibitions and stumbling blocks it has faced, together with the constant efforts by Basque society to overcome these obstacles at each stage in history.

19. Basque is the heritage of all Basques and their most distinctive cultural identifying feature. It is a treasure that has been handed down from generation to generation. On occasions persecuted in the past, it is now enjoying a cultural renaissance. Poster for a pro- Basque festival at the Pamplona bull ring in 1979. 20. The Basque language predates the emergence of the Indo- European languages in Europe. Its origins are unknown. It does not form part of any semantic group and shares no common features with any other language in the world. 21. The Aia Rocks. 22. Over the centuries, the borders of the Basque-speaking area have gradually retreated. Initially, it was pushed back by the spread of Indo-European languages in the Bronze and Iron Ages. Subsequently, following the introduction of Latin there came a period of recovery, with renewed reverses in the face of pressure from the Romance languages. 23. Joaldunak from Ituren, during the pre-Lenten carnival celebrations of Ituren and Zubieta. 24. The specific terms used to designate festive celebrations and characters indicate that Basque solstice rites date back to the very remote past. 25. In the twentieth century, successive persecutions, prohibitions and sanctions reached their highpoint under the dictatorship of General Franco. 26. The number of speakers declined to such an extent that Basque came close to extinction. 27. In the last 40 years, more than 300,000 people have learnt Basque as a second language (essentially at school and in language academies (euskaltegis). Manual for learning Basque from Itxaropena, Zarautz, 1969. 28. Poster of Eusko Ikaskuntza. 2005 Congress. 29. The Koldo Mitxelena Kulturunea is the leading cultural centre in San Sebastian, hosting a wide range of events throughout the year as well as exhibitions in its two halls. It also houses the Library of the Provincial Government of Gipuzkoa. The centre is named after Koldo Mitxelena Elissalt, the renowned linguist, researcher and defender of the Basque language. 30. Thanks to a determined effort by the local population and public institutions, the number of Basque speakers has stabilised and even increased, in what has been described by UNESCO as one of the best examples of linguistic recovery in the world. 31. Garabide, a non-government organisation based in the town of Eskoriatza disseminates the Basque experience of language recovery in other parts of the world. Working in collaboration with the University of Mondragon, the organisation promotes identitary, cultural and linguistic co-operation with minority language communities from the southern hemisphere, particularly South America. 32. In 2002 the Martin Ugalde Culture Park was opened in Andoain. Today it is home to around thirty organisations and companies related to Basque Culture. Its aim is to harness synergies top achieve more effective work. 33. The population pyramid of the Basque language has been inverted. Today the base is wider than it was several decades ago, with the majority of the 800,000 speakers aged under. 35. This group mostly comprises children who have studied in the all-Basque educational model (Model D) and in all-Basque schools (ikastolas) and young people, now parents themselves, who learned the language at Basque language academies (euskaltegis). About 300,000 of today's speakers learned at school or in euskaltegis, and not from their parents.

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