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Bertan > The Basque language > A language on the road to recovery
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A language on the road to recovery


Unesco considers that the social situation of the Basque language has improved substantively over recent years. In 2001, the Unesco Atlas rated Basque as being severely endangered in the Northern Basque Country and definitely endangered in the Southern Basque Country. In 2009, Unesco revisited the situation of Basque throughout the Basque-speaking territories and re-classified it as vulnerable, a much more positive rating, and one that it shares with another six hundred languages around the world. With increased use and as larger number of speakers, the situation of the Basque language has improved over the last decade, and experts consider it to be one of the best examples of linguistic recovery in the world. Basque is the only language to have reached a critical situation and successfully reverse the trend. Thanks to the support of its population and its public institutions, the number of speakers has stabilised and increased.

508. In 2001, the UNESCO Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger placed Basque at Tier 2, definitely endangered (with 600,000 speakers, 30% of the Basque population). By 2009 edition it had 800,000 speakers (37%), placing it in Tier 1, among the "vulnerable" languages. In its report, the UNESCO looks at the 2,500 languages in danger in the world and ranks them from 1 to 5, in inverse order of risk of extinction. Basque is one of 607 languages to be classed as Level 1. 509. For sociologists of the language, this success has only been possible thanks to the determined support and drive of the public institutions and the population, the socio-linguistic substratum and they define this in terms of the impact, attachment and weight that a minority language enjoys among its speakers and in the territory they inhabit. 510. Growth in the number of people who know Basque is now assured. The problem is to guarantee that Basque is used and to create venues where this can take place. The strong momentum of the larger languages is today the greatest challenge for Basque speakers. 511. The process of Basque revival is one of the best examples of its kind in the world. According to sociolinguist Miquel Gros i Lladó, the Basque Autonomous Community is witnessing the most successful process of Reversing Language Shift (RLS) in the world. None of the European languages that have reached the same critical situation have ever been capable of bucking the trend. Instead, the next generations have tended to break the chain of family transmission. From 1981, the Basque-speaking population of the Basque Autonomous Community has grown steadily by half a percentage point per year. 512. According to Joshua Fishman, achieving a Reversing Language Shift (RSL) requires not only encouraging language learning and fluency and its everyday use in school, but also growing social functionality and inter-generational transmission. 513. According to the Sixth Sociolinguistic Survey, between 1991 and 2006, usage was up throughout the Southern Basque Country, especially in Alava (going from 7.8 % of speakers to 14.2%) and Navarre (from 9.5% to 11.1%). Gipuzkoa has gone from 43.7% to 49.1% and Biscay from 16.5% to 23%. In the Northern Basque Country, although the numbers continue to decline (from 24.4% to 22.5%), the process has begun to bottom out. 514. In the Basque Autonomous Community, the mostly Basquespeaking area lies in the inland areas of Gipuzkoa and Biscay. The quasi-bilingual society extends to all of inland Gipuzkoa, plus a large section of the coast, and the mountains of Biscay. Altogether, all of Gipuzkoa and inland Biscay, plus the Salvatierra area in Alava, now have over 75% of Basque-speaking pupils. 515. In Navarre, when Basque Language Act and its zoning regulations were passed into law in 1986, less than 10% of the population was Basque-speaking and 15% were capable of using it. Today these figures stand at nearly 15% and 25% respectively. There is a very interesting shift towards recovery in Navarre, and experts stress the need to adapt the laws and areas to this new demand. 516. At present, throughout the area of the Basque language, the Basque-speaking population has gone from one in five of the population at the end of the dictatorship to one in three today. 517. The European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages (signed in Strasbourg in 1992) is a treaty adopted under the auspices of the Council of Europe to protect and promote all non official or manifestly endangered languages in Europe. Spain signed the charter in 1992 and ratified it in 2001. France signed it in 1992, but has yet to ratify it. 518. Elebide is the Basque Government's service for the defence of linguistic rights. Set up in 2006, it attends to complaints, queries, requests and suggestions from the public. The service seeks to work through persuasion, awareness and advice. 519. In the Northern Basque Country, Basque has no official status. The Public Basque Language Office (Euskararen Erakunde Publikoa/Office Public de la Langue Basque, OPLB) was set up in 2004 to promote Basque and bilingualism. It includes representatives of the French state, the local government, elected officials and local organisations for the development of Basque. 520. The transmission of Basque by bilingual parents is now assured in the Basque Autonomous Community and in Navarre, but the chain is still being broken in the Northern Basque Country. Where one of the parents does not know Basque, transmission occurs in 86% of cases in the Basque Autonomous Community, 71% in Navarre and 44% in the Northern Basque Country. 521. A number of private organisations are also working to defend language rights and report any infringement and to take legal action where necessary. They include the Observatory of Linguistic Rights, Behatokia and in Navarre, Euskara Kultur Elkargoa.
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