Center for Basque Studies

Data on the Basque Language

There are fifty states in Europe and nearly one hundred nations.

All languages are part of the world heritage, however, the UNESCO Red Book of Endangered Languages listed nine European languages as “nearly extinct”, twenty six as “seriously endangered” and thirty eight as “endangered”.

The Basque language is currently listed as “vulnerable” in the Spanish state (meaning that most children speak the language, but it may be restricted to certain domains e.g., home) and “severely endangered” in the French state where it does not have any official status (language is spoken by grandparents and older generations; while the parent generation may understand it, they do not speak it to children or among themselves).

According to the UNESCO there about 3,000 languages spoken worldwide among which 230 became extinct since 1950 at a rate of almost four languages a year. But the situation is currently even more critical and the main causes are almost in all cases political and socioeconomic, indeed, more than 90 percent of the endangered languages have not official status.


The Basque Country, Euskal Herria or Euskadi in Basque, has seven historical territories, Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, Lapurdi, the Southern and Northern Navarre and Zuberoa.




In the map we may see the three different political administrations of the Basque Country today. Together, Araba, Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa and the Southern Navarre constitute Hegoalde, the Southern Basque Country, in the Basque language. Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa nowadays make up what is known as the Basque Autonomous Community (BAC) within the Spanish state. The former Kingdom of Navarre is by itself an autonomous community, the Chartered Community of Navarre (CCN), which is also part of the Spanish state. The Northern Navarre, Lapurdi and Zuberoa, which are generically called Iparralde or Northern Basque Country, became part of a superior administrative unit within the French state in 1789. From a political perspective, they do not currently form an administratively differentiated territory within the French Republic, which is one of the most centralized states in Europe. Along with other historical territories, they are part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques, one of the five départements or districts of the region of Aquitaine. Consequently, Euskal Herria is not a politically independent state but a stateless nation, similar to Catalonia, Scotland, Flanders, Wales, Galicia and the Tyrol.This means that the Basque language is affected by different laws and political frameworks. Indeed, today the use of the Basque language has six different legal regimes, one at the BAC, three at the CCN, one at the French state and, one at the European Union.


There are many factors which have influenced the social situation of the Basque language. However, among the most relevant factors explaining the situation of the Basque language today we have to mention the political persecution it has suffered as well as the legal imposition of the use of French or Spanish from 1789 to today. The Spanish monarchy and French Republic were both set up on the basis of political and juridical standardization. Linguistic diversity was seen as a threat for this standardization process, leading to a linguistic policy of repression and marginalization of peoples’ ‘own’ languages, including Euskara.


The Map represents the percentage of students under 17 scholarizated in Basque in the three different administrative units in which the Basque Country is currently divided. The diagrams represent the percentage of Basque Speakers over 16 years of age in 2006 in the three administrations of the Basque Country. Finally, the charter represents the Evolution of the Percentage of Full Bilingual Speakers at each one of the three administrations. As we may see at a glance, the situation of the language at each one of the three administrations directly reflects the legal situation of the language at each one of them. The Basque language is recovering at the BAC where it is a co-official language, it is only maintaining at the CCN where it is co-official only in the north of the territory and does not have any legal status in the southern part of the CCN, and is still “severely endangered” in the French state where it does not have any official status.


The proportion and evolution of scholarization in Basque is also directly proportional to the level of political recognition of the language at each one of the three administrations. The lack of a single model of immersion at the BAC is producing a slow process of advance of the Basque language (in comparison with Catalonia) where the social use of the language has also increased in comparison to the Basque case. The deterrence of Model D and the zonification in Navarre is generating two diverse cultural areas and slowing down the development of the Basque language. The French administration’s monolingual policy does not guarantee the survival of the Basque language yet.


We may see at a glance the different impact that the legal status of the language has on the levels of scholarization in Basque at the BAC and at the CCN. If at the BAC most of the students study in Basque –the only model that ensures a bilingual society- at the CCN most of the students study only in Spanish due primarily to the fact that in the southern part of the territory the language is not official and, thus, Model D is not available for parents at public schools.


If we compare the impact that the legal status of the language has on the levels of scholarization in Basque at the BAC and at the CCN, we may observe that the effects on the language in the Northern Basque Country are even more devastating. Even if the number of students that choose to study in Basque is growing, 69 percent of the students study only in French.


The evolution of enrollment of students in the Model D shows a constant growth since 1997. Most parents choose, when they are allowed, the only educational model that ensures the future of a bilingual society.



The official status of the language affects also the evolution of the varieties of a given language. There is no linguistic evolution of the varieties in the areas where the Basque language is not official. Varieties in areas in which Basque is co-official show more vitality and predominance over the rest of the dialects, some of which have disappeared through the twentieth century.




Center for Basque Studies

University of Nevada, Reno