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The Wall Street Journal says Basque isn't used in real life

Luistxo Fernandez 2007/11/07 09:39
The Wall Street Journal has decided to insult Basque speakers. What a shame of an article. It's hard to be a minority language speaker, precisely when it's minoritised even in your own land... And yet, looks as if Spanish speakers are the ones being persecuted by Inquisition. No. It's Spanish Inquisition the one that in the 21st century decided to close the only Basque-language daily newspaper, based in false accusations. As false as all content in that article.

Of course, the journalist got collaboration from local idiots. "Euskera just isn't used in real life", says a member of the Basque Parliament. If you're reading this here, you may follow the links to my Basque blog, this public discussion about the Guggenheim Bilbao or the Wikipedia. I hope that proves that Basque is at least used in virtual life.

Besides, the news item in the web mentions a correction regarding that map. Spain's Basque Country, at its widest point, spans approximately 85 miles, or 136.8 kilometers. A map that accompanied a previous version of this article had an incorrect scale. I wonder what they showed previously. But masquarading the Basque Country's map as the Hoped-for Basque homeland shows the political intent of the report.

Not all Basque maps published by American media are so deceptive. This map below was published by the National Geographic Magazine in 1997. Well, that's Euskal Herria. And Euskal Herria means (not difficult to grasp) Basque Country = Pays Basque = País Vasco.

etiketak: ,
Carsten Agger
Carsten Agger dio:
2007/11/07 23:02

Did you write to the journalist/his editor to complain, Luistxo?

The tone in the comments to the BBC piece quoted by Rhys made me angry; will Wales become "irrelevant" if people start speaking Welsh in great numbers? But it's their heritage, their culture ...

And some english tourist complained he was addressed in Welsh when entering a bank; yes, and iff I enter a bank in England, I suppose the clerk will address me in English ...

and if it turned out I spoke only Welsh (or Danish) I'm sure I'd also have reason to feel "demoted to second-class citizen"

which is similar to the "grievances" of people in the Wall Street Journal piece: It's not easy to sympathize with people who have a hard time putting up with the fact that people in their area might want to actually speak their own language ...

Rhys dio:
2007/11/07 18:47

What idiots. It makes me really mad when so-called respected media print biased opinions as fact. As this is possibly the first time many American readers will have ever heard of the Basque language (or Basque Country), this will cloud their judgement. But only having members of the PP talking about it was very one sided - no mention of plans a while back in Navarra to downgrade the language status - I'm sure that would have been sensible action in the WSJ's eyes.

Also, why compare the number of Basque speakers with the worldwide (or even Spanish) figures of Castillians speakers - what relevance does that have?

Grrr - things like this make me mad. The BBC (the UK wide service as opposed to the Welsh branch) do the same about the Welsh language - there's never any positive informative stories, only sensationalist negative ones. Last month, a TV programme featured two civil servants speaking to the presenter in a quiet country lane with voices blurred, such is the "fear" in Wales of speaking out against the language! While in actual fact (hey who cares about facts these days!) in Wales, there are no such laws that compel public staff to speak Welsh, only a small fraction of posts require Welsh as a skill, although free Welsh lessons are OFFERED to almost all staff.

I noticed they've already included one correction (the map), but I doubt there will be more.

erral dio:
2007/11/09 10:30

Erantzuna ere etorri da Ameriketatik dirudienez... Johnson replies to his critics

Luistxo dio:
2007/11/08 13:30

Thanks for your support. My rant msg is not fit to be sent to the WSJ, I think. But others have written better replies, like this one from young writer Katixa Agirre. I could'nt write better than her, so I just adhere to her msg.

Mikel Morris, a US citizen and linguist, also wrote an interesting piece,  which I'll reproduce here:

Dear Mr. Johnson, My name is Mikel Morris and am the author of the leading English-Basque dictionary (which you can see at Thus, I feel that I am qualified to speak on this subject. It is a shame that you did not contact expert people who are actually familiar with languages in general and with Basque in particular. To begin with, Leopoldo Barrera is hardly an authority to have an informed opinion of Basque since he knows hardly any Basque (and I am skeptical as to whether he could get by in any other language other than Spanish). It is scientifically false to say that a language is more ancient than another and wholly inaccurate to say that a language such as Basque is little suited to modern life. Every bona fide linguist knows that any language can express any idea, especially when language planning has taken place.

I fail to understand what you mean by "newly minted" words such as aireportu, zientzia, demokrazia. Every language creates neologisms when new concepts come up. You should study the case of Icelandic or even French. Basque is no exception.

Your observation on shepherd is an example of gross ignorance of not only Basque but of English as well. The origin of the word shepherd is sceaphierde, (From Old English) from sceap "sheep" + hierde "herder," from heord "a herd" ( Cf. M.L.G., M.Du. schaphirde, M.H.G. schafhirte, Ger. dial. schafhirt.) The Webster dictionary defines "shepherd" as "1 : a person who tends sheep" Thus, you probably meant "herder" or "drover" rather than "shepherd", but then again that term is too general in English and is usually combined with the animal being driven.

You mention that Basque numbers have no relationship to Indo-European and that would seem to be a disadvantage. Are European children in Finland, Hungary, Estonia and Turkey at an equal disadvantage? I think not. Finns pray to "Jumala", is that bad or equally as bad as "Jainkoa"? Why?

I am especially amazed at Joseba Arregi (who writes his surname as Arregi not Arregui as you write it though you could have written it as Arregy to make it more palatable to an English-speaking readership;-)). If you quoted him correctly, he has turned full circle in what he had been working for when he basked in power in the PNV. He helped me with my own dictionary project.

As for statistics, I fail to see where you got the figure 450,000,000 speakers for Spanish. Are you including Anglos who speak "Taco Bell" English in the States? German tourists who can order a beer in pidgin Spanish in the Costa Brava? George Bush? Indians in Guatemala who can barely utter a sentence in intelligible Spanish? An authoritative estimate from the Ethnologue Survey (SIL) gave a figure of 332,000,000 in 1999. Has Spanish acquired an extra 120,000,000 since 1999? If so, that is truly amazing but hardly plausible.

Finally, we get to the crux of the problem: is Basque an official language? If so, it should be equal in every way to Spanish. If not, that should be so stated and either be accepted as a fact or changed. Swedish is still official in Finland even though a small minority actually uses it as their mother tongue. I can hardly feel sorry for Spanish-speaking teachers who refused to learn Basque before. I myself, a native speaker of English, was able to give classes in Basque and Spanish at a High School.

It is a shame that you won't answer me but at least you are confronted with some facts and questions. Although I understand your rabidly pro-Spanish leanings, you should, in the name of good journalism, get your facts straight and talk to competent people who know something about languages.

Sincerely Yours

Mikel Morris

David Lachiondo
David Lachiondo dio:
2007/11/14 19:05

(This was the response I sent to the Wall Street Journal and Mr. Johnson)

Anthropologists will tell you that an essential for the survival of an ethnic group is its language.  Despite almost fifty years of the Franco regime’s “ethnic cleansing”, Euzkera, the Basque language survived.  Under Franco, the consequence for speaking Basque was imprisonment.  As for Euzkera’s utility, the adoption of  a unified Basque dictionary has made it an increasingly important and widespread language for commerce, research and letters.  It is worthy of note that the support for your contention that Euzkera is extraneous to “real life” comes from a member of Partido Popular, the modern inheritors of Franco’s Fascist legacy. 

I further find fault with your loose usage of the terms, “separatists” and “nationalists”.  You use them as if they are interchangeable.  They are not and there are many people living in Euzkadi who are neither but love their language and seek its restoration as a hallmark of ethnic identity. 

If you wish to engage in Francoist propaganda, please label it as such, just don’t call it reporting.

Arkaitz Elordui
Arkaitz Elordui dio:
2007/11/10 16:27

I first got information about the article in the WSJ from a friend that lives in the USA. I have not quite managed to read the full article (which is a shame) but think I have enough information to write about some of the topics that are mentioned. Having been born towards the end of the Franco Era in Spain it kind of bugs me all this non-sensical comments on Basque not being an up to date language. I learnt Basque from my mother's side of the family and Spanish from my dad's, becoming bilingual by about age 5 (sort of). I have since gone on to study other languages including English, German and even Japanese. But this is beside the point. There is no language that is second to another or less important. It might sound harsh that the Basque Government are actually "forcing" people in education to learn Basque or get the sack. However, what tends to be forgotten is that it was people that spoke Basque that got prosecuted and looked down up to the mid 80's. I, like many others, have suffered that treatment whilst growing up. My dad's side does not speak Basque as my grandad (who fought on the Spanish Civil War against Franco) was afraid that people would harm his family (wife and kids) during the Franco Regime. He spent many years in forced labour and as his name (as that of many others) had not been recorded properly in the various places he was forced to work did not get a pension in relation to that time. My dad's mum did not speak a word of Basque but she always encouraged us to learn and use it. For her it was our inheritance, it was part of who we were and where we lived. No one is being discriminated for being "forced" to learn Basque as they are for being "forced" to learn English, German, etc... Culture does not harm anyone. People should stop political bubleguble and get a grip. But Basque will only continue into further generations not because people learn it in school or get taught on, but because they do use it in every day life. Basque is alive and kicking thank you very much.

Luistxo dio:
2007/11/14 14:05

Yes, Johnson replied. He says he wanted to be pro-Basque. Difficult to believe. The headline was not his, that's true, surely. From searches in the WSJ's online archives, it seems that the original headline might have been: Basques bring old tongue to life (see screenshot).

The article's not available any more in WSJ's free web content, but the original text was copied here, for reference.

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