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ERAKUTSI: NABO's promotion Euskara

Euskara is an endangered language.  Generally, any language that is spoken by less than a million people today is in danger of soon disappearing.  Even generous estimates of the number of Basque speakers leaves the number well below this mark. 

According to the last U.S. census, approximately 58,000 Americans self-defined as Basques.  We are  undergoing a generational transition as our Basque community no longer receives a substantial infusion of Basque immigrants.  Now their descendants will decide if and how Basque culture will endure here in America.  Specifically, the issue here is will the Basque language survive in the U.S.?  It is this issue that NABO has recently actively engaged and resolved to answer affirmatively.  First a look back at where we are coming from in relation to Euskara, and then a look at how we hope to continue on that road. 

In English we use the word Basque to describe both a people and a language.  This is derived from the French variation (the Spanish is vasco) of “Eusk.” In their own language—Euskara—Basques refer to themselves as Euskaldunak.  This is one of the rare instances of a people defining themselves by their language.  Euskotar, for example,  means ethnic Basque and can be applied to any Basque whereas Euskalduna is specific to those who speak Basque. 

Being Basque is all about the language.  Literally.  In an Idaho Statesman article during the Jaialdi celebration in July, Diana Lachiondo, 24, a native Boisean who didn't learn the Basque language until after her first year of college, stated that ‘Euskalduna,' the word that identifies you as a Basque person, literally means 'He or she who holds the Basque language,' " Lachiondo says. "It's this important element that sets us apart."  Lachiondo immersed herself in the language for several months at an immersion program in the Basque country where students live, play and learn completely in Basque.  Last spring, Lachiondo put those skills to use, teaching the language at Boise State University while the school searched for a permanent Basque language teacher.

Lachiondo learned to speak Batua, or unified Basque, the version of the language established about 20 years ago to preserve the language as an integral part of Basque heritage.  "Without the language, the culture is kind of neutered," says Lachiondo. 

Where does Euskara come from?  According to the late Larry Trask, an Euskara specialist, it doesn't really "come from" anywhere -- it's just been there for a very long time.  The ancestral form of Basque was introduced into western Europe long, long ago -- at least thousands of years ago, and maybe even tens of thousands of years ago. Nobody knows. All the other modern languages of western Europe arrived much later.

Is Basque related to any other language?  No responds Trask. The relatives that Basque once had have died out without a trace. Basque absolutely cannot be shown to be related to any other language at all.  Trask declares that some people will try to tell you differently, but they don't know what they're talking about, and the great majority of them don't even know anything about Basque.

The first book written in Euskara was by Bernard Etxepare in 1545.  In it he included this plea:

 

Euskara, euskara, jalgi hadi kanpora,
Euskara, euskara, jalgi hadi plazara,
Euskara, euskara, jalgi hadi dantzara,
Euskara, euskara, jalgi hadi mundu guztira!

“Let’s take Euskara out,
to the plaza, dancing,
and to the whole world.”

From Etxepare’s 1545 book Linguae Vasconum Primi

Now that we understand that NABO is an uztarri / yoke (see related story page 1), the effort to maintain Euskara here in America will ultimately succeed of fail based on what happens at the local level.  NABO’s role then is to provide support and resources.  Therefore, NABO has formulated a three-point program to keep Euskara alive here in the United States that includes:

     IKUSGARRI: Visible

     BIDERAGARRI: Viable

     BIZIGARRI: Vital

The first aim is to sustain and grow the visibility of Euskara.  Current efforts include the annual Kantari Eguna, Euskara masses, promotional materials, dance instruction in Euskara, Euskara at Udaleku, etc.  A new effort includes establishing our first EUSKARAREN EGUNA or “Day of Basque.”  (celebrated in conjunction with San Francisco Basque Cultural Center’s anniversary & NABO meeting, Friday, February 17, 2006)

Learning a second language is a challenge on various levels.  Accordingly, we need to develop/promote various learning options.  Some of these include existing college credit courses (some online) and study abroad programs being offered at the University of Nevada, Reno and Boise State University.  Then for the self-motivated, there is plenty of material to assist you.  There are also options to learn the language while living in the Basque country.  NABO is primarily involved in the effort to support local Basque clubs in their efforts to create their own classes.  They are receiving material support from NABO and the Basque Government, primarily via the computer software program BOGA which is a marvelous tool to assist in the learning of Euskara.  This coupled with periodic gatherings to practice together face-to-face we hope will be a winning formula.  These options are detailed on the website www.euskara.us 

Euskara is vital to Basque identity.  As we have seen, Euskaldun means one who has Basque or speaker of Basque.  That is the message we need to make visible.  This is why we need to make it viable to learn and keep learning the language. 

The effort to promote Euskara (the Basque language) here in the United States will require that we move on several fronts at the same time.  One thrust will be to introduce the language to young kids (pre-schoolers) in weekly or so gatherings with games and activities in Basque.  A second aim is to more effectively reach teenagers; this ties into NABOs Udaleku program.  Then there are also the adult learners. 

We need a greater general awareness of the central role of the language in our culture.   To accomplish this, we need to develop a campaign to make more people aware of the language and also the new opportunities to learn it.  This is what has been--and is being done--in the Basque country with various campaigns and programs.  I looked at some of those but the phrases and concepts wouldn't work as well here.  So we thought we'd borrow from a local idea:  "Got Basque?" 

Clearly this isn't an original idea since it is patterned off the Got Milk? ads, but that does us a service because most folks already grasp the concept of the ad.  Going with this phrase accomplishes several things--first it's eye catching and already self-explanatory.  Second, it perfectly defines what "euskaldun" means which is one who has Euskara or Basque.  So "Got Basque" is actually a pretty accurate definition although the grammar in English is a bit strained ("Do you have Basque?" isn't quite as catchy).  Finally, just like needing to have milk with cookies, it conveys the concept of the desirability of having Euskara with the culture.

The design above makes prominent several things:  the "Got Basque?" phrase; NABO & HABE's partnership in this venture; the call to start learning; the website to consult for more information and the meaning Euskaldun in English along with the Basque phrase: "Don't you know that it is Euskara that makes us Euskaldun?"