This is an opinion piece published on the 10th of March 1970 by an anonymous author, in the monthly magazine Zeruko Argia. The title is 'From the Basque dialects to Basque'. This is about the time when unified Basque was being created, sparking intense debate within Basque society. I post it to show some of the arguments being used to defend the unified Basque, which would eventually become the standard Basque we use today.
The Basque used by the author is extremely close to the standard Basque used today. He/she signs it with the town of Larresorro in Lapurdi, but that doesn't mean they were from there, due to many southern Basque refugees living in the North Basque Country.
[Edit] I've since been told that Larresorro is the penname of the great Txillardegi himself, one of the fathers of Euskara Batua! That would explain why the Basque is so recognisable.
In the beginning he cycles through a variety of dialects to try to get the interlocutor to understand, before resorting to French. The interlocutor says ah, you mean unatua? Which is a word from the Lapurdi dialect.
To me the example seems exaggerated and even of dubious reality: Basque speakers generally know what people in neighbouring towns say, and they generally know what's said in neighbouring dialects. For example the interlocutor should have known what akitu meant, as it's not at all an unknown term in the Lapurdi dialect. But let's say that this person had never left their town before, or knew the word but was momentarily stunned by the sunlight or something, stranger things have happened. Today in the 21st century this could not happen: everyone in Sara knows what akitu means, what nekatu means, and of course unatu as well.
Something that happened to me yesterday. Me asking a person from Sara:
Are you tired? (Akitu zirea)
Are you tired? (Akitu ahal zera)
I don't understand.
Let's see... I'm asking if you're tired (ia nekatu zaren)...ummm are you tired (resorting to French).
Ah? Am I tired or not? (Ia unatu naizen)
That's what constitutes the 'richness' of Basque, in the eyes of some people.
The intention of people like us who want to pass from the Basque dialects to a single unified Basque, however, is qualified as an excuse invented by 'traitors'.
Instead they say, (in Spanish): let's fight so that our Basque, in its various forms, subsists and gives life...
Returning to the subject, in Hazparne for example some 20 km away from Sara, you hear 'akitu' and/or 'akhitu'. If the residents of Sara and Hazparne, despite being near neighbours, don't understand each other, what's the upside of the Basque dialects?
I don't see it. Our country is not a dialectological map, instead it's a group formed by men and women. We need to take 'Basque speaker' out from dialectology. I will say what the Catalan writer Moix said (in Spanish): a language that can be the plaything of a couple of grammarians doesn't interest me.
What then is the real treason? Wanting to stick to the Basque dialects whilst speaking/doing things in Spanish/French, or rather strengthening the unified Basque in Basque?
The matter of the unified Basque is not a mere matter of whether to write the H letter or not. It is the pressing need of changing things from top to bottom. Because a language is not a strange folkloric piece of clothing, to be worn in front of the tourists on Saturday evenings, it is the method of communication of a people. And this being so, the need for unity becomes obvious.
- some examples of how to write things in different ways in Basque dialects -
And don't say that these are unimportant details. These same things are the 'patoisation' and ruin of our language. In Spanish you can't write 'hemos ido, hamos ido, amoz ido' according to the author's whims. No. Not in French nor in Russian either. Why then in Basque? Because we're different? How are we different from them, unless it's in the level of literacy of our language? 'Richness', isn't that just the echo of a deeper error? That error being, our tribalism, navel-gazing, our inability to get out of the 'my region first' mindset.
One of the reasons that makes us use Spanish/French (one of the reasons, and not the principal one, I know) is dialectalism, as can be seen in my example from yesterday. When we Basque speakers need to say something essential to each other, we use our true method of communication, putting aside our folklorish stuff.
So, NO to 'all our strength behind the dialects', and YES to the unified Basque, with all our strength and speed. This is my position.
Basque speakers, like the Chinese or the Madagascans, need a single method of communication to continue our way of life.
It's either one Basque, or one foreign language. If a language does not serve to communicate (a tool for communication), whatever the folkore and dialect supporters might say, Basque speakers themselves are pushing Basque to the side. And they are correct in abandoning Basque, because a language is the servant and tool of man, and not the other way around.
Our choice then is not between dialects/unified Basque, but between unified Basque/foreign language. Because the foreign languages (Spanish/French) are unified and everywhere a useful and valuable tool.
There's many things I disagree with in this column but also some things I do agree with.
Recently in Reddit someone posted an article about how the Chinese government is suppressing the Uyghur language in China. Someone else asked in the comments, isn't it normal for a state to teach or privilege their state language?
That's the case for most European or American states today. The problem is that it's no longer problematic for these European or American states. Very few states get financially or politically punished for their intransigence and monolingual state policy. How do Americans and Europeans think their state languages attained absolute supremacy in their countries? Now I think the Chinese government is awful
, but it's hypocritical for European and Americans to get outraged for the Chinese doing something without being outraged also by what their own states still
A comparison. People complain about how India or China are industrialising so quickly and massively and thereby contribute to climate change, which is a true. But they are following the tried and tested method by which first world nations got to where they are. Actually, you could argue they're a better job of it, with massive research and investment into renewable energies on the part of China. Saying that they should have learned from our mistakes is all well and good, but for many Chinese and Indians, that sounds an awful lot like discourse from someone who has gotten to the top and pulled up the ladder.
Similarly, it's very nice for speakers of a hegemonic language to say that dialectical diversity is a richness to be protected, and that a unified Basque is a bad idea because it would destroy that, when in actual fact the greatest threat to Basque dialectical diversity is and has always been Spanish and French. But French and Spanish speakers never practice what they preach with regards to their own language's dialectical variety. I would love to see a single town or city's official website in Spain or in France written in the Spanish or French dialect of said town, but I've never seen it, whereas I have seen dozens of examples in Basque.
It's a blatant double standard. For Spanish and French, there must be a standard language, a unified way of writing or speaking. But endangered languages are not allowed to, because they are considered valuable insofar
as they are disunited. The object
of dialectological research and not the subject
of a people's communicative purposes.
I call this the hegemonic or dominant language speaker privilege.