Euskara (berriro)

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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby nooj » Sun Sep 13, 2020 10:46 pm

A quotation from Marili San Roman from the Navarran town of Altsasu, when he was 74 years old. It comes from a 2009 report.

Lehen barre egiten ziguten erdaraz ez genekielako eta orain, askori, euskararekiko sentimendua piztu zaie. Nik beti esaten diet erdaraz gaizki hitz egin arren, esaten duten guztia ulertzen dudala. Haiek ulertzen al didate niri?


Before they (Spanish speakers) used to laugh at us because we didn't speak Spanish. And now, an enthusiasm for Basque has ignited in a lot of people. I always say that even though I may speak Spanish badly, I still can understand everything they say. Can they understand me?


I.e. Can the monolingual Spanish speakers say the same about me? The worst bilingual Basque speaker is more multilingual than the best monolingual Spanish/French speaker.

Altsasu in the last century has seen its knowledge and use of Basque plummet, in what was until the late 19th century a monolingual Basque town, before the coming of the railway, industrialisation and foreigners who never bothered to learn Basque.

Since the 1960s with the first classes of Basque outside of school, then with the first ikastolas, now the D model of immersion education (3 out of every 4 children in the town goes through model D) and the effort of the citizenry and administration, Basque is clawing itself back. As of today, 21.88% of the town of 7,623 inhabitants are Basque speakers.

There's so many examples of this throughout the Basque Country. In a matter of one or two generations, a language spoken by 100% of the population, a language that as late as 1904 was put forward as a required language when the town hall of Altsasu were hiring for a town pharmacist, can collapse.

In light of such examples, to go to a town where Basque is currently healthy and assume that Basque is safe is to commit a fatal mistake. It's more accurate to think that Basque is currently one step away from the grave.

The Madrid telegraphist José Fuentes was sent to work in Altsasu in 1856. He published his memoires in 1873 as 'El telegrafista del sistema Weasthone (sic). La vida en Alsasua'. He recounts:

El lugar tenía un censo de población algo superior al millar de habitantes, labradores y ganaderos y algunos artesanos, todos vascoparlantes.

Pero las conquistas resultaban difíciles, y el lenguaje constituía un valladar insuperable. Cuando a cualquiera de aquellas recias mozas le decían:

-Muchacha, ¿sabes que me gustas mucho?

Respondía evasiva y con un aire cándido: -No entender”


The place had a counted population of a bit over a thousand people, workers and farmers and some artisans, all Basque speakers.

Romantic conquests were difficult, and the language was an unbridgeable barrier. When someone said to any of those reluctant girls, "Lass, do you know that I fancy you?", she would reply evasively and innocently, "Me no understand
".
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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby guyome » Mon Sep 14, 2020 6:45 am

nooj wrote:There's so many examples of this throughout the Basque Country. In a matter of one or two generations, a language spoken by 100% of the population, a language that as late as 1904 was put forward as a required language when the town hall of Altsasu were hiring for a town pharmacist, can collapse.

In light of such examples, to go to a town where Basque is currently healthy and assume that Basque is safe is to commit a fatal mistake. It's more accurate to think that Basque is currently one step away from the grave.
That's something important to keep in mind. Too often people assume it takes a long time for a language to die. That's somewhat true, the actual process takes a very long time because as long as there is one native speaker left, the language is indeed 'alive'. It does take decades for a language to literally die. But reaching the point where not enough children speak it is something that can happen really quickly*. And from then on, it is only a matter of time before the language dies, no matter how many people may still be able to speak it.

Usually people wake up when it's too late. I don't know why there is so much inertia. Part of the problem, I think, is that the people in charge (politicians, head of cultural organisations, etc.) are generally older than the average population and so, they don't really understand how badly the language is doing because everyone around them (i. e. their generation) still speaks it. Another problem is that, very often, language census are not reliable because some organisations have a vested interest in inflating the numbers. That allows them to claim their action is a succes and/or that they should be given more money because their work is useful to a large number of people. While this may work for some time, it only hides the true situation the language finds itself in and prevents needed action to be taken.

And, as you say, there is no room for complacency. I read a lot about Welsh a few years ago and it is clear how much efforts it took just to stabilise the language. It seems this hard work is now paying off and that the percentage of speakers in the population is rising. But then there's the problem that a rising number of speakers often reflects the fact that more pupils are speaking it in school, it does not always translate to more people speaking it in everyday life. No room for complacency.


* I remember reading about some extreme case in which the whole adult population of one village in the Alps got together and collectively decided to stop raising the children in Occitan. That was around 1910 if I remember well. I never checked the story to see if it was true but I wouldn't be surprised if it were.
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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby nooj » Tue Sep 15, 2020 10:04 am

I believe that there's a sonority attached to a landscape, a city, a town. You can take that in a mystical sense, and I partly do, but even literally.

Sitting at the beach, reading a book and listening to a group of high school students chatter away in Basque, has a different feel than if they were talking in Spanish, English or any other language.
I can't imagine an English speaking Basque Country and I don't want to. Take a map and run your finger along the named spaces. Pagoarte, Anoa, Txorondegi, Ezkur Haitza, Astuimendi has a taste on the tongue different from the names in Castilla y León.

Wipe away right now humans from the world and you'll still have the same physical geography. Lakes and mountains don't care about the names we give them. But by the collective weight of history, a thousand mouths calling a thing by the same name for a thousand months, something sticks.

Or by the mute violence of geographers and cartographers who follow the conquering armies , one can impose a name on a place, as was done in New Zealand and Australia. First comes the bloody taking into possessió, then comes the coup of the pen. Suddenly the snow capped tallest mountain in New Zealand is no longer Aoraki, it is Mount Cook, an English name that has as its point of reference someone from outside of the Māori system of values and worldview. Even directly hostile to it.

Maybe this is a distant echo of the magical power of calling things by their true names. Which makes it all the more heinous when we no longer know what the true name is. Tasmania is now 'Tasmania' and before it was 'Van Diemen's land', but we don't know what the indigenous peoples who lives there called it, because the English speaking invaders took their languages. Does Tasmania sound true to you? Does it fit into the contours of that wet, green land? Is English the right language to describe and name the reality of Australia?

I think it's important to restore the original topography to a place, and to do it well. It is not merely a process of language revitalisation, it is a process of social reformation and justice that goes with language revitalisation. Names have meaning within the frame of reference of the people who live there. For that reason their consultation and desire is critical. Aoraki is a good example, because it is the name of the mountain as said in the southern Māori dialect that converts /ŋ/ into /k/. Tangata whenua (people of the land, indigenous people) in standard Māori, becomes takata whenua and nga (tribe, people) becomes ka in the South Island. Aorangi would be Māori as well, but not the Māori name used by the people who lived around the mountain. Because the point is to not alienate the people in their own home.

In the south Basque Country, in many places only the Basque names are official, like Oñati, whereas in others both Spanish and Basque are official, like San Sebastián/Donostia. This name has become a sort of shibboleth as well, as many residents prefer to use the Basque name, even if they may be strictly Spanish speakers.
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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby nooj » Wed Sep 16, 2020 12:05 pm

guyome wrote:
Usually people wake up when it's too late. I don't know why there is so much inertia. Part of the problem, I think, is that the people in charge (politicians, head of cultural organisations, etc.) are generally older than the average population and so, they don't really understand how badly the language is doing because everyone around them (i. e. their generation) still speaks it.


That's frustrating and for language activists who try to save their languages they must feel like Cassandra's foretelling a catastrophe that they can see but their community can't.

It's so unfair, the odds. Every currently living language today, save for the few invented or newly born ones, goes back hundreds, thousands of years. Actually presuming that language genesis only happened once, it's even possible that every living language can trace its ancestry back to that primordial time when homo sapiens first got language.

The sheer length and breadth of history, the quiet desperate struggle of people to survive and thrive in places as farflung as Japan and Papua New Guinea, the thousand of different lifestyles to eke out a short, perilous life: taro farming, fishing, clear cut slash and burning, pastoralism, hunter gathering etc. And throughout all those trials and tribulations, their language accompanied them. And it seems to me unfair that all that was won with so much pain and effort, can be so easily wiped away in a matter of years. It's unfair that a language is so delicate and that it can be destroyed forever because of something so silly as 'here we are in the Chinese nation, you must speak Chinese' or 'here we are all Arabs, you must speak Arabic'.

I have the same rage when the entire billion year evolutionary history of an organism gets annihilated by human greed or negligence. Any random, boring species of bird can trace its origin to the therapod dinosaurs (indeed, all birds are dinosaurs),and from there to the tetrapods and from there to the sarcopterygii (we humans are also modified lobe finned fish) and so forth back all the way to the eukaryotes. The most boring prosaic bird encapsulates an epic journey that led to its current existence. But then we cut down a forest or irradiate their food sources with pesticides and voilà, a dead branch of the tree of life we'll never get back. It's just not fair man.
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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby nooj » Sun Sep 20, 2020 1:20 pm

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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby nooj » Sun Sep 20, 2020 11:23 pm

I made a tweet in Basque that got some coverage among Basque twitternauts that's making me very uncomfortable. I just use Twitter to follow people I find interesting and post random stuff, but always behind the safe wall of anonymity and indifference. Seeing as how the Basque Country is small however and I'm fairly recognisable, I have half a mind to just delete the whole account. I hope I don't wake up tomorrow to see that it has 10,000 likes because then I know I've really stepped my foot in it.

And all because of that blasted foreigner privilege again, when all I wanted to say was that between foreigners who live in the Basque Country, our language of communication should be Basque and apparently that's worth retweeting?

Speaking of foreigners, I met a Swedish woman in the town of Munitibar-Arbatzegi-Gerrikaitz. She met and married a Basque man from that town. She learned Basque and their children at home speak Basque, Swedish and Spanish. Isn't that wonderful?

There's a thing that is mentioned in the Lekeitio grammar, which I recognised when talking to a Lekeitio man on top of the mountain Otoio. In the Basque from Lekeitio, the trivalent forms of the auxiliary verb (nor-nori-nork), when the indirect object has a first person reference, are missing and replaced by the bivalent forms.

I started off asking the Lekeitio man for some advice and he finished the sentence off for me, using his Lekeitio dialect.

What I was meaning to say :

Lekittera ikasteko aholku batzuk emango dizkidazu?
Will you give me some tips to learn the Basque from Lekeitio?

What I got out:

Lekittera ikasteko aholku batzuk emango...

He finished it for me:

...nasus?

This form nasus however is morphologically identical to the bivalent form nasus (nor-nork).

Liburuak irakurri nasus
I have read the books

This collapsing of DO/IO object marking (but only for first person IO) has been noted in a few other dialects. It was first explicitly described by Lapurdi grammarian Pierre Lafitte in 1944, for the dialects of coastal towns like Hondarribia and Donibane Lohitzune, and from there came his designation of the linguistic phenomenon 'solécisme de la cotê'. But it exists or existed in the inland town of Sara too.

In our more linguistically neutral age, linguists call it 'datiboaren lekualdatzea', the shift in dative placement. None of the other towns immediately next to Lekeitio have this trait, and from Lekeitio to the other mentioned towns, it was a long distance to travel in previous centuries.

So was it independently evolved in all these places? Or did Basque sailors spread the trait starting from one place? But if so, why isn't it more widespread in other coastal towns?

I read a paper a couple of months ago about the phenomenon in modern day Donibane Lohitzune, where it seems to be non existent among the younger generation of Bascophones. I can't find the paper right now though.

The Lekeitio man was in his fifties or so. And the Lekeitio grammar that identified it as a distinguishing feature of Lekeitio vis a vis its Bizkaian neighbours, was written in the 90s. Who's to say that it's not in retrocess among the very young? In 2020, do kids and teens mark their objects in their verbs like their grandparents or parents do?

I'll do some eliciting of sentences in Lekeitio among younger people to see if that Lekeitio grammar needs updating...

If you want to see a map of where this phenomenon exists in the Basque Country, there is an awesome website called Euskara Bariazioan. It's a linguistic database that catalogues dialects down to the town level based on a list of linguistical characteristics. It's a truly impressive and useful tool from Basque linguists.

I've been staying in Lekeitio for the last couple of days, but depending on work I might be living here, at least for a couple of months.
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Re: Euskara (berriro)

Postby nooj » Mon Sep 21, 2020 12:10 am

I read something a couple months back..
Maybe it was an article in a newspaper that talked about why people learn minoritised languages and what's more, specific varieties of said languages.

Specifically with reference to Basque. In a society dominated by Spanish and French, learning Basque does bring certain benefits relating to jobs, but the majority of the benefits mentioned were cultural and social: the ability to enjoy bertsolaritza for example is something that thank God is only done and savoured in Basque.

Or to listen to Basque music, or to read Basque literature, or to get along with your neighbours...but there's always ways to get around that. You can listen to Basque music without knowing what it's about, or read the translation of lyrics (or get someone to translate it for you).

Which is why I guess the majority of Basques don't speak Basque and why most (?) adult foreigners don't learn Basque: because in the land where Spanish and French has invaded all levels of society, learning Basque is not necessary.

That is doubly true for the euskalkiak, the natural dialects of Basque. What would motivate a Basque learner to learn a specific Basque dialect, and not be content with standard Basque?

I can think of these. There may be more but for me these would be the most compelling:

- Because my family speaks or spoke it.
- Because my partner speaks it.
- Because the people in my town or city speak it.

Which again have to do with cultural or social reasons. To fit in. To be accepted. To be an 'authentic' member of your community. Speaking a specific dialect can be a marker of covert or insider prestige, in the absence of those factors that make a language prestigious in the conventional, top-down ways.

In choosing to spend time and effort in learning a natural Basque dialect, one is also investing time and effort in creating something that money can't buy: an identity.
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