Basque in Spain
Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana
Version française
Basque in CAV (Spain)
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

See: General introduction to the Basque language

[Top of page]

2. The language in the country

There is no dat for this topic.

[Top of page]

2.1. General information on the language community

There is no dat for this topic.

[Top of page]

2.2. Geographical and language background

In Spain, the Basque language (euskera) is spoken in Navarre and in the Autonomous Community of the Basque Country (Comunidad Autónoma Vasca, hereinafter referred to as CAV). Divided into three provinces (Araba, Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, the CAV has a total population of 2,068,927 inhabitants (1991 figures). The numerous migratory movements that the region has known in the course of history have had a great influence on the various levels of development as well as on the sociolinguistic situation. For example, during the sixties and seventies the province of Gipuzkoa and, to a lesser extent, that of Bizkaia experienced a great upsurge of industrial activity, which gave rise to rapid demographic growth. However, the eighties saw the end of the region's industrial power and prosperity and created a new set of circumstances; there ensued a significant fall in the birth rate, a considerable rise in unemployment, a loss of private investment and the reversal of the migratory pattern. The cultural origins of the population reflect fairly accurately the situation we have just described. In Bizkaia, where most of the region's heavy industry is located, and in Araba, where Vitoria, the administrative and political capital of the CAV, is situated, the proportion of first- and second-generation Basques reaches 55%, whereas in Gipuzkoa the percentage is perceptibly lower (40%). The population of the CAV is largely urban. Half of the population is distributed among seven communes with over 50,000 inhabitants each.

In sociolinguistic terms, the CAV is divided into four large zones on the basis of the percentage of Basque-speaking inhabitants (euskalduns):

(a) the zone containing the localities where 80% or more of the population speak Basque (covering 4% of the total population),

(b) the localities in which a significant proportion of the population (45 to 79%) speak Basque (20% of the population),

(c) the localities where the percentage of Basque speakers is between 20 and 44% (20% of the population), and

(d) the zone in which the percentage of Basque speakers is below 20% (56% of the population).

The way in which the population is distributed into these four broad sociolinguistic areas has a considerable influence on the use of Basque, because there has to be a critical mass, a threshold percentage of Basque speakers, before Basque can be widely spoken, given the great dissimilarity between the Spanish and Basque languages.

Spanish is the mother tongue of 74% of the population of the CAV. It is, however, important to note the emergence of more and more people with two main languages - Basque and Spanish - due to the considerable increase in the number of young euskalduns since Basque was introduced into the school system.

Development of linguistic competence, 1981 to 1991

 1981  1986 1991 
Euskalduns  22 25 26
Quasi-Euskalduns 15 17 20
Erdalduns 64 58 54

Note: In the specific context of the CAV, "quasi-euskalduns" are those who have a passive command of Basque, while the term "erdalduns" denotes those people who neither speak nor understand Basque.

As for the everyday use of Basque, the data provided by the 1991 census are as follows:

Use of languagesTotal
Mainly Basque13.88 % 
Basque and Spanish81 % 
Mainly Spanish77.51 % 
Other language0.51 % 

Basque is most commonly spoken within the family circle, and the further a speaker is from the family environment the less he uses Basque, with the exception of certain formal situations (dealings with administrative bodies, for example).

[Top of page]

2.3. General history and history of the language

See the general introduction to the Basque language.

[Top of page]

2.4. Legal status and official policies

The legal framework governing the status and use of the Basque language is defined by the Spanish Constitution of 1978 and by the Basque Autonomy Statute of 1979. The Statute lays down that Basque is the official language of the Autonomous Community alongside Castilian Spanish, the official language of Spain.

The law on the standardization and use of Euskera (statute No 10/1982) stipulates that all citizens of the CAV have the right to know and use both official languages, orally and in writing. The fundamental linguistic rights defined by the law are: (a) the right to address oneself to the administration and to any authority based in the CAV in Basque or Spanish, orally or in writing, and to have one's submission accepted by them, (b) the right to be educated in either of the official languages, (c) the right to receive all types of periodical publications and radio, television and other mass-media programmes in Basque, (d) the right to develop professional, political and trade-union activities in Basque, and (e) the right to address any meeting in Basque. Among other things, the law paved the way for the establishment of a set of basic standards for the formulation of linguistic policies: the Secretaría General de Política Lingüística (Secretariat-General for Linguistic Policy), the Consejo Asesor del Euskera (Consultative Council for the Basque Language), the Instituto Vasco de Administración Pública (Basque Institute of Public Administration) and the Instituto de Alfabetización y Reeuskaldunización de Adultos y de Regulaciòn de Euskaltegis (Institute for the Promotion of Literacy and Renewed Knowledge of Basque among Adults and for the Regulation of the Euskaltegis Adult Basque Training Organization.

As far as the official policies of the national government are concerned, Spanish is the predominant language in dealings with citizens, although government-run public services such as the Spanish National Railway Network and the Postal Administration are starting to introduce the use of Basque in their public notices and to organize Basque courses for their staff.

Besides the creation of the various bodies devoted specifically to linguistic policy, the main factors that have contributed to the gradual revival of the Basque language are the introduction of Basque into the education system in 1983, the establishment in the same year of Basque Radio and Television (EITB), the 1989 agreement on the funding of the Academy of the Basque Language Euskaltzaindia, the new regulations governing the teaching of Basque to adults (1981) and the standardization plan for the use of Basque by the various public administrative bodies (1989).

Lastly, it is important to emphasize the role that the various non-governmental organizations were able to play in the process of promoting Basque as a result of their firmly established roots in Basque society.

[Top of page]

3. The use of basque in various fields

3.1. Education

The teaching of Basque is governed by the abovementioned statute No 10/1982 and by Decree No 138/1983, which established the various linguistic models that operate within the school system: models A, B and D for nursery and primary education and models A and D for secondary and technical education. The Basque Public Education Act (statute No 1/1993) redefined these models as follows:

The linguistic qualifications for teaching posts in public schools within the CAV are laid down by the Law on Teaching Staff in Non-university Education (statute No 2/1993) as follows: linguistic level 1 is awarded to those who have complete command of Basque as a means of communication, while linguistic level 2 is also dependent on mastery of Basque as a vehicle of instruction.

Finally, special care is taken to instil knowledge of the history and culture of the Basque Country and of the other regions of Spain as the key to understanding the country's linguistic and cultural plurality.

Inspection of the education system is guaranteed not only by the Ministry of Education of the CAV but also by the Secretariat-General for Linguistic Policy, which confers regularly with Parliament on the adoption of specific measures of linguistic policy relating to education.

The introduction of models B and D into preschool education began in 1983; prior to that date, only the private schools - the Ikastolas - used Basque. At the present time, model D, in which Basque is the only language used - is followed with 41% of nursery-school children. The bilingual model B applies to 32% of the total nursery roll, while model A is used with 26%.

The situation in primary education, where the adoption of model B has been constantly increasing for some time and model A is in decline, is as follows: 28% of pupils are taught in accordance with model D (as against 13% in 1983), 28% are taught under model B (7% in 1983) and 44% are taught under model A (as opposed to 80% in 1983).

Basque plays a less prominent role in the early stages of secondary education, although this role is more important than it used to be. Basque is taught as a compulsory subject in all secondary schools. At that level, almost 80% of pupils (as against 95% in 1983) are taught under model A or are exempted from Basque classes (the number of exemptions is virtually insignificant), while model D applies to 18% of secondary pupils (3% in 1983).

As far as higher education is concerned, Basque is taught in colleges of education and is the teaching language in certain university faculties. At the University of the Basque Country (Euskal Herriko Unibertsitatea), for instance, 39% of the compulsory courses are taught in Basque. This means that in the 1993-94 session 5,154 university students had lectures and seminars in Basque. In addition, if they so wish, students may submit examination papers, assignments and dissertations in Basque.

[Top of page]

3.2. Judicial authorities

The Law of 1982 on the Standardization of the Use of Euskera laid down (a) that citizens may use the official language of their choice in dealings with the judiciary without being required to provide a translation, (b) that documents and law suits submitted in Basque are valid in every respect, (c) that the Basque Government has full power to promote the standardization of the use of Basque in the administration of justice within the CAV.

The actual use of Basque in court is rare, occurring only when particular witnesses are heard and in an occasional trial, since the majority of judges, prosecutors and other officers of the court have no command of Basque and since some of these professionals consider that the translation of proceedings entails unacceptable delays.

[Top of page]

3.3. Public authorities and services

Citizens have a legal right to use Basque orally or in writing in their dealings with the administration or with any other official body based in the CAV. Although in the case of national administrative authorities represented in the CAV the use of Basque is minimal, due to the shortage of Basque-speaking staff and of bilingual forms, we should emphasize the efforts that have made to ensure that the documents and public notices of the Spanish National Railway Network and Postal Administration are bilingual. In addition, the Basque courses for national civil servants are beginning to bear fruit, and although the use of Basque as a working language remains minimal, there has been an increase in civil servants' use of Basque when dealing with the public.

[Top of page]

3.4. Mass media and information technology

Until 1986 the newspapers published in the CAV were printed entirely in Spanish. That same year saw the appearance of two bilingual newspapers - Deia, which had a circulation of 106,000 by 1993, and Egin, with a circulation of 103,000 - although Basque currently accounts for less than 25% of the papers' total content. All of the Spanish-language newspapers in the CAV regularly include supplements in Basque. An important innovation was the appearance in 1990 of Euskaldunon Egunkaria, a newspaper printed entirely in Basque and distributed in all the territories where Basque is spoken (CAV, Navarre and the Iparralde area in the French département of Pyrénées-Atlantiques), although its share of the market is still very limited today (17,000 copies, i.e. 09% of the entire newspaper readership).

There are three magazines entirely in Basque: Argia, a weekly general-interest magazine with a circulation of 10,000, Jakin, a fortnightly cultural magazine with a circulation of 3,500, and Aizu, a monthly publication devoted to the teaching of Basque (circulation 400).

The local Basque-language press (around thirty literary, religious, scientific and other magazine titles) is certainly more developed in the sense that it can count on a total readership of around 250,000. These are free magazines, which are funded by advertising and by grants from the various public institutions in the Basque Country.

With regard to radio, most stations only broadcast in Spanish, although the creation of numerous local radio stations has considerably increased the presence of Basque in recent years. The only public radio station that broadcasts exclusively in Basque and covers the entire territory of the CAV is Euskadi Irratia, which reaches an average audience of 84,000 listeners. Two private radio stations also broadcast exclusively in Basque.

Lastly, the most important development to affect the profile of Basque in the media was undoubtedly the creation of Euskal Telebista (ETB), whose first channel transmits all its programmes in Basque and has an audience of 207,000 viewers, representing an 11% share of the market. On the other hand, the Basque region of the State television network and the private channels scarcely ever use Basque.

[Top of page]

3.5. The Arts

In 1991 a total of 966 books in Basque were published; 31% of these were children's literature, 29% were technical books, and 27% were school textbooks.

The development of Basque in traditional and modern music has been quite prodigious over the past few years. The same applies to the theatre, with 16 comedy companies performing entirely in Basque and 23 bilingual companies.

The cinema industry in the CAV is developing almost exclusively in Spanish, although in the last few years six bilingual films and four films in Basque have been made. All filmmakers subsidized by the Basque Government are required to produce a copy of their film dubbed into Basque, which is not normally used for commercial purposes unless it is shown on the first channel of ETB (in 1994 ETB was scheduled to transmit between 2,500 and 3,000 hours of films in Basque). Moreover, the Basque Government is supporting the production of a series of videos with a Basque soundtrack for marketing to the general public.

In the domain of festivals and other cultural events, the Basque language enjoys a high profile as a result of the vigorous efforts of numerous associations, supported by the regional Government and local authorities. Promotion of the knowledge and use of Basque is the aim of several such activities.

The Basque Government has been very active in promoting Basque culture through various bodies, particularly the Directorates-General for Cultural Creation and Dissemination, for the Cultural Heritage and for the Promotion of Basque, which have established a host of support mechanisms to encourage the use of Basque: the awarding of grants for the development of cultural programmes and activities, specialized trade fairs, prizes for new Basque literature and subsidies for theatre productions, music, cinema, etc.

Lastly, special mention should be made of the creation of terminological research programmes through the official Translation and Terminology Service of the Basque Institute of Public Administration and the UZEI Institute. The latter is involved in the various programmes run by the Academy of the Basque Language (Euskaltzaindia) and has created a terminological database - Euskalterm - in Basque, Spanish, French and English.

[Top of page]

3.6. The business world

Outside of the public administration, command of Basque is not an essential job qualification, with the exception of some posts requiring direct contact with the public, especially in the service sector. Nevertheless, competence in Basque is an important consideration in the process of selecting candidates for a large number of jobs.

Following numerous popular campaigns for more vigorous promotion of the use of Basque in the socioeconomic sphere, the Secretariat-General for Linguistic Policy has set up numerous pilot programmes for intervention in the primary, secondary and tertiary sectors and well as establishing agreements with local authorities and industrial and commercial enterprises with a view to extending the use of Basque in their internal and external activities.

[Top of page]

3.7. Family and social use of the language

According to a sociolinguistic survey conducted in the CAV in 1991, 67% of Basque speakers speak to their children more often in Basque, 13% use Basque and Spanish in equal measure, and 20% use more Spanish than Basque. Although it is impossible to obtain reliable data on the situation in the past, it also appears that attitudes to the use of Basque outside the family circle have changed, with Basque speakers tending more and more to use Basque in other domains. It should also be pointed out that a high percentage of couples come from the same linguistic group, both among the euskalduns (74%) and among the erdalduns (92%).

32% of people over 70 years of age had Basque as their mother tongue, a percentage that gradually decreases, bottoming out at 16.5% in the age group born between 1972 and 1976. For those born after that date, the percentage starts to rise again, reaching 19% for children aged between 2 and 4 in 1991.

As far as popular attitudes to the developing status of the Basque language are concerned, 83% consider that the use of Basque is more widespread nowadays than about ten years ago, and 85% expect a further increase in use of the language in the near future.

Lastly, the number of young people who are functionally bilingual is increasing continuously at the expense of monolingual euskalduns and erdalduns. However, these new recruits to bilingualism express themselves more easily in Spanish than in Basque, since they are native Spanish speakers who have subsequently acquired their command of Basque.

[Top of page]

3.8. Transnational exchanges

Over the past few years there have been numerous exchanges in the domain of teacher training and the in-service training of teachers, programmes to standardize the corpus of the language, for the introduction of standardized road signs, the publication of books and the organization of cultural activities. In this respect, the importance of two collaborative ventures by the Basque Government and the Regional Council of Pyrénées-Atlantiques should be stressed. The first was the agreement to conduct the sociolinguistic survey of 1991, and the second was the agreement enabling people in the Iparralde area of Pyrénées-Atlantiques to receive ETB programmes. These agreements were signed in the framework of the Aquitaine-Euskadi Cooperation Fund, which was set up to promote cross-border cooperation in the domains of economics, finance, ecology, science, technology, education, universities, culture, social affairs, etc.

[Top of page]

4. Conclusion

The most important aspect of the present social status of the Basque language is the way in which knowledge of the language is growing in its demographic, geographical and functional dimensions.

The growth in the usage of Basque is particularly evident amongst the 5 - 14 year old age bracket. These are the young people who have grown up with linguistic normalisation in education.

The presence of Basque has, however, also grown in the areas of public administration and the mass media, as well as society in general.

However, the degree of presence of Basque is not uniform across all groups, areas of use, age groups or communities. In addition one cannot say that the decline in usage has been fully checked.

[Top of page]