The mysterious Basque is the mother tongue of only few people, spoken in Vizcaya, a northern province in Spain. It is not similar to any major European language in use today and its origins are unknown (some theories exist). As far as I remember it arrived or developed already around 4,000 years ago (correct me if I'm wrong) and unlike other languages at that time it survived until today.

What is the reason for this? Why is Basque still alive? Has it something to do with the remoteness of the Pyrenees?

  • The Basque language is spoken in several provinces in Spain and France, not only Biscay. It is used in the Spanish autonomous communities of Basque Country and Navarra and the French department of Pyrénées-Atlantiques. Nov 7, 2021 at 21:18

2 Answers 2


"The best thing that Euskara could contribute to the humanity is to die out" - Miguel de Unamuno

Euskara, Basque language, is a very interesting subject. It survived on two time levels. First, being an ancient language which is still in use, and now, being a minority language which is still in use in 21st century, where we have to deal with stronger and stronger assimilation of weaker cultures around the world.

On the other hand, there were only two times in history (both during Middle Ages) when all the people speaking Basque language on both sides of Pyrenees created common country - Duchy of Vasconia in 7th century and Kingdom of Pamplona in the 11th. Both of them had the opportunity to use Basque language as an official, but what's strange, in both situations, Basque language haven't been used in their official documents.

So if we're speaking about how Basque language survived the times of Roman Empire, when most of the others were forgotten forever, the main reason is quite simple - a longtime alliance between Basques and Romans. While Romans continued extermination of other tribes, like Celtiberians, Basques could easily settle on their lands. This way their culture and language were saved to medieval times.

Of course, as you've mentioned it, we can't forget about geographic location of Basque Country. Situated in mountains, far from trade routes and without good land for agriculture, it didn't have much importance for ages, so the native culture could freely develop. That helped f.e. when almost all the Peninsula was conquered by the Moors, or when there was a strong pressure from Christian, Latin culture against Basque-speaking pagans. In the contrary, right now, the Basque Country is known for being among those regions of Europe which are the most religious, with the difference that now it's helping to preserve old traditions.

From the late Middle Ages it was also a good thing for Euskara that thanks to politic reasons, even when Spain became important kingdom, it still remained multicultural.

Later, it's worth to point out the neutral status during World Wars, which was also partly connected with geographic location of all peninsula. When many other cultures suffered from oppressions, the people of Basque Country weren't affected at all.

Right now, I'd also count a longtime support of Spanish government, regarding cultural differences and minorities. This way people in various regions of Spain (Catalonia, Galicia) speak different languages as their main one.

Of course I can imagine a Spanish historian arguing with the last paragraph, but in comparison with other European countries, the situation of minority cultures in Spain still looks much better.

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    Both of them had the opportunity to use Basque language as an official, but what's strange, in both situations, Basque language haven't been used in their official documents. That is far from strange. For many European languages there are no written texts earlier than the XI century(and that includes Euskera); even for a long time after the official written language was Latin (which had the advantages of being "universal", being relatively well know -specially in the Church-, having a well defined grammatic and lots of existing literature).
    – SJuan76
    Apr 10, 2017 at 12:04
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    I'd like to point out a couple of things in your answer, If you don't mind: 1) Regarding to the government support for the Euskera, the language has been under high pressure and several prohibitions until the transition, starting from the middle ages. For example, under the Franco's dictatorship, its use was forbidden for 35 years approximately. Similar examples can be found on the book titled 'El libro negro del euskera' (Spanish), which talks about different represssion and prohibition cases trough history. Jan 13, 2020 at 17:07
  • And 2) Regarding to the religious situation in the Basque Country, just to point out that it is actually one of the most (if not the most) secularised region in all Spain (I haven't compared it to the rest of Europe, though), with roughly 25% non-religious and 12% atheists. Jan 13, 2020 at 17:08

The matter of the languages of Basque country, Catalonia and Galicia difference with the rest is due to historical factors. The Spanish or Castilian is the main language of Spain because is the most spoken and born in former kingdom of Castilla. Spain is the union of Spanish kingdoms. The Spanish language is the latinised language of the ancient Iberians. Galician and Basque languages were in the northwestern corner with less influence of Romans and maintained during long time its Celtic/Iberian heritage. While Catalan is the influence of France, Italian and Spanish.

Those languages were under protection due to Spain being decentralized in major part. In the 18th century, after succession war started with the centralizing model. This was the first time that Catalan was in menace. During the next century, the Basque and Galician languages were in menace.

Basque country and Catalonia were the most demanded regions that wanted to recover this autonomy respected by the kings over the years. That's why regional parties were successful in the first part of 20th century in these regions. However, the Civil war and Franco's repression provoked the growth of the pro-independence parties.

In Basque country, PNV was the main principal party of the region and one of its demands was the recovery of the autonomy. It's rivals were the Carlists, the Spanish faction favorable to recovering autonomy. None of the Centralist Spanish parties succeeded in Basque country.

In Catalonia, the conservative Catalan regional party was the principal; later, it was replaced with ERC, because Catalonia is more socialist than Basque country that demanded the autonomy or even go through the federalism.

In both cases, none of them wanted to break Spain, but the Franco regime radicalized the position of these parties. The PNV received the split of his youth supporters forming the future ETA, and the ERC decided to move for independence. However, in the 1970's, when democracy was recovered, the majority of the Basques and Catalans favored the moderation and deal of regional parties of the PNV and CIU in Madrid. The negotiation and the moderation in 70's provoked the return of the autonomies. Both languages have gained protection written into the Spanish Constitution.

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    I've tried to clean up your writing as much as possible (I recognize that English is most likely not your primary language). If you dislike my edits, please feel free to roll my edits back, as I will take no offense.
    – CGCampbell
    May 13, 2016 at 15:14

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