Dialectal fragmentation is unavoidable. If a language is alive, it is bound to change, and depending on the geographical spread of innovations, dialects and varieties will emerge. Unifying forces may arise as well in order to counter this divisive tendency. Unlike fragmentation, linguistic unification is not in the nature of things. Instead, these are conscious developments promoted by the speakers of a language in order to understand each other fast and comfortably. In this section, we will discuss the written or “literary” dialects of Basque that have been developed at different historical points as well as the development of unified or standard Basque (euskara batua) since 1964.


The first steps towards the development of standard Basque or euskara batua were taken only relatively recently, in 1964. There are some reasons that explain this late development. Basque has not had official status until the last few decades and, consequently, until recently it was not used in the schools or in the administration. Historically, Basque has not been much used for any other written purposes either. French and Gascon had that function in the Northern Basque Country, and Spanish in the Southern Basque Country. The communicative domain of Basque language was thus restricted to oral communication within certain areas, and for that purpose, the local or regional variety was enough. Nevertheless, apart from these main reasons, other facts have to be taken into account as well to explain the late development of a unified form of Basque; in particular, the influence of the opinions expressed by Larramendi and Arana Goiri.

In the foreword to his 1745 dictionary, Manuel de Larramendi (1690-1766) wrote that all dialects were valuable and that all of them should be used. This was written in the heat of an argument. According to some of his contemporaries, Basque was an uncouth language, lacking rules of grammar and impossible to be reduced to them. It was for this reason that it was fragmented into many dialects and completely distorted. In order to confront that view, Larramendi made the claim that God himself created Basque and its dialects at the Tower of Babel. Hence, all Basque dialects were valuable and correct. This viewpoint led to the idea of strengthening all dialects, and consequently, to the development of regional written varieties of Basque—the so-called literary dialects—instead of the development of a single standard language for written purposes.

When Sabino Arana Goiri (1865-1903) founded the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV-EAJ), he defended the idea of an independent Basque Country, with a federal structure, where each province in the federation should have its own standard dialect. In his essay Lecciones de ortografía del euskera bizkaino [“Lessons on the orthography of Bizkaian Basque”], he wrote that six dialects were needed; not one common standard language. Notice that, although traditionally seven Basque provinces are distinguished, in Sabino Arana’s conception Low Navarre would be part of Navarre and, therefore, six dialects would be sufficient (Arana Goiri 1896 [1980]: 822).

Three main periods can be determined on the path to the unification of Basque: a) The period before the 20th century, b) the first half of the 20th century, and c) the period after 1950. Let us consider these three periods one by one.

Before the 20th century

Although not many steps towards unification were taken before the 20th century, we find some progress in two areas.

On the one hand, two dialects become socially dominant: The speech of the coast of Lapurdi and that of the region of Beterri in Gipuzkoa. In the 17th century, Lapurdian clergymen who were in favor of the Catholic Counter-Reformation published high-quality written work, including P. Axular’s masterpiece, Gero (1643). Due to this publishing activity, the variety of Basque used in this body of work, which reflected the Basque spoken in the area of Donibane-Lohizune, Ziburu and Sara, became the model to follow for writers from the Northern Basque Country. Regarding the Southern Basque Country, there was a revival in favor of Basque starting in the 18th century, which grew stronger in Gipuzkoa, and the work written there, particularly the books by Agustin Kardaberatz from Hernani, created a model in this area.

Some steps were also taken to regulate orthography. In this too, the Northern Basque Country was the pioneer. Martin Duhalde (1809) made the argument that instead of blindly following the orthographic rules of French, it was more appropriate to take Basque’s distinctive phonological structure into account. Jean-Pierre Darrigol (1827) followed Duhalde’s lead, proposing five main orthographic innovations: a) instead of writing g or gu depending on the following vowel, g alone was to be written, b) c and qu were to be excluded in favor of k, c) c and ç were excluded in favor of z, d) y was excluded in favor of i, and e) v was excluded in favor of b.

Augustin Xaho’s (1810-1858) influence in the spreading of these orthographic conventions is undeniable, as well as Prince Bonaparte’s (1813-1891). It was the latter author who brought these orthographic rules to the Southern Basque Country. At the end of the 19th century, Sabino Arana Goiri and Resurrección M. Azkue each published an essay on orthography, both around 1896.

The first half of the 20th century

After Sabino Arana Goiri’s death, a new era started with the Basque Nationalist Party’s magazine Euzkadi. In 1910, the editors of the magazine asked its readers whether the unification of the Basque language was necessary, and if so, how and what was to be united. The opinion in favor of unification prevailed, and several important essays were published in this connection in the pages of this magazine. We must highlight Federico Belaustegigoitia’s (1916) and Koldobika Eleizalde’s (1919a,1919b) writings. Although these authors were both members of the Basque Nationalist Party, they did not agree with Arana Goiri on this matter and considered standardization indispensable. Also, in spite of the fact that both of them hailed from the western area, they favored Gipuzkoan Basque for the unification of the language.

The Basque Nationalist Party, however, did not favor the unification of Basque. The group Euzkeltzale-Bazkuna argued against unification in the essay Sobre la unificación del euzkera [“On the unification of Basque”] in 1916. Thus, the discussion that the magazine Euzkadi started on establishing the foundations of a common standard language was cut off, and those in favor of unification tried to achieve this through other means: In 1918, Euskaltzaindia, the Academy of the Basque Language, was created in the Southern Basque Country under the aegis of the four provincial governments.

From its inception, the goal of Euskaltzaindia was the unification of Basque. Two of his most-prominent members, Arturo Campion and Pierre Broussain, wrote an essay on unification and organized a four-day conference to discuss this essay. Sixteen more essays were read at this conference, in favor and against unification. When analyzing these essays, we come to the following tally:

  • 1. In favor of unification: 12.
  • 2. Against unification: 5.

When looking at the numbers, those in favor of unifying the written language clearly prevailed. There was, however, a strong voice among the opponents: The Basque Nationalist Party itself. In fact, there were differences even among those in favor of unification. We can group the opinions in favor of unification as follows:

  • a. In favor of Gipuzkoan Basque: 4.
  • b. In favor of “complemented Gipuzkoan” (Gipuzkoan complemented with elements taken from other dialects): 2.
  • c. In favor of “complemented Basque”: 2.
  • d. In favor of a combination of Gipuzkoan and Lapurdian: 1.
  • e. In favor of Bizkaian Basque: 1.
  • f. In favor of reconstructing “Original Basque”: 1.

Considering this situation, Euskaltzaindia decided to give up on the unification project. In the event, its president, Resurrección M. Azkue, kept working in favor of his own proposal, “complemented Gipuzkoan”, and under his leadership, a small group of followers gathered around the project. In Azkue’s view, Gipuzkoan Basque was the most solid foundation for unification, but he also saw the need to use other dialects to complement it for the creation of a unified standard language. By doing that, a unified form of Basque would be richer and could be accepted by all Basques. His proposal seemed reasonable, but it did not succeed. The main reason was that Azkue was not specific at all about the details of his proposal, and in order to “complement” Gipuzkoan Basque, different authors included whatever they saw fit, without any clear criteria.

The second half of the 20th century

The long military dictatorship that followed the Spanish Civil War (1939-1975) almost resulted in the extinction of Basque. It was around 1960 that Basque society started to wake up. The first ikastolak (Basque schools) were created around this time, and a few years later night schools were also founded. Their goal was both to teach those who knew Basque to read and write in their language, and to teach the language to those who did not speak it, and had to start learning it from the very beginning. In order to move forward with these projects, textbooks and all kinds of materials were needed, and for that, the unification of Basque was essential.

There were many who wanted to fight against the prohibition and punishment for speaking Basque and wanted to use it in public. Those who were brave enough wanted to bring Basque from the farms into the streets, to spread it from the oral to the written domain and from their close knit communities to the whole Basque Country. All of this led to a widespread realization that it was necessary to unify Basque.

Among those in favor of standardizing the language, the first question that arose was which dialect to choose as the basis of the unified language. Three solutions were proposed. Some were in favor of the Classical Lapurdian language of the 17th century. This view was promoted in intellectual circles centered in Bilbao, including writers like Xabier Kintana and Imanol Berriatua and the magazine Anaitasuna. Some other Bizkaian authors were even more precise. In their opinion, standard Basque already existed: Joanes Leizarraga crafted it when he translated the New Testament into Basque in 1571. Federico Krutwig (1921-1998) made this claim in the 1950s. In his view, Leizarraga’s writings contained the most elegant and sophisticated type of language ever used in Basque.

Others were of the opinion that Central or Gipuzkoan Basque would be a more appropriate foundation for a standard language. Jose Luis Alvarez Enparantza “Txillardegi” and Koldo Mitxelena were in this camp. Their reasons were the following:

  • a. It was better to use a type of language that was alive rather than one from centuries ago.
  • b. Since Gipuzkoa is in the middle of the Basque Country, its speech is the easiest to understand for all Basque speakers.
  • c. Along with the Western dialect, it is the one with the greatest number of speakers.
  • d. The urban areas of Gipuzkoa were the ones where the greatest number of Basque speakers was concentrated: Pasaia-Lezo-Errenteria-Oiartzun, Donostia, Andoain-Hernani, Tolosa, Beasain-Ordizia, Urretxu-Zumarraga-Legazpi, Azkoitia-Azpeitia, Zumaia-Zarautz-Orio, etc. From these urban areas, standard speech could spread with ease.
  • e. It was a prestigious variety. Starting in the 18th century, Gipuzkoan Basque was used by priests and monks, verse-singers (bertsolaris) and writers alike. In the Southern Basque Country, the speech of Tolosa, in particular, was considered “correct Basque.”

At first, there was an intense dispute among the defenders of these three models, but at the end, Gipuzkoan or Central Basque was chosen as the foundation for the standard. Once the dialectal foundation was chosen, regulation was needed: orthography, morphology and the exact form of words (arrain or arrai ‘fish’, beldur or bildur ‘fear’, etc., etc.) had to be settled. At this point, pronunciation was not considered, since it was a matter of unifying the written language. The decision was made not to exclude anything in the lexicon and syntax. In other words, it was accepted that dialectal words and distinctive structures should have their place in standard Basque.

Regarding morphology and the shape of words, on the face of it, the choice of verbal forms for the standard language should have been the most difficult puzzle to solve, given the multiplicity of available options; but, in fact, this problem was solved quite rapidly. It was orthography that caused the most problems. In particular, two orthographic rulings of  the Basque Academy turned out to be controversial: the decision to keep the grapheme h, and the decision not to indicate the palatalization of consonants due to a preceding i orthographically; that is, writing in, il, or it: baina ‘but’, langile ‘worker’, ditu ‘s/he has them’ (instead of baiña, langille, dittu). In the Southern Basque Country, and mainly, in Bizkaia, people concerned with the Basque language were sharply divided in two groups regarding these orthographic matters. The future of standard Basque was at stake. Some years had to pass before matters improved, but eventually things were solved somehow.

Let me add that, in my view, it made a lot of sense to include the grapheme h in the orthographical system of the standard language. This letter has always been used in texts in the Northern Basque Country. In addition, even if the letter h was not part of the Southern orthographic tradition, it appears that, centuries ago, aspiration in pronunciation occurred throughout the Basque Country. In fact, without writing h, problems would arise. For instance, after the loss of aspiration, the original word aho ‘mouth’ was and is pronounced ago, abo, aba or ao depending on the dialect. In this situation, it was logical to choose the original form for the written standard. Concerning palatalized sounds, they do not occur everywhere in the Basque Country. In some places this pronunciation has not spread: In most of Lapurdi and Low Navarre, Aezkoa and Burunda, palatalization is almost completely absent. In places where it has spread, it does not always have the same strength. Palatalization is weak in Zuberoa, the east of Navarre and in some areas of western Bizkaia (Arratia, Zeberio, Orozko and Txorierri). Taking this situation into account, the Euskaltzaindia’s decision was correct. It is preferable not to indicate palatalized consonant in the spelling, and let speakers pronounce the relevant words in their own way.

The consequences of standardization in Basque

Standard Basque or euskara batua has made its way into Basque society since it was first developed. At this stage, it is possible to discuss some of the consequences of the standardization process. To begin with, I think the decision to base the standard on the Central dialect was correct. Most of the decisions taken in the specification of the details of the standard have been correct as well. Apart from that, the existence of a standard has been highly beneficial for Basque society. These are the outcomes I would highlight:

  • a. All Basque speakers can now communicate with each other in Basque; there is no need to use another language.
  • b. Doors have been opened for the normalization of Basque: The language can now be used in education, administration, media, and all types of written communication.
  • c. It is possible for native speakers of other languages to learn Basque; many “new Basque-speakers” have in fact learned the language since 1964.
  • d. A bridge has been built over the administrative border and the North and the South are closer than they were.
  • e. Basque has greater prestige. It is no longer a collection of “dialects;” but a real “language.”

On the other hand, in my opinion, some questionable decisions were made regarding the propagation of the language throughout society. I will mention three:

  • a. There has been no real consideration of differences between how to promote standard Basque in areas where Basque was spoken and in areas that were monolingual in Spanish. Standard Basque was introduced in the same way in monolingual Spanish-speaking towns like Tudela and Vitoria-Gasteiz and in strongly Basque-speaking Lekeitio and Azpeitia, to give some examples. In areas where Basque was widely used, the presence of the local dialect was not considered.
  • b. Euskara batua has been presented as “good” and “appropriate” Basque, so that non-standard Basque would tend to be considered “bad” and without rules of grammar. Due to this, dialects were set on a losing path. Regarding the future, it would be advisable to view the standard language and the dialects as complementary, each with its on domains of use.
  • c. Euskara batua has only been developed for formal endeavors: for textbooks, literature, etc. As a consequence, in areas of the Basque Country where the language had disappeared and is being reintroduced, there is no informal register in Basque. Neither is there a form of language that could be used in informal situations in activities involving Basque-speakers from different dialectal areas. An “informal” or “colloquial standard” has yet to be developed.



Although the codification of standard Basque or euskara batua started only in 1964, some regional models for writing have existed since the 17th century. Six written or literary dialects of Basque have been developed over the centuries:

Coastal Lapurdian

This written dialect was developed in the 17th century by Lapurdian clergymen involved in the Catholic Counter-Reformation. The development of this written variety occurred naturally. It should be kept in mind that there was not any obvious model before then. Before the 17th century, only two books in Basque had been published in the Northern Basque Country: Bernard Etxepare’s (1545) book Linguae Vasconum Primitiae, and Joanes Leizarraga’s (1571) Calvinist translation of the New Testament. Each of these authors essentially used his own speech. Etxepare wrote in the variety of Garazi, and Leizarraga, apparently, in that of Beskoitze. Neither of these two models had any followers.

In the 17th century, the Lapurdian Coast was the most advanced area in the Northern Basque Country. The main urban areas (Donibane-Lohizune and Ziburu) were located there and they were the most economically strong. Consequently, the readership for books written in Basque was mostly found in this zone. Moreover, the writers themselves hailed from this same area. Working together, they published high quality work; including the literary masterpiece of this school, Gero ‘Later’ by P. Axular, parish priest of the town of Sara. This literary activity brought the Coastal dialect of Lapurdi to a prominent position.

Unfortunately, the predominance of Coastal Lapurdian as a written dialect was short-lived. It started in 1617, when Eztebe Materra published his Dotrina christiana, and ended in 1643 with Axular’s Gero. Nevertheless, its influence never completely faded. The Basque of Sara is still considered prestigious, especially in the Northern Basque Country.


Linguistically speaking, Zuberoan is a very distinctive dialect, and historically its speakers have lived quite apart from other Basque speakers; its administration, church and economy being more closely linked to the Gascon-speaking region of Béarn. This explains why Zuberoans used their own dialect in their written work. Nonetheless, writers like Tartas and Oihenart, for instance, were familiar with the Coastal dialect. Perhaps because the school of writers who used Coastal Lapurdian was so short lived, Zuberoans did not feel the need to adopt this model.

Beterri Gipuzkoan

The first revival in favor of Basque occurred in the mid 18th century, and Gipuzkoa was its center. By this time, the economy of the Lapurdian Coast had declined considerably, and the Basque language played a very limited role in the life of the region. Therefore, Basque activists in Gipuzkoa did not pay any particular attention to the Coastal Lapurdian dialect. In Gipuzkoa, the urban centers (Donostia/San Sebastián, Hernani, Andoain, Tolosa) were located in the Beterri region, and the promoters of the Basque language resorted to the Basque spoken there. The Jesuit Agustin Kardaberatz (1703-1770) composed work of very elegant style, which contributed to increasing the reputation and fame of this dialect. In the Southern Basque Country, the speech of Tolosa has been considered the best and most refined.

Markina Bizkaian

The revival of Basque in Bizkaia occurred at the beginning of the 19th century. Juan Antonio Mogel (1745-1804) was its leader, but truth to be told, Mogel himself did not intend to make the dialect of Bizkaia a literary dialect. He published his first book, Eracasteac ‘Instructions’ (1800) in the dialect of Gipuzkoa. His reasoning behind this decision was that the book would reach a larger readership that way. He believed that most Basques could understand Gipuzkoan Basque, and thus took the writings of Kardaberatz and the Gipuzkoan Basque of Beterri as his models.

Mogel’s decision to write in Gipuzkoan was not understood by some of his fellow Bizkaian priests. In their view, it simply was not right for a Bizkaian priest to publish in Gipuzkoan Basque, the dialect of another province. Because of this critical reaction, Mogel published a second version of his book, this time written in Bizkaian Basque, or more precisely, in the speech of Markina, his hometown, in 1803.

In the aftermath of this dispute, the idea of developing a literary dialect based on Bizkaian speech took root, even though Mogel did not agree with this point of view. When he wrote, Mogel had the whole Basque Country and the unity of the language in mind, and he saw writing in the Gipuzkoan variety of Beterri as the best way to reach the widest Basque readership possible. On the other hand, when he wrote for people in his geographical vicinity, he used the speech of Markina, not a type of unified Bizkaian.

Given the high quality of Mogel’s works, however, the variety of Markina, in which he wrote, became a model for many who came after him, and this is how the Basque of Markina became a literary dialect. This written model was mainly successful in the eastern part of Bizkaia, in the regions of Durangaldea and Lea-Artibai. Prince Louis-Lucien Bonaparte (1813-1891) also played a direct role in this. When he needed something written in Bizkaian Basque to provide a model for this dialect, he chose the speech of Markina. Later, at the end of the 19th century, Sabino Arana Goiri (1865-1903) promoted the Basque of Markina as well, mostly because of the admiration that he had for P.P. Astarloa, a writer from Durango who had used this written model. After that, this written variety did not have any more relevant followers and its use declined.

Unified Bizkaian

There are two main subdialects in Bizkaia: The easterly and the westerly subdialects. The followers of Mogel were from the eastern area, but writers from the western zone of Bizkaia did not find Mogel’s model as close to their own speech and took a different path. At first, things were carried out sensibly, as we see in Pedro Antonio Añibarro’s (1748-1830) writings, but things got off the rails later. Because of a misguided desire to write in “pure” Bizkaian, some authors made an effort to make their written Bizkaian as different as possible from other dialects, giving priority to forms only used in Bizkaia, many times including some very recent innovations found only in some small corner of this province. On the other hand, any features that Bizkaian Basque has in common with other dialects were looked upon with suspicion and often attributed to contamination from Gipuzkoan. We can see this in Juan Mateo Zabala’s (1848) grammar. He regarded forms like nebazan ‘I had them’ and gintzan ‘we were’ as the true Bizkaian verb forms, as opposed to Gipuzkoan nituen and ginen. In this, he was completely wrong: nituen and ginen are common Basque, whereas nebazan and gintzan are recent analogical creations that have arisen in some small corners of Bizkaia. As J. M. Zabala’s grammar was the first grammar of Bizkaian Basque, it was very influential.

Towards the end of the 19th century, another negative trend hit Bizkaian Basque: Purism. There were two tendencies within the puristic movement, Arana Goiri’s and Azkue’s. Arana Goiri attempted to purify the language by removing all foreign elements; but Azkue’s behavior was even more pernicious. He saw Basque as a damaged language, in need of repair, and he believed that the way to fix it was to go back the roots of the language. Since the roots of the Basque language are actually unknown, he made them up. Due to all of this, Bizkaian Basque noticeably distanced itself from other dialects from the 19th century on. Not only that; it distanced itself from its original nature.


After Coastal Lapurdian had lost its unifying force, writers from Lapurdi and Low Navarre no longer had a clear model to follow; and each one used the speech of their own local area. Nevertheless, as time passed, some tendencies became predominant and spread and thus unity was regained. It seems that the Catholic Church was the main promoter of regional linguistic unity, since priests needed a model for the Catholic Mass and prayer books to be used in Lapurdi and Low Navarre. In fact, it was a priest who specified and regulated the model: Pierre Lafitte, with this Grammaire basque (navarro-labourdin littéraire), published in 1944.

Some outcomes and comments

Written or literary dialects have been successful and long-lived in the Basque Country. Larramendi and Arana Goiri and their followers were some of their staunchest supporters. Larramendi wrote that God created Basque and its dialects, and therefore, that the dialects were all valid and should be used. Truth to be told, he expressed that in the heat of an argument, as some others believed that dialectal fragmentation was a sign of a broken language, the result of Basque being an uncouth and unruly language.

Larramendi presented two solutions. Sometimes, he expressed the idea that Basques should use their own dialect, but be able to understand also the other dialects. Some other times, however, he mentioned the Ancient Greek model, where different dialects were used for different literary genres.

Sabino Arana Goiri was also against developing a single unified Basque language. Because he defended a federal structure for the Basque Country, he claimed that each historical province should hold on to its differential characteristics, including its own dialect. Many of his followers and fellow members of the Basque Nationalist Party followed this view on the language as well.

If we consider the consequences of the development of literary dialects, we can see that they brought, at least, one positive outcome: they have been a unifying instrument for the language. When considering the possible drawbacks, there are two that come to mind:

  • a. They have hindered the unification of the language in the entire Basque Country.
  • b. The wish to differentiate each dialect clearly from the others has contributed to deepeneng and enlarging the differences that existed among them.



When languages are spoken in large areas, and especially, in more than one country, they tend to be adapted to the way of speaking in each place and “local standards” are created. For example, English is spoken in many countries and, thus, local standards have developed in the United States, Australia, Belize, United Kingdom, the Philippines, South Africa, Hong Kong, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Jamaica, Canada, Malaysia, Singapur, Trinidad and Tobago, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, etc.

Closer to Basque, there is variation as well in the form of standard Spanish that is used in Argentina, Bolivia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Spain, Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Chile, Uruguay, Venezuela, and in other countries. The same holds true for French: Within French, we can find different local standards in Belgium, France, Haiti, Cameroon, Canada, Congo, Luxembourg, Mali, Morocco, Monaco, Réunion, Senegal and Switzerland.

Those local standards incorporate words and idioms from each country or region, and often also some distinctive phonological, morphological and syntactic characteristics. In the case of the Basque Country, it would be beneficial to allow for some variation or flexibility in the standard, since there are substantial differences among dialects, from Zuberoa to Bizkaia. The goal should be clear. On the one hand, we must guarantee the unity of the language, so that all speakers can understand each other easily and comfortably; but at the same time, speakers must be provided with models that are as close as possible to their own natural way of speaking. At the local level, local linguistic models should have a place in schools, administration, institutions and media, as well as all messages, notes and advertisements with a restricted local audience.


Here I shall specify some of the linguistic features where flexibility in the standard would be desirable, taking the current dialects into account (for further details see Zuazo 2014)


I will divide this section in three parts: a) vowels, b) consonants, and c) accentuation. Let us analyze these aspects individually.


There is only one feature to be mentioned in this section: The presence of the vowel ü in the area of Zuberoa, in words like lagüna.


Four phenomena can be highlighted:

  • 1. The pronunciation of word-initial j-. There are three main pronunciations of this letter:
    • a. yan (palatal approximant) ‘to eat’, in Lapurdi, Low Navarre, large areas of Navarre and western Bizkaia.
    • b. dxan (voiced prepalatal fricative), in Zuberoa and central Bizkaia.
    • c. jan (voiceless velar or postvelar fricative), in all of Gipuzkoa, the west of Navarre and eastern Bizkaia.
  • 2. Aspiration, still present in the Northern Basque Country, especially in Zuberoa.
  • 3. Palatalization of in, il and it. There are three geographical areas regarding variation in this phenomenon:
    • a. No palatalization: In most of Lapurdi and Low Navarre, Aezkoa and Burunda.
    • b. Weak palatalization: Zuberoa, eastern Low Navarre, eastern Navarre and a region of western Bizkaia (Arratia, Txorierri, Orozko, Zeberio).
    • c. Strong palatalization: Most of Bizkaia, Gipuzkoa, southwestern Lapurdi and western Navarre.
  • 4. -rtz-/-st- consonant clusters: bertze/beste ‘other’, etc. The affricate -tz- is used in these words in Lapurdi, Low Navarre and in a region of Navarre.


Regarding word-stress or accentual patterns, no decision was taken when euskara batua was created. These are the most common patterns:

  • 1. In most varieties, the primary accent is usually placed in the second syllable counting from the beginning of the word: larúnbata ‘Saturday’. In Zuberoa and many areas of Navarre, however, it is generally located on the penultimate syllable: larunbáta.
  • 2. In Zuberoan and some Western and Central varieties, the position of the accent distinguishes the singular from the plural of many words.
  • 3. In many Western and Central subvarieties, the position of the accent differentiates many minimal pairs: basóa ‘the forest’ vs básoa ‘the drinking glass’, badátor ‘s/he is coming’ vs bádator ‘if s/he is coming’, etc.
  • 4. In Zuberoan and some Western and Central varieties, some words have an exceptional or marked accentual pattern. In Western and Central varieties with regular accent on the second syllable, the accent is placed on the first syllable in these words: Bízkaiko ‘of Bizkaia’, gáiñera ‘in addition’, bátzarra ‘the meeting’, etc. In Zuberoa, words with execptional accentuation have the word stress on their final syllable: bedezí ‘physician’, godalét ‘drinking glass’.


Three aspects will be mentioned in this section: a) noun morphology, b) verb morphology, c) derivation.

Noun morphology

Three features are worth mentioning within noun morphology: a) case suffixes, b) choice of case morphemes, c) pronouns.

Case suffixes

  • 1. In the dative plural, we find -er in the Northern Basque Country: laguner ‘to the friends’ (standard lagunei).
  • 2. There are three options in the comitative case, besides the standard ending -kin:
    • a. -gaz, used in Bizkaia: sing. lagunagaz ‘with the friend’ / pl. lagunakaz ‘with the friends’.
    • b. -kilan, used in the eastern part of the Northern Basque Country: lagunekilan ‘with the friends’.
    • c. -ki, used in Zuberoa and a region of Navarre: laguneki.
  • 3. In the benefactive case, there are two options:
    • a. -entzat, used in most of Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa, western Nafarroa and western Northern Basque Country: lagunentzat ‘for the friends’.
    • b. -endako, used in the eastern part of the Northern Basque Country, most of the Deba Valley, and a few varieties of Goierri and Durangaldea: lagunendako.
  • 4. In the prolative case, there are two options:
    • a. -tzat, used in the west and the center and in the western part of the Northern Basque Country: laguntzat eduki ‘to consider a friend’.
    • b. -tako, used in the eastern part of the Basque Country: laguntako eduki.
  • 5. In the animated inessive case, there are two options:
    • a. -gan, used mainly in the west and center: lagunengan ‘in the friend’.
    • b. baitan, used mainly in the east: lagunen baitan.
  • 6. In the center of the Basque Country, -tikan is used in the ablative case, -gatikan in the motivative case, and -rikan in the partitive case (standard -tik, -gatik, -rik, respectively): etxetikan ‘from the house’ (standard etxetik), zu ikusteagatikan ‘to see you’ (standard zu ikusteagatik), ez daukat dirurikan ‘I don’t have any money’ (standard ez daukat dirurik). In the oral language, these variants could be used.
  • 7. In the allative case, -rat and -ganat are used in the Northern Basque Country: etxerat ‘to the house’, lagunenganat ‘to(wards) the friends’.
  • 8. In Zuberoan, proper names and common nouns are differentiated in the allative and ablative cases. Allative -rat is used with proper names and -alat with common nouns: Maulerat ‘to Maule’ / mendialat ‘to the mountain’. In the ablative, -rik is used with proper nounds and -tik with common nouns: Maulerik ‘from Maule’/menditik ‘from the mountain’.
  • 9. In the directional allative there are three options:
    • a. -rat/-ri buruz is used in the Northern Basque Country: Pariserat buruz abiatu da ‘s/he is gone towards Paris’.
    • b. -rantza, used in the western part of Bizkaia: Pariserantza ‘towards Paris’.
    • c. -rutz, used in the eastern part of Bizkaia and the Deba Valley: Pariserutz.

Choice of case morphemes

There are some special choices in particular varieties. These are the most salient or remarkable:

  • 1. In the adverbial use of adjectives there are two different constructions:
    • a. In the east, predicative adjectives are inflected in the absolutive singular: isil-isila sartu da ‘s/he has come in silently’; justu-justua libratu naiz ‘I have barely avoided it’.
    • b. In the west and center, adjectives in this function either take the partitive suffix or are used without inflection: isil-isilik sartu da ‘s/he has come in silently’; justu-justu libratu naiz ‘I have barely avoided it’.
  • 2. In the west, the partitive suffix is used in idiomatic expressions such as etxerik etxe ‘from house to houe’, herririk herri ‘from town to town’.


  • 1. There are three options for strengthened pronouns:
    • a. Pronouns like neuk ‘I myself’ are used in the Western dialect.
    • b. Pronouns like neronek are used in most of Gipuzkoa, Navarre and western Lapurdi.
    • c. Pronouns like nihaurk are used in most of the Northern Basque Country.
  • 2. In Lapurdi and Low Navarre, indefinite pronouns have the shape illustrated by nehor ‘anyone, no one’ (standard inor).
  • 3. In the Western and Central dialect areas, pronouns like baten bat ‘someone’ are used.
  • 4. In Bizkaian, we find indefinite pronouns with the structure “edo + interrogative pronoun”: edonora ‘anywhere’ (standard noranahi), edonogaz ‘with anyone’ (standard nornahirekin), edozelan ‘anyhow’ (standard nolanahi), etc.
  • 5. In Bizkaian, there are indefinite pronouns with the structure “interrogative pronoun + edo + interrogative pronoun”: nonora ‘somewhere’ (standard norabait), nonogaz ‘with someone’ (standard norbaitekin), zeozelan ‘somehow’ (standard nola edo hala), etc.

Verb morphology

The following details of variation in verbal morphology are worth mentioning:

  • 1. In the eastern part of the Basque Country, we find the zuketa and xuketa allocutive treatments: paristarra duzu / paristarra duxu ‘s/he is a Parisian’ (vs plain paristarra da).
  • 2. There are two options to form the future form of participles ending in n or l:
    • a. -go is used in the west and center: egingo ‘will do’, hilgo ‘will die’.
    • b. -en is used in the east: eginen, hilen.
  • 3. There are two distinctive structures to form the potential mood:
    • a. A periphrastic structure with ahal and the imperfective participle in the east: egiten ahal dut ‘I can do it’ / ez dut egiten ahal ‘I cannot do it’.
    • b. The construction with a nominalized verb + eduki ‘to have’ /egon ‘to be, stay’, mainly used in Gipuzkoa: badaukat hori egitea ‘I can do that’.
  • 4. Participles with predicative function may take one of three different forms, depending on the area:
    • a. “Participle + -rik.” Formerly used in the entire Basque Country, it is nowadays mainly used in Zuberoa and Navarre: eginik ‘done’, osaturik ‘completed’.
    • b. “Participle + -ta.” This form has prevailed in the west and center of the country: eginda, osatuta.
    • c. “Participle + -a.” This form is used in the northeastern part of Gipuzkoa, the western part of Navarre, Lapurdi and Low Navarre: egina, osatua.
  • 5. Verbal nouns show some variation in their syntactic usage:
    • 1. The complement of the verb noun corresponding to the direct object make take different cases depending on the dialect:
      • a. The complement is inflected in the genitive case in the Northern Basque Country and the eastern part of the Southern Basque Country: lagunen ikustera joan gara ‘we have gone to see our friends’.
      • b. The complement is inflected in the absolutive case, instead, in most of the Southern Basque Country: lagunak ikustera joan gara.
    • 2. In constructions with other verbs, verbal nouns are inflected in different cases depending on the dialect:
      • a. In the allative, in the east: jatera eman, jatera utzi, jatera ausartu, jatera saiatu… ‘to give/let/dare/try (to) eat’
      • b. In the inessive, in the west and center: jaten eman, jaten utzi, jaten ausartu, jaten ahalegindu…
    • 3. In purpose clauses, verb nouns are inflected in the inessive case in the west: ogia erosten irten du ‘s/he has gone out in order to buy bread’.
  • 6. Some verbs show different agreement patterns depending on the dialect. These are the best known among them:
    • a. gosaldu ‘to have breakfast’, bazkaldu ‘to have midday dinner’, askaldu ‘to have a snack’ and afaldu ‘to have supper’ are used with intransitive morphology in most of the Northern Basque Country: bazkaldu naiz ‘I have dined’ (vs bazkaldu dut in the south)
    • b. irten ‘to leave, go out’ and igo ‘to go up, climb’ are used with transitive morphology in the west: irten dut ‘I have left’, igo dugu ‘we have gone up’.
    • c. jardun ‘to engage in an action’ is used with intransitive morphology in the eastern part of Gipuzkoa: jardun naiz ‘I have engaged’.

Derivational morphology

These are the main suffixes with a restricted geographical distribution:

  • 1. The denominal noun-forming suffix -go is used in the east: artzaingoa ‘sheepherding’ (artzaintza), txapelgoa ‘championship’ (txapelketa).
  • 2. The frequentative suffix -ki is used in Lapurdi, Low Navarre, a large area of Navarre and a small corner of northeastern Gipuzkoa: joaki ‘going’, izaki ‘being’, jakinki ‘knowing’, etc.
  • 3. The deverbal nominal suffix -gia and the feminine -sa are used in the eastern part of the Northern Basque Country: jargia ‘seat’, alarguntsa ‘widow’.
  • 4. The diminutive suffix -ño is used in Lapurdi and Low Navarre: baño ‘just one’, irriño ‘little smile’.
  • 5. The diminutive suffixes -xkot, -ot and -ñi are used in Zuberoa: herrixkot ‘a small village’, plaxot ‘a small square’, amiñi ‘a little’.
  • 6. The adverbial suffixes -to and -ginen are used in the west: ederto ‘beautifully’ (standard ederki), etxeginen ‘building houses’.

Regarding prefixes only one needs to be mentioned, the prefix arra- ‘re-, again’, used in the northeastern region: arrahasi ‘start again’, arrapiztü ‘rekindle’.


No syntactic constructions used in any dialect have been excluded from the standard language. In any case, these are the main structures with a limited dialectal range:

  • 1. There are three distinctive endings in subordinate clauses:
    • a. -(e)nik is used in the west and center: ez du esan etorriko denik ‘s/he has not said that s/he will come’.
    • b. -(e)na is used in the west: badakit etorri dena ‘I know that s/he has come’.
    • c. -(e)n is used in the east with verbs like uste ‘to surmise, opine’, baliteke ‘it could be’, and irudi ‘to seem’: uste dut etorriko den ‘I think s/he will come’.
  • 2. In causative sentences, the constructions “verb + eta” and “verb + -(e)la eta” are used in the west and center: ez ekarri ezer, denetarik daukagu eta ‘do not bring anything, because we have all that is needed’; bihar goiz jaiki behar duela eta, ez da afaltzera etorri ‘since s/he needs to get up early tomorrow, s/he won’t come to have dinner’.
  • 3. In causative and purpose clauses -t(z)earren is used in the west: zu ikustearren etorri gara ‘we have come in order to see you’.
  • 4. In temporal clauses, -(k)eran is used in Bizkaia: bihurgunea hartukeran kontuz ibili ‘pay attention when you take the detour’.
  • 5. In temporal clauses, -(e)ino is used in the Northern Basque Country: gerlak irauten dueino, gure sostengua ukanen dute ‘as long as the war lasts, they will have our support’ (Southern standard gerrak irauten duen bitartean, gure laguntza edukiko dute).
  • 6. In temporal clauses, -(e)larik is used in the east; while -(e)la is used in the west and center: gazteak ginela/ginelarik, gogoko genuen arrauna ‘when we were young, we liked rowing’.
  • 7. In temporal and conditional clauses, ber is used in the eastern part of the Northern Basque Country: lana dugun ber, ez dugu herria utziko ‘since we have work, we will not leave the town’.
  • 8. In relative clauses two characteristics may be highlighted:
    • a. The bare participle is used in most of the Northern Basque Country: Parisek ezarri baldintzak sobera gogorrak dira ‘the conditions imposed by Paris are very hard’.
    • b. The prefix bait- is used in relative clauses and with some other functions in some eastern areas: Txomin, Lekunberrin bizi baita, alkate hautatu dute ‘Txomin, who lives in Lekunberri, has been elected mayor’.
  • 9. There are three distinctive ways of forming yes/no interrogative clauses:
    • a. ala in the west: ez zara gugaz etorriko, ala? ‘you won’t come with us or what?’
    • b. al in the center: ez al zatoz gurekin? ‘aren’t you coming with us?’
    • c. -a in the east: ez zarea gurekin jinen? ‘aren’t you coming with us?’
  • 10. In indirect statements, the suffix -(e)nez is used in the Northern Basque Country: Eztakit badudanez ‘I don’t know if I have it’.
  • 11. Regarding word order, there are two important differences:
    • a. The numeral bi ‘two’ is postponed to the noun in the west: sagar birekin nahikoa da ‘with two apples it is enough’.
    • b. In the east the quantifiers anitz ‘much, many’ and sobera are placed before the noun: anitz jende; sobera jende ‘a lot of people’.
  • 12. Regarding the focus of the sentence, the following four characteristics are to be highlighted:
    • a. The reinforcing verb egin is used in a large area of the Southern Basque Country to express focus on the verb: ez zuen nahi, baina etorri egin da ‘s/he did not want to, but s/he has come’.
    • b. In the west, the structure “participle + conjugated verb” is used: ez zuen nahi, baina etorri dator ‘s/he didn’t want to, but s/he is coming’.
    • c. The verbal prefix ba- is used with very high frequency in the Northern Basque Country: jende anitz bada ‘there’s a lot of people’.
    • d. The auxiliary verb is placed before the participle in most of the Northern Basque Country when there is narrow focus: guk dugu hautatu ‘we have chosen it’.

Lexicon and idioms

No words specific to any dialect have been excluded fom standard Basque. Therefore, synonyms or near-synonyms with different geographical distributions such as maindire, mihise and izara, all meaning ‘bed sheet’, are all acceptable in standard Basque. Maindire is used mostly in Gipuzkoa and most of Navarre, mihise in the Northern Basque Country and izara in the Western area.



The Western dialect, together with Zuberoan, is the one that is most distant from the rest of dialects. It seems thus reasonable to adapt standard Basque to this dialect to a certain extent. Here I will mention some dialectal features that could become part of the Western standard.


Four phonological features may be considered:

  • 1. The distinction between apico-alveolar (s, ts) and lamino-dental (z, tz) fricatives and affricates reflected in the standard orthography was lost in pronunciation centuries ago in this geographical area, so that hasi ‘to begin’ and hazi ‘to grow’ are homonyms, as are etzi ‘day after tomorrow’ and etsi ‘to give up’. It would be difficult to change pronunciation habits from one day to the next, and the simplest solution is to accept this neutralization in the Western standard. On the other hand, in areas where the language is being reintroduced, such as Araba and the zone of Bizkaia to the west of Bilbao, the distinction could be taught.
  • 2. Whereas in other dialects verb-initial z- becomes an afficate after l or n, this does not happen in Western Basque: hil ziren [ilsiɾen] ‘they died’ (in other dialects [iltsiɾen]), joan zen ‘s/he went’, etc.
  • 3. Similarly, in sequences where the negative particle ez ‘not’ precedes a verb starting with z- the sequence is pronounced as a single fricative in Western Basque: ez zara [esaɾa] ‘you are not’ (in other dialects [etsaɾa])
  • 4. The grapheme j- may be pronounced as a palatal approximant, a prepalatal voiced fricative or a (post)velar voiceless fricative, depending on the specific area: jan [jan], [ʒan], [xan] ‘to eat’

Noun morphology

Seven western features are worth mentioning:

  • 1. The proximal articles are still used in Western Basque: zure lagunok ‘your friends’; hor berton ‘right there’.
  • 2. Mainly in Bizkaia, the singular comitative case ending is -gaz and the plural is -kaz: lagunagaz ‘with the friend’ / lagunakaz ‘with the friends’.
  • 3. The morpheme -rik is used in idiomatic expressions like etxerik etxe ‘from house to house’, kalerik kale ‘through the streets’.
  • 4. Indefinite pronouns with the structure “edo + interrogative pronoun” are used in Bizkaia: edonor ‘anyone, whoever’, edonork ‘anyone, erg.’, edonori ‘to anyone’, edonoren ‘of anyone’, edonorengana ‘to anyone’.
  • 5. Indefinite pronouns with the structure “interrogative pronoun + edo + interrogative pronoun” are also used in Bizkaia: nor edo nor (nonor) ‘someone’, nor edo nork (nonork) ‘someone, erg.’, nor edo nori (nonori) ‘to someone’, nor edo noren (nonoren) ‘of someone’, nor edo norengana (nonongana) ‘to(wards) someone’, etc.
  • 6. Strengthened pronouns are of the neu set: neu ‘I myself’, heu ‘you yourself, fam.’, geu ‘we ourselves’, zeu ‘you yourself’, zeuek ‘you yourselves’.
  • 7. The interrogative pronouns nor, zer and zein are only used with singular reference. With plural referents we find nortzuk ‘who-pl’, zertzuk ‘what-pl’ and zeintzuk ‘which-pl’.

Verb morphology

The following five characteristics are worth mentioning:

  • 1. In the Western and Central dialects, *edun ‘to have’ is mostly used as an auxiliary. As a main verb with the meaning ‘to have, possess’, it is usually replaced by eduki: ez dauka dirurik ‘s/he does not have money’ instead of ez du dirurik.
  • 2. The progressive construction ari izan is not used in the Western dialect. Instead egon ‘to be, stay’ and ibili ‘to walk’ are used to express progressive aspect. In the easterly subdialect of the Western dialect, synthetic forms of the verb jardun are also used to express progressive meaning: dihardut, dihardu, diharduzu… Thus, instead of informatika ikasten ari da ‘s/he is learning Computer Science’ we find the expressions informatika ikasten dago / informatika ikasten dabil / informatika ikasten dihardu.
  • 3. In resultatives and other predicative uses of the perfective participle, the suffix -ta is attached to the participle in the Western and Central dialects: hondatuta dago ‘it is ruined’ (as opposed to hondaturik dago).
  • 4. The syntactically intransitive verbs irten ‘to leave, go out’ and igo ‘to go up, climb’ are conjugated as transitive: irten du ‘s/he has left’; igo du ‘s/he has gone up’.
  • 5. When verb nouns are used as complements of movement verbs, they take the inessive case, instead of the allative: Ogia erosten joan da ‘s/he went to buy bread’ (as opposed to ogia erostera joan da).


  • 1. A handful of adverbs are formed by adding -to to an adjective: ederto ‘fine, beautifully’ (in other dialects ederki), polito ‘appropriate’, txarto ‘badly’. A couple of these adverbs in -to have a wider geographical distribution, including a large part of the Central dialectal area: ondo ‘well’ and hobeto ‘better’.
  • 2. There is a suffix -ginen not used in other areas: etxeginen ‘house building’, bideginen ‘road construction’, etc.


The following are the most important points concerning syntax:

  • 1. Phrase-final ala is used in interrogative clauses: Ez zatoz ala? ‘Aren’t you coming?’
  • 2. In Bizkaia, the suffix -(k)eran is used in temporal clauses: Bihurgunea hartukeran jo du bazterra ‘s/he has hit the curb when taking the detour’.
  • 3. In subordinate nominal clauses, there is the option of using -(e)na: Badakit Iñaki etorri dena ‘I know that Iñaki has come’.
  • 4. In concessive clauses, an option is using arren: Jakin arren, ez du esan gura ‘even though s/he knows it, s/he does not want to say it’.
  • 5. In causative and purpose clauses, an option is the suffix -t(z)earren: Zeu ikustearren etorri naiz ‘I have come in order to see you’.
  • 6. The quantifier bi ‘two’ is usually placed to the right of the noun phrase: Sasoiko gizonezko bi daude ate ondoan ‘there are two grown men by the door’.
  • 7. When a synthetic verb is the focus of the proposition, the structure “participle + conjugated verb” can be used: Zertan zara, joan zoaz ala etorri zatoz? ‘what are you doing, are you coming or going?’
  • 8. Some other distinctive features of this dialect are the conjunctions zein ‘either...or’ (bata zein bestea berdin dit ‘either one or the other, it is the same to me’), adversative baino ‘but’ (general baizik) and modal legez ‘as, like’ (general bezala).




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Oneka Alvarez / Xabier Eizagirre / Arantza Flores / Nahia Grande / Eva Hidalgo / Iñaki Iñarra / June Lauzirika / Teresa Portugal