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  Izan ziralako, gara, eta garalako izango dira  
"Because they were, we are, and because we are they will be"
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Eguberri eta
Urte Berri On!

Merry Christmas &
Happy New Year!

Feliz Navidad y
Prospero A
ño Nuevo!

Joyeux No
ël et
Bonne Ann





Maximizing the internet for learning Euskara
By Gabriela Oteiza


by Gabriela Oteiza
Basque Society of Vancouver, Canada
June 15, 2001


This report serves as a summary of currently available English-language Internet resources for those wishing to learn Euskara.  As well, this report examines ways in which the Internet could be further exploited to facilitate learning this language.  This report is based on a survey, conducted over three months by the author, of current Internet sites devoted to the promotion and teaching of Euskara, as well as interviews with fellow English-speaking descendants of the Basque Diaspora who have attempted or are currently attempting to learn some Basque using the Internet as their major learning resource. Scholarly information on the linguistic peculiarities of the Basque language is fairly plentiful on the Internet, present in articles discussing the language’s unique structure and comparing it to other languages.  More basic instruction, however, at the elementary level necessary for those who have no background in linguistics and who wish to learn Euskara rather than learn about Euskara, is less complete.  Several individuals’ websites provide summaries of the grammatical rules of the language, there are few examples of exercises the learner could use to strengthen his understanding of these rules.  Many of the exercises that are available are lacking clear answer keys.  Similarly, I found several examples of pronunciation keys to explain how different letter combinations are said, but clear audio examples of spoken Basque are much harder to find.  For more serious students of the language, the University of Nevada offers an online course in Euskara.  However, each unit in this course is quite expensive and it is still in the planning stages. 



LIST OF FIGURES..............................................iv



    Discrepancies In Vocabulary..............................2
    Availability/Selectionof Vocabulary......................4
    Basque Slang/Modern Colloquialisms.......................6
    English-Basque, Basque English Dictionary................7


    Pronunciation Keys.......................................9
    Recorded Pronunciation..................................10


    Sentence Structure......................................12
    The Basque Case System..................................13
    Online Lessons/Exercises................................15

CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS...............................18

SOURCES CITED/CONSULTED......................................20



The purpose of this report is to summarize the currently available online resources for English speakers wishing to learn the Basque language, as well as propose recommendation for improving these resources.  Like many second and third generation Basques who were born and raised in an English-speaking society, my desire to learn the language and culture of my Basque ancestors is strong, but resources for doing so in Vancouver, Canada are somewhat lacking.  Without the availability of a classroom setting in which to learn the language, I have focused my efforts on finding resources via the Internet. 

This report is based on the author’s personal experiences searching the Internet for Basque language resources geared towards an English-speaking audience, as well as interviews with other English-speaking descendants of the Basque Diaspora who share the same desire to learn Euskara but are frustrated with the sporadic way in which resources are distributed about the World Wide Web.  The author herself speaks three languages, each of which was learned in a different manner:  Spanish is her first tongue, learned in the home; English is her second, learned in early childhood in school and in conversation with other children; and French is her third, primarily learned in high school and with no practice outside of the classroom environment.  The author also holds a BA in Psychology from the University of British Columbia, with courses taken in memory and learning theory, both relevant to this endeavor.

This report discusses what types of resources are currently available via the Internet to those in the author’s position.  The resources are divided and discussed according to the different key aspects a student of a new language must master in order to obtain a working knowledge of that language; namely vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and practice through lessons or exercises. 


Learning vocabulary is the first step in acquiring an understanding of a new language.  Without an adequate understanding of some basic words, a student will not grasp the rules of the language and how they affect words, especially with a language like Euskara in which changes of inflection or changing word endings affects meaning.

Discrepancies In Vocabulary:

Although it is explained in most introductory readings on the Basque language that there are several dialects of it, mutually understandable but each with minor differences in pronunciation and spelling, most web pages that offered vocabulary did not specify which region their vocabulary was from, or if it was taken from Batua, the unified dialect that was created for use in public life.  Without an explanation of differences in vocabulary between dialects, a student might see the same word several times over, but not recognize it because of a variation in spelling.  For example, one site offered the following under its list of “Useful Basque Phrases”:

    “...Kaixo, motel [neska] [lagunok] [adiskide]

The word after the ‘kaixo’ is referred to the recipient for        the greetings:  a closer male friend [motel], a female friend [neska]...”                                     (

Meanwhile, another site with vocabulary explains:

   “...In Basque, nominal expressions (nouns, noun + adjective,            nominalized verbs) take different functions depending on           their suffix.  Examples with “neska” (girl) and “mutil” (boy)...” 

In this example, the word neska is first explained to mean ‘female friend’, then on another website it is explained to mean ‘girl’.  These are two quite different meanings for the same word.  Ambiguities like these, especially when the learner does not have the advantage of looking the word up in a dictionary, make learning a new language more confusing and make the learner less confident about using a newly acquired word for fear they do not grasp it’s ‘true’ meaning.

The same discrepancy occurs with the word mutil/motel, as in one case it is explained to mean ‘boy’ and in the other ‘closer male friend’.  This ambiguity is compounded with this example, however, because each site offers a different spelling for the word.  Had the motel/mutil not been paired with neska in both cases, and been used in similar contexts, a new learner could easily make the assumption that mutil means ‘boy’, and motel means ‘close male friend’, without realizing that the two are actually the same word spelled differently, either because of difference in dialect or because of a misspelling on the part of the web site’s author.

To correct this kind of ambiguity, the author of the website should let the reader know what source they have used for their vocabulary, and if applicable to which dialect it belongs.  Ideally, all sites would offer a list of vocabulary for multiple dialects, as did one site with its list of numbers:

“...Here are the lower numerals and a representative selection of others; the second form, where given, is French Basque.

11        hamiaka           ~ hameka...

13        hamahiru         ~ hamahirur

14        hamalau           ~ hamalaur

15        hamabost        ~ hamabortz    ...”

By explaining the difference between the two forms of the word as based on different dialects (the Spanish vs. French Basque), this website author helps the learner avoid confusion.  Examples like this also help the learner to understand what kind of variances may occur between dialects over the same words.  For example, in this case a reasonable assumption may be that the French Basque dialect may add an extra ‘r’ to the end of some words, which does not alter their meaning but only their pronunciation slightly.  This is a much safer assumption than thinking that the extra ‘r’ changes the meaning in some way. 

Availability / Selection Of Vocabulary:

On the whole, the variety of Basque vocabulary available online is plentiful, however many basic words are difficult to find.  For example, the vocabulary for the numbers was not listed in any of the more basic websites about Euskara, it was not listed as part of one extensive alphabetized word list I found, and it was not listed in any of the sites that offered “useful Basque phrases”.  I did finally find the numbers in Euskara, but they were a part of a scholarly article on the Basque language and its grammar.  I had the same experience finding basic vocabulary like the days of the week, months of the year, or basic verbs.

The selection of vocabulary and phrases geared towards travelers in the Basque Country is by far the most extensive, as well as the best organized.  For example, one website’s offerings were organized as Courtesy Vocabulary, To Understand Signs, In Bars (how to order) and Basque Vocabulary in Place-Names. That site also included translations in English and Spanish, as well as variants in meaning/spelling and examples, as the following examples from Basque Vocabulary in Place-Names shows:

•                      langa......puerta rustica, portilla.....rustic door
•                      ~pe(an)....debajo.....under
•                      zabal.....amplio, abierto.....wide, broad, open
•                      zarra, zaharra.....viejo.....old

One beautifully simple source of vocabulary I found is the following:

Fig. 1

From a learning perspective, this model is an excellent way to teach vocabulary to a learner of a new language.  The picture

helps the meaning of the words stick in the learner’s mind, while the vocabulary is organized into ‘chunks’ which also facilitates remembering it.  The ‘chunk’ here can be labeled ‘rooms in a house’.  In addition, the example above relates the names of each room in four different languages.  For those learners who might speak both English and Spanish, or English and French, this further helps to associate the new words in Basque with already-familiar words in another known language. 
Basque Slang/Modern Colloquialisms

Several websites offered Basque vocabulary more diverse than I had originally dared hope for.  One of these, Buber’s Basque Page ( offered some excellent examples of casual vocabulary and idioms with both literal and figurative translations, such as:

1.  Noiz behinka.  Noizean behin.

            Once in a while.  Lit. Sometimes once.

5.  Muturrez aurrerra.

            (To fall) flat, downwards.   Lit.  snout ahead.

8.  Hori ez da atzo (gaur) goizekoa.

            That’s very old.

            Lit. That isn’t something from today (yesterday).

Examples like the above give the learner a feel for how literal and figurative meanings are related in the language.  This is often the hardest aspect of learning any new language because a good understanding of idioms like the above comes after several encounters with the phrase, in context, which is not always possible if the language you wish to learn is not spoken around you. The same website also offers some common Basque onomatopoeias.

1.  Balan, talan, tilin

1.  Ezkilak bilin-balan/blin-blan ari dira. ("Bells are pealing.")

2.  Bilin-balan/blin-blan erori da.
> S/he has tumbled over and over.

Onomatopoeias especially must generally be learned with experience in context, since most textbooks, teachers, and dictionaries of any language usually omit them. 

Another useful site I encountered is part of the Alternative Dictionaries collection.  Although this was the only example of Basque slang translated to English on the Internet, it provided a comprehensive, although short, list of colloquialisms. A sample entry follows:


tentelapiko (adjective)

stupid - To put it simply:  someone who is not very intelligent.            Ex. mutil hori tentelapikoa da (that boy is tupid).

Although this is not essential vocabulary for anyone learning a new language, it is still necessary if the learner plans to use their newly-acquired language skills around native Basque speakers.  Colloquialisms and slang are an important and colorful aspect of every language that are often overlooked by textbooks or other more formal methods of language teaching.  

English-Basque, Basque-English Dictionary

Although there are many websites which offer online dictionaries, most of these are limited to commonly-spoken languages such as English, Spanish, French, German, etc.  One site that does offer Basque-English and vice-versa translations is the online dictionary by Logos at, however the chosen word is displayed in many different languages so that the user has to scroll down the list to find either the Basque or English translation as desired.  The Logos dictionary also has trouble differentiating between words, such that the query of “one” from English to Basque prompted me to select “one” from a long list of words in English that also contained the letter combination “o-n-e”.  This is an impressive project but it is too cumbersome for the kind of use needed to learn a new language.

I was most impressed with the existence of an online Basque-Spanish, Spanish-Basque dictionary at  If this tool were available in a Basque-English, English-Basque form it would be indispensable for any student wishing to learn Euskara but not able to purchase a paper dictionary.

On a related note, the only place I found any mention of an existing paper English-Basque, Basque-English dictionary was online.  Several of the websites I visited explained that there was one such dictionary, written by Gorka Aulestia, and after much searching in bookstores I realized it could only be ordered from an online bookseller.  Similarly with the two English-language textbooks available for those wishing to learn Basque.  Written by an American linguist, Allan King, neither is available in any of the bookstores in Vancouver, but both can easily be purchased online via  


Pronunciation is one of the more challenging aspects of learning a new language.  This is compounded with learning Euskara if you are a native English speaker because many of the vowel and consonant sounds in Basque are different or do not exist in English.  Learning a language via the Internet also poses some unique difficulties, primarily the absence of a speaker whose pronunciation to mimic.

Pronunciation Keys

With the absence of a speaker from which to mimic correct pronunciation, one alternative is to follow a pronunciation key.  The following is an example of the kinds of pronunciation keys that are available online:

Letter   Bq. Name         Approx. pronunciation in English

a                      a                      far

b                      be                    bat

d                      de                    down

e                      e                      get

f                       efe                   favor

g                      ge                    got

h                      hatxe   house

i                       i                       marine

j                       jota                  hot; yet

k                      ka                    king

l                       ele                   league

m                     eme                 mayor

n                      ene                  narrow

n~                    en~e                o[ni]on

o                      o                      coat

p                      pe                    people             ...


Fig. 2 (

While this type of explanation is adequate for sounds which are the same (or close enough) between English and Basque, a written-and-read explanation of different sounds does not capture the true pronunciation in Basque.  For example, the following explanation is offered for some consonant sounds in Euskara that do not exist in English:

dd        de-bikoitza                   palatalized d (no English equivalent)

ll           ele-bikoitza                  mi[lli]on            palatalized l

rr          erre-bikoitza                Spanish Roma or perro (rolled r)

ts         te-ese                          i[t s]ure is       

tt          te-bikoitza                   palatalized t no (English equivalent)

tx         te-ekitz                                    [ch]ocolate

tz         te-zeta                         fa[ts]o

Unless the learner has studied linguistics, the term ‘palatalized’ will likely have no real meaning, hence this kind of explanation is useless to the average person.  A better solution would be to offer a more elaborate explanation, for example:

...’the palatalized t (tt) has no direct equivalent in English, however it is similar to both the T sound and the D sound in English (like a cross between the two).’ 

This kind of explanation links the new sound, tt, to sounds that the learner is familiar with and can already pronounce.

Recorded Pronunciation

A more desirable alternative to pronunciation keys is to offer the online learner a recording which they can mimic.  This way, not only does the learner experience the sounds first hand, but they also experience the sounds linked together in the way they are when spoken, as opposed to separate sounds written on a page.                              

Although there are some samples of spoken Basque available for download online, I was quite disappointed with them.  All were too short, the speaker spoke too quickly to allow the listener to pick out individual words, and only one of the samples provided a written transcription of the recording so the listener could follow along.  In addition, most of the audio samples were of poor quality and it took some effort on my part to get them to play on my computer. 

This is an area in which there could be much improvement.  With the caliber of digital recording technology that is available today, as well as Internet media such as streaming audio, there is no technological reason why there could not be an audio set of pronunciation lessons for Euskara.  I suspect that what keeps Webmasters who currently maintain pages about Euskara from posting more audio examples is the cost of maintaining audio files on a website, since audio uses much more bandwidth than simple text or HTML.  However, there are several organizations, such as the University of Nevada or Euskaltzaindia, the Academy of the Basque Language, who have a vested interest in promoting the Basque language, and hence should be willing to provide the resources to offer some audio pronunciation keys via the Internet. 


The rules of grammar are what define a language, both linguistically and actually.  To master Euskara, a student needs a good grasp of sentence structure and the Basque Case system.  Ideally, instruction in these should be combined with exercises that enable the learner to practice their new skills; namely lessons of some kind.

Sentence Structure

An immense variety of information is available via the Internet that attempts to explain Basque word order.  On one end of the spectrum, I found many scholarly papers written by linguists about the peculiarities of Basque sentence structure, and other aspects of Basque grammar.  The following is excerpted from a very in-depth article titled A Brief Grammar of Euskara, The Basque Language by Itziar Laka (

“...A declarative sentence in Euskara contains: a verb and its            arguments, an aspect marker attached to the verb, an the           verbal inflection, which contains the agreement morphemes,             tense, and modality...”

The abundance and at the same time uselessness of this kind of information surprised me.  The definitions and explanations in articles like this are too full of jargon to be understood by anyone with less knowledge on the subject than a degree in linguistics.  Consequently, it is impossible to tease out the rules behind the language, which are what the learner needs. 

Thankfully, there are resources on the Internet intended to  teach Basque grammar to the masses.  Alan King’s Introduction to Basque ( is an excellent example of what is available free of charge via the Internet, to those English speakers wishing to get a basic understanding of Euskara.  In this Introduction, King explains Basque sentence structure in terms that are much easier to understand than the earlier example:       

“...Word order within the Basque sentence reflects the way the speaker wishes to organize the information.  The focused element is the principal component of information contained in a sentence.  In Basque the focused element is placed in front of the verb...”

This type of explanation in plain English is what the learner needs in order to understand Basque sentence structure.  Unfortunately, King’s Introduction does not include many examples; it provides only one example for each concept it presents.  However, the same examples are repeated throughout the document.  This means that although the vocabulary to be gleaned from this introduction is not much, the corresponding examples make it much easier for the learner to distinguish the differences between sentence structure that King discusses.

The Basque Case System

The Basque Case system is probably the hardest concept for a learner of English-speaking background to grasp, because it is very different from the pronoun system that the English language uses.  Again, much of the information available online about the Basque Case system is intended for linguistics scholars and not for basic students of the language, however I did encounter some sources which attempted to explain the case system in regular English terms.  These were also written by Alan King, and are included online as part of his website.  King provides a handy reference chart that summarizes the different endings, their meanings, and their technical name.

Case                            Suffix forms                  Common translations   Main functions 

Absolutive                    -, -a, -ak                                   --                                  citation, subject (of                                                                                                                              intransitive verbs), direct                                                                                                                     object 

Ergative                       -k, -ek, -ak                               --                                  subject (of transitive                                                                                                                            verbs) 

Dative                         -i, -ri, -ari, -ei                            to, for                           recipient, indirect object         

Possessive genitive     -en, -ren, -aren                        of, -'s                           possession, genitive                                        (-re for personal pronouns)                                         relations, with                                                                                                                                      postpositions

Comitative                   -ekin, -rekin, -arekin    with                             accompaniment, means          

Benefactive                  -entzat, -rentzat, -arentzat     for                                recipient or beneficiary

                                    (-retzat for personal pronouns)                      

--                                  -gatik, -agatik, -arengatik,       because of                   reason, price etc

                                    -engatik (-regatik for personal pronouns)       .          

Instrumental                -z, -ez, -az, -taz, -etaz             by, with, about...         instrument, means,                                                                                                                              subject matter, etc.    

Inessive                       -n, -en, -an, -ean, -tan, -etan  in, on, at                      place where, time when Allative                      -a, -ra, -era, -tara, -etara        to                                 place to which 

--                                  -antz, -rantz, -erantz, towards                       direction

                                    -tarantz, -etarantz                  

--                                  -aino, -raino, -eraino,   as far as, up to                        how far

                                     -taraino, -etaraino                 

--                                  -ako, -rako, -erako, -tarako,    for                                destination, purpose


Ablative                        -tik, -dik, -etik, -tatik, -etatik from, through     place from/through                                                                                                                              which  

Local genitive               -ko, -go, -eko, -tako, -etako    of, from                        genitive relation, origin           

Partitive                       -ik, -rik                         --                                  (various functions)      

Figure 3 (

Although the explanation provided by King’s Case System chart is adequate, it would be greatly helped by examples illustrating the meanings and uses of the different word endings.


Online Lessons/Exercises

I encountered several attempts to provide grammatical lessons in Basque, similar to the kind one would find in a textbook, on the Internet.  Not surprisingly, the best quality of these are written by Alan King, who also wrote the only two English-language textbooks for learning Euskara.  King provides the first unit of one of his texts online, complete with exercises.  The online unit from Colloquial Basque provides lessons starting from the most basic level, complete with readings, lists of vocabulary words, dialogues, and adequate explanations of grammatical rules.

Unfortunately, the practice exercises are not posted with an answer key (presumably the textbook has one).  An example of King’s tutelage follows:

“...Exercise 5.  Name several objects around you, using the   pattern: Hau/Hori/Hura X da.  e.g. Hori autobusa da.

            mahaia a/the table

            aulkia a/the chair

            atea     a/the door

            lehoa a/the window...”

Other authors have also provided exercises online, but for the most part their directions and exercises are not as well-explained or easy to follow.  For example, consider these exercises take from Buber’s Basque Page (

           3-Exercises (present tense)

            Nire osaba......etorri dira etxera.

            Zu engongelan egon.......goizean.

            Guraso......ez dira etxean.

            Zenbait guraso.....haserre dira.

These exercises provide no model to follow, and the sentence structure is much more complex than that of King’s exercises.  Both sets of exercises are in the first set of exercises, intended for beginners with no previous experience with Euskara. 

            For students who prefer more structure, as well as the assurance of an instructor, the University of Nevada’s Centre for Basque Studies offers credit courses in Basque language that can be taken via online correspondence.  Students meet online for weekly tutorials and can correspond with their professor via email.  Currently, the University of Nevada only offers the first course, Elementary Basque I.  The next two courses in the series are still under development. 


            Online Courses
            The first few of our projected series of online courses are now available.
            Elementary Basque I - BASQUE C101- 4 credits
            Dr. Linda White

            An introduction to the language through the development of written and conversational      language skills. The course covers rudimentary sentence structure; affirmative and negative;      present tense of basic verbs; question words; numbers and dates; and telling time. Explanations and workbook exercises are geared specifically to the distance learner with   little or no access to native speakers or instruction. Emphasis on Unified Basque (batua).
            Course fee: $324.00
            Texts: $35.00
            Tape fee: $5.00
            Syllabus, stationery, & handling: $62.50
            International mail fees: $90.00
            Web fee (when applicable): $20.00 (taken from the University of Nevada’s website,

While this set of courses sounds promising, I am not convinced that the introductory course warrants the $500+ US price tag attached to it, when an equally motivated individual can purchase Alan King’s book Colloquial Basque with audio tapes for about $80 US. I am also curious as to the $90 US International mail fee; as an online course, I would think assignments could be submitted and returned  free of charge via email.  Furthermore, after contacting the University of Nevada regarding the timeline for the availability of the following two sections, the answer I received was vague and non-committal, leading me to believe it might be a while yet before the next two courses are available.


There exists a wide variety of websites devoted to the promotion of Euskara, many of which offer useful vocabulary, pronunciation hints, grammatical explanations and even lessons and exercises.  However, these resources could be improved significantly to make learning Basque via the Internet a feasable endeavour for any English-speaking person.

This report makes the following recommendations:

1.   Examples of Basque vocabulary should state which dialect the    words are taken from.

2.   Attempts should be made by the Webmaster to explain   differences in dialects and offer examples.

3.   Vocabulary lists should be organized by subject matter, not        alphabetically.

4.   Vocabulary should include pictures whenever possible.

5.   Websites should aim to offer a sample of recorded Basque, to     provide a model for students to mimic.

6.   If a recording cannot be offered, pronunciation keys should         attempt to explain all sounds as clearly as possible.

7.   Recorded speech must be clear and slow.

8.   Recorded samples should include a text copy of the speech so    that learners can follow along.

9.   Grammar rules need to be explained in plain English.

10.  Examples of rules in action should be provided.

11.  Exercises must contain clear instructions and an example to       follow.

12.  Exercises must contain a clear answer key for correction.

13.  Online courses are currently too expensive to be feasible at       the beginner level.  Cost could be reduced by submitting and             returning all assignments via email.


1.         The Basque Case System:  A Synopsys. Alan R. King


2.  1st Lesson:  Euskalduna Naiz.  Maria S. Santisteban


3.  Basque Studies Library UNR.  University of Nevada, Reno.


4.  Jon Aske’s Basque Language Page.  Jon Aske


5.  Buber’s Basque Page, Euskara.  Blas Uberuaga


6.  Days and Months in Euskara.  Larry Trask


7.  Euskara: Introduction to the Language.  Larry Trask


8.  Tense and Aspect in Basque.  Martin Haase


9.  A Brief Grammar of Euskara, The Basque Language. Itzia Laka


10.  Euskara, the Language of the Basque People.  Universidad del Pais Vasco              (

11.  A Short Guide to Basque Word Order.  Alan R. King and B. Olaizola (

12.  Introduction to Basque.  Alan R. King






Recreate + Educate = Perpetuate is the website of the North American Basque Organizations, Inc. (N.A.B.O.) a federation of organizations for the promotion of Basque culture. Helping to make this website possible is the Basque Autonomous Government of Euskadi.  Please send inquiries to  For links to all our pages on this website click on SITEMAP