internet for learning Euskara
By Gabriela Oteiza
MAXIMIZING THE INTERNET AS A RESOURCE FOR LEARNING EUSKARA:
FROM THE PERSPECTIVE OF A NATIVE ENGLISH SPEAKER
Basque Society of Vancouver, Canada
June 15, 2001
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.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Discrepancies In Vocabulary..............................2
Basque Slang/Modern Colloquialisms.......................6
English-Basque, Basque English Dictionary................7
The Basque Case System..................................13
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS...............................18
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
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.
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.
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:
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]
after the ‘kaixo’ is referred to the recipient for the
greetings: a closer male friend [motel], a female friend
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”
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.
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.
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:
are the lower numerals and a representative selection of others; the
second form, where given, is French Basque.
hamiaka ~ hameka...
13 hamahiru ~ hamahirur
14 hamalau ~ hamalaur
15 hamabost ~ hamabortz ...”
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
Availability / Selection Of Vocabulary:
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.
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,
• zabal.....amplio, abierto.....wide, broad,
• zarra, zaharra.....viejo.....old
beautifully simple source of vocabulary I found is the following:
learning perspective, this model is an excellent way to teach
vocabulary to a learner of a new language. The picture
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
websites offered Basque vocabulary more diverse than I had
originally dared hope for. One of these, Buber’s Basque Page
(http://www.buber.net/Basque) offered some excellent examples of
casual vocabulary and idioms with both literal and figurative
translations, such as:
behinka. Noizean behin.
Once in a while. Lit. Sometimes once.
(To fall) flat, downwards. Lit. snout
ez da atzo (gaur) goizekoa.
That’s very old.
Lit. That isn’t something from today (yesterday).
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.
Balan, talan, tilin
Ezkilak bilin-balan/blin-blan ari dira. ("Bells are pealing.")
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.
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:
To put it simply: someone who is not very intelligent.
Ex. mutil hori tentelapikoa da (that boy is tupid).
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
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 http://www.logos.it/lang/transl_eu.html, 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.
most impressed with the existence of an online Basque-Spanish,
Spanish-Basque dictionary at www.yourdictionary.com. 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.
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.
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
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 (http://www.buber.net/Basque/Euskara/lang4.html)
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
dd de-bikoitza palatalized d (no English
ll ele-bikoitza mi[lli]on
rr erre-bikoitza Spanish Roma or perro
ts te-ese i[t s]ure is
tt te-bikoitza palatalized t no (English
tx te-ekitz [ch]ocolate
tz te-zeta fa[ts]o
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:
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).’
kind of explanation links the new sound, tt, to sounds that the
learner is familiar with and can already pronounce.
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
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.
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
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.
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 (http://www.ehu.es/grammar/index.htm).
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...”
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
(http://www.eirelink.com/alanking) 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:
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...”
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
The Basque Case System
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.
Suffix forms Common
translations Main functions
Absolutive -, -a, -ak
citation, subject (of
intransitive verbs), direct
-k, -ek, -ak
-- subject (of transitive
-i, -ri, -ari, -ei
to, for recipient,
Possessive genitive -en, -ren, -aren of,
-'s possession, genitive
(-re for personal
pronouns) relations, with
Comitative -ekin, -rekin, -arekin with
Benefactive -entzat, -rentzat, -arentzat
for recipient or beneficiary
(-retzat for personal
-- -gatik, -agatik, -arengatik,
because of reason, price etc
-engatik (-regatik for personal
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,
-- -aino, -raino, -eraino, as far
as, up to how far
-- -ako, -rako, -erako, -tarako,
for destination, purpose
Ablative -tik, -dik, -etik, -tatik, -etatik
from, through place from/through
genitive -ko, -go, -eko, -tako, -etako of,
from genitive relation, origin
Partitive -ik, -rik
-- (various functions)
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.
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
“...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...”
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 (http://www.buber.net/Basque):
3-Exercises (present tense)
Nire osaba......etorri dira etxera.
Zu engongelan egon.......goizean.
Guraso......ez dira etxean.
Zenbait guraso.....haserre dira.
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
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
Course fee: $324.00
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,
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.
CONCLUSION AND RECOMMENDATIONS
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
report makes the following recommendations:
Examples of Basque vocabulary should state which dialect the
words are taken from.
Attempts should be made by the Webmaster to explain differences in
dialects and offer examples.
Vocabulary lists should be organized by subject matter, not
Vocabulary should include pictures whenever possible.
Websites should aim to offer a sample of recorded Basque, to
provide a model for students to mimic.
a recording cannot be offered, pronunciation keys should
attempt to explain all sounds as clearly as possible.
Recorded speech must be clear and slow.
Recorded samples should include a text copy of the speech so that
learners can follow along.
Grammar rules need to be explained in plain English.
Examples of rules in action should be provided.
Exercises must contain clear instructions and an example to
Exercises must contain a clear answer key for correction.
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.
The Basque Case System: A Synopsys. Alan R. King
Lesson: Euskalduna Naiz. Maria S. Santisteban
Basque Studies Library UNR. University of Nevada, Reno.
Aske’s Basque Language Page. Jon Aske
Buber’s Basque Page, Euskara. Blas Uberuaga
and Months in Euskara. Larry Trask
Euskara: Introduction to the Language. Larry Trask
Tense and Aspect in Basque. Martin Haase
Brief Grammar of Euskara, The Basque Language. Itzia Laka
Euskara, the Language of the Basque People. Universidad del Pais
Short Guide to Basque Word Order. Alan R. King and B. Olaizola
Introduction to Basque. Alan R. King