The Basques call themselves euskaldunak, that is to say, the speakers of the Basque language.
The Basque Country is in Europe, astride the Pyrenees, with one foot in the French and Spanish states. It lies beside the Bay of Biscay.
In the distant past, the Basque language covered a larger area than it does at present: all Aquitaine (the great region of Bordeaux) is supposed to have spoken Basque or some language related to it.
Basque is a sonorous and sweet-sounding language, with five clearly defined vowel sounds and an extraordinarily regular verb system.
It is also an island-language, devoid of known relatives, and is classified as pre-Indoeuropean. It has no structural relationship with the Romance languages nor with the Germanic ones. Several hypotheses are put forward as to its origin: some say that Basque is the old Iberian language, while others associate it with Caucasian languages. Others think it may own its origin to a common Saharan-Berber root.
Studies on the Basque language and literature have an important reference point in the University of Reno (USA), and its Center for Basques Studies.
Considered an obstacle for political assimilation, our language has been ridiculised, prohibitted and persecutted over the centuries by the powerful and centralist French and Spanish states. The French Revolution considered it an enemy of "enlightenment" and an instrument of Catholic reaction, whereas Franco considered it an enemy of God and Spain. Not long ago, France refused to sign the Charter of European Languages. In the year 2003, Egunkaria, the only Basque language newspaper, was closed down and the premises sealed by Madrid without any form of offence having been committed. Its board members were detained and imprisoned. This has led to many complaints being made throughout the world from sources as different as Amnesty International and Salman Rushdie, the latter in his capacity as president of the USA Pen Club and coordinator of the Imprisoned Writers Committee.
Basque is a language with a rich oral tradition. It has a remarkable set of songs, ballads, and tales in the great European tradition. Among students of our popular literature, the follwoing stand out: Wenthworth Webster (1828-1907), the Anglican pastor of the English colony at Biarritz, and music scholar Rodney Gallop (1901-1948), author of the well-known "A book of the Basques".
Cultivated literature is relatively young in Basque, and starts up in the XVIth century. For years our language had no school backing nor social prestige, and our main writers were all too often monks and priests. Edward Spencer Dodgson (1857-1922) recovered and published many works by authors who had long been forgotten.
In the mid-XIXth century, poetry began to develop greatly, giving rise to a small poetry Golden Age in the early XXth century, a period interrupted by the fascist uprising of 1936.
Basque literature currently feeds a small but dynamic industry, with an average of three hundred new works of fiction a year. Of these, poetry accounts for about thirty. Although the novel has undergone a major boom in the last twenty years, poetry is, in terms of quality and variety, the true expression of modern Basque conscience.