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Basque Inquisition:

How Do You Say

Shepherd in Euskera?

Through Fiat, Separatists

Bring Old Tongue to Life;

'Zientzia' and Other Updates


November 6, 2007; Page A1

(See Corrections & Amplifications item below.)

BILBAO, Spain -- Rosa Esquivias is caught on the front line of the Basques' fight for independence from Spain. Actually, she's in the front row -- of her Basque language class.

Ms. Esquivias, a 50-year-old high-school math teacher and Spanish-speaking native of Bilbao, must learn Basque or risk losing her job. Like her nine classmates, including a man who teaches Spanish to immigrants, she has been given at least a year off with pay to spend 25 hours a week drilling verbs and learning vocabulary in Euskera -- a language with no relation to any other European tongue and spoken by fewer than one million people. About 450 million people world-wide speak Spanish.

[map of Basque region]

"For the job I do, I think learning the language is clearly over the top," Ms. Esquivias says.

Basque separatists have been waging a struggle for independence from Spain for 39 years. But lately, many have taken to wielding grammar instead of guns. Separatists still dream of creating their own homeland, but in the meantime they are experimenting with pushing a strict regime of Euskera into every corner of public life. Of the present-day Basque Country's approximately 2.1 million inhabitants, roughly 30% speak Basque; more than 95% speak Spanish.

The regional government of the Basque Country has begun to tighten the screws on its language policy to the point where now, all public employees, from mail-sorters to firemen, must learn Euskera to get -- or keep -- their jobs. Cops are pulled off the street to brush up their grammar. And companies doing business with the Basque government must conduct business in Euskera. Starting next year, students entering public school will be taught only in Basque.


Read the anthem of Athletic Bilbao, a Basque soccer team, in English and in Euskera, plus listen to a clip.

Although there is a shortage of doctors in the Basque Country, the Basque health service requires medical personnel to speak Euskera. Health-service regulations detail how Euskera should be used in every medical situation, from patient consultations down to how to leave a phone message or make an announcement over a public-address system 

(Basque first, then Spanish). There are rules specifying the typeface and placement of Basque signs in hospitals (Basque labels on top or to the left, and always in bold).

The official goal of the Basque policy is to transform Euskera from a "co-official" status with Spanish to "co-equal" status. That, say Euskera proponents, is necessary to make up for years of linguistic repression. The language was banned during the 36-year dictatorship of Francisco Franco, and only began to re-emerge in the 1980s.

"To have a truly bilingual society, you need positive discrimination," says Mertxe Múgica, the head of the Basque language academies where Ms. Esquivias studies. Many Basque speakers still feel discriminated against because of the pervasiveness of Spanish.

But as Basque nationalists try to push their language into the mainstream, they are bumping up against an uncomfortable reality.

"Euskera just isn't used in real life," says Leopoldo Barrera, the head of the center-right Popular Party in the Basque regional Parliament. Though it has existed for thousands of years -- there are written records in Basque that predate Spanish -- it is an ancient language little suited to contemporary life. Euskera has no known relatives, though theories abound linking it to everything from Berber languages to Eskimo tongues.

Airport, science, Renaissance, democracy, government, and independence, for example, are all newly minted words with no roots in traditional Euskera: aireportu, zientzia, errenazimentu, demokrazia, gobernu, independentzia.

Meanwhile, there are 10 different words for shepherd, depending on the kind of animal. Astazain, for instance, is a donkey herder; urdain herds pigs. A cowpoke is behizain in Euskera. While Indo-European languages have similar roots for basic words like numbers -- three, drei, tres, trois -- counting in Euskera bears no relation: bat, bi, hiru, lau, and up to hamar, or 10. Religious Basques pray to Jainko.

The regional government has spent years of effort and billions of euros to make sure that every official document, from job applications for sanitation workers to European Union agricultural grants, is available in Euskera. But this year, in San Sebastian, a hotbed of Basque nationalism and the region's second-largest city, not a single person chose to take the driver's license exam in Euskera, says Mr. Barrera.

The Basque-language TV channel is loaded with Euskera favorites, such as the irrepressible redhead "Pippi Galtzaluze." But the channel has a 4.4% audience share in the Basque Country, according to data from Taylor Nelson Sofres -- less than the animal-documentary channel of public broadcasting.

Even some of the biggest proponents of Basque independence stumble over Euskera's convoluted grammar. Juan José Ibarretxe, the Basque regional president, speaks a less-than-fluent Euskera at news conferences. Like most people in the region, he grew up speaking Spanish and had to learn Euskera as an adult.

Other adults who are now running afoul of the new language policy are having similar trouble picking up the tongue. "I guess we're the last of the old guard, but we don't have any choice," says Ignacio Garcia, a math teacher who is a classmate of Ms. Esquivias, and is sweating over a stack of notes before his first big Euskera exam.



The Basque language, or Euskera, has no relationship to Indo-European languages, and has its own particular grammar. Some key differences with Spanish or English: There is no gender, or separate prepositions, and it is a heavily inflected language. The same noun phrase can have 68 basic forms, depending on case, number, etc.


1. She bought me the tickets for the game.

Berak erosi zizkidan partidurako sarrerak.

-- Prepositions are included with word endings, as in Latin. The "-rako" ending of "game" means "for the."

-- "Berak" is the same whether "he" or "she" bought the tickets.

2. I told him not to drink it because it was too hot.

Nik ez edateko esan nion, oso bero zegoelako.

-- The "-k" marker is very characteristic of Euskera, used for plurals and direct objects.

-- "Elako" means "because" and goes at the end of "hot."

3. So in the end, are you going to the fiestas in Pamplona?

Azkenean joango zara iruñeko jaietara?

-- "Iruña" is Basque for "Pamplona," while "etara" means "to the (plural) fiestas."

Source: WSJ research, AEK Euskaltegi (Bilbao)

The language policy has led to a massive adult re-education push, as tens of thousands in the Basque Country head back to school. Their predicament has become a popular sendup on a Basque comedy show. In one sketch, non-Basque-speaking adults who have been sent to a euskaltegi, or Euskera language school, have to ask schoolchildren to help them with their homework.

Joseba Arregui, a former Basque culture secretary, native Basque speaker, and onetime architect of the language policy, feels that Euskera is being pushed too far. "It's just no good for everyday conversation," he says. "When a language is imposed, it is used less, and that creates a diabolical circle of imposition and backlash."

In the classroom, Euskera use has also allowed separatists to control the curriculum. Basque-language textbooks used in schools never tell students that the Basque Country is part of Spain, for example. No elementary-school texts even mention the word Spain.

Students are taught that they live in "Euskal Herria," stretching across parts of Spain and southern France, that was colonized by "the Spanish State."

Some local politicians worry that the insistence on Basque language makes any type of reconciliation between separatists and Spain impossible. "Everything young Basques later encounter in life -- like the fact they live in Spain -- then appears to be an imposition from Madrid," says Santiago Abascal, a regional deputy from the Popular Party who campaigns against the linguistic policy. "That creates frustration that keeps violence bubbling in the Basque Country," he says.

But back in the classroom, most of the frustration seems to be with the dense grammar, forthcoming exams, and the difficulty of finding quality shows on Basque TV.

Arantza Goikolea, Ms. Esquivias's teacher, leads a class through an exercise about their daily routines. Tamara Alende, 25, watches a lot of TV at night, she says in pidgin Euskera.

"Basque shows?" asks Ms. Goikolea. Ms. Alende lowers her head and turns red. "No, Spanish series," she mumbles, to a chorus of boos from the teacher and the rest of the class.

No language can be discredited because of the number of its speakers

Mr. Alan Murray

Executive Editor

The Wall Street Journal

200 Liberty Street

New York, N.Y. 10281

REACTION III: Where to write a reaction

Wall Street Journal Likens Basque Language Policies to Support of Separatists

In his November 6 article in the Wall Street Journal Online, Keith Johnson compares the Basque language policy of Euskadi to the Spanish Inquisition. There are even more twisted words, untruths and biased reporting. Among those that stand out the most are:

---- "Euskara just isn't used in real life" Partido Popular member Leopoldo Barrera.

---- "In the classroom, Euskara has allowed separatists to control the curriculum"

---- "It's just no good for everyday conversation" Joseba Arregui, former Basque culture secretary

---- the map that accompanies the article shows only the Autonomous region of Euskadi as being Euskal Herria

---- no interviews with current members of the government of Euskadi, nor anyone else with anything positive to say

---- halfway through the article, the term "separatists" is replaced by the term "nationalists"

Too many biased articles like this one are written about the Basque Country and it's issues. The Basque Diaspora could do something. Let's start responding to them. There are little things that can be done very easily. In this case, e-mails and/or calls to the author of the article and the Editors of the Wall Street Journal can be done. Please be polite in your e-mails and phone messages. Rudeness will only hurt our message. Let's do this by Friday, November 9th!

Contact info:

---- Keith Johnson, article's author:

---- Wall Street Journal comments and feedback:

---- Alan Murray, Executive Editor:

---- Jamie Heller, Deputy Managing Editor:

---- Dave Pettit, Deputy Managing Editor:

---- Customer Support, United States: 1-800-369-2834


Cathleen Acheritogaray, Corte Madera, CA

Mr. Johnsons Reply...

Dear Mr. Murray,

After Reading the article written by Keith Johnson and published by your newspaper under the title “Basque Inquisition: How do you say Shepherd in Euskera”, I would like to express my astonishment with the lack of knowledge and culture of its author, as well as my indignation for the lack of respect and the treatment shown to very sensitive aspects of the Basque cultural identity and the Basque language. There are so many false statements and so much lack of knowledge of the Basque Country, Basque language and its political structure in this article that it is surprising to me that such a prestigious newspaper as the Wall Street Journal published it.

After 40 years of active repression under a dictatorship, the Basque language is rebounding and headed off the list of moribund languages. This is due to an effort by the Basque government to provide services, including education and health, in Euskara, the language that most people in the area prefer to use. While Basques are comfortable using Spanish in everyday activities, the majority continue to vote for the parties that encourage more use of Euskara in public. In fact, public schools that provide instruction mainly in Euskara continue to grow due to voluntary enrollment by parents. Basque children do not leave these institutions unable to speak or write in Spanish. Quite the contrary, under current linguistic policy they graduate with academic fluency in Basque, Spanish, English, and quite often a fourth language.

I would also like to note that by Spanish constitutional law Basque is an official language in the Basque Country along with Spanish. Therefore, all public institutions have the obligation to protect it, promote it and require its knowledge, especially in public areas such as education.

In mixing political issues with educational policy and the personal stories of a minority of teachers, the author creates confusion and paints a picture of a climate of manipulation that is far from reality. The teachers that the author mentions in his article have had the opportunity to learn Euskara for free during work hours for 2 to 3 years with a full salary paid by the Basque Government. After this period these teachers didn’t pass the required exam: Is that discrimination?

Furthermore, all languages are systematic and cannot be judged to be more highly evolved than another. The Basque language, though spoken by a relatively small group of people, is just as worthy of respect as any other. The examples for its so-called primitiveness would make any linguist in the world laugh. All languages borrow words from other languages. The same words that Mr. Johnson uses to show the backwardness of Basque are similar in English and Spanish as well. Democracy, democracia, demokrazia. These are all words with Greek origins.

Lastly, Mr. Johnson notes that theories link Basque to Berber and Eskimo languages. I’m not sure what “theories” these are since linguists believe Basque is the last of many languages that once existed across Europe and were forced out by the arrival of Indo-Europeans beginning about 2000 BC. Basque seems to have survived more serious assaults than this article, though it is a stunning piece of misinformation.

Aitor Sotes,

Delegate of the Basque Country in the US 

.Subject: RE: "Basque Inquisition"

Date: Thu, 8 Nov 2007 11:44:06 +0100


Dear All:

First of all, I wanted to thank you for taking the time and trouble to write. And forgive the mass nature of the reply, but the sheer volume of mail makes individual responses physically impossible.

Second, for the many non-English speakers among you, I appreciate the effort made to write in English.

While there were a variety of opinions regarding the article, a common complaint was that it denigrated Euskera. I think that some people have seen only local press summaries which, I feel, presented a distorted view of what I wrote, but even some readers who saw the original version took umbrage at certain aspects.

I wanted to stress that I never set out to denigrate Euskera, and regret any offense it may have caused to Basque speakers. As in any article, I tried to gather a variety of different voices and present their opinions, rather than my own.

Which brings me to two smaller points that many readers complained about. First, the headline, “Inquisition.” That is an unfortunate choice of words; but in U.S. newspapers, journalists don’t write their own headlines.

Secondly, many readers complained that the article somehow is related to an editorial agenda of News Corp., and drew a link with one member of the News Corp. board, Jose Maria Aznar. I just wanted to stress that whatever errors there are in the article are mine; there is never any interference from above at any time, and certainly not when the editorial independence of the newspaper has been the key concern during the whole takeover process.

Best regards

Keith Johnson

“En todos los sitios se cuecen habas”

Mr. Johnson I do appreciate your time taken to respond the grate number of e-mails responding your first article “Basque inquisition’ has caused. As you write in your apologetic response you say” In my article, I tried to gather a variety of different voices and present their opinions. ”The fact of interviewing 3 politicians of the same political party as in this case is the “Partido Popular” Spanish political Right Wing whose opinions and actions had not been but repress any aid toward the expansion and normalization of the Basque language in its society and territories of Euskal Herria. Whose president is Jose Maria Aznar, and who is one of the new members of the Board of Directors of the news where you write The Wall Street Journal. I call it different voices yes, but they express the same suppressing and mocking opinions toward a culture and language as in this case the Euskera. I am speech less! about Joseba Arregui”s coments in your article “Basque Inquisition”. What a shame, he should change his name to JO… SE…. BA….! ARRE con la GUI…..

Mr. Johnson you clear yourself from such a political incorrect title “The Basque Inquisition” by saying “…Unfortunatly in the U.S. newspapers, journalists don’t write their own headlines”. So who does write them??? Who should be held responsible for choosing it?? The Board of Directors of the Wall Street journal??? I guess……I’m confused since toward the end of the article you strongly “stress that whatever errors there are in the article are mine; there is never any interference from above at any time, and certainly not when the editorial independence of the newspaper has been the key concern during the whole take over process. Now please let me know Mr. Johnson who should be held responsible for choosing such political incorrect title “The Basque Inquisition” Your self Mr. Johnson, The Board of Directors of The Wall Street Journal or the editorial whos is concerned in the independence of the journal but not of the journalist.

“En todos los sitios se cuecen habas” is an old Spanish saying. If you don’t understand it ask Jose Maria Aznar what it means.


Itziar Albisu, President of the Basque Club of New York.

Nov. 11, 2007                      

startled by ignorance and lack of professionalism

POLITICAL INTERESTS AGAINST THE LANGUAGE OF THE BASQUES, EUSKERA in Keith Johnson’s article of the Wall Street Journal - Basque Inquisition- of Nov.6th, 2007

Mr. Keith Johnson, by reading your article I was startled by the magnitude of your ignorance and lack of professionalism. To write this article it was enough to accept

the opinion of one stream instead of the whole Basque Regional politicians, tells me that either you are a lazy reporter or you are writing with a bias point.

In your article you cite names like Leopoldo Barrera the head of the center -right Popular Party in the Basque Regional Parliament who says that ”Euskera just isn’t used in real life” ;. Santiago Abascal Regional deputy from the Popular Party who campaigned against the linguistic policy says that such policy”crates frustration that keeps violence

Bubling in the Basque Country”,and Joseba Arregui former Basque cultural secretary also from the Popular party. Have you tried to prove the accuracy of this statements? Such linguistic policy is protecting and defending the use

of Euskera in a society that belongs, to Basques. Have you Mr. Keith Johson care to get correct information from the same Basque Government how

long do this teachers have to learn Euskera with pay?? Or do you need to be corrected as you were on the Nov.7,2007 Spain's Basque Country …correcting the area of the map that accompanied the first article…Have you cared to ask the basque

society if they think that such policies are worth the tax payer’s money?? Have you researched

for the unanimous response that the Basque people gave to KORRIKA 2007 in the Whole

Basque Territory included Navarre and the Basque Regions in France?? It was as clear as water. The answer was for the use of the Basque Language in all aspects of life;

The introduction of words as internet, independence, democracy, government etc…

Also has been introduced in Spanish, Japanese, English, French, and many more languages…..Or do you rather prefer… lursare, askatasuna, denoniritzia, agintaritza….I see you do not know that Euskera is a very flexible language, let it be …..

Such linguistic policy is implemented to guarantee that Euskera recuperates the respect

and thrives within its people as it was before Spanish, French and other colonization. I can but disagree with Mr. Joseba Arregui’s statement that “When a language is imposed, it is used less, and that creates a diabolical circle of imposition and backlash” now let me ask you, didn't that happened in the case of the imposition of Spanish

language on the Basques?? Something tells me that there is a confession of mea culpa

in the words of Joseba Arregui, wich are echoed all over your article Mr. Johnson.

If these teachers are so upset…. let me better ask you

Mr. Johnson, since it seems that you know best how to educate the American readers, do they have a place within the Euskalduna,(Basque) society because as I suppose you know what Euskalduna (Basque)

means one who speaks basque or literally, has the Basque Language. This language as you stated it in you article is in this world since thousands of years ago. I cannot comprehend why not let it be thousands more???

Miren Itziar Albisu Gojenola

President of Basque Club of New York 

How do say Ipurdi Zulo in English?

From: Sam Zengotitabengoa <>To: <>

Date: Tue, 6 Nov 2007 17:12:31 -0500

Subject: How do You Say Ipurdi Zulo in English?

Mr. Johnson,

I am appalled at your article "Basque Inquisition: How Do You Say Shepherd in Euskera?", dated November 6, 2007.

As a Basque-American consciously choosing to live in a city where diverse cultures and people are celebrated, I am astonished at your short sightedness and xenophobia. It is true that Euskera is a complex and challenging language to learn. By the same token it is one of the most dynamic and structurally creative languages to use. So you, nor anyone, should fear it. Instead all humanity should embrace it and promote it. In short, to promote diversity and maintain cultural identity, the teaching of minority languages, such as Euskera, is critical. Not to do so is to promote homogenity and the death of culture. I am sorry that you and/or the Wall Street Journal appear to espouse the latter view.

Sam Zengotitabengoa

5422 1st Street, N.E.

Washington, DC 20011

Tel.: (202) 965-5552

Mobile: (202) 255-9319

Euskera, voted by the majority

Dear Editor,

I wrote a letter to my fellow Basque-Americans in New York after reading an opinion of a Basque grammar school in the province of Bizkaia in the Basque Country about the article in the Wall Street Journal written by Keith Johnson on November 6, 2007. I have to admit that I had not read this article prior to writing this message which I have included for your review.

As you can see, my response to the article was not an approval stating that, if what was stated by this school were to have been true, this journalist had not investigated thoroughly the topic. I have now had the opportunity to read this article in depth and not only am disgusted by it, but also am ashamed that such a prestegious newspaper would have journalists that do not contrast their sources nor do their homework.

I am from New York and have been living in the Basque Country for more than nine years and am what they call here an EUSKALDUN BERRI. This means that I learned Basque as an adult. I paid and spent many months interned to do so and am very proud of it. Today, I am able to speak to many Native Basque speakers fluently and am working in a company that offers socio-cultural travel within and outside of the Basque Country in Basque. This is not a governmental job, nor did anyone, aside from my family, help me pay for my Basque studies. If Mr. Johnson were to have researched more properly, than he would have learned that public school teachers are given 2 years with pay to learn Basque. This is done because at the moment the party that holds office, voted by the majority, believes that it is necessary. Not only does this party feel that way, but also many more.

In the Basque Country, many people who have been raised only speaking in Basque do not have the option to be attended to in their native tongue in hospitals, courts and so forth in their own country or province. They are forced to speak in spanish or french in thae case of the provinces in France. Telephone companies here in Spain understand how important it is to offer people information in Basque so much that if you call for information you have the option to speak in both Basque and spanish.

As far as the driver's license comment is concerned, I too, although having the option to take the exam in English, chose to take it in spanish. I would have preferred to have taken it in english, being that this is my native language, but the only thing in english or basque is the exam. There are no books to study for the driver's license exam other than in spanish. This is the main reason why almost all Basques choose to take it in spanish. Can you imagine taking an exam in spanish when you studied for it in English?

I will not get into the Basque television issue because such things are more complex than the article reflects. Every aspect should be studied before stating a couple of facts. And if every aspect were to have been studied, than this journalist chose to leave important factors out that would show that he truly did his job.

To end my letter, I will only say that it is extremely difficult to maintain a language so ancient especially when being hit from all sides. The Basque language is very much alive, both in the Basque Country and around the world. Basques have been adventurers, navigators, sheepherders, business people, politicians and much more that who settled all over the world. All you need to do is look up Basque clubs, centers, societies etc. in Google and you will see how many exist. I would ask Mr. Johnson to be more sensitive to certain issues and to not take them too lightly. It is possible that he may offend many including those living in the US and even though we are from the land of freedom, others also have the same freedom to tell the truth.

Michele Fernandez

BASQUE-AMERICAN living in the Basque Country

Carmen 31, Bloque 3, 6-B

48340 Amorebieta (Bizkaia)

+34 94 630 0858

Sad to say..........

This comment is from our NYBC Blog entered by Taina:

Remember the recent anti-Euskera article in the Wall Street Journal? It just occurred

to me that none other than Jose M. Aznar serves as a director on the board of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.,

which recently purchased the Wall Street Journal. Hmm, coincidence?

As you all know, Aznar accused ETA of the M-11 massacre in Madrid even after there

was substantial evidence pointing to Islamic groups. His political party (PP) has been,

at least in my opinion, one of the leading groups responsible for demonizing all Basques

(in ETA or not)

and their culture, and stereotyping them as terrorists.

Sad to say, I expect to see a few more anti-Basque articles in the Journal.

The language defines who we are and what we are


I grew up under Franco's dictatorship. I was forbidden to speak euskera in the streets and in the classroom. My name Inaki was forbidden, was not "Christian". The euskera is a proto-Indo-European language. "Euskalduna" (Basque) is a person that speaks euskera. The language defines who we are and what we are. My parents and uncles all fought as "gudaris", basque soldiers, to preserve our land and our language, our culture and ancient customes.

In a 40 year oppressive dictatorship we lost ground in our euskera. Yes, we have taken rigorous measures to preseve it and to extend our area of linguistical influence. So did Israel who resucitated a dead language. Quebeck is also seen as preserving a redundant, unnecessary and economically costly language. And so many minority countries. How many States in the USA did not made a law "only English" as official language? Why does not the US declare Spanish as a second language? Inquisition? Look at the way the "Illegals" are been treated

The words you refer to as "non-Basque" are Latin or Greek derived. English is over 60% Latin/Greek based. So what's your point? During 40 years Franco's Regime "systematically" suppressed any expression of the Basque culture, mainly its language. In 1956 I founded a Basque Magazine YAKIN (KNOWLEDGE), which today still is considered the best cultural magazine, all in euskera. Our goal was to preserve and develop, in clandestinity, our language in cultural and technical areas. We also built and underground structure of "ikastolas", Basque schools, supported by the people.Until the late 80's.Yes we lost ground during 40 years, and yes the new technology was not properly absorbed into euskera by my generation. We are working at it.

I've see an amaizing, unimaginable progress in assimilating modern culture into our language. It is not fair to criticize us at this point. New generations are being systematically exposed to the new culture in euskera.I understand your point of view. But maybe you did not dig deep enough in the history and evolution of the Basque People and Language.

I would expect your kind of comments from a local, biased paper, never from the Wall Street Journal. No hard feelings, Mr. Johnson, but we do feel very strongly about who we are. That's why we have survived the Romans, The Visigoths, Ostrogoths, Arabs for hundred and thousands of years! And yes, we survived Franco, JM Aznar and whover stands in our way. Simply, we are what we are, euskaldunak, and our country is Euskalherria.



It's about time to put those Basques were they belong

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I take this opportunity to congratulate you for your excellent article titled "Basque Inquisition: How do you say shepherd in Euskera?".

The editorial staff at the Wall Street Journal must be so proud to count with such an intelligent, well informed and witty reporter like you.

It was about time to put those Basques in the place were they all belong, watching over a herd of something, be it pigs, donkeys, cows, whatever, who cares, their basic intellects fit perfectly with their cavemen-era language and shepherding is the only activity that they should be allowed to perform. Your article will finally make them understand that they do no belong in this world.

Even more, I like your brave posture regarding the languages that modern people should speak, besides the Spanish that you mention (how else could we interact with the janitors and the groundskeepers slaving away in our transnational megacorporations) the only languages that should be allowed in this high tech world are English, French, Russian and Japanese. All the other ones should disappear along with that Euskara non sense. I think you should take it a step forward and call for all the books written in Euskara and other dialects to be burn in huge bonfires in front of the city halls of all the cities of the world. Who needs dialects like Mayan, Hebrew or Tagalog when we can all communicate perfectly in English?

The Basques must understand that the day that they decided to be part of Spain and France a compromise to learn real languages was included in the deal, I mean, they begged to be French and Spanish for so long, why then this useless obsession with speaking a language that only cows, sheep and donkeys understand?

Plus, we have to remember the warning given to the free world by the great human rights champion and liberator of the Iraqi people, José María Aznar, who constantly reminded us that every single Euskera speaking person is a potential terrorist. Why else would he help making the world safer by clamping down on the Ikastolak (the Basque language school system) and shutting down evil media outlets like Egunkaria and Euskal Irratia?

We need to take our fight against terrorism one step further, why don't you contact your congressman in order to get the USA to donate the money needed to build walls around the Basque towns were people still speak their barbaric and violent Euskera language? We can not afford for them to switch back from wielding grammar to wielding guns. A wall is working for the USA and for Israel, why not for Spain and France?

I specially liked the part where you tell the Basques that they are so stupid that 2,000 years ago they did not come up with Euskera words for airport, computer, fiber optic, quantum physics, television and space station; I mean, they did not have those back then?

This lack of words in their vocabulary indicates just how inferior Basques are when compared to their Spanish and French counterparts. That explains why the Spaniards have been trying to erase them from the face of the earth like they did with those tribes in America called Aztecs and Incas. If the Spanish were not so obedient of the international laws that bestow rights to the Basques and other üntermenschen Madrid could have solved this problem a long time ago.

So Keith, I hope you can accept my invitation to a nice bullfight in Madrid so we can share together the amazing and progressive Spanish culture, then we could go to the subway and kick a Latin American teenage girl on the head, later we could take part in a paramilitary parade organized by the Ermua's Forum and the Falange Youth, finally we could cap it up by taking flowers to the Valle de los Caídos to honor Francisco Franco and thank Adolph Hitler and Benito Mussolini for ushering a new age of light and brotherhood in Spain.

Yours truly,

Alejandro Eguía-Lis

A country and society that is trying to find its own destiny

Mr. Johnson´s article is a biased account of the status of the Basque language, Euskera, in the Basque Country, a country and society that is trying to find its own destiny and means of self-determination after centuries of being under the governments and impositions of Spain and France. For one, the local government (Basque Government) provides today the means for its citizens to learn its own language after years and centuries of prohibition and reprisals by the governments of these two countries. In fact both Spain and France are well known in history for its infamous and murderous application of the HOLY INQUISITION against its own people and the Basque people, resulting in the torture and death of thousands of men, women, and children throughout the ages. In a sordid twist of things and irresponsible manner, Mr. Johnson chose to imply in his article that Basque society and its form of semi-autonomous local government use inquisition means to encourage the learning of its own language. The Basque society has been for centuries and is today still the victim, not the aggressor. This form of irresponsible journalism should have no space in a reputable journal such as the WSJ. Please advise on how to register my complaint, and who is the person or board I should direct my complaint to. Also please advise on how articles submitted for publication in the WSJ are screened or not screened before its actual publication, and whether the WSJ would consider publishing my rebuttal of Mr. Johnson´s irresponsible article.

Yours truly,


Dr. Ambrose Goikoetxea, Ph.D.

Euskal Herria 21st Century Foundation

P.O. Box 267

20500 Arrasate-Mondragon, Gipuzkoa

It was illegal to speak Basque in Spain

Mr. Johnson,

It is certainly sad to see that your article was published.

Are you inclined to ignore human culture, nourished over the course of the centuries? It seems to me that you have learned a lot from culture without being capable of retaining any since it is clear that your heritage is of no importance to you.

I suppose you might be American? Correct me if I am wrong but you possibly support the futile war your country is waging in Iraq? - Attacking a country home to one of the most ancient civilizations in the world. Your country’s greed and “addiction” to oil, attempting to force Iraqi's to do business with you - this will never happen - they will never play by your rules. You know this but have too much face to admit it and unfortunately for you, not enough culture to understand why.

I am very glad that the person you mention in your article is enrolled in Basque language class, possibly sitting in the front row. Although some Basques don’t immediately appreciate it (possibly due to the general lack of appreciation for Basque culture in Spain) It is very good and positive to be paid and have a year off to learn - in fact it is wonderful! I wish I had this opportunity before moving to an English speaking country, however, unfortunately, at the time it was illegal to speak Basque in Spain. My point is that protecting cultural heritage, through language, as is the case with Euskara is essential - it is our strongest link with our past -

however a better question might be: Do you value the computer that you wrote your article from more than the culture (or lack of) that you were raised and educated with?

Remember: Computer files are erased in less than a second.

Ana Iriondo

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry

To the editors:

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry reading Keith Johnson’s piece on Basque language instruction (November 6th issue). I’m sure someone else has already written to correct its many factual errors. Since 1999, I’ve been in at least a dozen adult-education language classes in the Basque Country, the majority of my classmates being Spanish-speaking Basques, and while our wrestlings with the Basque language were similar, I have to say that with very, very few exceptions my classmates took the regional language requirements cheerfully and in good part. Though every one of them—this is true—fervently wished that he or she had already learned Basque in elementary school or before, at an age when it is easiest to learn a second language.

The faction in Spain that is unwilling to regard Basque or the other peninsular minority languages as a national treasure is itself perhaps feeling a similarly minoritarian sensation faced with the worldwide dominance of English (about a billion speakers, as against the 450 million Spanish speakers the article cited). The Basque speakers in Spain and France, who are nearly 99 percent bilingual, will probably be in a much better position than anyone when we all need to learn Chinese.

I have noticed that my Latin-American friends in New York City feel much the same way the Basque speakers I’ve met in the Basque Country do, though they are relatively recent arrivals here, compared with the Basques’ several thousand-plus years in situ. In any event, there is no gainsaying the power of “Yes” in your own language. I felt that very thing in Madrid in 1990, in the Cines Alphaville, seeing Kenneth Branagh’s “Henry V” in a (for Spain) rare undubbed version. My own mother tongue! It was the first time I was truly aware that I, too, had one. It made me cry.

Elizabeth Macklin

207 W. 14th Street (5F)

New York, NY 10011


I invite you to have a look at the doctoral theses that are written in the Basque language every year.

Dear Mr. Johnson

I am writing this e-mail as a response to the impression that your article about the Basque language (WSJ, Basque Inquisition: How Do You Say Shepherd in Euskera? November 6, 2007) has made on me. As, from my point of view, your article is full of mistakes, falsehoods and bias, I will try to shed some more light on this topic.

You open your article with a polemic issue: the need to learn Basque language on the part of teachers. As you know, Basque is a co-official language (together with Spanish) in the three provinces of the Basque Autonomous Community. Co-official means that I, as a citizen of the BAC, have the right to be taught in Basque if I want (or my parents want). As the demand for education in Basque has dramatically increased in the last decades, so has the need for Basque-speaking teachers. It is the duty of the government to guarantee this basic right (anchored in the Spanish Constitution and in the Basque Statute).

As for the teachers forced to learn Basque to teach in that language, I can assure you it is not a tragedy for most of the them. They can have two, three or more years off, at their full wages, just to be a student again. After that they know one more language, which is always enriching, and they are probably opener to learn a third one.

You have also mentioned other public services like health service, police or postal system. Though I have the right to be attended in Basque by these public workers it will be difficult to find somebody to answer me in that language, specially in towns like Bilbao or Vitoria (which by the way is the second largest town in the Basque Country). Changes in these fields are clearly slow, and saying that we have no specialists because we demand Basque is false and a total insult to our intelligence.

Deep down, when people complain about the need for Basque-speaking public workers, they are calling into question the co-officiality of the Basque language. They are probably not against Basque, but they would be happier if it only were spoken among shepherds or inside one’s home.

Here we have Leopoldo Barreda’s words: “Euskera just isn't used in real life”. Rather than “in real life” it should be understood as “in my life”. I invite you, Mr. Johnson, to visit “my real life” and see if Basque is used or not. I don’t understand why you have espoused Mr. Barreda’s opinion and not that of a Basque-speaking person. Mr. Barreda does not know Basque and consequently he does not use or feel Basque in his life. When a Basque-speaking person is with a not-speaking one, we have no problem in using Spanish. Unfortunately, this leads to an invisibility of the Basque language for many monolingual Spanish speakers.

The funniest part of your article is the one about etymology. You remark that Basque language is full of neologisms. You mention “democracy”. Do you think democracy is a truly original English word? I thought it was ancient Greek. So in Spanish (democracia), French (démocratie) or Basque (demokrazia) we just use the same Greek root for the same word. You also mention “airport”. I guess in English or Spanish they did not have many airports in the 19th century. So I suppose they had to make it up and look for some common roots. We say “aireportua”. Is it that so strange? I could go on and on with the rest or the terms you have mentioned but I hope you have got the point.

I completed my whole education in Basque language (including further education) but maybe you are sharper than me, so if you have found a textbook in which the fact that “Euskal Herria was colonized by the Spanish State” is mentioned, I ask you please to show it to me. This is a common fallacy used by Spanish nationalist, but it is just not true.

Probably the most insulting part of your article is when you compare violence and language. By suggesting that wielding guns is the same as wielding (Basque) grammar you are insulting me and many others who are against violence and actually think that violence is a considerable deterrent for the acceptance of Basque in other fields.

I would like to end this letter inviting you to have a look at the doctoral theses that are written in the Basque language every year, to listen to some electronic music sung in Basque or have a surf through the flourishing Basque blog community. Hopefully, you will not dare again to say that Basque is not a language for modern times.

Yours sincerely

Katixa Agirre

Ignorance & Prejudice


To:, wsj.ltrs@wsj

Date: Wed, 7 Nov 2007 15:51:52 EST

Subject: Ignorance & Prejudice

Editor of Letters & Keith Johnson:

Ignorance and Prejudice stand out in your article "Basque Inquisition: How Do You Say Shepherd in Euskera?"

November 6, 2007.

If the author of this article had done his homework, he would have learned some secrets of Basque survival:

preserve the best of your culture and forge ahead with new ideas and discoveries; no kings and no slaves;

believe in liberty and respect for all humans. If he had researched the history of John Adams, the second president of the US. when he toured the Basque Country, he would have understood that John Adams admired the Basques' historical form of government which he said was "A defense of the Constitution of the United States". In 1786, he wrote "this extraordinary people have preserved their ancient language, genius, laws, government, and manners.....longer than any other of Europe...their love of liberty, and unconquerable aversion to a foreign servitude ...(was) not to have a king." The American Constitution

was approved by the first thirteen States on September 17, 1787.

It is unconscionable that the article scorns the Basque language and the effort of the regional government to restore the language that Dictator Franco tried to wipe out during all the years he punished Basques for speaking their native language. Anyone who understands the famous Picasso painting,

"Guernica", knows how Basques suffered when, in 1937, Hitler's Condor Legion, supported by Mussolini and Franco, razed the sacred Basque town killing innocent humans. That was the beginning of modern technology killing the masses and we are engaged in that atrocity more than ever today.

Your article stating that Basque is an ancient language not suited to contemporary life is ridiculous. Basques are a multi-lingual people. They speak Basque, Spanish, French and also English. The reference

to modern words such as airport, science, democracy, independence,etc. now appear with Basque spelling: aireportu, zientzia, demokrazia, independentzia. etc. Does the author recognize that most languages are using Latin and Greek words for these concepts? What about English, which is mostly

Latin and Greek with a few other languages thrown in? Should we mock the Engllish language because it is not a pure language? I think not, no language is pure.

It was rather amusing that several linguistic terms for shepherd were cited to show how outdated the Basque language is: astazain (donkey herder), urdain (herds pigs) ,behizain (cowpoke). An insight into the construction of the words would have revealed that zain. or ain, is a suffix which means

a person who takes care of (something). Asto is a donkey, ur is a pig, behi is a cow, therefore the words are specific about what animals are being cared for. The reference to counting of numbers also belittles the language by stating that there is nothing similar to Indo-European languages. Wrong. Basque, like French adds numbers in twenties.

As an American born, of Basque ancestry, it is painful to observe that our isolated view of the superiority of the United States has propelled us into a horrendous, costly war that we are paying for, and will continue to pay for, in many ways and many days. It is time to understand and respect other cultures that might give us some insights into survival and peace.

Dr. Emilia Doyaga, Vice President

Society of Basque Studies in America

19 Colonial Gardens

Brooklyn,NY 11209

Tel. 718 745 114

OTHER BLOG responses

Keith Johnson Wall Street Journaleko kazetariari bidalitako emaila

Goizean konturatu naiz Wall Street Journal-eko Johnson kazetariak euskarari buruzko kaleraturiko artikuluaz. Ezin genezakeen arras desberdina litzatekeen beste zerbait espero, WSJko burua nor den jakinda (Rupert Murdock, bai JM Aznar aholkulari moduan duen tipo hori).

Hala ere, bidali diot emaila (nahiz eta erantzunik ez dudan egiatan espero):

Dear Mr. Johnson,

I have read your article with sadness and even anger, because I think writing such an insulting article about Basque language, is an insult to all Basque speakers. I will quote five of your sentences in the article (the list could be as long as twenty sentences, but you might be quite short of time) and I will try to explain my point of view as good as I can:

1- "it is an ancient language little suited to contemporary life" Well Mr. Johnson, I speak to my relatives, friends, classmates... in Basque. I even study Physics in Basque. Nowadays, scientific articles, newspapers, essays, books... are written in Basque language, and it has nothing to envy to Spanish, French or English versions in terms of accuracy, preciseness and comprehensibility.

2-"Airport, science, Renaissance, democracy, government, and independence, for example, are all newly minted words with no roots in traditional Euskera: aireportu, zientzia, errenazimentu, demokrazia, gobernu, independentzia." Asuming that all the words you have put have never existed before in Basque (which is a wrong assumtion) In all languages new words are created as the society grows and develops and so does the register or vocabulary. So does in English, as Shakespeare never wrote in Hamlet words as nanotechnology, internet or football.

3-"Euskera use has also allowed separatists to control the curriculum" The Basque languages is an heritage for -and of- ALL the Basque people, it has nothing to do with politics.

4-" Many Basque speakers still feel discriminated against because of the pervasiveness of Spanish." Well, I still feel discriminated, because every time I have to go to the doctor or having any other conversation with a civil servant (who is a civil servant for ALL of the Basque people, Basque speakers and non-Basque speakers) I have to switch to Spanish, a language that maybe I do not speak as well as Basque, that is why we feel discriminated, because we can not speak in Basque in much of everyday situations. Thus, that discrimination exists.

5- "But back in the classroom, most of the frustration seems to be with the dense grammar, forthcoming exams, and the difficulty of finding quality shows on Basque TV." All language grammar is dense to deal with. Basque is as difficult to learn for adults as Spanish, English or Swahili, there are no difficult or easy languages, they are just different.

I apologize for mistakes or harsh language I have might used unconsciously due to my lack of English language mastering.

I look forward to hearing from you soon,

Yours sincerely,

Mikel Iturbe

Nork: mikel.2007/11/07 13:41:10.379 GMT+1

Etiketak: euskara ingelesez irainak kazetaritza | Permalink | Erantzunak (2) | Errenferentziak: (0)


Zorianak zuri Mikel zure mezuarengatik.

Zergatik Keith Johnsoni bidaltzeaz gain ez diozu Wall Street Journaleko zuzendariari idazten ?

Babez dezagun bai gure Euskara maitea.



Euskaldun jaio nintzen, eta euskaldun hazi, euskara hil ezkero, ez nuke nahi bizi

Nork: Todor .2007/11/08 00:54:22.039 GMT+1

Aupa Todor!

Zuzendariari bidaltzea ere pentsatu nuen baina gero hainbat arrazoirengatik arrazoia baztertu nuen:

1-Lepoa jokatuko nuke zuzendariak berak ez dituela epostak irakurriko eta esplotaturiko bekadun bat egongo dela hori egiten.

2- Zuzendaria enteratuko balitz ere, jakinda zer-nolako ildo editoriala duen egunkariak, uste dut ezer-gutxirako balioko duela, berean jarraituko baitu.

Horregatik, eraginkorragoa iruditu zait eposta kazetariari bidaltzea eta erantzunik ez jasotzean publiko egitea.

Nork: mikel.2007/11/08 10:45:30.055 GMT+1

Idatzi artikulu bat

I am totally ashamed of this fellow American

About the article written by Keith Johnson in the Wall Street Journal.

If what they say on this web page is true I just have to say one thing: This journalist did not do his job. Public school teachers in the Basque Country have had many years to learn basque. They give them not one but TWO years with full-time PAY to learn Basque paid by taxpayers and voters of whom the majority plus are in favor of doing.

I am totally ashamed of this fellow American who if had lived at the time when Americans obtained their independence from the British possibly would have been one of the top supporters of the AMERICAN REVOLUTION. What now, everyone is a separatist or a terrorist? What ever happened to revolting against an authority that has oppressed and damaged a culture,language and country.

Let's move 30 years forward after Franco's dictatorship when the Basque were the worst of the worsts to today where supposedly DEMOCRACY is at work. Because as I see it, the nationalist who agree with learning Basque are in office and other political parties who also agree with this are also in the parliament.

I, as an American living in the Basque country, spent my hard earned money to learn basque. 6 hours a day, 5 days a week, for 9 months straight. Afterwards I went to euskaltegis, and later spent my summer vacation (3 weeks in total) interned learning basque and no one paid me, nor supported me, nor forced me! This teacher has the nerve to complain. I live here 9 years and 9 years ago she could have began learning Basque when she was 41, because they were also obligating teachers to learn then. With me in that 9 month period there were many teachers learning. Why did she wait so long?

No one said it would be easy, but this woman has a public job and a public job in the Basque Country requires that. If you want the benefits of having a public job, which in the Basque country is extremely beneficial, you must fulfill all requirements. If she does not like it, than she would have to convince the majority of the Basques to vote against it and that way public job workers would not have to learn Basque. But for now, majority rules and the majority rules to have public office workers learn Basque. Hopefully one day it will not be necessary to obligate anyone to learn Basque, because ideally everyone would know Basque prior to leaving the high school. What is so bad about that. I know 3 languages and would love to know more.

Basque Inquistion he says? What about the "English" or the "Spanish" inquisitions. I believe that many countries throughout the world that now speak english or spanish did not speak it prior to those "inquisitions" including the one in NORTH AMERICA. I would have loved to see what English Politician or American would have paid teachers 2 years to learn English at that time.

The majority of Basques believe that it is necessary and that is what matters! They also found a way to do it where that person who is learning Basque would not be hurt economically. I believe this it is called DEMOCRACY and not an inquisition. I wonder if Mr. Johnson while doing his investigation has traveled to towns where the majority speak in Basque and if he has asked those living there what they think about this. A different point-of view I believe. as a journalist, Keith Johnson should do his job and investigate and analize all aspects of this situation, not just impose his ideology in 3 or 4 paragraphs, because if what this web page says is true, he is doing just that, imposing his ideology, and that goes against the ethics of journalism that, in theory, should inform the entire truth not only one aspect of it or, excuse my French, in a half-sassed way.

Michele Fernandez

BASQUE-AMERICAN living in the Basque Country.

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