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Woodbridge, Suffolk: Tamesis, It is especially so because, although it is thought that some 3, languages will disappear during this century, it seems to be almost guaranteed that Basque will survive, or at least this is what can be deduced from the statements made by David Crystal in his book The Language Revolution.
Basque meets the sociohistorical criteria listed by Crystal as necessary to ensure survival or, minimally, not to join the list of endangered languages: it is a language that has a number of speakers that is considerable and clearly over ,; it has a political infrastructure that, at least in the Spanish Basque Country, defends, subsidizes, and legislates measures for its promotion and standardization; it has a significant television and media presence; and above all, it is clear that, for many Basque speakers, or euskaldunak, the Basque language is their most essential mark of identity.
These are the characteristics that lead Crystal to include Basque on his Top list of minority languages. But, if the specter of the death of the Basque language has been exorcised, to what needs does creation in Basque respond today? How have sociolinguistic factors determined the evolution of Basque literature? What has been the evolution of Basque Literature since the death of Franco?
These are some of the questions that I will address below. Thus, poetry not only became the founding genre of our literature, but also the genre that would lead the establishment of Basque literature, around , as an autonomous activity within Basque society. Clearly, there were extra-literary factors involved in the creation of the body of work in the Basque language.
This body of work lacked the most basic infrastructure necessary to establish itself as a developed literary system due to several barriers, such as the difficulty of publishing in Basque until , three of every four Basque books were published outside of the Basque Country, and there was a notable book, Peru Abarka, that took decades before it was finally published in , prohibitions on publishing, and a certain number of lost publications. All of these factors created a situation in which one of the most fundamental elements for the canonization and legitimization of literary texts, education in all its forms, never existed in Basque.
In the eighteenth century, Basque was declared a patois in the French Basque region, while in the Spanish Basque Country, laws and acts were passed to expand education in Spanish; for example, in , it became obligatory to teach the grammar defined by the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language. Furthermore, the authors and works that we now claim as part of our literary history did not belong to any system of Basque literature but to the system of the Church, with its pastoral approach and emphasis on the catechism.
It is, definitively, a literature shaped by the ups and downs of its language, with the result that, until the final third of the twentieth century, it had no full literary system, that is, one with a structure including the production, mediation, receipt, and recreation of consolidated texts.
Euskadi, Basque Homeland The most definitive event that shaped Basque literary life occurred in the nineteenth century. By , Iztueta had established an equivalence that would be decisive: that between the Fueros and the Basque language Aldekoa From this point on, the most fundamental purpose of writing in Basque would be to contribute to the creation of the Basque Nation.
This has been the case in the Basque Country as well, where literature has been used to establish an identity and a nation. At this time, through the Juegos Florales poetic contests , the publication of Cancioneros collections of songs and the impetus of philological studies, it was not merely a question of exorcising the specter of the death of the language, but also of developing it into a means of cultured expression appropriate to the times.
The debile principium melior fortuna sequatur with which Etxepare closed his book in did not find its true heir until the s, when the poet Xabier Lizardi, in his Eusko-Bidaztiarena Song of the Basque Traveler , again pointed out that the task of Basque literature was to transform the rustic language into a language worthy of any sphere Lertxundi Consistent with the concept of Nation that arose in the eighteenth century, Basque nationalism, too, was essentialist and met the characteristics, defined in , by the French Orientalist Ernest Renan, among others.
But neither the language used Lizardi and Lauaxeta followed the norms dictated by Sabino Arana , nor the chosen manner of expression helped authors reach the small Basque readership whose reading habits in Basque were almost non-existent. The Spanish Civil War, and the subsequent repression with its censorship and ban on publishing in Basque, slowed the clear literary advance that had begun with the poets of the Second Republic.
The arrival on the scene of the poet Gabriel Aresti served not only to carry literature written in Basque fully into the modern age, but also to assert that writing in Basque answered needs that surpassed solely nationalist considerations. Who says they love bread? Bread is not loved, it is needed.