As with the Celtic languages in Wales, Ireland and parts of Scotland, Euskara is compulsory these days for all young people in school, so, whether native Basque or immigrant, you will learn Euskara. There are three types of school, and you can choose to go to any of them: Basque-speaking, Spanish-speaking or mixed Basque and Spanish. Whichever you go to, you’ll have to learn both Basque and Spanish. (Basque-speaking schools are called ‘ikastolak’, and the first one was opened in 1914.)
Here in Bilbao, you don’t hear much Euskara. There are two main reasons why many people don’t speak Euskara in the bigger cities. One is the suppression of the language (and Catalan too in Barcelona) during Franco´s dictatorship, from the 1930s to the 1970s, especially in the cities. As a consequence of this, a whole generation of older people don´t speak Euskara (although many have learnt it since Franco’s demise). In many places, you´re more likely to hear young people, growing up during the 80s and after, speaking it, as they’re the ones who learnt it at school.
The other reason is to do with immigration to Bilbao (and other cities, but mainly Bilbao) from other non-Euskara-speaking parts of Spain. Between 1950 and 1970 there was a major industrial boom in the Basque Country. Thousands of people came here, many from the poorer regions in the south of Spain, to find work. The population of the three big cities, and some of the smaller ones too, doubled in those twenty years – and of course this influx of people had no idea about Euskara. But even so, some of them and their children have learnt or are learning Euskara. (This huge influx of workers also explains, by the way, why there is so much horrendous 60s and 70s domestic and commercial building throughout the Basque Country!)
Here in central Bilbao you rarely hear Spanish spoken in the streets or shops, though you are more likely to hear it here in the Casco Viejo (old town) or in older parts of the grittier suburbs such as Portugalete, than in the newer or posher parts of Bilbao. (In general, throughout Euskadi, the old towns are slightly grittier areas where left-wing nationalism is likely to thrive and Euskara is more likely to be spoken).
We certainly haven’t had to learn any Euskara to get by here – except for two words/phrases which are universally used: ‘agur’ (pronounced ‘agoor’) which means ‘goodbye’ (no one says ‘adios’ except to complete foreigners….), and ‘eskerrik asko,’ which means ‘thank you’ (again ‘gracias’ is mostly used to and by foreigners.) (For some reason, the Euskara for 'hello' ('kaixo') is not used much - people tend to say 'hola' in Spanish, or another Basque word 'aupa' which means something like 'hi' or cheers.)
We know that the word ‘eta’ means ‘and’ (not to be confused with the terrorist group ETA…). We know that ‘ongi etorri’ means ‘welcome’, ‘bai’ means ‘yes’ and ‘ez’ means’ no’.
Throughout the Basque Country, too, there is a huge movement towards learning Euskara. There are branches of AEK (Alfabetatze Euskalduntze Koordinakundea) all over the place (one of the main ones in Bilbao is on our street) which specialise in running evening classes for people to learn the language, and many people of all ages attend these after work.
The Korrika is an extraordinary relay race covering hundreds of miles which links most towns in the 'Euskal Herria' – in both France and Spain. Many thousands of people take part in this massive event which symbolically links all the Basque-speaking lands. The slogan this year was 'Eman euskara elkarri' ('Give Basque to one another').
First names: Male: AITOR, GORKA, INAKI; Female: AMAIA, EDER, IRATI (NB There are many more...)
Surnames: Etxebarria, Zubiondo, Bidarte, Ibarra, Gorrotxategi, Extxegoien, Urdangarin, Goikoetxea... etc.