Basque is a language isolate dating from the pre-Indo-European period. The area where it is spoken has shrunk considerably under the impact of Romanization. The label “Basque Country” can apply to different territories:

The northern Basque Country embraces the territories of Lapurdi, Low Navarre, and Zuberoa. The southern Basque Country comprises Navarre and the Autonomous Community, which itself is composed of Gipuzkoa, Bizkaia and Araba. The south of Navarre and Araba, as well as the west of Bizkaia have become largely Spanish-speaking. But also in the remaining Basque-speaking area, the emigration of Basque-speakers and the immigration of non-Basque speakers have contributed to the romanization of industrial and urban areas. Until the end of the Franco regime in Spain, and still today in France, Basque exists in a situation of diglossia which subordinates it to Spanish and French.

This constellation has an influence on the language which is steadily converging with Romance. Since the 1980s, standardization, accompanied by an active policy in favour of Basque, offers new perspectives for Basque to flourish. A majority of the younger generation goes to Basque-speaking or bilingual schools, and as a consequence, the number of Basque-speakers increases through the incorporation of speakers for whom Basque is not their first language.

But standardization has not lead to the emergence of a single standard, as it has only transformed a group of dialects into a pluricentric language. The dialect of Gipuzkoa predominates in the standard of the Autonomous Community, whereas the northern standard is still heavily marked by Navarro-Lapurdian. (High) Navarre constitutes an area of transition between these two compounds.

The description of Basque must take into account its sociolinguistic situation, because the language is, in a way, shaped by the conditions under which its speakers live. I will finally talk about the emerging language of journalism, which plays an important part in the “normalization” of Basque.