Tag Archives: linda white

Aurrera! Moving Forward with Euskara

Way back in 1991, in between my sophomore and junior years at the University of Idaho, I took a year off to study both Basque and Spanish in the Basque Country through the program offered by the University Studies Abroad Consortium — USAC. I was more interested in Basque, but both my dad and my grandfather stressed the pragmatic wisdom of also learning Spanish. Back then, there weren’t many resources for an English speaker to learn Basque, especially one who knew next to nothing. USAC offered a course that was targeting students exactly like me. However, even so, things didn’t go as smoothly as I would have liked. Despite a semester of intensive Basque language course, I didn’t learn enough to be fluent. I chalk this up to two factors: Spanish was always easier, even for someone not studying Spanish directly (though I did have Spanish in high school) and my dad’s family speaks Bizkaino while I learned Batua. A seeming minor difference, but to someone just learning the language, that difference was night and day.

In any case, since that time, many more resources have become available to the English speaker wanting to learn Basque. One of the more recent ones is Aurrera!, a two volume textbook for studying Basque by Linda White. Now, while I have a number of Basque language resources, I still haven’t made the time to go through them in any serious manner, so I can’t really comment on how one book compares to another. That said, Aurrera! seems to be a very nice resource for the Euskara novice. Arranged by themes, such as Locations, Wants and Needs, and, most important for anyone visiting the Parte Vieja, Living it Up, Aurrera! quickly gets into real world language needs rather than focusing on more arcane grammar. Further, each chapter is accompanied by dialogs and activities that bring the language to life and pull the student into the language. Later chapters focus on all of the different tenses of the Basque verbs, so there are a number of such chapters, including “In the E-Mail that I Received,” that covers these concepts.

One thing that is missing for me are the tables that summarize declensions, conjugation, and the form of the auxiliary verbs. I’m not sure why, maybe it is my more mathematical bent, but encountering those tables as a student just learning Euskara, while certainly daunting in the complexity and density they represent, also gave order to the language for me. They summarized the language in a way I could get my head around. If Dr. White follows up with a second edition, I might suggest an appendix that collects such tables. Further, a brief chapter on the history of the Basque language, the current state, and the dialects would also be appreciated.

That said, for someone trying to learn the language, this seems an invaluable aid. I certainly have all intentions of going systematically through both volumes. Now, I just have to find the time!

More information about these books, as well as accompanying audio, can be found here.

Nor Naiz, Gu Gara: Linda White

Nor Naiz, Gu Gara (Who I Am, We Are) is a series aiming to explore the meaning of Basque Identity around the world, both within Euskal Herria as well as in the diaspora. For an introduction to the series, look here, and for a list of the previous entries, look here.

What a pleasure to appear on Buber’s Basque Pages! Throughout my career at the Center for Basque Studies, I have experienced the Basque community from the privileged position of “welcome guest.” Genetically, I am not Basque. I certainly do not look Basque. People meet me here and in the Basque country and ask, “Why have you studied the language? How did you come to spend your life studying the Basques, their language, and their culture?”

The role of Basque friends and professors in my life has been a huge motivator. In college, the late Professor Eloy Placer intrigued me by speaking Basque in the halls of the humanities building. He loved and encouraged his students, tolerating our faulty Spanish, laughing with us at his own silly jokes, and giving us second (and third) chances to understand the material he was trying to impart about Spanish literature. I find it amusing and ironic that my love of Spanish literature was instilled in me by a Basque professor. But he also inspired a curiosity about the Basque language.

My first Basque class was a night class with the late Jon Bilbao. We used the tiny pocketbook, Euskera, Nire Laguna, and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Did we learn much Euskera? Not really. But as a language teacher, I know that one night a week does not bode well for progress in a language. What we did learn was that the attempt to learn Basque, in and of itself, imparts a special camaraderie to a group of people who had been strangers before coming together in that setting.

After joining the staff of Basque Studies in 1981, I studied on my own for six months. Dr. Gorka Aulestia noticed my interest and my dedication, and he offered me Basque lessons! I jumped at the chance. We met two mornings a week before work in our own private classes, while I went home every weekend and spent twenty hours preparing for the next week’s lessons.

“Oh, no,” I hear you groan. “Twenty hours a week to learn Basque?! I don’t have that much time!”

Of course not. Learning Basque was my passion, but it was also encouraged by my employers, and admired by my growing group of Basque friends. My college degrees were in foreign language and literature. My job title soon became “Lexicographer” as I assisted Dr. Aulestia with the Basque-English dictionary.

But as David Cox explained in his entry for this column, you don’t have to be fluent to warm the hearts of the generous Basque people. Nowhere have I seen greater rewards for one’s earliest steps toward learning a language. Communicating in Euskara at a very low level is like wielding a key to the kingdom of Basqueness. But even if you despair of ever producing a full coherent sentence in Euskara, studying the language provides an insight into the way Euskara shapes the thinking and world outlook of those who do speak Euskara.

As someone who has always felt warmly welcomed by the Basque-American community, I can report that any and every effort to respect Basque history and culture through learning something about the language is well worth while. It was in this spirit that I spent the last several years completing my textbooks for studying Basque, either at home or in a classroom. Dialogs and pronunciation guides are available on-line as MP3 files for downloading. Answers to exercises are provided in the books.

Those who might be interested can visit www.studybasque.com for more info on Dr. White’s two-volume textbook Aurrera! A Textbook for Studying Basque, along with vocabulary study tips.