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buber.net > Basque > Features > Books > Book Review: The Basque Language: A Practical Introduction
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Book Review: The Basque Language: A Practical Introduction

by Chris Bates

Jan 02, 2005

The Basque Language: A Practical Introduction


Author: Alan R. King

Pages: 462

Price: Variable (Hardback)


Learning a language is an adventure offering insights into a new world. A language lives in the heart and soul of a people and helps to reveal their traditions, institutions, and world view. The Basque language, unusual because it is not part of the Indo-European language family, must be understood by anyone who wishes to truly understand the Basques and their culture. "The Basque Language" is the first practical introduction to the language available to the English speaking audience.

"The Basque Language" provides the materials necessary for a student to learn Basque, whether working alone or in a classroom setting. The book provides a series of forty well paced and carefully prepared units. Each unit is comprised of:

  • Dialogues or narrative texts providing a glimpse into Basque social and family life;

  • notes on the grammatical structure;

  • exercises emphasizing grammatical and communication skills;

  • a useful vocabulary list; and

  • keys to exercises

In addition, "The Basque Language" includes a comprehensive reference grammar section and an elementary reader that contains fascinating selections about the Basque country's geography, language, folk tales, and modern literature, as well as excerpts from a Basque newspaper. The book also includes a general, end-of-book vocabulary list -- both English-Basque and Basque-English -- and three indices that cover grammatical concepts, Basque affixes, and English phrases.

People will want to use the book for several reasons: scholars and specialists will find an invaluable description of the essential features of Basque grammatical structure based on current analyses; non-specialist language learners can achieve fluency in modern Basque. Those wishing to learn Basque for the reasons people learn any language will have a fine too at hand for travel, to expand their cultural horizons, to facilitate communication with Basque family and friends, or to learn about Basque heritage.


This book is the best book written in English on the Basque Language I have ever seen. It's that simple. If it had tapes then it would truly be superb, but as it is you will probably also have to buy "Colloquial Basque" (by the same author) unless you're lucky enough to have a Basque friend or relative.

The book is broadly split into three parts: the chapters for learners, which consist of a dialogue and then grammatical lessons and exercises, the reader in the middle with pieces of varying difficulty in Basque to read, and a very good grammatical reference section at the back.

The chapters for learners are good and will help give you a feel for the language, however the book shares a flaw with "Colloquial Basque" in that sometimes I feel the grammatical explanations could be longer. Since linguistics has long been a hobby of mine I don't have any problem understanding, but I think that someone with little knowledge of languages outside English might perhaps feel a little overwhelmed in places, despite the fact that that is clearly not what the author intended. The exercises can also be repetitive sometimes, but learning a language is never easy.

The reader contains at the start some short pieces written by the author on Basque geography, and progresses onto songs, stories etc. It is interesting and tied in with the first part of the book since often a chapter will refer you to one of the sections of the reader, often as an exercise.

Finally, The grammar section is as much a reason to own the book as the lessons at the start. While it can suffer from the same brevity that other sections on grammar in the lessons suffer from, it is still a very good reference for a learner and possibly the only easily available good Basque grammar written in English. It gives helpful tables of the different case endings, common finite verb forms, etc, explaining their usage and how they go together to form sentences and so on in a well organized and well written way. Even if I was approaching fluency in Basque I would still buy this book as a reference, and use it frequently.

I've already said it, but if you can afford it, and already have "Colloquial Basque" (which has tapes), this book is a must have for the English Basque-learner.

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