This article was translated by John R. Bopp
In this case, we’re going to make an exception to our general rule of not making reference to the Basque, French, or Spanish media. We’re doing this because in the French daily Sud-Ouest, a newspaper with wide readership in the Northern Basque Country, has published an article we find extremely interesting.
We’re referring to the appearance, thanks to the teamwork of a group of Basque researchers, of fifty letters in Lapurdian Basque which were seized from the boat Le Dauphin, which set sail from Bayonne on April 4, 1757 bound for Louisbourg, a fortified town on which was then the French territory of Île Royale, today’s Cape Breton Island, northeast of Nova Scotia Island in Canada.
In 1757, half the world was at war, which was known as the Seven Years’ War and which ended, in that part of the world, with the 1763 cession by France, who’d lost, to Great Britain of the French territories of today’s Canada
But in 1757, Louisbourg was still a French possession, and there lived many Basque seamen, who were the recipients of those letters. They were sent to those Basque seamen, but they never arrived, because on the way, the boat that was carrying them, Le Dauphin, was boarded by three British boats. The letters, along with all the other documentation, ended up at the archives of the British Admiralty, to rest for 300 years.
But that rest was interrupted by three British researchers from both sides of the Pyrenees which have enabled us to know exactly how Lapurdian Basque was written and spoken more than 250 years ago. They have also given us a ton more historical, cultural, and social information.
As we said, the three researchers were Basque: Xabier Lamikiz and Manuel Padilla from the University of the Basque Country (UPV/EHU), and Xalres Videgain from the University of Pau and the Lands of the Adour (UPPA).
These letters help us understand a few basics:
- First, that Basque has existed for over 250 years, which is important to clarify, as given some things we’ve heard and read, there seems to be the impression it was invented 100 years ago
- Second, that Basque was a language in common use at the time and was a habitual means of communication for a sizeable part of the population.
- That Basque then is not substantially different from today’s.
There is one thing we found surprising: we haven’t been able to find any more references to this discovery beyond the French daily.
By the way, it is important to note that this work will be published in the next issue of Lapurdum, the Basque Studies journal.
Sud Ouest – 28/4/2016 – Francia
Insolite : cinquante lettres en basque datant de 1757 découvertes à Londres
Jamais autant de courriers en langue basque datant de cette époque n’avaient été retrouvés jusque-là. Cinquante lettres en euskara, écrites en 1757, sommeillaient dans les archives de l’amirauté britannique. Un trésor linguistique mis au jour voilà une dizaine d’années, mais dont on apprend tout juste l’existence.