Past, Present, and Future of Literary Translation in the Languages of Spain: Euskera (basque)
Josu Zabaleta


(Report presented at the petition of the Spanish Association of Professional Translators and Interpretes)

This subject should be placed in a wider context, offering a historical view of translation in Basque within the evolution of its own literature, taking into consideration a certain sociological perspective which is essential if we are to understand the position of Basque, both its literature and translation. Historians usually divide the history of Basque literature into two parts which coincide with those of the history of translation. We are now going to add another two parts within contemporary history, parts which are parallel to the radical changes experienced throughout the last decades.

a) Basque literature begins in 1545 with the publication of Benart Etxepare's "Linguae Vasconum Primitiae". The first translation a few years later is "The Bible" -translated of Joanes Leizarraga.

During this period, which spans almost three centuries -almost to the end of the 19th century, the lower levels society only Basque speaking, whilst the higher levels opted, almost without exception, for Spanish. The role of the church was especially important, thus the clergy, being bilingual and by having to attend their apostolate became the intellectuals among the townsfolk.

It can hereby be ween why 89% of the books of this period are of a religious nature. Literary translation is limited to only a few books, all published in the 19th C. On the other hand, the best translations are religious ones, and done from French, which was a more important Language than Spanish when Basque literature began. It should also be said that, of the 194 pieces of work published, 93 are translations-it is therefore evident that translation has played a big part in Basque literature since its beginnings.

b) The second period begins with the losing of the "Fueros" (political privileges) in 1876, or in 1879 with the start of the "Juegos florales" (literary events).

Other important events also take place at the same time: The birth of the Basque Nationalist Party followed by that of the Socialist Party, people start being bilingual, and doubts avise concerning the linguistic model, with the coming of purism, aggressive to a greater of lesser degree, which would have great consequences in the future of literature and in that of translation to the point where incomprehensible texts would be elaborated. The influence of purism can still be appreciated today in certain sectors.

There begin to be more, and more varied translation and from Castilian. With the civil war, the cultural movement which was growing, is detained, and will not start again until the 40's when it can be seen in the work of the great writer and translator ORIXE and in the magazine "EUZKO GOGOA".

c) In the 60's the Basques become more radical, both culturally and politically: Ikastolas (Basque Schools) are set up; the first steps towards the unification and standardization of the language are taken, and literary production in Basque grows. Translations start to be made from Catalonian and Galician (S. Espriu, Pedrolo, Ricard Salvat, Marcos de Portela, A. Rdez. de Castelao).

Translation is considered more and more a way of standardizing the language.

d) Conditions which have never existed for translation have arisen mainly due to Self-Government which came about in the mid 70's. The Basque country is making a great effort to revive their language.

A lot has been translated from Catalonian, mainly didactic material and Children's literature, for the Basque Schools which have a certain link with schools in Catalonia (although Castilian has often been used as a "bridge-language"). Translations from Catalonian of adult literature have been far fewer.In the translations done from Castilian, the amount of adult literature and children's literature is more equal.

Finally it must be said that translations from Galician are very few, since 1984 only a few piece of work by Castelao have been translated.