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Alan R King

Zarautz, Gipuzkoa, Basque Country
Local time: 02:45 CEST (GMT+2)

Native in: English Native in English
Alan R King
Itzulpenak · Translations · Traducciones

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Corresponding Member of the Academy of the Basque Language

a l a n r k i n g @ y a h o o . c o m

Presenting... the BASQUE NAMES Glossary

BASQUE NAMES, a new multilingual translators' glossary by Alan R King, is currently being developed and placed on line at ProZ. Although still incomplete, with over 500 entries so far, the glossary is freely available to everyone in its present form here. Constructive feedback on the usefulness of this glossary is welcome and may be sent to me at ARK's personal e-mail address.


Several aspects of this glossary require explanation in order to appreciate its intended purpose and the reasons for the form it takes. These aspects are:
  • The languages covered: Potentially any language might be included in the glossary as long as the information provided is thought likely to be useful to someone, but English is generally used as the "hub"; thus entries either go from some other language into English (mostly), or else from English into another language.

  • The status of the information: The content of the source-language field in entries is intended to attempt to match as many relevant searches as possible, regardless of whether the search contains a form that I consider correct or incorrect, recommendable or not. The content of the target-language field, on the other hand, represents a suggestion about how to express and spell the term in the target language, so it is prescriptive.

  • Assignment of forms to "languages": By target-language or source-language, what is meant is simply the language of a text in which a term might be used, independently of the language of origin of the term in question; the two will often not be the same! (This is explained further below.)

  • Kinds of term covered: The glossary includes terms of various types whose common denominator is that they are likely to occur in texts about subjects relating to the Basque Country and are either terms exclusive to this domain, or liable to have some special meaning, interpretation, discourse value, contextual specificity and/or political, cultural or (socio)linguistic connotation in Basque contexts - all issues to which a translator should be very sensitive. Although many of these are proper names of one kind or another, the glossary also includes a number of commonly occurring collocations, nominal or verbal expressions, clichés, characteristic formulas etc., the basic criterion for inclusion being potential usefulness to writers, translators, interpreters etc.

  • Kinds of intended user: The users for whom this glossary is intended may but need not already possess specialised knowledge of Basque-related issues. Those who do will find it useful to fill in gaps and resolve doubts, learn the opinion of a colleague in the field to compare notes with, or obtain suggestions from a native speaker of English and seasoned translator on how to render Basque names and concepts into idiomatic English. But it is also highly likely that translators without a background in Basque affairs will be called upon to handle texts either centred on Basque questions or making a passing reference to something Basque, and to these colleagues this glossary is also dedicated, in the hope that it will provide needed support, guidance and valuable information. Such users are particularly urged to open the fiche for a term in which they are interested, where in addition to source and target terms they will often find general background information (in the Definition field) and/or a link to a relevant home page.

The "discourse framework" of reference

The same "realia" may be viewed, described and explained in different ways, applying different vocabularies, conceptual frameworks, presuppositions about shared "knowledge of the world", background assumptions, emotional overtones, euphemisms and taboos, patterns of discourse marking, etc. etc. depending upon the "discourse framework" adopted by the author of a text.

Particular cultures (national, political, class-specific, language-specific and so on) typically employ distinct "discourse frameworks" (or sets of such frameworks). For example, when discussing a wide range of topics, the discourse framework for Basques is different from that for Spaniards.

Since no such discourse framework is neutral, it is not the job of the translator to aim to produce a "discourse-neutral" text but rather to understand (at as many levels as possible) the full content and purpose of the source text and convey these as well as possible in the translation. Messages sometimes get garbled in translation because of a lack of sensitivity to, or failure to transmit felicitously, a message's essential content and purpose as it gets filtered out of and into the discourse frameworks available to different audiences of different languages in different cultural contexts.

This glossary is intended to guide translators in the frequently challenging task of transferring messages across such a discourse-cultural divide as faithfully as possible by providing information based on awareness of both the source and the target culture, including the range of language use that characterises each, with special attention to the part of this information that may be lacking in other reference works and unfamiliar to translators outside the Basque domain. Consequently, it focuses primarily on helping users to interpret messages accurately in a "Basque" text arising in a Basque context (whatever language it is written in!) and convey such messages properly in good English.

A set of recommendations

As translators know perfectly well, there are often several options among which one must choose when "translating" names or other linguistic expressions from one language to another. I have placed "translating" in quotation marks here because, of course, one "translation" option consists of using the source language expression within the target language text (either in quotation marks, italics, or without any distinguishing typographical convention). From the translator's point of view this is also a form of "translating" since it entails decisions and choosing from among the available options.

Translators' uncertainties about the best solution in a given case may stem from the simple existence of several valid options, from an inadequacy or inability of the target language to provide a ready-made, obviously suitable solution, or from complications or confusions in the source context itself. Where such choices need to be made, preference is sometimes determined, fully or partly, by a suitable understanding of the "discourse framework" underlying the source text in conjunction with potentially broader decisions about the target "discourse framework" to be adopted (or constructed) for the target text - provided, of course, that the translator has access to enough information and experience to reach such finely-tuned decisions. If not, then the resulting translation is likely to be more arbitrary at this level and contain blunders as a result. Now this obviously calls for a high level of awareness of a wide range of highly specialised knowledge, and the human limitations to which translators are of course subject mean that recognition of the theoretically "best" solution may not always be available in practice.

The present glossary aims to help to fill this gap by guiding translators in the right direction in such circumstances. It also proposes, in effect, a valid standard which translators and English-language writers may wish to apply - although nobody is forcing them to, of course - whereby a degree of consistency might be achieved in the way Basque concepts, texts and discourses are expressed in English with greater accuracy and more intelligibly than is sometimes the case at present, when any such standardisation often seems to be lacking.

Clearly, this is and can only be a proposal, a set of recommendations; and having already recognised that absolute discourse-neutrality is non-existent (and therefore cannot characterise this glossary either!), its orientation may be stated as follows: the glossary, focused as it is on terms and subjects of particular interest or relation to the Basque Country, is designed to reflect a Basque discourse framework, rather than for example a Spanish or French one, thereby hoping to avoid an unnecessary, irrelevant and often distorting intermediate discourse filter when the objective of the text (or its translator) is not to reflect the Spanish/French view of Basque affairs but to translate Basque cultural knowledge into English as directly as possible.

Having stated this objective as clearly and explicitly as I can, there would seem to be little danger of being accused of undue partiality or bias. I am not claiming that this glossary represents the only approach to translation of Basque terms into English; on the contrary, I am pointing to the fact that there exist competing discourse frameworks which often frame their representations of Basque reality in ways that contrast notably. The possible question of why I have chosen, in this glossary, to adopt the Basque discourse framework (or more accurately, the peculiarly Basque spectrum of discourse frameworks, which we might call the specifically Basque discourse spectrum for short) is easily answered: this is because the other alternatives (such as adopting the Spanish discourse spectrum) are already amply reflected in the majority of other reference sources, as a natural result of the fact that these other sources are not specifically Basque-oriented, and in fact typically ignore the Basque viewpoint.

Users of the glossary may easily have access to those sources; it is the Basque viewpoint that is at present most often inaccessible to foreign translators and writers, whom this glossary aims to assist by filling in precisely such information gaps. Therefore the present glossary will not attempt to replicate information found in such not-specifically-Basque sources where that information is incompatible with the discourse framework adopted in the glossary. This policy is intended to ensure that the present glossary fills its own chosen function or niche as usefully as possible.

Which source language?

The native language of the Basques is, historically and conceptually, Basque. The events of past decades and centuries have superimposed other languages, producing a complex sociolinguistic picture in which, today, Spanish and French also occupy important positions (depending on the part of the country) and privileged official statuses. Despite many years of externally enforced policies aimed at replacing Basque by Spanish/French, at least 25% of the Basque population is still Basque speaking and, under present political conditions and, above all, the popular language revival movement of the last forty years, this number is once again on the rise.

Basque has recently achieved hitherto unheard-of prestige and functionality across the Basque Country (although its rate of progress varies according to the region and local political and social conditions), has completed a process of codification as a standardised, literary language and is fully immersed in a process of modernisation and normalisation, is widely written and published, employed for official purposes and in the mass media, taught in schools and universities, and so on. None of this, however, has resulted in Basque supplanting the dominant role of Spanish and French as the official languages of the European states in which Basques live.

Thus from the viewpoint of translators, there are three "Basque" languages today: Basque, Spanish and French. Again from the translator's point of view, we observe the following notable asymmetry regarding these languages: Basque is the language of Basques only (and not even of all Basques), whereas Spanish and French, besides being known to the Basques, are also languages pertaining to much wider domains. Consequently, it is unlikely that a translator would know Basque well enough to work professionally translating Basque texts without also being generally familiar, as part of his or her specialisation, with the Basque Country, its culture and many aspects of common Basque discourse frameworks; whereas the same is by no means necessarily true of a translator working only with Spanish or French, whom we cannot assume to be conversant with the "Basque world", but who may nevertheless need to translate texts relating to this world.

To reflect the fact that Basques have three languages, this glossary principally addresses the same three source languages (with due consideration, moreover, for the point that, for the reason just mentioned, Spanish translators in particular are likely to need more rudimentary guidance than Basque translators). But apart from this, it should be observed that the trilingualism of the Basque Country is often projected linguistically onto texts related to Basque issues (whatever language the source text may be "in") by incorporating elements from one of the languages into a text written in another: see the examples below.

Of course Basque is full of Romance loanwords, generally reflecting the historical prestige status of Spanish and French vis-à-vis Basque established when the latter was exclusively a spoken, "common-people's" language. Yet the language recovery movement begun in the twentieth century has led to a near-reversal of that prestige relationship in much of the Basque Country today; symptomatic of this is the growing use, in both spoken and written communication in an expanding range of spheres of activity, of Basque words and expressions in Spanish-language discourse when this is produced by and addressed to Basque interlocutors.

The idea that in order to handle specimens of such discourse as a translator one needs to know both Spanish and Basque is in reality an over-simplification of what is actually happening here. Basques speaking Spanish do not (at least not always!) employ a Basque word in their Spanish because they have forgotten the Spanish word, but rather because the fact of choosing to use the Basque term conveys additional information, either concerning the semantic content of the utterance (e.g. in such a context lehendakari means more than presidente, and ikurriña has a more specific reference than bandera) or concerning the discourse framework assumed by the speaker (by saying pelotari rather than jugador de pelota, txapeldunes rather than campeones, or Donostia rather than San Sebastián, and by spelling Bergara with a b rather than a v, the writer or speaker is signalling a position - marking off territory, so to speak - within the Basque discourse spectrum).

In my opinion it would be a mistake, based on an erroneous reading of present-day Basque society common among outsiders to that society, to think that such choices mark off the speaker/writer as some sort of rebel or fanatic. That is a Hispano-centric perception; from within Basque society, on the contrary, adoption of the opposite options (i.e. avoidance of specifically Basque concepts, designations, naming and spelling conventions) may be just as indicative of a position on the spectrum by implicitly proclaiming oneself as an outsider. Nor is this only a straightforward question of ideology (although choices in language use do of course encode ideology), for even a politician such as María San Gil, who as president of the Basque PP (and its most recent candidate for lehendakari) represents the hard-line Spanish-nationalist bunker, habitually employs terms in her speeches (such as "la kale borroka" and "los batasunos") which can only be interpreted in terms of a Basque discourse framework and function, just as much as the language use of Abertzales, to stake out a particular piece of territory within the peculiarly Basque discourse spectrum. San Gil's predecessor in the post (and another unsuccessful lehendakari candidate) went even further and, having learnt to speak Basque, used the language in public statements. Thus we can see that even extreme champions of an ideology based on the "unity of Spain" and monoculturalism may be drawn into the specifically Basque discourse world.

The Basque discourse spectrum does not only consist of the use of Basque expressions (or Basque-based neo-Spanish terms) within Spanish-language texts, but frequently involves uses and meanings of Spanish words and expressions within Spanish-language texts (and, obviously, uses and meanings of Basque words and expressions in Basque-language texts). To see some examples of this, I refer the reader to the Glossary (see for example the comments in the Definition field regarding Estado español, estatuto, banda armada or Asociación de Víctimas del Terrorismo.

It should not be thought that familiarity with the Basque discourse spectrum is only relevant for the understanding or translation of texts produced in the Basque Country or by Basques. On the contrary, non-Basque (especially Spanish) spokesmen, commentators and media focus constantly on Basque issues (from their particular vantage points, naturally, which often differ strikingly from Basque perspectives), thereby engaging in, contributing to and adding to the complexity of the Basque discourse spectrum.

A few examples

The above discussion can be illustrated by the following excerpt from an article "in Spanish" from the Basque newspaper Gara (15 Aug., 2005; an English translation of the article by ARK may be seen here):
Batasuna tilda de «escandalosa» la carga contra quienes piden un proceso de paz

«Un desastre». Es el calificativo que merece para Batasuna una jornada que se salda con heridos, detenciones y enfrentamientos. La formación abertzale reclamó al consejero de Interior de Lakua, Javier Balza, que tome «buena nota» de los resultados de la actuación de la Ertzaintza para que «no se vuelva a repetir, porque ése no es el camino a seguir en un proceso» de paz. El mahaikide Joseba Alvarez insistió en que es «un escándalo» que se tomen este tipo de actitudes cuando miles de personas sólo pretenden «hacer una manifestación en defensa de un proceso de paz».

La jornada de ayer estuvo marcada por la resaca de la manifestación celebrada el domingo en Donostia bajo el lema «Orain herria, orain bakea» y la posterior actuación de la Ertzaintza, que se saldó con decenas de heridos -algunos de gravedad- y siete detenciones.

Batasuna ofreció su análisis de lo acontecido en el trancurso del tradicional homenaje a la ikurriña que se celebra cada 15 de agosto junto al Ayuntamiento de Donostia...
Even discounting repetitions, it is remarkable that such a short "Spanish" passage as this should contain as many as two placenames (Donostia, Lakua), two institutional names (Batasuna, Ertzaintza), two common nouns (ikurriña, mahaikide), one adjective (abertzale) and one phrase (Orain herria, orain bakea) in Basque (shown underlined here). None of these are marked typographically (e.g. in italics) as they might be expected to be if these were being treated as foreign words, and their meanings are not glossed, implying that readers (Spanish speaking Basques) are assumed and expected to know those meanings.

Admittedly not all "Basque" Spanish-language texts contain the same proportion of Basque-origin words, and this passage, though by no means atypical, has been chosen deliberately to make the point that the percentage of Basque terms can be fairly high; certainly high enough to baffle a Spanish-English translator lacking a background in Basque affairs who only disposes of "mainstream" Spanish reference sources. Nevertheless, the following paragraph taken almost at random from an article in the newspaper Deia (2 Dec., 2006), which occupies the opposite (conservative) end of the political spectrum within Basque nationalism, shows how widespread this kind of usage can be today:
Los días pasan y el proceso de normalización y pacificación sigue sin dar las buenas noticias que la mayoría de los vascos espera y demanda. En cambio, los malos augurios y el pesimismo abundan -salvo en el lehendakari Ibarretxe, quien continúa aportando optimismo y pidiendo a la ciudadanía una postura activa en el proceso que vive Euskadi-. Ayer fue Batasuna la que engordó el saco del pesimismo con su valoración de las detenciones de tres miembros de ETA el pasado lunes en Francia y de cinco personas por la Ertzaintza relacionadas con actos de ‘‘kale borroka’’. Según Joseba Permach, España y Francia van a acabar con la posibilidad de una solución dialogada: «Los Estados español y francés están echando por tierra las expectativas abiertas en este país. Es imposible hacer un proceso de paz manteniendo permanentemente mecanismos de guerra», valoró el mahaikide.
with one placename (Euskadi), three names of institutions (Batasuna, Ertzaintza, ETA), two common nouns (lehendakari, mahaikide) and one phrase (kale borroka) in Basque. Notice also that the Spanish expressions normalización and Estados español y francés (which significantly appears in a quote of a Batasuna representative) carry special meanings and connotations within a Basque political context and discourse framework.

Moreover, looking further afield, we find that this pattern is not confined to the large and heterogeneous Basque nationalist camp. The following extract from a local news item in the Diario Vasco (3 Jan., 2007), a non-nationalist, high-circulation newspaper published in the Basque Country and politically aligned with the Spanish conservative mainstream, seems to be no less happy to pepper its Spanish-language with terms of Basque origin (and in Basque spellings too, rather than the formerly current Hispanicised forms):
Nuevos txapeldunes del Gabon Saria

Gabonetako Pilota Saria proclamó en dos maratonianas finales en el Municipal los once nuevos campeones de la edición 2006, desde la categoría benjamín a la senior.

La competición que impulsa la sección de pelota del Bergara Kirol Elkartea ha medido en dos centenares de encuentros a cien pelotaris de base de la cantera bergaresa.
My last example, which follows, shows how many "Basque" names and other discourse elements may occur even in an article in a newspaper such as the Madrid-based El País (6 Jan., 2007), deacon of the Spanish press, when discussing a Basque topic. In this case I will also underline Spanish-language elements with special Basque discourse value, but only the items of Basque linguistic origin will be in bold; the italics are those of the original.
El juez prohíbe el acto de Anoeta convocado por la ilegal Askatasuna

El juez de la Audiencia Nacional Ismael Moreno decidió ayer, a instancias de la fiscalía, prohibir el acto político previsto para esta tarde en el velódromo de Anoeta, de San Sebastián, por haber sido convocado por la ilegal Askatasuna, estructura de la izquierda abertzale que sustituyó a Gestoras Pro Amnistía. En caso de celebrarse la convocatoria, los hechos podrían ser considerados constitutivos de un delito de desobediencia...

El juez asumió todos los argumentos esgrimidos por el fiscal Carlos Bautista, que se ha basado en los informes realizados por la Ertzaintza, la Policía y la Guardia Civil sobre la convocatoria. El fiscal señalaba textualmente que "si bien el velódromo de Anoeta ha sido alquilado por María Aranzazu Bereciartua Unanue, en nombre de la organización Behatokia" -que no ha sido declarada ilegal ni consta que tenga relación con organizaciones ilegales-, "la convocatoria efectiva no la ha hecho la citada asociación, con adhesiones de terceros, sino que, directamente y sin rodeos, se ha producido por personas muy determinadas en conferencia de prensa".

Entre estas personas destacan Juan María Olano, ex máximo responsable de Gestoras Pro Amnistía, que está pendiente de juicio por pertenencia a ETA; Julen Larrinaga, ex dirigente de Askatasuna; Unai Romano e Ibon Meñika, destacados miembros de Segi, la organización juvenil de la izquierda abertzale, sucesora de Jarrai y Haika.
On the form and spelling of Basque words

While many Basque words used in Spanish, including most place names in this category, follow modern standard (Batua) spelling exactly, some differ slightly, for certain historical reasons. A Basque word adopted into Spanish-language discourse may have been drawn from a dialectal variant distinct in form or spelling from that generally used in Batua; this is ultimately the explanation for the preference for the term euskera in Spanish-language texts, which contrasts with euskara, the favoured form in written Basque today. This is very understandable when we consider that Batua conventions are only about forty years old, whereas the term euskera, in one spelling or another, has been used in Spanish-language texts for over a hundred years.

For this very reason, contrasts are found that simply reflect different spelling conventions in Basque, again with a chronological backdrop: thus the "Spanish" spelling ikurriña faithfully reflects the most common pre-Batua spelling of the word, while the modern "Basque" spelling of the same Basque word, in line with Batua's orthographical conventions, is ikurrina. (Notice that ikurriña is not the result of Hispanicising the word; otherwise we should expect *icurriña, which absolutely nobody uses.) The same is true for Euskalerria, still written sometimes but mostly in Spanish-language texts; the preferred spelling in Basque is now Euskal Herria.

On the other hand, some Basque terms do get partially or fully adapted to Spanish (and French) spelling rules, as in euskaldún or euscaldún, cf. Basque euskaldun; vowels are never accented in written Basque. (The special case of place names will be discussed separately below.)

The question arises of how to deal with such terms in a translation into a third language (such as English). The first decision for the translator concerns how to translate the text, and whether to allow Basque words (and which ones) to find their way into the target text; hopefully this Glossary will offer some guidance to help with these decisions. If and when a word of Basque origin does get embedded in an English (or other-language) text, I feel quite strongly that the form and spelling in which it appears in this context should mirror the Basque spelling rather than replicating any Spanish or French distortions thereof.

In effect this means treating such a word as a Basque term coming from Basque, not as a Basque word masquerading as a "Spanish" word, unless, of course, the Spanish "mask" should be deemed in a specific context to have higher relevance than the word's Basque character (which seems on the whole very unlikely in the context, in the event that a decision to allow the Basque term into the English text has been made at all). So for example if we are translating into English the Spanish phrase la población euskaldun, we shall have to decide whether to render this as "the Basque-speaking population" or as "the euskaldun population" (a larger context and a strategic choice on the part of the translator will determine this); so much is clear. Now if the original Spanish text says la población euscaldún, I would emphatically defend the view that the English translator's choices are the same ones as before: "the Basque-speaking population" or "the euskaldun population", but certainly not *"the euscaldún population".

Place names: some preliminary reflections

When, as is the case for the overwhelming majority of place names in the Basque Country, these do not have ready-made and well-established English forms (such as Rome, Warsaw or Copenhagen), the universal practice is simply to employ the local names of cities, towns, villages, rivers, lakes, mountains, etc. etc.

The main exception to this general rule is that when local names are in a language that does not use the English alphabet or employs diacritics unfamiliar to English readers and unavailable to printers, the names are adapted by transliteration in the first instance (e.g Podol'sk [Russia], Ramat Gan [Israel], Uttar Pradesh [India], Hiyoshi [Japan], and Jiading [China]) rather than Подольск, רמת גן, उत्तर प्रदेश or اتر پردیش, 日吉 and 嘉定, and omission of such diacritics in the second (e.g. for typographical reasons it is considered permissible in an English text to write Poswietne, Dragoesti, Agilcik, Famalicao and Malaga rather than Poświętne [Poland], Drăgoeşti [Romania], Ağılcık [Turkey], Famalicão [Portugal] and Málaga [Spain]).

The former exception is inapplicable to Basque, which uses the same alphabet as English. The latter is only occasionally applicable, as modern Basque spelling only employs one diacritic, the one seen in e.g. Iruñea.

Some inconsistencies or conflicts that occur in the spelling of such foreign place names in English texts are explained by "technical" reasons. In the case of the transliteration of non-Roman writing systems (which as we have seen is anyway not applicable to the Basque case), there may be different transliteration systems (or variants) involved; these systems may simply represent competing solutions, or stand in a chronological relationship such that one spelling represents an older tradition and another a more modern one (e.g. modern Nanjing in China, versus older Nan-ching and even older Nanking). Locally relevant official norms may also be involved here: "Nanjing" is both the modern and the official (in China) romanisation of this name. In an English text, therefore, Nanking either represents an "old-fashioned" or a "traditional" spelling (depending on how one wishes to look at it), and Nanjing is either simply a "modern" spelling or represents an attempt to revise the English spelling tradition in adaptation to (and due consideration for) the modern Chinese situation and standard practice.

Similar issues arise with the English spelling of foreign names originally written in the Latin alphabet (with or without diacritics) where the local orthography has undergone reforms. We may then find a conflict among English texts between adherence to the older spelling (no longer used in the country and language to which the place pertains, but hitherto known to English writers and readers) and the new spelling. In most cases, it is only a matter of time before English will fall into line (exceptions will be discussed later). Thus Saragossa represents an archaic (earlier Spanish) spelling of modern (Spanish) Zaragoza, which has lived on as a relic in English but is nevertheless giving way to the use of the modern Spanish spelling and thus moving towards obsolescence in English too.

A variation on this theme which, as we shall soon see, is particularly relevant to the problem of spelling Basque place names in English, is that which arises when naming or language policy changes have taken place, or (worse) are still underway, in the local area or country. It follows in a straightforward way from what we have said that if and when such changes result in local name replacement or spelling modifications, these will eventually be reflected in English spellings too (where these remain based on the local names). The "delayed responses" that sometimes occur here need not necessarily be symptoms of ingrained tradition in English, but may just as easily reflect temporary inertia as a consequence of the writer's (or translator's) ignorance of current developments in the relevant local domain or insensitivity to their importance. Yet another possible explanation for a delay in the filtering through of local name (or spelling) changes to English texts where they ought to be reflected is subservience on the part of information channels (in the person of reporters, translators and other writers in the target language) to the mediation of a third language (and the cultural and ideological biases it may serve), rather than going to the proper geographical source for local information, namely the locality in question itself. An example of such a time-lapse in operation would be to continue to reflect formerly (but no longer) official Russian versions of Ukrainian, Belarusian, Latvian, Lithuanian or Georgian local place names in new English-language texts, either simply through ignorance, neglect or lack of access to updated reference sources, or else because, for example, the ultimate source being used is coming out of Moscow.

On Basque place names

Let us now consider the background of Basque place names and the consequences of the above principles for the treatment of Basque names in English. All parts of the Basque Country have long been under Spanish or French political and cultural domination, despite which the overwhelming majority of towns, villages and other places have conserved their traditional Basque names, either as the only names for such places (usually the case) or side by side with officially-imposed foreign names. However, in general only Spanish or French spellings of these names were official until recently.

Now it is to be noted that, especially under undemocratic regimes and circumstances of cultural (and political) domination, official designations need not by any means be equated with places' real names in the minds of the downtrodden, politically dominated local inhabitants, and that the latter continue to have their own voice and their own discourse framework within which choices (and spellings) of names are every bit as important as they clearly are for the dominant regimes and authorities who may have decided to change the original local names. Naturally the reason for this assertion here is not to make a political statement, but rather to raise the awareness of foreign (such as English) writers and translators concerning these subtleties and the consequent importance of their decisions when conveying a given message. For a good translator of such texts, then, there is no justification for the inflexible application of an axiom that equates official with right (unless working at the service of the authoritarian regime in question, of course).

In the Basque case, however, this is not the only relevant principle or even the main one to consider, given that thirty years have now passed since the end of the Franco regime in Spain. Since that time the aspirations of Basques to recover, preserve and practise their own distinctive cultural identity have been at least partly recognised throughout the official legal structures from the local level of municipal administrations all the way up to the new Spanish constitution and the European Union beyond. For three decades now, a very large number of Basque localities have determined, officially, under the present legal system, to re-establish the Basque forms and spellings of their names, and those decisions are also legally binding at higher levels of authority. So much for any legalistic arguments in favour of continuing to use Spanish names for Basque places. Moreover, the legal shift towards recovering Basque place names merely reflects the overwhelming consensus in favour of doing so in Basque society as a whole (and also in favour of the official consecration of Basque names where this process has still not reached completion); thus there is also an undeniable moral basis for the use of the Basque names.

It is not necessary for translators to be qualified lawyers and trained sociologists to make correct decisions about the translation of Basque place names. It is quite enough to apply the simple principle that the de facto local name is the "real" name, and with this we shall rarely get into trouble. However, over-conservative or ideologically-biased attitudes do sometimes lead people to assert the contrary, and the preceding paragraphs have been written in order to point out the arguments that may, if necessary, be invoked to defend proper Basque naming practices, should this be necessary.

Traditional exonyms

Now let us look at the special cases and exceptions, real or apparent, to the principles laid out above, as far as Basque names are concerned. These are the cases which belong to the same category as Rome, Warsaw or Copenhagen, referred to at the beginning of the previous section: names of places that have long been established in the target language (English here) and which, as English words, have acquired and retain a life of their own which makes them (at least temporarily) impervious to the vicissitudes of naming conventions in the original (local) language.

I say "at least temporarily" because it is a matter of empirical fact that even long-traditional names of this kind are not eternally sacrosanct: in English as well as in Russian, St. Petersburg was transformed into Petrograd in 1914, then to Leningrad in 1924, only to become St. Petersburg once again in 1991; Beijing has proceeded over recent years to replace "Peking" despite a four-hundred-year-long tradition (also displacing French "Pekin", Spanish "Pekín" or "Pequín", etc.); Bombay has given way to Mumbai, and so on. As a general rule we may say that none of these changes (actually realignments with local and native-language usages) seemed likely before they happened, yet end up seeming perfectly natural once they are consummated.

Nonetheless, for as long as they remain current, traditional exonyms (foreign names) do exist and are to be respected. Such names may contrast with local names for the same places either by being completely different (e.g. Famagusta versus Ammochostos-Gazimagusa), as variant forms (e.g. Warsaw versus Warszawa, Athens versus Athina and Bombay versus Mumbai) or merely in terms of orthographic conventions (e.g. Tirana versus Tiranë, Tyrol versus Tirol, Ghent versus Gent), etc.

While current, such specialised exonyms should be used where appropriate, but their currency is subject to the life-cycle of each such term, and there is no need, or indeed good reason, to prolong the use of a distinctive exonym beyond the period of its predominant use in the language in which it is found. At one time there was a country referred to in English as Cathay, but this name for China is now archaic and it would be absurd to attempt to use it outside of a suitable context (such as a stylised poem, perhaps?). Thus the mere existence of a special exonym does not mean that we are forced to use it.

There are only a few special exonyms in English for Basque place names, and not all of those that have existed are current or in predominant use today. In the next section I shall review the main ones.

Basque exonyms in English

Here I will list and comment on special exonyms in English for Basque place names. For the names of all other places in the Basque Country (i.e. the vast majority), I recommend using the corresponding Basque (rather than Spanish or French) toponym in current use. Therefore the following list amounts to a list of possible exceptions to that general of thumb.

Note should be taken that in my comments below I shall recommend against using some of the exonyms listed; that is why I say possible exceptions. To facilitate practical consultation, I anticipate the gist of my recommendation with a "YES" or "NO" following each term discussed.

General terms
  • the Basque Country [YES] This corresponds to Euskal Herria in Basque. This is fine, while other options which may be considered include using the Basque term Euskal Herria or the Basque alternative name Euskadi. When translating from Spanish or French, a reasonable rule of thumb is to employ the last two if and when they are used in the Spanish or French text and "the Basque Country" elsewhere. However, if this approach is taken, allowance should be made for the fact that in some cases readers may not readily recognise the meaning of the Basque terms. If that is likely, there are two possible solutions: either the translator should incorporate a gloss of the term(s) into the main text or a footnote upon their first occurrence, or else avoid the Basque terms in translation, substituting "the Basque Country".

  • Basque; the Basque language [YES] This usage is very well established in linguistic literature and there is no need to change it. In Spanish some writers like to use euskera rather than, or alternating with, the usual term vasco, the very old-fashioned vascuence or the highly pedantic éuscaro, éuskaro. While this spelling is common in Spanish texts, it should be noted that in modern Basque texts the most common spelling is euskara (thus euskera has become a Spanish exonym). In English, if for any reason one wishes to use the Basque name for the language, in a modern context this should be spelt Euskara following current Basque usage rather than that which appears to have become fossilised in Spanish.
  • Biscay [NO] This is an older English name for the southern Basque province of Bizkaia, deriving from the French name Biscaye. To present-day English speakers it is only known from the name "Bay of Biscay". I was persuaded by the arguments of the late R.L. (Larry) Trask, the author of The history of Basque and a recognised international scholar, in private correspondence around about 1980 (when I was working on my own first book, The Basque language: a practical introduction), not to insist on using "Biscay" as an English name for the province. His basic argument, which I accepted then and still respect, is that such a use of "Biscay" in English is now archaic. There is really no point in trying to resuscitate an obsolete exonym when there exists an obvious better alternative: to follow the basic rule and employ the native name ("Bizkaia"). We should only use distinct exonyms when their use is clearly predominant in current usage ("Biscay" is not) and/or when not to do so may lead to confusion among readers (cf. the discussion on "Pamplona" below).

  • Guipuscoa [NO] A rural back country until the twentieth century, Gipuzkoa was little known beyond its shores, and the case for using the exonym "Guipuscoa" (imitated from the French spelling) is even weaker than that in favour of "Biscay". In any case, only spelling is at issue here, and today if any exonymic spelling of this name is supported it will certainly be the Spanish one (Guipúzcoa). In English texts that refer to a part of the Basque Country, I see no difficulty with using the Basque spelling "Gipuzkoa", and therefore no good reason not to use it.

  • Álava [NO] Not an English exonym at all, merely the Spanish form; Basque "Araba" is preferable in English.

  • Navarre [YES] Although derived from the French version of the name, "Navarre" is firmly established in English as the name of the mediaeval kingdom and, by extension, of the modern province called Nafarroa in Basque and Navarra in Spanish. "Navarre" (unlike "Biscay", apart from the Bay) does not sound archaic to modern English ears and is more easily identifiable (at least to history students!). Using Nafarroa in texts instead faces the obstacle that since this is not readily identifiable with anything for English speakers, readers of those texts who have heard of Navarre will not easily recognise that they have the same referent. This is a major kind of valid argument in favour of retention of a traditional exonym: when the exonym is sufficiently familiar to the audience, and sufficiently different from the modern local form, that to employ the latter risks a failure of readers to identify the one with the other. For instance, to an English reader who has heard of either modern or mediaeval Navarre, the statements "Navarre is the largest Basque province" and "Nafarroa is the largest Basque province" do not appear to say the same message, nor are they likely to make the same impact. For this reason, a translator who nonetheless decides to use "Nafarroa" should not neglect to inform the reader in a note or passing comment that "Nafarroa" = "Navarre". Navarra is nothing to an English speaker other than the Spanish name of Navarre, and so need not be used in a Basque-related context.

  • Low Navarre/(High Navarre) [YES] Low Navarre may be considered the English translation of Basque Nafarroa Beherea (also known as Behe-Nafarra, with other variants) or of French Basse-Navarre and Spanish Baja Navarra. (In fact all of these forms are of dubious origin; perhaps earlier than any of these is Basa-Nabarra, a Basque form in which basa is often viewed as a Basquisation of French basse "low", but since the Basque word basa means "wild, uncultivated, rural", this could have been the original term from which French basse, and by further reanalysis Spanish baja, were derived and subsequently reinterpreted; the names Haute-Navarre/Alta Navarra, which are in any case less common, would then represent a further extrapolation, designating all of (historical) Navarre except for the so-called "low" part.) Trask persuaded me in our early correspondence that "Low" and "High" are the appropriate English terms here, not "Lower" and "Higher" (or "Upper"?), which only introduce a further gratuitous extrapolation away from any original meaning these terms may have had.

  • Labourd; Soule [NO] These are French exonyms. English has traditionally tended to look to French as an intermediate language of higher prestige (contrasting with the lower traditional prestige of Spanish); this historical circumstance explains why it often feels more "right" to use a French derivation rather than a Castilian one, not only for Basque places under French jurisdiction such as Lapurdi and Zuberoa, but even for those under Spanish rule such as Bizkaia and Gipuzkoa (see above). However, Labourd and Soule are no better known to an English-speaking audience than Biscay and Guipuscoa, and in line with the general principal of employing Basque designations when there is no special obstacle to doing so, "Lapurdi" and "Zuberoa" are the forms to be recommended.
  • Bilbao [YES] Bilbao (Bilbo in the preferred modern Basque spelling), the largest city in the Basque Country (and according to some of its inhabitants, the only city!), is also, for historical reasons, one of the best known of Basque towns to the English, and the name "Bilbao" is therefore well-established in the English language (often pronounced in three syllables, unfortunately). Both Bilbao and Bilbo are forms of Basque origin and there are no spelling-related conflicts involved. Bilbo just happens to be the most widespread pronunciation in modern Basque, whreas Bilbao, which is apparently older, has been adopted in Spanish, French, English and other languages.

  • San Sebastian [YES, but Donostia too] San Sebastian/Donostia is an awkward case. "San Sebastian" is of course the Spanish form (minus the accent on the last a). The town is not as well-known or historically significant as Bilbao, yet it is not unknown either, mainly as a once-fashionable holiday resort in days long past, as far as the English are concerned. Today its international popularity is probably on the rise again, and it would be nice if this time round it could come to be known by its Basque name, Donostia, too. Since I will be recommending below that some other cities also be referred to by two names, a fair case can be made for applying the same policy to Donostia.

  • Vitoria [YES, but Gasteiz too] Again, Vitoria/Gasteiz is a historically not-so-well-known (or important) town that is growing in importance, particularly as the administrative capital of the Basque Autonomous Community, and coming to be better known. "Vitoria" is simply the Spanish name, used in English in the past for no other reason than that Spanish was the only official language and Vitoria the only official name. Today its Spanish and Basque names are both official, and in "official" contexts it is often referred to as Vitoria-Gasteiz. This state of affairs comes in quite handy for translators as it allows us to get away with using the formula "Vitoria/Gasteiz", based on the official designation, thereby informing the reader that either "Vitoria" or "Gasteiz" refer to a single town. Once that fact is established, abbreviating further occurrences of the name to just one component or the other (preferably always the same one!) is also justifiable. On the basis of the general approach here, the choice of "Gasteiz" is then recommended.

  • Pamplona [YES] Pamplona's Basque name is Iruñea, an ancient name apparently related, like Irun and various other names for urban settlements in and around the Basque Country, to the modern Basque word hiri "city". The name Pamplona, found in Spanish, English and French (as Pampelune), also of considerable antiquity, refers to the Roman Pompey and also contains the Irun-type etymon (in the more archaic form -ilun-) as its second component. To the outside world Pamplona stands out in the history books as the capital of Navarre, and in modern times has seen fame since its "discovery" by Ernest Hemingway. To Basques, their Iruñea is the historical and symbolic capital of the Basque nation, and the modern capital of the largest province in Euskal Herria. When the town is referred to in an English text but a "Basque context", the advantage of using "Iruñea" is that the Basque name is made known; the disadvantage is that very few readers will be aware that the place being referred to is that which has hitherto been known to them as "Pamplona" (unless the text contains this information). If one of the intentions of the text is to make it known that Pamplona is a Basque city, then the name "Pamplona" needs to be mentioned.

  • Bayonne [YES] Sufficiently well-known to English speakers, as "Bayonne" (the French form of the name), to be considered an established exonym in English (the Basque form is Baiona).

  • Biarritz [YES] This coastal town was once famous across Europe as a holiday resort for the rich. As with Bilbo/Bilbao, the town's Basque name has two variants, one of which (Miarritze) is the locally preferred one in Basque, while the other, "Biarritz", has become well-established in French and English.
For other place names, relevant information on alternative names and spelling variants is provided in the Glossary, based on which the translator must decide on the best choice in each particular case, depending on context and on the text's content and purpose.

Additional notes on the Glossary
  • Unlisted placenames Many towns and other places have the same name (with identical spelling) in Basque and Spanish/French, and this is also the spelling to be used in English, naturally. Ideally these should also be listed in the Glossary to assure users that no change is required, but to lighten the work load of building the glossary such have generally been omitted, for now at least. It should also be born in mind, however, that the Glossary does not cover all place names exhaustively: the more important or well-known a place is, the more likely it is to be covered. To be sure about the form of names of minor places not listed, other sources must be consulted.

ARK's Basque Names glossary
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