This term comes from the words 'Euskara' ('euskara) + 'Herri' ('erri), that is to say, 'the Country of Euskara'. This fact would give rise to a belonging sense based on the language spoken by the collective (Euskara). Therefore, the Basque belonging notion would be far from the Indo-Euroean outline in which this concept is based on the birth in a certain territory.
The term 'Euskal' ('ewskal), that comes from the term 'Euskara' , is common in the Basque composition. For example, the term 'gari' means 'wheat' while 'galburu' means 'wheat spike' (gal'buru, gari+buru; wheat head). Another example: 'aizkora' (ajz'kora) means 'axe' and the competition in which lumberjacks ('aizkolariak', ajz'kolari'ak) participate is named 'aizkol apustua' (ais'kol a'pustu'a; aizkora + apustua).
Although the term 'herri' is currently translated as 'people', it meant 'land' in the past. The Navarrese writer Pedro Axular (17th century) called Alaba-herria to the territory that is known today as Araba (Álava). The word Alaba (a Basque adaptation of the Latin term 'planus') meant 'plain' in the language of that period and therefore, Alaba-herria would be translated as 'plain land'. The current Basque term 'herrialde' (part of land) also comes from the old meaning of the word 'herri', which is equivalent to the term 'region' and that is commonly used in Euskara to refer to the different Basque territories.
We meet references to Euskal Herria in the earliest writings in Basque language from the 16th century, despite a political unit no longer existed in those days and the Basques were divided between the kingdoms of France and Spain, as they were settled on both sides of the Pyrenees. Those references denote that the use of the above-mentioned term was widespread among the 'euskaldunak' (eus'kaldu'nak; Basques) to name the land they lived on.
The fact that the use of the term was widespread throughout the whole Basque-speaking area indicates that it extended among the Basques since the decline of the Roman Empire in the second half of the 3rd century A.D.. The mixing and reinforcement of the Basque tribes began during that period, what allowed them to have a greater intercommunication and political autonomy regarding the Roman Iimperial administration. This social and political status would even increase under the leadership of the Vascones of Navarre at the arrival of the Germanic tribes (Visigoths and Franks) from the year A.D. 400, what entailed the culmination of the development of 'Common Euskara' for all the Basques.
Therefore, the term 'Euskal Herria' cannot come from the later Basque union through the Kingdom of Pamplona-Nájera and later on through the Kingdom of Navarre. The most logical thing in this case is that the expanded term would have been 'Nafarroa' (medieval Basque term of Navarre) instead of Euskal Herria. The term 'Iruñea' (Pamplona) would have never expanded since all the European writings dated from the 9th century referred to the kingdom as Kingdom of Navarre, and to its inhabitants as Navarreses. The first denomination of this kingdom was 'Kingdom of Pamplona' and later on was renamed as 'Kingdom of Pamplona-Nájera (10th century). Finally, its official denomination was 'Kingdom of Navarre' (12th century).
According to this, the term 'Euskal Herria' is just the Basque way to designate what was called 'Vasconia' in Latin. This term lasted over the centuries among the Basque people even though the days of the Duchy of Vasconia were gone.
The first written reference to 'Euskal Herria' is dated a thousand years after the emergence of 'Common Euskara'. We found it in a collection of verses, songs and love affaires that were written among the years 1564 and 1567 by Juan Pérez Lazarraga, Lord of the Tower of Larrea (Alava). In one of his manuscripts that were written during his trips from Alava to his place of work, the Spanish court, the term 'eusquel erria' appears three times. This term is an adaptation of 'Euskal Herria' in the western dialect (Biscayan dialect) that was spoken in his territory.
'beti çagie laudatu çegaiti doçun eusquel erria aynbat bentajaz dotadu' . (f. 18v) [ You will always marvel at why Euskal Herria has been endowed with so many advantages]
'çegayti eusquel errian dira ederr guztioc dotadu'. (f. 18v) [ Why has Euskal Herria been endowed with all those beauties]
The term is also found at the same time on the other side of the Pyrenees, concretely in Labourd, in the texts written by the Huguenot priest Joanes Leizarraga, who translated the New Testament into Euskara in 1571. In the following text, the term shown is 'heuscal herria' (an adaptation in Navarrese-Labourdin dialect) and it is made a reference to the number of dialects that existed at that time, considering that it had elapsed a millennium since the emergence of Common Euskara, as noted above, and how the language had evolved in a different way in each area of Euskal Herria.
"...bat bederac daqui heuscal herrian quasi etche batetic bercera-ere minçatzeco manerán cer differentiá eta diuersitatea den" [ Everybody knows in Euskal Herria, almost from a house to another, that there are different and diverse ways of speaking ]
The writer Pedro Axular (Urdax, Southern Navarre, 17th century) also used that term in his book of asceticism "Gero" (guéro, future) in 1643. In this case, the Navarrese-Labourdin form of that period is similar to the one in 'Euskara Batua' (ba'tu'a, unified) or standard. The book is prefaced by the following text:
"Badaquit halaber ecin heda naitequeyela euscarazco minçatce molde guztietara. Ceren anhitz moldez eta differentqui minçatcen baitira euscal herrian, Naffarroa garayan, Naffarroa beherean, Çuberoan, Lappurdin, Bizcayan, Guipuzcoan, Alaba-herrian eta bertce anhitz leccutan".
[ I also know that I cannot extend to all the forms of Euskara since it is spoken in Euskal Herria in many ways and differently in Navarre, Lower Navarre, Soule, Labourd, Biscay, Guipúzcoa, Álava and in other many places ]
In the sentence 'eta bertce anhitz leccutan' (and in many other places), Pedro Axular referred to the extension of Euskal Herria in the 17th century, which was not bounded by the current Basque-speaking territory, but that it was wider at that time and it extended to certain areas of Gascony (Bearn) and northwest Aragón.
Now, we will begin to analyze the word 'euskaldun'. This term has the same origin as 'euskal' but in this case, the Basque suffix '- dun' (that means 'the one that has got something.') is added. Therefore, 'Euskaldun' (eus'kaldun; euskara + dun) means 'the one that can speak Euskara', that is to say, 'Basque speaker'. The term 'Euskaldun' means for the Basque people the same as the word 'Basque', used by the rest of the people. (We must remember the fact that the Basque belonging concept comes from the ability of speaking Euskara, and not from being born in Euskal Herria, as we have previously indicated). This term would definitively spread among the Basque tribes during the Germanic invasions and its Latin expression was 'Vascon'.
About this term, there is another interesting note: while the word 'euskal' is used prefixed to the name that it wants to qualify; the word 'euskaldun' appears postponed or just alone. For example, 'Euskal Telebista' ('euskal te'lebis'ta) and 'telebista euskalduna' (te'lebis'ta eus'kaldu'na) mean the same thing: 'Basque television'. However, if we want to say 'Basque' [ Euskalduna ; euskaldun + a (singular nominative declension)] or 'Basques' [ Euskaldunak ; euskaldun + ak (plural nominative declension)] the word 'Euskaldun' is always used.
Although the word 'Euskaldun' meant 'Basque' in its origin, it is used today to designate the concept of 'Basque-speaker' since there are many Basques that do not know how to speak Euskara.
For this reason, there is a neologism currently used: 'Euskal Herritar', in which Basque speakers and 'Erdaldunak' (people who do not speak Euskara) are included as Basque citizens.
The term 'Erdaldun' (er'daldun; erdara+dun) has the same structure as the word 'Euskaldun' but in this case, it is formed by the term 'Erdara' that means 'non Basque language', that is to say, 'foreign language'. In the past, it meant 'foreigner'. At the moment, it means 'Castilian speaker' or 'Spanish speaker' (Euskadi and Navarre), and French or Gascon speaker (Iparralde, southwest France), according to the territory in which it is used.
The term 'Euskal Herritar' ('euskal e'rritar), is not used yet by the great majority of the Basque speakers (they do not like using neologisms) and they keep on using the word 'Euskaldun' to designate a Basque person, whether he is Basque speaker or not, and continue this way the old tradition. With the emergence and subsequent extension of the nationalist ideology in the Basque society, the traditional term 'Euskal Herria' was gradually replaced by the neologism Euskadi ('The Land of the Basques'), which was created by Sabino Arana, precursor of the Basque nationalism. The aim of the founder of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) was to use a correct definition since he considered the term 'Euskal Herria' as inappropriate to designate the Basque nation. The new term would get closer to the Indo-European notion of belonging that was in vogue at that time and therefore, far from the Basque tradition.
The term 'Euskadi' succeeded in the western Basque territories, where it coexisted with the form 'Euskal Herria'. However, Navarre and the Northern Basque Country (Iparralde) only used the traditional term 'Euskal Herria'. At present, the Basques from Navarre and the northern territories identify the term Euskadi as the political union of Álava, Guipúzcoa and Biscay that emerged during the transition to the Spanish democracy. According to this, 'Euskadi' became a selective term for Navarreses and northern Basques and therefore, they have recovered the traditional expression 'Euskal Herria' to refer to the whole Basque Country. The use of the word Euskadi as a synonym of 'Euskal Herria' (Euskadi + Navarre + Iparralde) is falling into disuse.
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The History of the Basque Country begins on the following page