Sunday, 23 August 2015

Things you learn from reading packaging.

Basque is a strange language. I have been aware of this for a long time but whenever I come across it I am struck afresh by its strangeness. I probably became aware of it for the first time when I watched a documentary programme about ETA, years ago when they were still seriously blowing people and places up. I had seen Catalan written down and could work out a fair amount of it. I could even understand bits of it spoken. 

But Basque was a different kettle of fish altogether. I already knew it was one of the oldest languages in the world, surviving the Romans and other waves of invaders unchanged. But the harsh sounds amazed me. And then we visited the Basque Country and I came across a bunch of people who didn't say hello when they answered their mobile phones. Instead they appeared to say bye, more probably written as "bai", which I suspect means yes. I also learnt to say "agur" for goodbye. And hearing it on the streets, it didn't sound as harsh as it had when spoken by the lady in the documentary I saw. Perhaps she was the Basque equivalent of those Castilian-Spanish-speaking women, so many of them, who have a harsh, abrasive tone when they speak. 

So, what got me onto the strangeness of the Basque language? I went out in the pouring rain yesterday to buy coffee and gave in to the temptation to buy cookies. Although some people think that cookies and biscuits are the same, this is not so. Cookies are biscuits, yes, but not all biscuits are cookies. In the same way, people are mammals but not all mammals are people. 

Anyway, I bought cookies from Eroski, the supermarket that labels all its own brand goods in four Spanish languages: Castilian, Basque, Catalan and Galician. Cookies, a word that has been absorbed into the Spanish languages, although not properly hispanified (will it eventually become "cúqui" in the way "croissant" has become "curasán?), has become "cookieak" in Basque. Many plurals seem to be formed with that ... ak ending. "Ingredients" are "osagaiak". Maybe if I bought enough Eroski products and studied the packaging, I could learn a whole lot of Basque vocabulary! 

 Perhaps I should start looking for a teach yourself Basque series. A new project.

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