Ochagavía

Plaza in Ochagavia

For lunch on the second day of our road trip, Marketa and I stopped in Ochagavía, the most prominent village in Navarra’s Salazar Valley. We walked alongside the river, admiring the traditional architecture and taking pictures like crazy. Then we found a reasonably priced sidrería (Cider-house) to eat at. Marketa ordered “cow’s face” as she called it – some sort of cheek meat, while I ordered traditional Basque meatballs, Basque pate, and cuajada for dessert.

Marketa saw some Kukuxumusu merchandise in a store window in the plaza, so in we went. I was ecstatic to find several animated movies from my childhood – in Basque! Red-faced but determined, I asked the lady behind the counter for Haran Sorginduaren Bila – also known as The Land Before Time. She was very sweet. “I see you like cartoons, just like me!” she said. As she was scanning the movie, though, she realized that it wasn’t just in Spanish, but in Basque! I told her that was why I was buying it, because I was studying Basque a little.

At that, she went out to the street and called in her friends. “This is an American girl, studying Euskera!” she announced. All of them were pretty impressed. “You’re doing what we could not,” they told me. “We’ve tried to learn a little bit, but we’re too old now, it’s too late, we’re the lost generation.”

“Our grandparents spoke Basque, our parents understood it. But then came the Franco years… It skipped us. But now the children are learning again! And even you, an American!”

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Ni Gure Tximeleta Txikia Naiz

The beauty of learning languages from the ground up, grammatically, as I am doing with Basque, is that you make sudden leaps forward. For the first two weeks, when people asked me what I had learned, I couldn’t do much more than smile sheepishly and explain that I’d only been to a few classes. The first week we’d only learned case endings, with a single word – mutil, boy – to fill out the paradigm. The second week, we learned some vocabulary, mostly animals and basic adjectives, and I could at least put a few words together. Nothing useful, but I could say “two big goats”, or ‘the young girl’, but I didn’t know a single verb, so I still couldn’t put a sentence together. This initial frustration is why, I think, popular modern teaching methods try to jump right into useful phrases and silly songs, but I think the best thing to do is to be patient, and push through, because afterward things start moving really quickly.

Apple Butterfly, from a Basque Blog. http://iratioihane.blogspot.com

Last week, we learned family terms, and, more crucially, our first verbs. To be, in present tense, and reflexive verbs, in past tense. It’s only a start, but it lets us make sentences. A surprising number of them. I can say, for example, that “two big goats have washed themselves” – “ahuntz handi bi garbitu dira”, or “the young girl is my sister” – “neska gaztea nire ahizpa da.” I can even say that “the sons and daughters of my aunts and uncles are my cousins” – “nire osaba-izeben semea-alabak nire lehengusua-lehengusinak dira”, or, as I realized quite happily, sing the DDR song “I-I-I, I’m you’re little butterfly!” – “Ni Ni Ni, Ni gure tximeleta txikia naiz!”

Basque has different words for a brother, depending on whether it’s the brother of a girl, or of a boy. Same thing for sister. My sister is my ahizpa, but my cousin Trevor’s sister is his arreba. Whereas Spanish will just double the masculine noun to make a collective noun encompassing both males and females (padres for padre – father and madre – mother), Basque smashes them both together, creating semea-alabak for children, and the unwieldy lehengusua-lehengusinak for cousins. Sometimes, simply out of a finite number of linguistic possibilites, Basque grammar winds up closer to English than Spanish – nouns in genitive, for example, appear before the word they modify, like English and unlike Spanish, so our teacher keeps explaining that you have to swap them to understand that amaren aita means mother’s father, when to me it’s quite clear!

Published in: on September 29, 2010 at 20:13  Leave a Comment  
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Basque through Spanish, Spanish through Basque

They say that whoever doesn’t speak a second language, does not truly know his first language. Can we take this further? Will learning a third language, Euskera, through Spanish help me to better understand my second language?

Don't I look studious?

I’m two classes in now. Tonight we learned a handful of vocabulary words but mostly just charged ahead with cases, learning what happens to them when you throw in adjectives and more. And I was learning almost as much about Spanish as I was about Euskera – that it was more difficult for my classmates to break the sentences into clear semantic ‘chunks’, because word order is more flexible in Spanish, that they feel more comfortable pretending the definite and indefinite articles are embedded in the case ending, rather than just ceasing to exist in Basque. I’d never really thought about the ambiguity of saying ‘un coche’ in Spanish before, until I got a Basque question wrong because I went for what would translate to English as ‘a car’, instead of ‘one car’.

I kind of think that, when I go back to Mizzou, they should just hand me a linguistics minor for getting through this class, no questions asked. 🙂 With every language that I study, I become more amazed at the diversity of humanity’s linguistic landscape, more conscious of what a small part of our potential is used in a specific language, more ready for whatever the next language will have to throw at me. In some ways, Euskera is the holy grail for linguistics geeks – it’s so famous for its difficulty, its strangeness, its isolation. If, at the end of the class, I can read a sign or two, maybe say a sentence or two, it’ll be a bonus, a side effect. But what I’m there to do is experience the language, witness it in all of its unique glory.

Already Only a Month

It’s the last day of the solar summer. September is drawing to a close, and that means I’ve been on this exchange for nearly a month. It doesn’t feel like it. Depending on the time of the day, who I’m talking to, what I’m doing, it seems like I’ve been here forever, or like I’ve only just arrived. Never like I’ve been here for a month. And yet, I’ve now spent more time in Spain than in any other foreign country – longer than in Japan or Scotland. The time spent so far has been less action packed than a month of pure tourism, but not nearly as routine as life back home.

It’s funny now, to remember how I arrived in Spain after spending the night in the Manchester airport, how Allan and I wandered through Barcelona for two days as if in a dream, meeting up with Emily in Valencia for Tomatina and the beach, and then spending another long, sleepless night in route to Pamplona. I was happy to have Allan with me for the first few days here, as I moved into my apartment, walked around Pamplona for the first time, as a stranger, and even impulsively visited Puente la Reina based on a single photo in the train station. And then, Allan left, and suddenly I was totally alone, and far from home.

I took things one step at a time, with some challenges leaving me triumphant and others in a pathetic heap, but I got everything straightened out, in the end. I went through orientation, picked classes, matriculated, found my way around campus and groups for projects. I got a hair cut and learned where I could find this food and that and for what price. I learned how to use WIFI and the copy machine and the library and the bookstore. I’ve adjusted to Sundays and Siestas.

I made friends and we had curry parties and pancake parties and long nights drinking wine on apartment balconies. We travelled to San Sebastian and Vitoria and Bilbao. I met up with a girl from Couchsurfing.com and went to a Basque concert with her and her friends. I started learning Euskera. I went hiking in the Valley of Arpan, explored Alquezar and went canyoning in la Sierra de Guara with Club de Montana.

If I put it this way, yes, I suppose it has been one month. And yet one morning when I didn’t have class until 12, I lay in and when I woke up, it took me several long seconds to remember I was in Spain, because everything felt so normal and natural and safe and clean and good. I’ve found a new normal, made a new home here.

Not bad, for the first month.

Elements of Pamplona

Since I’ve been here at Pamplona, my experience has sort of splintered into five areas, based on my interests and situation. These are basically the five ‘lives’ I want to lead here, the things I want to explore. Of course, I won’t be fully immersed in any of them if I split up my time, but life is short and I want to taste as many things as possible. 🙂 These are not exactly equal to each other – they vary in terms of my motivation, the time and energy I will put into them, etc, but they’re all things I look forward to experiencing this semester.

1.) The Spanish Experience

Well, I don’t think I could get out of this one if I wanted to – it’s basically my default experience here. And it’s awesome. I’m taking all but one of my classes in Spanish, living with a Spanish woman, and making a few Spanish friends too, so I’m hoping to improve my knowledge of the language and the culture (both with a capital and a lowercase c). I love my province, Navarra, but I’m also very interested in exploring as much as I can of the rest of Spain – I’ve already been to Barcelona, Valencia, and Bilbao, and am going at a bare minimum to Madrid before I leave. Galicia is also on my almost certainly list. I’m also definitely eating as much Spanish food as I can!

Example: Every minute, every day.

2.) The Basque Experience

Yes, Pamplona is most certainly in Spain. But it’s also in Euskal Herria, or, the (greater) Basque Country. Fully half of the people I’ve met who have grown up here speak the language, Euskera, and the political situation is a constantly changing, dynamic thing reflected by graffiti, posters, and protests on the street here. I’m also close enough to Euskadi, or, the (autonomous region of the) Basque Country, that I’m able to explore it as well as I explore Navarra. So far, I’ve visited the three capitals – Bilbao, San Sebastian, and Vittoria – and loved them. With any luck, I’ll rent a car with some friends to head back and see some of the smaller towns. And anyone with a drop of linguistic leaning blood can’t help but be fascinated by Euskera itself.

Example: I signed up for a weekly Euskera course – I couldn’t resist!

3.) The Academic Experience

Yes, it sort of hit me by surprise, too. I may be studying abroad, but I’m still going to need to study – as much or more as I do back home. My classes aren’t just Spanish language, either – I’m studying visual culture, literature and its impact on the modern world, film and literature, linguistics, and the aforementioned Euskera, all in Spanish, with Spanish students. Of course, I can’t claim to love every second of this experience, but it’s a valuable one and fascinating if I let it be. So much of art history, for example, is the same as back home (imagine that) that differences really stand out and shine.

Example: Sitting in a huge classroom and trying to understand abstract lectures about Romanticism, while being unsure whether the processor just said concession, connection, or conception.

4.) The Pyrenean Experience

I love mountains – both for their scenic qualities and the possibilities for fun and exciting activities. Pamplona itself is surrounded by low mountains, and the Pyrenees themselves are just a short trip away. It´s very exciting for a little Missouri girl, and I want to make the most of it!

Example: I plan to go on many of the Club de Montaña excursions, mostly hiking, but this weekend an intense two days of canyon exploration, repelling, etc!

5.) The Erasmus Experience

This one is somewhat controversial among people studying abroad. Some love it and embrace it as a full half of their exchange experience – others feel that mixing too much with the Erasmus students from all over the world will take away from their immersion in the native culture. To be honest, I have mixed feelings about it myself, as I’ve already experienced the craziness and wonder of an international community at Mizzou. I also know that spending time with the Erasmus students means more speaking in English and less practice with my Spanish. But ultimately, I think its an exercise in futility and self-isolation to try to avoid it on principle. Besides, the Erasmus students are my friends, they keep me sane, they’re fun, and, since we’re all (let’s face it) just tourists on speed anyway, its nice to have traveling companions. 🙂

Example: Last night a group of us (from Germany, Portugal, Lithuania, Peru, Austria, Finland, Spain, and Taiwan) had a pancake party together. Not exactly traditionally Spanish… but part of the experience, just the same.