Basque alphabet


The Basque alphabet is a Latin alphabet used to write the Basque language. It consists of 27 letters.

List of lettersEdit

The letters of the Basque alphabet are the 26 letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet plus ⟨ñ⟩ (and ⟨ç⟩, as a variant of ⟨c⟩).

This is the whole list,[1] plus their corresponding phonemes in IPA:[2]

Letter Basque name Pronunciation
A a /a/
B be /b/, [β̞]
C ze* (and its variant ⟨Çze hautsia*) /s/, /k/
D de /d̪/, [ð̞]
E e /e/
F efe /f/
G ge /ɡ/, [ɣ̞]
H hatxe , /ɦ/
I i /i/, /i̭/
J jota /j/, /x/, /ʝ/, /ɟ/
K ka /k/
L ele /l/
M eme /m/
N ene /n/
Ñ eñe /ɲ/
O o /o/
P pe /p/
Q ku* /k/
R erre /r/, /ɾ/
S ese /s̺/
T te /t̪/
U u /u/, /u̯/
V uve* /b/, [β̞]
W uve bikoitza* /u̯/
X ixa /ʃ/
Y i grekoa* /i/, /i̭/, /j/
Z zeta /s̻/
* Although ⟨c, ç, q, v, w, y⟩ are not used in traditional Basque language words, they were included in the Basque alphabet for writing loanwords.[1]

All letters and digraphs represent unique phonemes. The main exception is if ⟨l, n(, t)⟩ are preceded by ⟨i⟩; most dialects palatalize the sound into /ʎ/, /ɲ/ and /c/ even if that is not written.

⟨h⟩ is silent in most regions but is pronounced in much of the Northeast, which is the main reason for its existence in the Basque alphabet. It doesn't even represent syllable breaks in the other dialects, although it can stop the aforementioned palatalization from taking place in some words, for example the ⟨n⟩ in Ainhoa.


There are several digraphs (successive letters used to represent a single sound):

⟨dd⟩ /ɟ/, ⟨ll⟩ /ʎ/, ⟨RR/r/, ⟨ts⟩ /t͡s̺/, ⟨tt⟩ /c/, ⟨tx⟩ /t͡ʃ/, ⟨tz⟩ /t͡s̻/


For most of its history, Basque writers used the conventions of Romance languages like Spanish or French. Thus Pedro Agerre's 1643 book was titled Guero corresponding to modern gero ("Later") and the 18th-century motto Irurac bat would be Hirurak bat ("The three as one"). In the late 19th century the nationalist politician Sabino Arana proposed several changes,[3] including new letters such as ⟨ĺ⟩ and ⟨ŕ⟩ that were not accepted in the standard orthography.

The present-day Standard Basque was developed in the second half of the 20th century, and has been set by rules of Euskaltzaindia (the Basque Language Academy). Regarding the alphabet, the main criticism by Biscayan and Gipuzkoan traditionalists targeted the ⟨h⟩, as the orthography ruled by Euskaltzaindia used it in several words that those traditionalists wrote without this letter, which is silent both in Biscay and Gipuzkoa — whereas it was pronounced in all Basque dialects some centuries ago and still is pronounced in much of the Northeast. On the other hand, Basque speakers of the Northeast had to learn to write several words with less or no ⟨h⟩ letters, because usually a ⟨h⟩ used in their tradition were not taken into the Standard Basque orthography. These changes from the various traditions into the modern Standard Basque were proposed and accepted by the young generations of Basque writers, so the ⟨h⟩ controversy faded as the old generations died.[4][5]

Letter frequenciesEdit

In a sample of 6,692 letters, the most common letter in Basque is ⟨a⟩ and the least common is ⟨v⟩ (although ⟨w, y, q⟩ did not appear at all in the sampled text).[6]


  1. ^ a b Euskaltzaindia: Rule no. 17 for the Standard Basque, Names of the letters in the Basque alphabet, Rule passed on 25 November 1994. Retrieved 2010-10-22. (in Basque)
  2. ^ "Basque language, alphabet and pronunciation". Retrieved 2017-01-03.
  3. ^ Arana eta Goiri'tar Sabin (1896). Lecciones de ortografía del euskera bizkaino (in Spanish). Bilbao: Sebastián de Amorrurtu. pp. 32 – via Biblioteca Virtual del Patrimonio Bibliográfico.
  4. ^ Etxeberria, Josune (2003). Patxi Altuna. Uztarria. p. Arantzazuko Biltzarraren garrantzia (1968). ISBN 978-84-607-6723-7. Archived from the original on 2018-01-31.
  5. ^ Villasante, Luis (1980). La h en la ortografía vasca: razones uy motivos, reglas: catálogo de voces con comentario [The h in Basque spelling: reasons and motives, rules: catalog of voices with commentary] (PDF). «Luis de Eleizalde» sobre unificación del euskera escrito, fasciculo 7 (in Spanish). Oñati: Editorial Franciscana Aranzazu. ISBN 978-8472401198.
  6. ^ "Letter Frequency Statistics". Retrieved 2020-11-05.

External linksEdit

  • Basque language – English Pen
  • The Basque Alphabet