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:: Evolution ::

The evolution of the dialects in the last few centuries has caused, for the present moment, a distribution of the linguistic characteristics that differs, in general terms, from the one established in the past, according to the existing testimonies.

In the following characterisation of the dialectal groups of Bonaparte, the term variety is used in its dialectal sense; different from the way Bonaparte used it, i.e. as a representative place in the area that occupied the corresponding subdialect.

western group

The linguistic testimonies of the XVI, XV and even XIVth centuries show that the Biscayan dialect used to be much closer to the Guipuzcoan and the other dialects than nowadays. Many of the morphosyntactic characteristics that are now of the dialect itself (characteristics that belong to the declension, to the auxiliary verb and to the own syntactic links) coincided with those of the rest. And, inversely, specific features that nowadays are attributed to other dialects, are documented in previous times as Biscayan.

All this, together with other testimonies, points to the existence of a disappeared dialectal variety called Southern which would include, apart from Biscayan, the territory of Alava, the Southern part of Guipuzcoa, the Western part of Navarra, and parts of la Rioja and the North of Burgos, which was Basque-speaking in the Middle Ages.

From the beginning of its written culture in the XVIth century, the Biscayan dialect has continued producing literary works with more or less regularity, and it has therefore been considered a literary dialect.

eastern group

The Souletin dialect, which is situated in the extreme Eastern territory of Basque speech, is, together with Biscayan, a marginal dialect. Both differ greatly from the central dialects and they present particular characteristics deriving from the geographical position they occupy: influences from the neighbouring languages and above all archaisms are shared in many cases. The Souletin dialect has exclusive elements which are not shared with any other dialect and this fact brings about its distinctive character.
However, its distinctions derive especially from phonetic evolutions.

The literary production of this dialect has not been very extensive; although it has always been considered a literary dialect.

The now extinct Roncalese subdialect suffered less change than the Souletin variety. The similarities between both subdialects, although very notable in some cases, reduced to the same degree as that of Souletin developed. The affinities between Roncalese and Salancen were also notable, as occurs between the neighbouring speeches.

These two varieties, the Roncalese and the Salancen, together with Aezcoan conform, from the dialectal point of view, quite a uniform area of the Pyrenees with its own characteristics of the speeches of transition; that is why in Bonaparte's classification they are contained in the Northern dialects. However, they also possess some elements similar to the High Navarrese dialects, especially the Aezcoan dialect that combines all the characteristics of the frontier speech, and therefore, can also be classified as High Southern Navarrese, its neighbour. The situation of the Salancen and Aezcoan dialects is at present very precarious. The written testimonies of these speeches, apart from being scarce, only existed in the last two centuries.

central group

The Guipuzcoan dialect presents its own well-defined characteristics. It is strengthened as a literary dialect, thanks to the input of Father Larramendi in the mid XVIII century. From that moment on, its production, practically inexistent up to then, starts to become abundant. Therefore, the dialect reached a privileged situation that permitted the expansion of its area of influence to the neighbouring territories.

The High Northern Navarrese dialect, which embraces an extensive area of Navarra, is fragmented in diverse subdialects that share their characteristics with other dialects: in its extreme North-West, with Guipuzcoan; further North, with the Western group; in the Northern part, with Labourdin; and finally, the South-East lies quite close to the High Southern Navarrese. Despite having its own literary production, this dialect has not been considered a literary variety.

The High Southern Navarrese's linguistic space has been drastically reduced in this last century, and has become a relic of the past. This dialect, which has coexisted with Romance in a diglossic situation for many years, is characterised by its possessing numerous archaisms and strong Romance interference, especially phonetic and lexical. The variety that has survived is the Western one, which has been the closest to the speech of the neighbouring dialects. This dialect has not been considered literary, although it has important written productions.

On the other hand, the dialects situated to the North of the Pyrenees, the Labourdin, the Low Western and the Low Eastern Navarrese, present characteristics in common, even though the differences that distinguish them justify their separation. Between the three dialects there are extensive intermediate areas with varieties of the frontier that make the transition between them less abrupt. The Labourdin dialect, which possesses a great deal of written literature of the XVI and XVIIth centuries, enjoyed a privileged social situation, although it did not achieve enough stimulus to become a standard variety. During the last two centuries the two Low Navarrase dialects have also had a notable literary production.

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