In this article, the sociolinguist Patxi Saez summarizes the reasons for the historic recession of Basque into one term, namely imperialism.
The efforts to suppress Basque started long ago, implemented by ban, threat and punishment. The author cites the first known proscription of Basque, back in the 13th century, dictated in the town of Ojacastro, Errioxa (La Rioja). The Castilian sheriff, acting on behalf of the king, forbade the town dwellers from speaking Basque in legal proceedings. It is but the first episode in a long string of cases.
As of then, the elimination of Basque from across the Basque Country became a linguistic obsession for the Spanish and French authorities. Saez reminds us that in the late 18th century only 11 % of the population in France were able to speak French. The infamous Barère report prescribed strict measures to overturn that situation, for example turning French into the only language of education.
The Spanish crown followed suit. By means of decrees dictated in 1768 and 1779, the Bourbon, glotophobic king Charles III in Spain established Castilian (Spanish) as the mandatory education language across his whole empire, including the Americas, forbidding likewise any other languages.
After stripping the Southern Basque Country of its charters (fueros) in 1876, some voices demanded further action,“it is not enough to strip the Basques of their charters, now we need to suppress also their language”, as proposed by the Madrid newspaper El Imparcial.
Finally, 20th century industrialization dealt a big blow to Basque, since the massive flow of immigrants from Spain to the Basque Country further worsened the deteriorated health of our language.
The author emphasizes that in order to revert the present-day linguistic situation attention should be directed at intervention across three domains, i.e. household, friends and work environment.