Basque Style Computer Fonts by Thierry Arsaut
Thierry Arsaut has graciously offered to make his Basque-style fonts available at no cost through NABO.
Basque characters were first used in the late Middle Ages, but their modern resurgence dates back to the early 1930's thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of one individual. Mr. Colas, a schoolteacher from Baiona [Bayonne], became fascinated by ancient Basque monuments. Traveling on muleback across the Basque countryside eagerly searching for monuments, some of which dated back to the pre-Roman era, Mr. Colas published his findings in a rare, heavy book which cost him a fortune and initially attracted few readers. Thanks to his efforts, however, there now remains a genuine encyclopedia with more than 500 rough sketches and about 30 photos, tracing monuments and works many that have since been lost or destroyed. This is the source for many of the styles of Basque lettering utilized today.
The Basques did not develop their own form of orthography; historically theirs had been an oral tradition. Thus Basques inherited their method of representing the sounds of language by literal symbols from the Romans. The shape of the letters that came to the Basque country, however, presented problems for the Basques because they lacked the proper tools to recreate them. At that time, the Basque engravers knew very little about the Roman ironworks technique. Their rough tools could not carve deep characters like those in the Roman sculptures. So instead of carving deeply, they scraped the stone around the characters, thus creating a new technique. Unfortunately, this method did not allow for longevity: the Basque letters could hardly resist the passing of time and centuries old engravings have been rubbed out for the most part.
Moreover very few people such as old families of engravers would write as well as engrave and they kept their trade a business secret. This also explains the variety of Basque characters. Children inherited the technique from their parents, but they also inherited the family quirks or mistakes [e.g., reversed letters, etc]. Additionally the lack of a standard form of spelling, which was not derived until this century, meant that each artist could take artistic license when it came to writing. Consequently today there are shapes in carved stone which can be found only in some valleys.
Despite the change in printing fashions over the centuries, the bold, thick Roman model predominated; very few Basque written works display cursive script. This likely stems from the link between the language of the Romans [Latin] and the language of the Basque new religion of Christianity. Since most all early written works in Basque were religious in content, the influence of Latit he language of the Church redominated and writing remained fixed on the Roman model.
Basque characters should be used sparingly; they should not be used for a whole text because it would give a sensation of excessive thickness: they were used on mortuary epitaphs and fronts of houses mostly. This practice helps explain the essential absence of lowercase letters.
Recently, a young editor from Miarritze [Biarritz] has developed these characters for use in computer printing: Thierry Arsaut. NABO has joined him in his effort to promote this traditional form of Basque lettering.
You can download the fonts here.