Language and independence: a particular view on the Catalan process

«Driver imprisoned to refuse to speak Spanish to police» (Vilaweb)

Dear reader,

You are possibly aware of the process of independence initiated in Catalonia. The focus of these arguments is typically centred on the economy, which of course has a huge impact on public opinion. However, international media tend to neglect other aspects of this debate crucial to understanding how we have reached this situation.

I want to underline the fact that many Catalans feel their own language is being threatened by the Spanish Government. This feeling of «losing our language» is also a cornerstone to understanding the process towards independence. The story of enmity between the Spanish administration and Catalonia has deep roots and clearly surpasses the length of this text.

Do we have right to feel what we feel? Does the Spanish Government respect linguistic minorities? If we take a look at the last few years, shadows arise when we analyze the central executive’s linguistic management, especially when ruled by the right-wing Partido Popular (PP).

The Catalan language is spoken by 10 million people in four European states. The vast majority of them are located in Spain, in the autonomous regions of Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and the eastern part of Aragon. All these territories except Catalonia are also governed by the PP.

In Aragon, the PP has recently focused on renaming Catalan with a ridiculous term (LAPAO) with the objective of both discrediting the language and promoting linguistic secession. In Valencia, the Catalan-speaking TV channel that depended on the autonomous government for funding has just been forced to close down due to disastrous management. In the Balearic Islands, the long-term institutional architecture related to language policy to promote Catalan has been dismantled. In Catalonia, the regional government has sponsored the language in different domains (dubbing films, the commercial and business sector, immigrants, etc.). All these laws have been appealed by the PP, which alleges that a regional language (Catalan) cannot have a higher status than the national one (Castilian). Particularly virulent it is the debate about languages at school, as the recovery of Catalan is based on the educational system. From this perspective, several decrees and laws have been approved in the Spanish Parliament – mostly thanks to the PP’s absolute majority – to undermine the presence of Catalan in schools.

Despite its widespread use, Catalan is not yet an official language in the European Union. This status can only be achieved after a formal request made by a state member but Spain has never done so. Perhaps more striking is the situation in the Spanish Parliament, where the use of any language other than Castilian is banned and its members are expelled from stand if they use them. Both discriminating situations – in Brussels as well as in Madrid – have been repeatedly backed by the two larger parties, the PP and the socialist (PSOE).

I could provide many more examples and we would always come to the same conclusion. It is not possible to think of Spain as a country where multilingualism is welcomed: it represents the opposite pole from countries such as Switzerland. Spain conceives itself as a linguistic unity –as France does– and the promotion of regional languages is more or less tolerated on condition that Castilian never loses its hegemonic position.

Spain and its language policy do not guarantee the use of the language in all contexts (it is frankly difficult to use Catalan in judicial domain) or even its own survival (in Alicante the language is practically extinguished). Thus, the sociolinguistic situation has become an important piece of the debate over Catalonia’s march towards independence.

Dear reader, if you have been kind enough to read this article up to this point, you may wonder why I have headed this text with a passage linked to Franco’s dictatorship episode. The sad reality is that took place in Valencia on September 2013…

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