Catalunya: "an authentic policy of linguistic equality should clearly favor Catalan"

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon Jan 28 15:17:01 UTC 2008

Sunday, January 27, 2008
Posted 14:19 by John


Toni Soler, TV guy and sometime columnist, has a well-written summary
of his linguistic ideas in La Vanguardia today. Here it is.

IMMERSION: This is what I answer when someone attacks linguistic
immersion in the public schools: in Catalan linguistic policy,
equality between Catalan and Spanish is not the baseline we are
starting from, but the objective to achieve, since such equality does
not exist. The baseline now is of evident inequality in favor of
Spanish, which will not be corrected if the two languages receive the
same treatment. In fact, it will increase, because of immigration and
the imperatives of the market. Therefore, an authentic policy of
linguistic equality should clearly favor Catalan so that it can
recover what it lost after centuries of prohibitions and interference.
In addition, Catalan is our own language, our own individual
contribution to the world's linguistic patrimony. This is more than a
sufficient reason to rescue it.

I just flat-out disagree with Soler about everything in this
paragraph. 1) Catalan and Spanish are starting from a different
baseline socially. The majority of people in Catalonia speak Spanish
normally; the (large) minority who normally use Catalan tend to be
better-educated, richer, and of a higher social class. There is
nothing wrong with this, and it is not the government's job to
interfere with the language that people want to speak. 2) Spanish and
Catalan SHOULD start from the same baseline legally. It is the
government's job to make and enforce the laws, and those laws should
provide all citizens with equal rights, no matter what language they
speak. In fact, Catalan-speakers have MORE rights than
Spanish-speakers. If anything needs to be "corrected," it is these
affirmative action (in Spanish, get this, "positive discrimination")
policies that favor Catalan-speakers, especially in the job market.

3) What makes one policy of linguistic equality more "authentic" than
another? Couldn't you say that the most "authentic" language policy
should be one of benign neglect, letting the citizens choose on their
own what language they want to speak? 4) We don't know what the status
of Catalan would be now if history had not happened the way it did,
and we can't make up a false history of a monolingual Catalan utopia
before those nasty Spaniards came up with their "restrictions and
interference." 5) Lots of people in Catalonia think that Spanish is
"their own language," Mr. Soler. 6) Catalan does not need to be
"rescued." It has at least five million speakers, and the Generalitat
claims ten. 7) If economic history teaches us anything, it is that the
less we meddle with "the imperatives of the market," the better.

Faced with these arguments, Spanish nationalism, wearing its liberal
and civic sheep's clothing, is in favor of letting Catalan crash ihto
the logic of the market, which blows in its (Spanish nationalism's)
favor. And, in order to complete the pressure from both sides, it
hides behind the defense of certain individual rights which, it seems,
are only applicable to the Catalan children who speak Spanish at home,
not to the thousands who speak Arabic or Urdu. Let us not let the wolf
fool us: it is still the same thing, and it wants what it always did,
a great and free homeland, in which "regional" languages are only used
to sing Christmas carols.

1) There's not some anonymous force called "Spanish nationalism."
There are people you could call "Spanish nationalists." Most of them
(El Mundo, Cope Radio) don't make any more sense than the Catalan
nationalists. What it isn't fair to do is to claim that all those who
disagree with Catalan nationalists are therefore Spanish nationalists.
2) Just because it makes sense economically to use Spanish as the
predominant language of business does not mean that Catalan is
threatened as a language outside of the business world. 3)
Spanish-speaking citizens have rights in Spain that immigrants do not.
One of the rights they SHOULD have is being allowed to use their own
constitutionally protected language in the worlds of education and
business. 4) It is an extremely nasty rhetorical trick on Soler's part
to identify people (98% of whom are pro-democracy) who disagree with
Catalan nationalism with Francoists. 5) Supporting the rights of
Spanish speakers does not mean that one wants to interfere with the
rights of Catalan speakers, or that one wishes to see Catalan reduced
to the equivalent of a folk dialect.
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