World language Spanish threatened in Spain, campaign claims

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Fri Jul 25 14:42:38 UTC 2008

Europe News
World language Spanish threatened in Spain, campaign claims
By Sinikka Tarvainen
Jul 25, 2008, 2:08 GMT

Madrid - While Spanish is consolidating its position as one of the
world's most international languages, a debate is raging in Spain on
whether it is under attack in the country where it was born. A group
of intellectuals, some media outlets and citizens' associations have
launched a campaign in 'defence' of Spanish which they see as being
endangered in regions promoting their own languages in the country
with a plural identity. The debate focuses on whether parents wanting
to educate their children only or mainly in Spanish should be able to
do so in Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the Basque region and
Galicia, which want pupils to learn Catalan, Basque or Galician
alongside Spanish.

The pro-Spanish campaigners stress the role of Spanish - known in
Spain as Castilian, language of the region of Castile - as the only
language common to all Spaniards and as one of the cornerstones of the
national identity.  The idea that a language spoken by 500 million
people worldwide could be threatened by minority languages is nothing
short of ridiculous, regionalists hit back.  Spoken in most of Latin
America, Spanish is the second most important language in the United
States.  It is also studied increasingly worldwide, making it the most
widely used language after Mandarin Chinese, Hindi and English,
according to Culture Minister Cesar Antonio Molina.

In Spain itself, however, regional governments are questioning the
domination of Spanish in an attempt to promote regional languages.
These include Catalan, spoken widely in Catalonia, a north-eastern
region of 7 million residents, and on the Balearic Islands; Basque,
spoken by about a quarter of the region's 2.1 million residents; and
Galician, the first language of more than 60 per cent of the region's
2.8 million inhabitants. Catalan and Galician are Romance languages
related to Spanish, while Basque or Euskera is not known to be related
to any other language and is much more difficult for Spanish-speakers
to learn.

Dictator Francisco Franco, who ruled from 1939 to 1975, repressed the
use of regional languages which could often not even be spoken in
public. Franco's death in 1975 turned the tide. The constitution now
establishes the coexistence of regional languages with Spanish.
Regions enjoy wide measures of autonomy including the right to teach
regional languages in schools. Some now see the decentralization as
having gone too far, with Catalonia and Galicia having made bilingual
education compulsory and the Basque region preparing to adopt a
similar policy.

Policies to promote regional languages are the most extensive in
Catalonia, where the regional government is sparking controversy with
plans to cut down the number of Spanish classes from three to two a
week in primary school. Even children of immigrants from Latin America
or Africa now speak Catalan, a language without the knowledge of which
it is often difficult to find a job in the region.

Educational and other measures to popularize regional languages
sparked a 'manifesto for the common language' launched by some 20
journalists, philosophers, historians and authors including Mario
Vargas Llosa of Peru. Parents' associations have also sprung up in
several regions, demanding the right to educate children in Spanish.
The most vocal critics include representatives of the opposition
conservative People's Party (PP), which has also accused Prime
Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero's Socialists of endangering
national unity by granting regions more self-government.

Madrid media close to the PP accuse Zapatero of allowing regionalists
to 'persecute' the national language, something that the government
firmly denies. The coexistence of Spanish with other languages was
'the richest, most open and most democratic' way, the premier said.

The government has done a lot to make Spanish more popular in the
world, establishing dozens of new Cervantes Institutes to spread it,
Molina said. Some experts worry that Catalan or Basque children will
speak poor Spanish after learning it mainly from television and stress
the right of parents to make educational choices for their children.

Children in some Catalan schools reportedly have trouble expressing
themselves in Spanish. Overall, however, there are few signs that
teaching regional languages would have undermined the Catalans',
Basques' or Galicians' knowledge of Spanish and regionalists dismiss
such arguments as absurd. 'If any language is threatened, it is not
Spanish, but Catalan,' Catalan politician Josep Antoni Duran y Lleida
said, attributing the language row to underlying political power
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