Balearic Islands: Where the air is rarified

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sun Jun 15 13:15:21 UTC 2008

Saturday, June 14, 2008
Where The Air Is Rarefied

A story that has been rumbling here with the sound of an airplane's
engines in the background has been that involving the German airline,
Air Berlin, and the Balearic Government. This has entailed an apparent
"invitation" to the airline to use Catalan as the first business
language of the islands. To which one might well ask, what on Earth is
a regional government, or indeed any government come to that, doing
attempting to dictate language policy to a business, a business - in
the case of Air Berlin - which is one of the more important airlines
operating into and out of Mallorca. It's a nonsense, or it would be
were it not for the "sense" that trails in the jet-stream of this
whole story; that of populism.

Public consumption may have tempered the reporting, but behind the
scenes one suspects that Air Berlin told the Government to get stuffed
or "Sie können mich mal". President Antich is reported (in "The
Bulletin") as saying that the airline had "misinterpreted" the
"invitation". This smacks of euphemistic spin. But in an act of PR,
Air Berlin is going to get together with the Government's lingo
directorate. So face saved for the Government whose high-minded and
idealistic language policy is as rarefied as the air where they would
like to have it used.

Behind so many of the language diktats is the opportunism of populism.
The promotion of Catalan is a perfectly honourable political goal, but
in seeking to impose its use, current-day politicians are wandering
dangerously close to the same dogmatic pit of linguistic fascism that
saw the language proscribed under Franco. And oh that it was as simple
as there just being Catalan to be promoted without the complications
of Mallorquín and the Balearic language.  For all this though,
language is a simple issue for local politicians; simple in that by
raising the political profile of language it disguises more important
issues. Language is a convenience of Mallorcan politics, and yet the
populism that is suggested by attempts to impose Catalan (or its
variants) is of questionable popular support, not least among those
who have their children's education and futures in mind and among
those children themselves.

This populism has now crossed the political divide into the
conservative Partido Popular, a party normally associated with the
primacy of castellano (Castilian Spanish). The mayor of Calvia, who
fancies a pop at the leadership of the PP in the Balearics, seems
hell-bent on making the Balearic language the language, especially of
education. Why? Language preservation is one thing, but pragmatism is
quite another. I may have mentioned this before on this blog, but it
bears repetition. Some years ago, I worked on a marketing project with
the Amsterdam Stock Exchange. I once asked one of my contacts there
why Dutch people spoke such good English. "Because we have to. No one
else speaks Dutch." Pragmatism is a trait that has long informed Dutch
politics and educational policy.

And so it is that pragmatism, rather than populism, should be the
guiding principle of language policy. Personally, I am in favour of
the teaching of Catalan (or Mallorquín) and of its promotion
generally, but not at the expense of a pragmatic outlook which would
allow those local children to have a wider choice of university were
they receiving a castellano-biased education. The consequence of a
Catalan-angled policy is that university education becomes more
limited, largely to Palma, something that merely reinforces an
insularity that a university education should seek to eliminate. All
education is about broadening the mind, and none more so than higher

Last year, the Government made great play of a "plan" for innovation
and development in Mallorca. Quite what this is I am unsure, and I'm
not wholly sure the Government's sure either. But what I am sure of is
that, if there is a desire to create a more diverse economy, one that
would function within a global market, then there are two languages
that matter - English and Spanish. Catalan is, in a respect, like
Dutch. European language it may be, but international it most
certainly is not save for the odd small outpost here and there.
Spanish may be a less-important international language than English,
but important and useful it still is. It is a linguistic advantage
that exists within Mallorca's boundaries, and yet some politicians
would seek to deny it.

The Government is saying that there is not an intention to make 100%
of teaching in Catalan, yet there are some who might try and force the
issue. The Government also says that plans to have English used as a
third language for teaching have not been effected because of a lack
of qualified staff, which is a kind of Catch 22. That lack of staff is
partly down to a lack of English teaching in the past; a cycle that is
still being repeated. And then there is the inherent contradiction of
apparently seeking to internationalise education by introducing
English as a teaching language (albeit the commitment to this may just
be open to doubt) while at the same time trying to insist that an
international airline conducts its business in Catalan. Where is the

N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to
its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner
or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who
disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal. (H. Schiffman, Moderator)

More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list