Spain: Fighting over language

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Mon May 5 13:01:12 UTC 2008

Fighting over language
May 4, 2008
Posted by englishuniverse in General.

I am posting an article from The Guardian which covers the
controversial topic of 'linguistic normalisation' in Spanish schools
while echoing opposing views. Voice your own view by sending a
comment. Spanish speakers fight to save their language as regions have
their say

In some parts of Spain ignites a fierce political war of words over
the language of Cervantes. A growing number of activist groups in
Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia claim they are being denied
the right to speak Spanish by regional nationalists who use language
as a political weapon.
But the speakers of Spain's other 'official' languages - Catalan,
Basque and Galician - insist that, on the contrary, Spanish is
thriving and regional authorities have to save their own languages
from being lost forever. Since Franco's death in 1975, a process of
'linguistic normalisation' has taken place in autonomous regions that
have their own languages. The Basque, Catalan and Galician tongues,
repressed by Franco after the end of the civil war in 1939, have been
promoted with millions in public funds, in the hope that more people
will speak them.

But now Spanish speakers complain that their language is being
marginalised by regional nationalists in revenge for the way their own
languages were suppressed in the Franco years. They are appealing to
the Spanish constitution, which guarantees the right to speak Spanish
along with the three other official languages. The battle has centred
on the classroom, with Spanish-speaking parents in the regions worried
that their children will be unable to read or write Spanish well, as
they will only be taught in Catalan, Basque or Galician - minority
languages compared with Spanish, which is the first language of about
322 million people worldwide.

The Basque Country has three types of teaching: in Spanish, Basque and
bilingual. Just 5 per cent of parents took the Spanish-only option in
primary schools this year, and the Basque government said it has had
to cut back on Spanish-only teaching due to the lack of demand. But
Susana Marqués, of the Platform for the Freedom of Linguistic Choice,
claimed that schools teaching Spanish have become ghettoes hampered by
lack of funding because the authorities are keen to promote Basque at
all cost. She said the Basque authorities want schools to have a high
level of Basque in order to receive generous local funding. 'The only
way to do this is total immersion in the language. In 20 years of this
policy they still have not managed to get bilingualism here. It is not
the language of the street. And 70 per cent of companies here never
use Basque.' Marqués's group has appealed to Spain's ombudsman,
Enrique Múgica, arguing that their rights are being denied. But Patxi
Baztarrika, deputy head of linguistic politics for the Basque
government, said: 'Spanish is present and should be. To say that
Basque poses any threat to it is ridiculous.'

In Catalonia, Catalan is the language in all state schools, with
Spanish only taught for up to three hours a week. An anti-nationalist
party, Ciutadans (Citizens), was launched in 2006 to oppose
'linguistic politics' in Catalonia, but its leader, Albert Rivera, has
received death threats. 'Fifty per cent of the population of Catalonia
are from Spanish-speaking origins, and it is impossible to study in
Spanish in private schools or in state schools,' said Carina Mejías,
spokeswoman of the opposition right-wing Popular party in the Catalan
parliament. Bernat Joan, a Catalan Euro-MP and expert on linguistics,
said: 'This protest would only be legitimate if students did not have
adequate Spanish teaching. This is not the case.'

In Galicia, at least half of teaching must be in the regional tongue.
Gloria Lago, a founder of Bilingual Galicia, said: 'The children ask
to be taught in Spanish and this is not allowed because the law
prevents it. When the bell goes, they start speaking their own
language.' However, Marisol López, Galician head of linguistic
policies, insisted: 'Children study in two languages. If we don't
discriminate positively in favour of Galician, Spanish will dominate.'

Talking Points
Spanish: 332 million speakers

The third most spoken language in the world, after Chinese and
English. Spoken widely in Spain, Latin America and US

Catalan: 9.1 million

Romance language spoken in Catalonia, and parts of Valencia, Balearic
Islands, Sardinia, south west France

Galician: 3-4 million

Romance language spoken in Galicia, parts of Asturias and Castilla y León

Basque: 1 million

Language of unknown origin, spoken in the Basque Country of north west
Spain and south west France

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