[lg policy] Spain: Catalan language pride fuels independence debate

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Nov 14 16:26:54 UTC 2012

Catalan language pride fuels independence debate


The perception that Madrid is threatening Catalan language policy is
helping to drive support for pro-independence parties ahead of
regional parliamentary elections on Nov. 25.

Barcelona may be Spain's second city, but some tourists to this top
Mediterranean travel spot might get a surprise when they find that
traffic signs, advertisements and menus are not in Spanish but another
romance language: Catalan.

The language, which is similar to Spanish and French, was banned for
almost 40 years during the right-wing dictatorship of Francisco
Franco, and only used secretly, in the home.

Since the return to democracy in the 1970s, Catalan people, who are
mostly bilingual in Spanish and Catalan, have poured money and time
into protecting the centuries-old language for fear it could die out.

Catalonia already has a strained relationship with Madrid over
perceptions of unfair treatment at a time of economic crisis. Any sign
of fresh moves to "hispanicise" the region - such as when Education
Minister Jose Ignacio Wert said recently he would push for more
Spanish in schools - sparks more outrage.

The perception that Madrid is threatening Catalan language policy has
fueled separatist sentiment and is helping to drive support for
pro-independence parties ahead of regional
parliamentary elections on Nov. 25.

If the pro-independence CiU party of incumbent Artur Mas is re-elected
by more than 50 percent of the vote, it would give him a mandate to
try to push for the Spanish government to allow a referendum on
independence, which the central government says is

Recent polls show more than half of Catalans want to break away from
Spain, the highest level in history. "We have nothing against the
Spanish. But when someone
bullies you, your instinct is to fight back," said Ricard Domingo, a
literary agent and member of a Barcelona public school board.

Language stew

Catalonia's laws require the use of Catalan by teachers, doctors and
public sector workers. All primary and secondary education is given in
Catalan, and Spanish is taught as a separate subject. Businesses face
fines if they do not label products and post signs in Catalan.

Anyone who speaks in Spanish will be answered in Spanish, but
foreigners who settle in Catalonia say they need to learn the local
language to socialise. English is increasingly spoken well by Catalan
politicians and businessmen, who credit their bilingual backgrounds
for their fluency.

At the Starbucks on Barcelona's La Rambla boulevard, the coffees are
advertised in Catalan - the new tall double latte is "el nou doble
tall latte" - but customers order freely in Spanish and English.

Madrid says it fears younger generations are losing touch with the
Spanish language, which Catalans deny. "Bilingualism is so much a part
of our guts that Spanish would never disappear even if we did become
independent," said Raul Leon, a 39-year-old doctor who was educated
during the 1980s Catalan immersion plan in public schools, and who
writes medical prescriptions in both languages.

Barcelona-based newspaper La Vanguardia, which has the fourth highest
circulation in Spain, started printing a Catalan edition last year,
but Spanish remains the dominant language of newsstands, bookstores
and most television stations.

When Josep Gonzalez grew up during the Franco years, he spoke Catalan
at home but didn't learn to write it until his late teens. Now he
sends all his emails in Catalan. "The Catalan language is a heritage
that we don't want to lose, a treasure," said Gonzalez, president of a
Barcelona-based association of small and medium enterprises called
PIMEC. "We must preserve it, but that doesn't mean that we punish
Spanish speakers."

He added that pro-independence sentiment was growing among PIMEC's
members thanks to the perception that national policies were not
always in Catalonia's best interests, however.

Domingo, the agent, agreed: "I've never considered myself a
separatist, but we're facing a complete lack of respect by the Spanish


    Election campaign kicks off in Catalonia marked by independence vote
    Poll says large majority of Catalans want referendum on independence
    Spain's parliament votes to stop Catalonia independence referendum

    Catalonia's parliament votes to stage referendum on independence
    Artur Mas calls early elections in Catalonia for Nov.25
    Spain's refusal to Catalonia's new tax regime opens door to early vote

    Spain's King strikes back against Catalonia's call for independence
    Hundreds of thousands of Catalans call for independence from Spain
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