Saturday, July 05, 2008

Let's Talk About Tongues

Things were getting just too quiet. With the more ultra sections of the Spanish right having lost their hold over the direction of the Partido Popular, we were no longer being treated to daily rants on the imminent break up of the Spanish nation. We had to go and look for them instead, which is not to say that they are very hard to find. Fortunately for those who are appalled at the apparently unstoppable transformation of España into Expaña as a result of regional nationalism, the PP is no longer the only source of discontent. Help is at hand.

A group of “intellectuals”, mostly associated with the new party Union Progreso y Democracia (UPD) and whatever still remains of Ciudadanos, have taken advantage of the PP’s internal wrangling and presented the Manifesto for a Common Language (Manifiesto por la Lengua Común). This manifesto is presented as a defence of the Spanish language, and most of the propaganda surrounding its launch would lead you to believe that it exists to defend Spanish speakers against discrimination in regions such as Cataluña, the Basque Country, or Galicia. Particular emphasis is placed on the situation of parents in these regions who want their children to be educated in Spanish rather than Catalan, Basque or Gallego.

However, the objective of the manifesto is not to combat discrimination at all, instead the aim is to reinforce in law the supremacy of the Spanish language over all others. Neither is it just about education, the promoters of the document also make clear that public servants would not be expected to have knowledge of the other official language in the region where they work. For all the rhetoric, it’s not actually about freedom of choice to use the language you want – it’s only about the freedom to use Spanish. The authors of the manifesto have come up with tortuous arguments to justify the imbalance of their treatment of the issue. Having emphasised that the regional languages can only be encouraged, rather than imposed, they then propose to do more or less the opposite with Spanish. Despite some nice sounding phrases about courteous treatment of other languages, the reality of the manifesto’s implementation would translate as inviting speakers of these languages to go and fry morcillas.

Once the manifesto had been launched all it needed was a helpful boost from the media. Cue El Mundo, taking a break from undermining Mariano Rajoy and probably a bit bored with searching for town halls that don’t fly the Spanish flag, the newspaper has seized on the manifesto as its big issue. Every day they publish the number of signatories, usually accompanied by a tendentious piece about the latest imposition on helpless Spanish speakers, and at the same time accuse the government of turning a deaf ear to all of this artificial public clamour. The PP has signed up to the campaign along with other notable intellectuals like, er, Luis Aragonés. The illustration on this article comes from a notably (Spanish) nationalist campaign launched by the youth section of the PP in Madrid. At least one of the early signatories, the poet Antonio Gamoneda, has already withdrawn his support on seeing how the issue is being manipulated by El Mundo and their friends.

None of this is to say that there are not important issues to deal with in the way languages should be treated in those regions where there are two official languages. Personally I think a determined, educationally sound, program of bilingual education would be a good way to go forward, but the idea that people are suffering because they are taught in Catalan or Basque is nonsense. The notion that those whose parents want them educated in Spanish should be segregated in school from those who learn the language of their comunidad is an even worse idea. The Spanish language is not in danger, all of those who live in regions with other official languages are exposed to Spanish on a daily basis, either through the media or those they have to deal with in their daily life.

In the case of civil servants, I’ve already written on this issue before. Saying that there should be no obligation for them to speak the other official language of the comunidad where they work is something which directly puts the rights of civil servants above those of the people they are supposed to be serving. As a response to a perceived discrimination against those who work in the public sector, the response is to impose reverse discrimination. A day to look forward to will be the one when those who live in Madrid spend less time bitching about what happens in education in other parts of the country, and more time focused on what little remains of the public education system in their own region.


Dieter Schweiz said...

A typically well researched, well written, balanced and informative post. I would like to thank you for your continued efforts in cutting through the, may I say, crap and telling it like it is. Could you let me know, are you a journalist, academic, or some such professional?

Graeme said...

Thanks Dieter, I'm neither an academic or a journalist - just an amateur with too much time on his hands.