Language Politics

Last week a group of writers here published a manifesto in defense of the Spanish language. It's hard to imagine that Spanish, one of the world's most dominant languages, could need defending by a handful of intellectuals, but these individuals were moved to action by what they perceive as the discrimination suffered by Spanish speakers in Catalonia and the Basque Country with regards to public education and the public administrations. (Soler was one of the signers.) It is becoming increasingly difficult to have your child educated in Spanish in either of these communities. The signers of the declaration emphasize that rights are limited to individuals and can never be extended to territories or much less to languages themselves. This probably seems like an odd point to make, but can be understood in the context of Spanish politics, where Basque and Catalonian nationalists especially, and others from Galicia and some of the other regions to a lesser degree, often claim "historic rights", manipulate identity politics, and in general invoke arguments based on convoluted notions of exceptionalism when trying to defend policies that seek to promote the use of the local language, even when these policies seem to be in evident opposition to the promotion of the common good. In any case, politics is slow in the summer, and the newspapers need to generate polemic, so this is something to keep the talk radio crowd happy. It is an interesting debate, and few things are as intimate as language, so feelings quickly become quite impassioned. My two cents worth: the Spanish constitution may have a weak link when it refers to the obligation (el deber) all citizens have to know Spanish. How in the world can you obligate someone to know a language?  What are you going to do to the refuseniks, put them in jail? In this regard, I identify much more with a liberal ideology: when it comes to languages it's much wiser simply not to legislate. It's kind of like trying to legislate what goes on in people's bedrooms. Stay out! (Here's a pretty good critique of the manifesto by Josep Ramoneda.

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