Category Archives: Language

Wert's education reform abandoned

The Ley Wert was unpopular for a number of reasons. It aimed to take power from parent-teacher governance boards and give it to political figures. It introduced streaming for academic and vocational training a year earlier than before, reducing standard schooling for anyone going into vocational training. And it threatened the linguistic immersion system in Catalonia, a system proved to work, in order to downgrade the relevance of Catalan in schools.

From the government's point of view, shelving unpopular reforms after massive strikes and protests may be a mistake. They may be trying to make themselves look flexible.

From my point of view, what they've shown us is that we can win.

The PP's campaign against the Catalan language

Aragon, País Valencià, Illes Balears… these are three Spanish autonomous communities with a historical link to the Catalan language. They are also three Spanish autonomous communities where the PP is in power. And what is the result of this combination of factors? Evidence of a distributed, strategic plan to de-Catalanise these regions.

(Image borrowed fromhttp://independentcatalonia.blogspot.com/2008/12/reason-14-more-spaniards-that-are.html without permission)

Example: I met several people in their mid 20s-early 30s in Alicante province recently. This is an area where the street names are all still in Valencian-Catalan. Not one of the young people I met spoke a work of this language (not that we discussed this much). Why? Because they had attended local state schools (the PSOE also bears some responsibility here). The PP in Valencia also led the charge for redefining Valencian as a different language to Catalan, something which the Valencian Academy clearly rejects.

Example: The attempts to relabel Catalan and its dialects as part of Aragonés Oriental (Eastern Aragonese) with the support of the PP in Aragon. This despite the fact that Eastern Aragonese is a different language.

Example: Repeated attempts to change place names and street names in Valenican towns, against the wishes of the people who live there.

Example: In the Balearic islands, the PP has started to rename cities. Palma has changed to Palma de Mallorca (Spanish version) and Maó has changed to Maó-Mahon (mixed version). Simultaneously, Catalan has been downgraded from being a compulsory subject in Balearic schools and will no longer be a requirement for civil servants.

Example: Education minister Wert has proposed a new education plan for Catalonia which would take the level of education in Catalan back to how it was in 1978. Making it an optional subject, not needed to complete high school, and abolishing 'immersion' represent a complete redrawing of the Catalan education system. The PP, knowing that Catalan students do perfectly well in Spanish, has opted to put children at a disadvantage – not being able to speak Catalan – purely for the purposes of creating a cultural divide in Catalonia.

When we talk about attacks on culture and the threat of ethnic division in Catalonia and Spain, much is made of Catalan nationalism and the dangerous game it plays. I've never bought this theory because the Catalan separatist parties are now much less ethnically-centred than they were 15 or 20 years ago.

However, the PP is a retrograde party. It cannot deal with the problems it has created in the present and so it turns to policies from the past to fix things. They talk of banning strikes, banning protests… simultaneously, they make people redundant and then cut unemployment benefits, and everywhere they have power, they are now attempting to de-Catalanise Spain. With all the evidence (and what I've presented here is actually just a fraction of what's going on), it seems difficult to deny that the PP is following a concrete, organised campaign in territories where it has power and at a national level.

Frankly, this strikes me as another good argument for independence.

You don't speak Catalan. And you've lived here how long?

One of the most frustrating debates I have with other expats (never Spaniards) in Barcelona is the one about Catalan school teaching. I know various Poles, Brits and Germans who bang on about Catalan being a stupid/dead/useless language and how they'd rather have their (real or imagined) kids educated in Castilian Spanish. Not one of these people speaks any Catalan. And they've been here for years.*

Of course, that's each individual's prerogative. Speak whatever language you like. But if you've been here for a few years and you don't speak a word of it, something's wrong. You know why? It's not that hard.

If you speak Spanish, Italian or French, you should be able to pick up some Catalan in weeks. I'm not talking about nivell C, but you should be able to understand a school teacher if you've been here for a few years. You just should. If you don't, you're either incapable or unwilling. What's it to be?

I'm happy to talk about language policy etc, with someone who can speak Catalan (like Trevor at kalebeul). But if you've made no effort to learn it – and it's just NOT THAT DIFFICULT – then your opinion means nothing to me. Make the effort, then you're entitled to your opinion.

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*It is surely a coincidence that many of these people are given to a weird sort of anti-immigrant casual racism which is as unpleasant as it is illogical. Guys, you are immigrants. So am I. Do you lack all self knowledge?!

/rant

thebadPoll: what's correct: Catalonia or Catalunya… or Cataluña?

This new poll is borne from a post I read today at Jeremy Holland's From Barcelona blog. But it's also, I must admit, something I've probably grumbled about before.

Among the people writing about Catalonia in English, there seems to be little consensus as to what we call the place. I always use the English form 'Catalonia', Jeremy uses the Catalan 'Catalunya', Graeme at South of Watford uses the Spanish 'Cataluña'… doubtless someone out there (Trevor?) uses the archaic 'Cathalunya'.

My reasons for using the English form are fairly simple: firstly, consistency. In my guise as a sort-of-managing-editor, I spend plenty of time making sure that everyone writing for our website writes as consistently as possible. That is, we have a house style which should always be applied. So we write in American English, generally try to avoid jargon – sometimes a difficult task when writing about technology, and use the same naming conventions when referring to organisations, places or people. The idea of consistency in such writing is that a reader should never have to trouble themselves as to why we're suddenly using a different word to describe something. I use 'Catalonia', 'Spain' and 'Seville' because I'm attempting to maintain some sense of consistency in the way I write (though a quick search shows that I have used 'Sevilla' a few times!). I feel that the majority of news organisations and works of reference would agree with me when I say that as a rule, toponyms ought to be written in the same language as the rest of the article.

The second reason I prefer the English form of the name is that when I'm writing in English, I'll use an English word wherever possible. This has nothing to do with any kind of linguistic conservatism: though my 'trade' involves the constant use of English, I'm the first to proclaim that one of its great strengths is the lack of an Academy that protects it from foreign influence. I do, however, broadly agree with George Orwell's Six Rules for clear political writing. As far as I'm concerned, 'Catalonia' is a perfectly decent English word that has been in use for hundreds of years and, like 'Spain' does the job admirably well. So why opt for the Catalan version? To me, it sounds like an affectation, particularly when this exception – this break in consistency – is applied only to 'Catalunya', and not to 'Spain'.

Jeremy makes a couple of points when explaining why he prefers the Catalan form. He's right to say that using 'Catalunya' hardly makes a piece of writing harder to understand. Pretty much anyone reading either of our blogs would be perfectly comfortable with the Catalan toponym. He also talks about the fluidity of English and its willingness to absorb words from other languages and cultures – something I mentioned above. But he does rather cloud the issue I thought we were talking about: whether there's a correct way to name the place in English. He also introduces something of a red herring: street names and people's names. To me, calling Joan, 'John' is incorrect… and calling the Plaça de Catalunya 'Catalonia Square' just aren't the same thing as calling Catalunya, Catalonia.

But I may be wrong. Jeremy has promised that he'll change and start using the English form if that's what most Catalans say they prefer. I'm not going to change the naming conventions I use, no matter what you say. But I am interested in hearing what you think. So the question is: when writing in English, what's the correct way to refer to the place? Catalonia, Catalunya, Cataluña, or something else entirely? As always, vote early & often to the right >>>