Denouncing Spanish: Catalonia’s “Linguistic Guarantee Bureaus”

Posted by John Rosenthal

One of the most controversial features of the new Statute for Catalan Autonomy that was approved in a referendum in Catalonia over the weekend is the "obligation to know Catalan": a feature that is meant to contribute to the "protection" of Catalan as a regional language. An article that appeared in the Monday edition of the French daily Libération, under the title "Spanish, a Foreign Language in Catalonia", illustrates how such ostensible "protection" of a regional language can in practice result in the active suppression of the use of other languages: notably, in this case, the national language, Spanish. The article cites Marta Rodriguez, a physics teacher and President of the Association for Tolerance "that militates for the defense of Castilian in Catalonia": "We live under the rule of censors who on the pretext of defending Catalan attack Spanish. There is here a linguistic interventionism with authoritarian accents." Here some further excerpts:

"After 40 years of repression of our language under Franco, Catalan is still in a position of inferiority vis-à-vis Castilian. It is normal that one takes back the lost ground," says Albert Rossith, a Professor of Literature at the University of Gerona. "Every citizen should be able to live in Catalan 24 hours a day," Xisto Moral, regional secretary for linguistic policy, insists. He deplores the fact that Spanish continues to dominate in leisure time activities, radio and television, and advertising. "People should be conscious of the priority of Catalan. We are working to that end." Since February 2005, the regional executive has established "Linguistic Guarantee Bureaus" [Oficinas de Garanties Lingüístiques in Catalan] in Barcelona, Gerona, Tarragona, Lerida, and Tortosa. Every Catalan-speaking citizen is called upon to denounce the restaurant-owner whose menu is not translated, the shop-owner whose products are labeled in Spanish or the functionary who expresses himself in Spanish.


Their detractors have re-baptized these offices "Linguistic Denunciation Bureaus". Xisto Moral considers them a "good tool" for measuring the spread of the Catalan language. According to the Generalitat [the Catalan regional government], in 2005, 839 claims of "lèse-Catalan" were deposited and 638 complaints were filed. According to the newspaper La Razón, the delinquents have three months to change their ways, after which they are subject to fines of up to 1800 euros. The Generalitat estimates that up to now some 169,500 euros have been paid in fines for violations of "linguistic rights".


In light of the repressiveness of the measures described, perhaps the most remarkable detail related in the article is the estimate that Catalan is the first language of only "50.1%" of the residents of Catalonia, whereas Castilian is the first language of 44.2% and 4.7% "describe themselves as perfectly bilingual". What, then, of the "linguistic rights" of the roughly half of Catalonia’s residents whose mother tongue is not Catalan?


For commentary on the Catalan referendum and new Statute, see here from the Barcepundit.


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