Friday, 4 July 2008

The Odd Intellectualism of the 'Manifesto' / Intel•lectualisme estrany

In the expat community there are many people who consider that the Catalan language has a too strong role here and therefore can be assumed to agree with the Spanish intellectuals (Mario Vargas Llosa, Fernando Savater and others) who recently took the initiative to the Manifesto for the Common Language (manifiesto por la lengua común). Since I do not, I have decided to explain why.

The manifesto is a reaction against what it sees as discrimination of those who are monolingual in Spanish, but live in autonomous regions with a second language. Its message is that the regional governments should have the right to motivate people to learn the local language, but must not take for granted that they want to do so, let alone already know it. This in turn results in a demand for the public school system to guarantee that parents can place their children in Spanish speaking schools.

Still remembering how I felt when we came to Catalonia, I understand that people who only speak Spanish feel like outsiders here. However, in my eyes, the manifesto mixes up a cause with its consequences. I have never been answered in Catalan by staff of the public administration when I address them in Spanish (the opposite happens almost every day, i.e. that Catalans “help me” by answering in Spanish when they hear my broken Catalan). It has happened that a form which we have needed to fill out has only been available in Catalan but, with all respect, I cannot say that we have ever had any major difficulties in doing so. On the other hand, what admittedly can feel excluding in Catalonia is that you miss out on a lot of everyday communication – between neighbours, in the shops or on the radio – as long as you are not bilingual.

To actively build that bilingual common platform is the reason for the public school system being designed as it is. I have nothing against commercial forces but they do that children as young as our five-year-old see Spanish as the “cooler” and more attractive of the two languages. By starting in Catalan only and then step-by-step adding classes of Spanish, the education system balances out the languages so that pupils master them equally well by the age when they leave compulsory school. Tests on the state level confirm that students from Catalan schools are equally good at Spanish as those who have studied in monolingual autonomous regions.

When 86% of the Catalan voters choose parties who are in favour of the existing language policy, should we – who voluntarily have moved to what we know to be a bilingual area – say that they are wrong? I do not think so. To me this manifesto is an odd attempt to ‘normalise’ a monolingual way of living in a de facto bilingual society.
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No reconoceremos a nadie el derecho a expidir certificados de españolidad”, ha declarat avui en José Blanco (PSOE). No sóc socialista, però diria que fins ara els seus comentaris és la millor defensa contra el ‘manifiesto por la llengua común’ que he vist.

Que nacionalistes com l’Àngel Colom
agrupa el manifest amb les celebracions de la selecció espanyola de l’EuroCopa i hi veu un atac al país, és una reacció que puc entendre però lamento. En la Catalunya on visc jo hi ha un immens soport per la llengua pròpia i no vull que això es dilueixi per embolicar-se amb el desitj d’un estat própi que no comparteix tanta gent.

La lluita contra el manifest no guanyem per dirigir-nos a Madrid i protestar a veu alta, sinó per fomentar la societat bilingüe que ja existeix als carrers de les ciutats catalanes. Aquest intel·lectuals han invertit temps per crear un manifest per a comunitats autonomes com la nostra. Ara cal demonstrar-les que han malgastat la seva energia i que no el volem.

Pel poc temps que fa que pertanyo als catalanoparlants, penso que tinc un missatge a passar a aquests residents de Catalunya que encara no ho fan. La meva propera entrada sobre el tema escriuré en castellà.

Technorati tags: Catalonia, Catalunya, Catalan, Català


ian llorens said...

I have come across many immigrants (who proudly call themselves expats to differentiate themselves from those coming from developing countries) who love everything in Catalonia except for those annoying things called Catalans.

And happy 4th of July!

Erik Wirdheim said...

What an interesting remark, Ian.

To me, not even the most stubborn catalan independentista is "annoying". However, I certainly do think that in case we want to win a certain battle, we should gather the biggest troups possible and pick the right weapons.

Unfortunately, to some people it is so important to maintain purity that they cannot seek a common ground.


ian llorens said...

As a Catalan American married to a Chinese woman from mainland China, I value diversity and tolerance above all. This diversity and the understanding for other cultures, makes me value even more my own. I never tried to convince my American neighbors to dance "sardanes" on Sundays in the subdivision. Today I am celebrating the 4th of July and will go to the parade.

Erik Wirdheim said...

Thank you for sharing, Ian.