Saturday, 27 December 2008

ENG: The Problem Behind the Catalan Normalisation Campaigns

My father is an advanced hobby carpenter, an interest which I cannot say that I share. Whenever he explains the benefits of a certain tool, I feel lost in his enthusiasm. Not because I do not understand the meaning of his words, but because I have never faced the problems which he can now solve.

I am confident that many foreigners feel the same about the policies related to the “normalització lingüística”. As immigrants in Catalonia we rapidly come across manifestations of the support for the Catalan language, but how often are we reminded about why a large majority of Catalan voters think that they still need to be in place or even reinforced?

An overview of the problem can be found in ‘Amb llengua o sense’ - a collection of articles by journalist and comedian Toni Soler. All texts were originally published in Spanish in LaVanguardia so there is no doubt that the author is completely bilingual, but he is above all proud of his mother tongue and therefore worried about its future.

I would say that the historical reasons for his concerns are those we foreigners know the best. Especially Latin Americans ought to have insight into how the Spanish crown used to deal with minority languages (Toni Soler cannot help joking about the ‘laudable cosmopolitan spirit’ which the American Indians once showed when changing for Spanish - so different from those stubborn Catalans). However, while most of us are content to know that the official oppression of Catalan ended after the Franco dictatorship, Toni Soler reminds us that it is not yet the everyday language of the masses of Catalonia, a status which it used to have as late as 100 years ago.

On top of that, two modern phenomena work to Catalan’s disadvantage. The first threat is the market forces; Spanish dominates media since a much bigger number of consumers can be reached in that language. The second one is immigration or, to be more precise, how immigrants integrate into their adopted country. Spain is among the EU countries which attract the most immigrants many of them settle down in Catalonia. Since Spanish, de facto, is the first and often only language of integration - especially so in the metropolitan area of Barcelona – Catalan is losing ground.

It is worth highlighting that Toni Soler disagrees with politicians who criticise foreigners for not learning the llengua pròpia. Instead, he asks why immigrants would want to learn Catalan and he answers himself that to give them a reason to do so is a task for the native speakers of the language (“Donar-los un motiu és cosa nostra.”)

After having convinced us about the uncertain future of Catalan, it is easy for Toni Soler to defend the needs for a positive discrimination of the language and call on politicians not to shy away from admitting that that is what today’s linguistic policies are about. I totally agree – once we immigrants understand the problem we will be much faster to accept the solutions.

A parallell can be made with my native Sweden: all Swedish politicians agree that it is not good if immigrants live in communities where they do not have daily contact with the Swedish language. Not by any standards could such a situation be justified by the fact that many of them speak English, that is, not if the goal is to integrate these newcomers. The efforts by Catalan politicians to build a united community are the same, but to integrate new comers into a bilingual context these must accept to learn two languages. If one of them is already much stronger (Spanish), I consider it logic to spend all public funds on the weaker one (Catalan).

I suggest that the Generalitat urgently commission Toni Soler to sum up his positive defence of Catalan in a short pamphlet to be handed out to all immigrants. It must include historical references supporting his message, but ought to be free from comments on day-to-day politics, since that will only confuse newcomers. And it must be printed in Spanish, English and Arabic, but not in Catalan. Catalan is not yet a language of integration into Catalonia. To acknowledge that problem is a necessary starting point if we want to improve the future perspectives of this language.

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Book details: ‘Amb llengua o sense – per què dimonis continuem parlant català?’ by Toni Soler, Columna 2008.

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If presented in a more straight forward language, as advocated by Toni Soler, I trust that immigrants would have a much bigger understanding of why Catalan needs to be the first language in the school system. That debate is as active as ever: LaVanguardia 1, Avui 1.

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Technorati tags: Barcelona, Bilingualism, Catalan, Catalonia, Spain, Spanish, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

ENG: Merry Christmas

This picture was admittedly taken for my commercial activities with Puck Import and RFSU, but I think that it deserves to be published here as well.

And I just hope that what I have done is not illegal. Interestingly enough, nobody approached me while I was decorating a Christmas tree with condoms on the platja de Ribes Roges in Vilanova, although the beach was far from empty. If I would have done this in Sweden, I am confident that some stranger would have reminded me to clean up once I had finished.

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Same condom Christmas tree, different angle: 1, 2.

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Technorati tags: Vilanova, Wirdheim

Thursday, 18 December 2008

ENG: The Vilanova Christmas Crib 2008

Last Saturday, the christmas crib (pessebre) on the Plaça de la Vila was inaugurated with speeches and choir songs. During most of the year, Catalonia does not feel especially catholic, but then comes Christmas and for a few weeks everything changes. And it is so beautiful.

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Technorati tags: Catalonia, Vilanova, Wirdheim

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

ENG: European Praise for Catalan Language Policies

Far too many expats living in Catalonia have negative opinions about the language policies set up to revive the everyday use of the Catalan language, the so called normalització lingüística. I am therefore happy to see that what most of us can agree to be a neutral body - an expert committee set up by the Council of Europe - offers new perspectives.

The purpose of their analysis was to see how far the recommendations of the European Language Charter of 1992 – an agreement to support the development of minority and regional languages, ratified by Spain in 2001 - have been implemented and the outcome is highly encouraging for Catalonia. The experts judge that education systems need to be based on a ‘total immersion’ in the co-official language and therefore fully justify, for example, the use of Catalan as the first language in schools here.

Among all Spanish areas with co-official languages, Catalonia received the most positive comments since only the judiciary plus some state authorities like Renfe (the railway system) and Correos (the post service) lag behind in the use of the co-official language. In the autonomous regions of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, on the other hand, the experts conclude that education in the local language is not comprehensive and also that the authorities there were unwilling to provide all information requested.

What we foreigners have the opportunity to experience in Catalonia is probably one of the world’s most successful projects to protect linguistic diversity. I think that we have all reason to be curious rather than critical.

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Yes, I plan to link this entry to other media sources and, yes, I would have wanted to present more hard data but I am constrained by the fact that we still do not have broadband connection from home. Next year, I keep telling myself, next year things will be better.

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Up-date: Here are the sources: LaVanguardia 1, Avui 1,

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Technorati tags: Bilingualism, Catalan, Catalonia, Expat, Spain, Spanish, Wirdheim

Friday, 5 December 2008

ENG: World Premier: The First Catalan Condom

Press Release:

Condoms are good at adapting to your body, but so far they have not adapted to the linguistic realities of Spain. Now Catalans will have a condom which speaks their language. “This was long overdue”, says Erik Wirdheim, the Swedish entrepreneur behind the project.

The condom business is dominated by multinational companies with huge advertising budgets, but none of them communicates with Catalan speakers in their first language. “When infection rates of sexually transmitted diseases again increase among young people, condoms should be promoted in as many languages as possible, and certainly in Catalan”, says Erik Wirdheim. “Potentially there are 10 million Catalan speaking consumers and still – until now - product descriptions on condoms have only been available in Spanish.”

Erik Wirdheim’s company, Puck Import, S.L. (, is the official distributor in Spain and Andorra of RFSU - the leading condom brand in the Nordic countries. “So far we only sell small volumes but RFSU deserves better. Firstly, because our condoms go through more quality tests than those of the competitors. Secondly, because RFSU has an ethic profile – the profit is reinvested into an NGO which runs campaigns about sexual health.”

RFSU’s condoms in Catalan will be sold in pharmacies and specialty stores – “condonerias”. Until a Catalan web-page is launched, a list of where the products are for sale can be found on . Already today are they available at La Condoneria on Plaça Sant Josep Oriol in Barcelona.

Erik Wirdheim entered as a partner of Puck Import, S.L. in November 2008 but since 2005 he lives with his Swedish family in Vilanova i la Geltrú. This year he passed the Generalitat’s exams for the intermediate (B) level of Catalan.

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Technorati tags: Catalan, Catalonia, Spain, Spanish, Vilanova, Wirdheim