Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Making Sense In The Bedlam: Language

Amidst bedlam the more mundane can suddenly take on potential significance.

It is Muro town on the night of the demons' horror show of Sant Antoni. The square in front of the town hall building and the frighteningly imposing Sant Joan parish church is ablaze, echoing with crashes and bangs, full of demons racing, roaming, spitting fire and letting off their own explosions.

From the safety of the balcony of the town hall various dignitaries and their invited friends look down on the mayhem. Mayor Fornés, who has engaged in some remarkable spats with his local police force, might have spent a moment or two diverting his attention from the demonic proceedings to observe his police in action. He wouldn't have been able to hear them speak, but had he, would he have approved?

A lone police officer was controlling the crowds in the area of the square where we had gathered to have fire rain down on us and to have demons creep up on us. He was constantly insisting that spectators moved onto the square itself or away from the church's forecourt. He was close enough, regularly enough, for it to be possible to hear him speak. And all he spoke was Castellano. Not Catalan, not Mallorquín but Castellano.

Why should this be of any significance? Was it the case perhaps that he didn't speak Catalan? This would be most unlikely. Local police are local, and Muro town, like its neighbour Sa Pobla, is about as Catalan/Mallorquín as you can get, a place of impenetrable dialect and accent that is uttered as though the local potato harvest was being consumed by the speaker.

Whereas the Guardia Civil speak Castellano and Castellano alone, the local police are not bound by rules that equate language with the defence of Spanish nationhood. Indeed, as public servants, they fall into the broad category of worker in Mallorca of which Catalan has been demanded as the language to be used and to be adept in.

It is this requirement, and the challenge to it by the Balearic Government of President Bauzá, that is at the heart of all the kerfuffle that is cracking off regarding the government's wish to remove Catalan as a requirement for those in the public sector.

The police officer, however, may have taken it upon himself to appreciate that a pragmatic approach to doing his crowd-control duties was to communicate in a language that he would know would be understood by all, except that is for the Brits and others who can't do any of the different natives. The night of Sant Antoni is not exactly a case of life or death, but in theory an unwary spectator could go up in flames. Speaking Castellano was not just pragmatic, it was common sense.

It is the pragmatism and common-sense cards that are generally played in the great language debate. Though the use of Castellano forms the basis of the pragmatic argument, what is currently happening in Mallorca is a singular lack of pragmatism and common sense - on behalf of the Balearic Government.

At a similar time as the police officer was organising the Muro crowds, police in Sa Pobla had to intervene to protect President Bauzá from a hostile reception. The boos and jeers that Palma's mayor has had to endure twice because of his own insistence on using Castellano were ringing out in Sa Pobla as well to greet Bauzá. And also at a similar time, the father of the island's Partido Popular, the first president of the Balearics Gabriel Cañellas was saying how little a battle over language was needed. The government should convince not enforce; this, more or less, was what he was saying.

Mayor Fornés may have approved of the police officer's use of Castellano, or he may have disapproved. In Muro, Fornés is a member of a local offshoot of the PP. He will be well aware that in the town itself the predominant tongue is most definitely Mallorquín, yet it is not necessarily so in the town's resort. And so it is with other towns with resorts. The cosmopolitanism of the resorts contrasts with the traditionalism of the towns, and it is the demographic tension even within the boundaries of individual municipalities that exacerbates the language debate.

It is a debate into which pragmatism and common sense find it difficult to intrude. But if there is to be common sense, it might be an idea for the wise words of the PP's grand old man to be acknowledged. The battle is not needed and most certainly not at the moment, because all the battle results in is bedlam.

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