Monday, November 18, 2013

Catalan Or Mallorquín: A dichotomy

Miquel Àngel Pradilla is a professor of sociolinguistics at the Universitat Rovira i Virgili, which has five centres, one of them in Tarragona in Catalonia. He is the co-ordinator of the sixth study for the Observatorio de la Lengua into the speaking, writing and understanding of Catalan in the different regions where it is spoken. The latest report, using data for 2012, says that the number of people who speak Catalan has topped the ten million mark for the first time. Catalonia registers the lowest number of people who don't know Catalan - 14.8% of the population - while in the Balearics, the percentage who don't know Catalan is virtually double, 28.5%. Taking all Catalan speakers together, the Catalan language is at sixteenth position among the languages of Europe in terms of the number of people who speak it, and the population of the different Catalan-speaking regions is 13.6 million.

Pradilla believes that a key reason for the rise in the number of Catalan speakers is education, i.e. the fact that Catalan is used as a teaching language. He is probably right to believe this, and the fact that Catalan-speakers, thanks to teaching, are increasing in their number may help to explain moves taken by national and regional governments to stop it increasing any more; we are talking, naturally enough, about the new national education bill and trilingual teaching in the Balearics.

But whenever there is discussion of or reports into Catalan-speaking, a question arises. What sort of Catalan is being referred to and what brand of Catalan is actually being spoken? And then there's a further question. Why, in a Catalan-speaking region such as the Balearics, is there a president of the regional government who seems so determined to want to do Catalan down?

The two questions tie in with each other and the answer to both, without wishing to sound daft, is Catalan, while a different answer could just as appropriately be Catalonia, and Barcelona in particular. To understand the politics of language in Mallorca and the Balearics and to understand the politics that run through the trilingual teaching law, one has to understand that, yes, there is an attack by the regional government on Catalan but it is an attack founded as much on antipathy towards Barcelona and Catalonia as it is an attack on the language per se.

Bauzá comes at the issue of language from a perspective moulded by a nationalist ideology. This is not nationalism as in Mallorca nationalism, one that would want greater autonomy, but nationalism as in Spanish nationalism; Spain as one state. The notion of a separate Catalonia or even a collection of "Catalan Lands" is anathema to such nationalism. It is a fear that somehow Catalonia and Barcelona might come to rule over the Balearics as part of a separate group of Catalan Lands that goes to the heart of the politics.

But this is a fear which is all but irrational. As repeated surveys of what people in the Balearics identify with show, an identity with the Catalan Lands barely even registers. There is absolutely no popular desire for the Balearics to become a part of such a group and there is little or no chance that such a group would ever come into existence. There are organisations in the Balearics, such as the OCB (Obra Cultural Balear), which might one day wish there to be a Catalan Lands, and there are political parties to the left who hold a similar view, but as far as the man in the street is concerned, the idea of the Catalan Lands is dead in the water. Indeed, if you speak to many Mallorcans, their attitude towards Barcelona and Catalonia is the same as Bauzá's. They don't want anything to do with Barcelona, except with the football team, and many of them insist that they don't speak Catalan but Mallorquín, which is probably because they do.

Bauzá has been consistent in advocating the use of the islands' Catalan dialects as well as Castellano. For his opponents, however, this is red rag. There are small, minority parties in Spain, very much to the right of the Partido Popular and to Bauzá, who advocate the same thing. These are the ultra-nationalists, ones who can't stand Catalonia and everything it represents, including Catalan. Bauzá, where some of his opponents are concerned, is bundled in with the far-right nutters; an association which is far from accurate.

Now, however, the regional government appears to be taking its attack on Catalan further and shifting the language argument towards the use of the islands' dialects. The Institute of Balearics Studies is preparing a book which pushes to one side certain Catalan usage and replaces it with Mallorquín usage. This book, so it is being said, wouldn't just be a set of recommendations for how to use Mallorquín but also become a manual for official use - by public-sector employees and ultimately by schools.

The government seems to think the time is right to make this shift in the language argument, and it may not be wrong to think this. If Mallorcans say they speak Mallorquín, why should they object? But many Mallorcan parents have sided with the teachers over trilingual teaching and the attack not on Mallorquín but Catalan.

There is a seemingly eternal dichotomy in local society about its Catalan heritage and its current-day language and politics, and it is a dichotomy that might be about to get even more difficult to reconcile.

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