Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Illogic Of Catalan

The Catalan language arrived in Mallorca on horseback. Jaume I of Aragon rode across his newly conquered domain, dispensing Catalan linguistics and Catalan traditions.

There is absolutely no question as to the roots of Mallorcan language and culture and there should be no question as to what historically binds Mallorca to the mainland of Spain. This is not Castile and the Castellano language, it is Catalonia (or Aragon to be strictly accurate) and the Catalan language.

The usurping of this historical connection has occurred on different occasions over the centuries, and we all know about the attempts to destroy this connection and so therefore language and traditions during the Franco period. In the democratic, post-Franco era, Mallorcans have been able to resurrect in a fully open fashion their language and traditions, and in so doing, tourists, who in Franco times might well have been completely ignorant of anything cultural or linguistic that didn't bear the hallmark of Castile, have come to appreciate that local culture isn't, or isn't predominantly, a "Spanish" one.

Though tourists might have been unaware of an alternative version of culture, for the Mallorcans, the traditional culture didn't disappear. A particularly striking example of how the Catalan tradition still burnt during the Franco time was the staging of a glosadors contest in Felanitx in the 1940s, a time when Spanish Nationalism was at its most ferocious and vicious. In theory, such an event was not permitted, but it occurred nevertheless.

But then, what tradition was it that had been upheld during those years of prohibition? Was it Catalan or was it Mallorquín? Where the glosadors were concerned, and they were arguably the most important socio-cultural agents for maintaining linguistic tradition, it wasn't Catalan. It was Mallorquín.

It is this blurring of tradition that is at the heart of the endless arguments over language in Mallorca. While these arguments are normally styled as being between Catalan and Castellano, there is a whole separate debate regarding the Mallorquín dialect and Catalan. President Bauzá has recently reiterated his view that there are four island languages (or dialects) and he has done so by steadfastly ignoring the claims of Catalan.

The Bauzá line is, in a key respect, illogical. It pays no regard to the historical connection to Jaume I. Without Jaume, there would have been no Catalan in Mallorca and equally there would have been no Mallorquín. Catalan and Mallorquín are, therefore, well and truly part of a common heritage. There can be no debate.

But debate there most certainly is, and it is driven by political philosophy. Catalan is anti-Hispania, and is therefore, where Bauzá and others of similar views are concerned, a "bad thing". Catalan is anti-Hispania in being the language of separatism and dissent and so therefore a further bad thing. That Catalan bequeathed to Mallorca its own linguistic variant is airbrushed away in the pursuit of advancing a nationalistic dogma.

The more I come to appreciate how Mallorca was during Franco's time, the more it appears that, even if there was unofficial approval, the local dialects were not stamped on with anything like the ferocity that Catalan was; the glosadors staging a contest in a public theatre was a prime example. And it is this nationalist alliance between Castellano, the main language (despite Catalan being a co-official language), and the local dialects that represents Bauzáist philosophy. Unfortunately for the president, though, there are other political voices who proclaim the same philosophy, and they are very much to the right in a way that Bauzá isn't, because they are the neo-fascists.

Though it can seem illogical to seek to downplay the historical connection through Jaume and so downplay the role of Catalan, its traditions, its very being as a political entity as the motherland of Mallorcan language and traditions, I'm not convinced that Bauzá may not be right. The education debate, that of Catalan v. Castellano, muddies the water to an extent, and it does so because Mallorcan people appear to end up arguing against what many otherwise believe. And what they believe, at least mostly all I have ever spoken to about the subject, is in accordance with the Bauzá line. They don't want to be associated with Catalan. That may seem illogical as well, because of the historical connection, but for most Mallorcans, they take pride in Mallorquín and in not wishing to be ruled by Barcelona.

Any comments to andrew@thealcudiaguide.com please.

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