Monday, June 03, 2013

The Realities Of Language

Alcúdia town hall has taken what appears to be a rather odd decision. It has agreed that requirements for any council job will include differing levels of ability to speak Catalan. The decision appears odd because it goes against the regional government's new law on public function which has removed the need for knowledge of Catalan to be a requirement for public-sector employment and because the town hall is dominated by the Partido Popular. There is a further oddity in that the lady mayor, Coloma Terrasa, had, some months ago, rejected the hanging of the "senyera" Aragonese/Catalan flag outside the town hall building, arguing that it gave the wrong impression for a town and council that wished to be "for all languages". Despite this previous opposition, the PP administration in Alcúdia is unanimous in stipulating that Catalan will remain a requirement and justifies its position on the grounds that it reflects the "sociolinguistic" realities of the town. The flying of the flag had presumably not reflected these realities.

There may be other factors that have influenced the decision. The PP administration does not hold an overall majority. Its natural ally (some would say unnatural ally) is the one-time Mallorcan socialist, Carme García, who lined up with the PP after the elections in 2011 and enabled it to form the council's administration but who has had cause to disagree with the PP. And Catalan, one would imagine for someone from a Mallorcan nationalist background, is a likely candidate for disagreement.

Elections are quite possibly another factor. The next municipal elections are two years away. A town which has sociolinguistic realities rooted in Catalan therefore has an electorate that is rooted in similar fashion. The politics of language in Mallorca, or at least in Alcúdia, might be said to be governed by the realities of politics, those of the ballot box. And these realities can make even Partido Popular politicians sit up and take note, especially if they fear seeing their power disappearing because of a stance that does not reflect the language realities.

While Alcúdia town hall has taken a decision which is at variance with the Bauzá regional government, the president and his new education minister plough on with their objective of promoting Castellano as a language for education. It is curious indeed that Alcúdia's PP can appreciate linguistic realities, yet the government cannot. Or maybe Alcúdia is odd in having such realities. I don't think so.

The government will argue, however, that these linguistic realities are changing. It can point to the fact that the percentage of families with children aged three to seven who want Castellano as the language of their children's education has increased; for the next school year, it will be up to 30%, slightly more than double what it has been during the current school year.

The argument, however, has to take into account the fact that when it came to choosing between Catalan and Castellano before the current school year, there was considerable confusion about the system of so-called free selection of language, so much so that some schools advised against a choice being made. Indeed, a quarter of parents made no choice. For the next school year, the government says that there are no "no choices". So, one can interpret the rise in the number of parents opting for Castellano in different ways, one of them being that they may represent some of the 25% who made no choice in 2012.

However the rise is interpreted, and the government naturally interprets it as support for its free selection policy, 30% does not amount to a ringing endorsement of the policy. Or perhaps it does, in that 70% of parents want Catalan, thus reflecting sociolinguistic realities, such as those in Alcúdia. And the government has steered away from undermining its message that free selection is getting parental support by failing to explain why the percentage of parents who prefer Catalan has itself increased - from 62% to 70%.

With elections for regional government also two years away, it is pertinent to wonder to what extent the politics of language will influence the electorate. In Alcúdia, the decision to support Catalan can be interpreted as one with an eye on the electorate. The PP government, though, cannot backtrack on its policy in the hope of mollifying discontented Catalan speakers. Indeed, with the changing of the guard at the education ministry, it seems more intent than ever on pressing the case for Castellano.

The politics of language were always likely to be a potential electoral Achilles' heel for the PP. And in two years time, Bauzá may discover just how sore that heel is.

Any comments to please.

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