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Compte enrere

23 d’abr. 2017


Hotel AYRE Caspe, Casp 103
9.45 Presentation by Miquel Strubell, sociolinguist

Ladies and gentleman,
First of all, thanks to the organizers to make it possible for you to hear, those of you that want to, interventions made in the language that for a thousand years has characterized the Catalan people. It is a practical gesture of recognition of the value you associate to linguistic diversity and its conservation. As those of you that know me know, English is my mother tongue (I should say, “father tongue!") and it would not have been a problem for me to give this address in English. On behalf of the many people that defend these values, thanks again!

For me it is a great honour to talk to you, that have come from many countries and, more importantly, from many different cultures. In most if not all cases, yours are languages ​​and cultures that are forgotten or marginalised, or outside the "mainstream" of the societies where you live and – almost always – you have lived since before the establishment of the current borders between European states.
For me it is also a great honour because after the more formal speeches, I am the first of only four Catalans who will give presentations on different aspects of the reality of the country that today welcomes you with the warmth of the fire of the dragon that made Saint George famous, whose day - Sunday, April 23 – we celebrate on the street with books and roses.
Between the four of us we'll try to contextualize the current reality of Catalonia, from different points of view. And between the four of us, I hope you will be able to understand much better what is going on here and how it can affect the future, among others, of your association members who live and work in Catalonia.
I have been given an specific assignment, to give you a "description of the linguistic reality of the country (for obvious reasons a subject that interests them a lot)". Naturally, this has genuine linguistic aspects that interest philologists and that have to do with grammar, syntax, spelling... But I think what you really want is to hear about the presence of the language in Catalan society (or in all the territories where it is spoken) and a rough idea of its recent development.
The most synthetic summary in this regard in Catalonia, referring to the year 2013, is as follows: "94·3% of the population of Catalonia understand Catalan, 80·4% can speak it, 82·4% read it and 60·4% can write it”.

There is a version of this survey in English.[1]

The 9th Report on the Catalan Language[2], published last year by CRUSCAT (Universitat de Barcelona) has a section on "strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities for the Catalan language" in each of its territories.

Among the "negative structural factors" (or threats) the report underlines the socioeconomic context of the early 2000s that "drew a picture with a very important arrival of non Catalan-speaking population": one million net growth of foreign inhabitants in just ten years! [3]

The "positive structural factors" (or opportunities) are in fact the consequences of the crisis (which in other respects have been dramatic: in 2013, a quarter of the population of Catalonia was searching for a job): demographic flows made record population be reached in 2012, since which there has been a slight reduction of registered foreigners.

As for the "internal negative factors" (or weaknesses), in each area there are still pockets of people who cannot speak Catalan. In Northern Catalonia in France the last native speakers of Catalan are dying out. Even in Catalonia the use of Spanish is spreading in social segments where Catalan had always predominated. What is more, in Catalonia and for the first time, the absolute number of native Catalan-speakers has declined in recent years. Furthermore there is an outflow of large numbers of Catalans to other countries, in search of jobs, as a result of the crisis; and the forming of families, later and smaller, job uncertainty and the chronic - and for me suicide – lack of public incentives to have children, which has destroyed the old shape of the “age pyramid”. Here are data for 2013, which shows in different colours those born in Catalonia, those born in the rest of Spain, and those born in the world, for each age group.


Linguistic availability has also weakened in customer service in local shops, in medical services, banks and shopping centres.
Finally, there are "positive internal factors" (or strengths) in the report, such as the increase of proficiency in Catalan among young people, while in Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Aragon, the Popular Party has been sent to the opposition in their regional parliaments. This party has stood out as highly belligerent against the Catalan language, to the point of denying its unity, and a willingness to impose, or maintain a privileged official position for, the Spanish language. The report notes that in Valencia, "the potential of the Catalan language lies in the middle class, and knowledge of the language is associated with social promotion": two important factors for the future.
When the official use of the language, there is a clear differentiation with Andorra raking at the top, of course (given that Catalan is the only official language there), followed by Catalonia (Generalitat and local authorities), the Balearic Islands and Valencia. Its presence is minimal in eastern Aragon, Northern Catalonia and in Alghero (Sardinia).
For me the demographic issue is key when looking at the future of the language. Another source[4] says that in Catalonia
"Every year, an average of 85,000 international immigrants arrive...; Catalonia loses 150,000 people a year who go to live in Spain or elsewhere. In addition, each year, 50,000 come from Spain to live in Catalonia. "
A process of ethnolinguistic shift is still underway. Without the recruitment of new speakers, the future is uncertain. Throughout the 20th century, the number of people born in Catalonia (though necessarily the ratio) has increased, but within this group the proportion of the descendants of Spanish migration (mainly between 1950 and 1975) has risen:   

What is the scale of this recruitment, if it is taking place? The survey on language use, which is held every five years, indicated in 2013 that in the adult population, for every 65·7 people who had not had Catalan as their first language (or one of their first languages), 9·7 had incorporated it as their usual language (or one of their usual languages): one in seven. This figure is much higher in Andorra, but it is much better in Catalonia than in other Catalan-speaking regions. 

In the rest of my contribution (and I hope there will be time afterwards for a brief exchange of opinions), I want to concentrate on the issue of recruitment. What factors can stimulate it? What can curb or prevent it?
a. The usefulness and the need to know the language; and the usefulness and necessity of using the language.
In the current state of affairs (and in the current States, I shall just talk about Spain) the usefulness of Catalan in the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court is zero: its use is simply not allowed.
The usefulness of Catalan in the Spanish Parliament is zero. Its use is not allowed in the Congress or in the Senate (except for one almost anecdotal occasion).
The usefulness of Catalan before the Spanish police is highly doubtful, to judge by a recent case: you can get fined €600 by saying "Good morning" in Catalan to the passport control officer and by standing firm in the exercise of your constitutional right to choose the official language you want. The organization Plataforma per la Llengua[5] (Platform for the Language) has dozens of well documented cases of blatant discrimination of language; sometimes, paradoxically, the person that gets punished is the Catalan-speaker.
The usefulness - in this case, the need - to know Catalan is clearly evidence if you want to become official (civil service exams) at both the local and the Government level. However, it is not required to assign a judge to a court.
The usefulness of knowing Catalan is evident if you want to watch the news broadcasts on Catalan public television, but it is not for you prefer the news of Televisión Española, Antena Tres, Telecinco, La Sexta, La Cuatro, and the other monolingual channels. It is not useful to go to the movies, where almost all the films are dubbed in Spanish only.
b. The social prestige of the language and of the speaker.
They are separate issues. Kathryn Woolard, in her excellent field research in the last quarter of the last century, found that her sample of young people in Catalonia rated more highly a person when he or she spoke in Catalan than in Spanish. And that a person perceived as being a Catalan speaker was rated higher than others, whatever language they spoke in.


c. In the last analysis, it is power that it affects people’s behaviour, preferences, opportunities, linguistic choices and many other aspects.
Catalans are well aware that the fate of our language, culture and identity are closely linked with power. When power attacks them, we have suffered. When we have had a certain level of power, our language, culture and identity have been consolidated.
That is one of the many reasons why a large part of the population of Catalonia, starting from non-partisan civil society and therefore in a "bottom-up" way, wants independence for Catalonia. In many ways we are a curious miracle. No other Europe people as large as we are has resisted, without losing its identity, such uniformising, assimilating pressure for more than three centuries. Or to put it another way, all the other peoples have won their sovereignty. But I leave this more political field for my colleagues, and especially Liz, to explain in more detail.
d. Let me, however, comment on the great relationship between the origin of the population of Catalonia (which has such an impact on their knowledge and language use) and their political preferences.
This graph shows the percentage of votes cast in favour of Catalan independence in the last elections (2015). Although foreigners could not vote, only where there are large concentrations of families of non-Catalan origin (Barcelona, ​​Tarragona, Alt Camp, Barcelona, ​​Vallès Occidental, Garraf, Vallès Oriental and Baix Camp) and the Aran Valley for partly different reasons, did the vote for independence not reach 50%. However, as a result of the same migration movements into these regions, more than 65% of the population of Catalonia live there!

      e.      Language habits.
One of the critical points that can favour the recruitment of new speakers is related to Catalan-speakers’ language habits. There is an almost automatic tendency to switch language in front of a stranger or someone you may or may not understand Catalan. I would easily say this is the result of political repression in the past: General Primo de Rivera, General Franco... but without such experience of harsh repression, this phenomenon probably occurs in many of your communities: it is likely to be a characteristic of all minority communities in the world.
Changing this habit, overcoming it, is much easier to attempt when the interlocutor, in all likelihood, speaks a language close to ours and can more or less understand it. In our case, until twenty years ago, almost all residents in Catalonia of non-Catalan origin spoke another Romance language: Spanish U(or Galician). The reality is much more complex today, but it is also the case, unfortunately, that the vast majority of newcomers from other countries first learn Spanish... and almost all Catalan-speakers take this for granted, whenever we approach them.
However, in the case of Basque, Welsh or Irish the distance is much greater.
But it is also likely that the same linguistic proximity between Catalan and Spanish makes it more difficult for the bilingual people to be aware of their choices. I fear that many people that in surveys on language use more Spanish than they say (and that they sincerely believe).
f. Political and popular will
What has distinguished Catalonia (and Andorra) from the other territories has been a much more generalised desire for our language (and culture) to be protected and promoted. In other areas the political parties have not adopted their language policy in such a clear and agreed manner: instead it has been a battleground for dispute. Looking on one occasion at the electoral manifestos on the language policy of each option in Catalonia, I found it quite hard to tell one party from another. The promotion of Catalan has been an aim largely shared by all parties (I say "largely": there are nuances in education policy, in penalties for non-compliance of the law, or requiring language proficiency competition for civil servants), and it has been easier to legitimize the language policy as a democratic and transversal, to the extent that it broke with one or more of the routines imposed by the dictatorships.
Finally, it is common practice to criticize the parties for their language policies, but the parties are accountable to the electorate. So it is crucial that they perceive that the protection and promotion of Catalan is a claim that goes beyond party politics. The civil society organizations that promote language play an essential role here. Once the process towards independence is completed – I hope successfully, and soon - it is to be expected that policies to ensure the future health of our language will be reactivated in Catalonia with renewed energy. Above all, we hope to be able to remove the limitations placed by the Spanish government in sectoral policies affecting language, such as the disputes before the courts of our laws of education, reception of migrants, and consumers’ rights.
But you must always remember, as I said before, there are many factors outside the language, of an economic, social, demographic, etc. nature, that can have a greater impact than a specific language policy.
Thank you.

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