Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dimarts: No ho entenc

I enjoyed this article from yesterday's LA Times about linguistic treachery in España.

I kind of giggled (and also sighed) at their description of Catalan as "a kind of French-sounding Spanish."

Of course, we could really go off on this...
- Norwegian: "a kind of Swedish-sounding Danish"
- Ukrainian: "a kind of Polish-sounding Russian"
- Macedonian: "a kind of Serbian-sounding Bulgarian"

They touch on the origins as "born of 11th century vulgar Latin," but don't bother to go into Occitane, la langue d'Oc, or any of that stuff -- which is, I guess, fine for an article of this scope.

Most of us know by now how touchy the Catalan/Basque autonomy issue is, but this piece was interesting in pointing out how this is politically and practically playing out. I thought lots of parallels could be drawn with Quebec, where I've heard English can get a fairly icy reception in certain areas. However, it seems a bit extreme to say that a national author would be greeted with cries of "fascist" when arriving to deliver an address, merely because of speaking Castellano.

All this is obviously proof of the adage about the consequences of oppressive dictatorship often lasting a long, long time. However, I find some of the Catalan and Basque tactics and attitudes to be just plain nuts (let's hope the thrill of pyrotechnics is permanently gone for ETA). I respect and agree with minority rights' movements and linguistic rejuvenation, but some of this stuff is as far out as the Chicano "Aztlan" scheme (which, incidentally, I think gets blown out of proportion by right wingers).

I'm not sure if this whole situation wasn't exaggerated a bit by the journalist; it would be interesting to talk to some barceloninas to find out how widespread this problem is. It does seem extreme if people "have to grovel to be served in Spanish, whether at the bank, the telephone company or other public offices," especially in a major cosmopolitan city like Barcelona, where there are surely huge numbers of migrants from around Spain. As the article says, a little over half of BCN residents are monolingual Spanish-speakers, so as a majority, how put upon can they be? Is this a tempest in a tassa, perpetrated by a hardcore fringe of independistas?

When I visited in 2003, it seems I definitely heard as much, if not much more Castellano being spoken than Catalan. And maybe we were immediately pegged as tourists, but I don't remember anyone being anything less than helpful when we spoke Spanish, and never once tried to address anyone with "Dispensi" because it would have seemed... I don't know... gratuitous?

That being said, I love listening to Catalan and still sometimes tune into Radio Catalunya on the internet just to hear it, even though I understand squat. I think it just takes me back to dreaming about Barcelona, the one city that, given the opportunity (which means to me a whole raft of silly requirements like, say, a job, legal status, and a certain level of economic security), I would move in one minute, without a bit of thought, deliberation, or hesitation. Yeah -- I'd be there tomorrow if I could. Hummmm.

[Later -- found another interesting commentary on this here: http://vivirlatino.com/2006/09/19/in-spain-learn-the-language-or-else.php]


The Angry Young Man said...

I was treated very rudely in barcelona whenever I spoke Castellano. If I spoke in English, people were friendlier. Keep in mind that both Catalunya and Pais Vasco have been jerked up and down by Castilla over the last century - before the civil war they had some semblance of autonomy, during the dictatorship their linguistic rights were squashed, and after, the Spanish were so paranoid about these two communities leaving Spain they tied them up in constitutional red tape. Lots of resentment there, simmering just below the surface for decades now.

Of course, I never quite got the purpose of independence in an increasingly more powerful EU. It would be interesting were Spain, the first modern nation state in Europe to be the first to dissolve.

The Angry Young Man said...

"I only speak Spanish to my maid and to a few workers," Sostres wrote. "It is a language of the poor, of the illiterate and of people of low ability to speak a language that makes such a frightening sound just to pronounce the J."

He could live in California...