Linguistic utopia

Linguistic utopia

A nation of nations, where different languages coexist, where children grow up speaking one at home and another at school, can only be advantageous, surely? No, not when politics comes into the equation

Rachel Haynes

Friday, 22 September 2023, 14:01

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I still remember the first thing our Spanish teacher told us when we embarked on our A-level course. "They speak several languages in Spain and we're going to learn the one called Castellano." That was the first I'd heard of this country's multilingualism (no real surprise as I knew very little about Spain and only chose the subject to avoid timetable clashes) and I remember wondering whether we were learning the right one.

A nation of nations, where different languages coexist, where children grow up speaking one at home and another at school, where they're equally happy to watch a cartoon in one version or another, can only be advantageous, surely. Bilingual youngsters in Catalonia and Galicia are privileged to see the world in two different ways, even though their regional languages are very similar to the country's main one. As for the bilingual Basques, well they have something rare and fascinating, a language so different to any other, that has amazingly survived over the centuries.

So all good then; you'd think the poor less-privileged youngsters living in the parts of Spain where they only speak Castellano would be given the chance to learn their country's other languages, so as not to be left out.

But no, this is where politics comes in to destroy this linguistic utopia. Spain's regional languages, especially Catalan, are associated with nationalism, with division, with being on one side or another. There is resentment, an assumption of defiance, rather than curiosity. And let's face it, it only takes a little concentration for a Castellano speaker to understand what a Catalan is saying - if they put their mind to it.

In an effort to include all of Spain's official languages in the Congreso, MPs are now allowed to speak in whichever tongue they like, while simultaneous translations are sent to awkward earpieces via expensive interpreters. It all seems like a lot fuss in a place where one side ignores what the other is saying half the time anyway.

Surely it would be better if everyone swallowed their pride and admitted that they do actually understand most of what the others are saying, and agreed to go on a crash course in Catalan and Gallego to master the bits that are more difficult. It would hardly be a concession to separatism - simply embracing the linguistic diversity of the country they are making laws for. And in the case of the Basques, perhaps they could be asked nicely to repeat what they've said in Castellano afterwards. For the sake of getting on with running a country.

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