Vicente Serrano, member of the Board of Progressive Citizen Alternative and author of The real value of the vote.
November 25, 2021
Image: Susana Alonso
What does it mean here (Catalonia) and now (2021) to defend bilingualism?
Catalan nationalism has always made the flag of the Catalan language as a sign of national identity, considered as its own language compared to another, Spanish or Castilian, implicitly considered as foreign and imposed. And based on this, it has justified a practice of social engineering such as the so-called linguistic immersion, which eradicates Spanish from the school and aspires to turn Catalonia into the monolingual nation they dreamed of.
However, languages, as vehicles of communication, create and are the basis of human culture but do not have rights, they are not entities endowed with consciousness and subjectivity. For this reason, from a progressive and left-wing perspective, it makes no sense to speak of the rights of a language – Catalan, Spanish, or any other. It is the citizens, the conscious subjects, who have rights. Legislating linguistic impositions – and whether it is done by a dictatorship such as Franco’s dictatorship, or by an elected parliament such as that of Catalonia – is an attack on freedom and democracy. Because democracy is the government of the majority with respect for minorities.
The nationalists affirm that children educated in the current Catalan school correctly master both languages when they leave the period of compulsory schooling. But the truth is that they conclude the same with a poor knowledge of both languages and with a very high school failure, and always higher among those who have Castilian or Spanish as their family or mother tongue.
That is to say: compulsory immersion has become a handicap for Castilian-speaking families, who make up the popular and most disadvantaged classes of Catalan society, who arrived in Catalonia responding to the needs of the local bourgeoisie for cheap labor. And the current marginalization of Spanish in school contributes – contrary to the theory of the “social elevator” – to keeping them in the lowest strata of society, since, by undervaluing their own language, an emotional detachment is generated with respect to the community to which it belongs and demotivates any pretense of progress.
The defense of bilingualism, therefore, must be understood as a claim within a whole: the fight for civil rights. The problem of “immersion” is not the language, it is what lies behind it: the construction of an identity within a totalitarian project. As much as the nationalists attribute to themselves all the democratic virtues, while demonizing others as “fascists.”
The left should seek its own discourse against nationalism. The misnamed “linguistic immersion” is actually a process of acculturation of the popular Castilian-speaking classes, the end result of which is exclusion. This process aims, using the alibi of social cohesion through language, to establish a categorization and hierarchy of identities, putting their own (that of nationalists) as the superior.
The process pretends to be inclusive. The Catalan popular classes do not fit into this model, since they cannot overcome the imposed social filter (surname, identity assignment, income…). To access the benefits that this “nation that is being built” entails, they have to accept ethnic postulates, submission to identity and, therefore, subordination, which will never be authentic integration.
The fight against this acculturation process cannot be reduced to a linguistic problem. Bilingualism is a civic claim that must be linked to a fight for freedom and equality. Nationalism is transversal and degrades the ideology of the self-styled “left parties” in Catalonia, making them forget the aforementioned principles.
But, on the other hand, from the left we cannot assume either the liberal solution of the free choice of vehicular language, so pleasing to the PP: we defend that here, in Catalonia, Spanish and Catalan are both 50% vehicular languages, in a quality public school that trains free and critical citizens and where equal opportunities prevail.
A school secular both in the religious and in the identity sides; which leads us, after the demonstrated disloyalty, to the necessary recovery of Education as a competence of the Central State Administration. Because you cannot leave the fox in the care of the chickens.