October 3, 2023

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Home » Content » On linguistic culture and nationalism. Gabriel Jackson Conference (09/08/1995, Barcelona City Council)
Finally, let me summarize the main ideas with which I would like to leave you convinced, at least in part, by the observations of a foreign and non-nationalist historian who greatly enjoys living among you. I will start with the perspective that all linguistic cultures collaborate in the richness of human life, and that the conditions for the success of bilingualism are potentially very favorable in Catalonia. As there is no territorial division within Catalonia between the Catalan-speaking population and the Spanish-speaking population, there is an optimal opportunity to combine the particularities of Catalan culture and the practically unmatched breadth of Spanish culture. The fact that Spanish is the second language of many millions of American Indians and mestizos, and of several million black Africans, and that it is also the main language of Aragonese and Castilian neighbors, should be considered a wonderful open door to the diversity of human civilization.

On Saturday February 29, organized by the Juan de Mairena Collective, an act of tribute to the historian Gabriel Jackson, who spent two long decades in this city and died in November last year, was held at the Teresa Pàmies Cultural Center in Barcelona. Communications and contributions for the tribute were sent by José Álvarez Junco, Julián Casanova, Juan Pablo Fusi, Gonzalo Pontón, Ángel Viñas, Enric Ucelay da Cal, Sebastian Faber, Joan Botella, Ángel Viñas, Carmen Negrín or Katharine Jackson, to quote a sample of a list of two dozen friends. In the course of the act, the text of a Conference that Gabriel Jackson gave in Saló de Cent of the Barcelona City Council 25 years ago, entitled “On linguistic culture and nationalism” was distributed. For your interest, it seemed appropriate to reproduce it here.

On linguistic culture and nationalism

Gabriel Jackson

Ladies and gentlemen: To begin with, I would like to say that I am very pleased and honored to have been invited to speak to you on the occasion of the Diada, the annual affirmation of conscience and national values ​​by the people of Catalonia. I have lived among you for twelve years now, since 1983, when I retired at the University of California. During these years I have worked more on European issues than on specific Spanish or Catalan issues, but one of the many reasons for coming to live in Barcelona was my interest in issues related to bilingualism, and more generally in the complex relationships between different communities, national and linguistic. So I am very happy to have the opportunity to discuss with you the multiple relationships between linguistic culture and national consciousness, on the one hand, and institutions and forms of power on the other. I will speak mainly of Catalonia, but I will make numerous comparisons with other European and American societies.

First, I would like to mention some of the advantages and disadvantages of the political and linguistic destiny of Catalonia. If we were now celebrating the Feast of Saint Jordi I would start with the advantages, but since we are commemorating a defeat (the loss of political autonomy and the suppression, on September 11, 1714, of the official use of the Catalan language) I will begin with the disadvantages.

From 1714 until the constitution of the Mancomunidad, in 1914, most of the economic life and all the political, legal and administrative life of Catalonia was produced in Spanish. Bourbon centralization did not impede the economic development of Catalonia, but the political and institutional situation meant that the use of Catalan, which had been used for centuries by royal officials and the municipal governments of Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearic Islands and Roussillon, was reduced to the family, private correspondence and religious services. In the second half of the 19th century, Catalan became, once again, a literary language, but it was with the Mancomunidad recognition and official use were truly reinitiated. In less than ten years, in 1923, the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera attempted, with partial success, the suppression of the use of Catalan.

Eight years later, the proclamation of the Republic began a favorable period. From 1931 to 1939, the period from the Republic to the Civil War, Catalonia enjoyed autonomy and linguistics for the first time since the disaster of 1714. In 1939 the autonomous institutions and the Catalan language were again suppressed by the dictatorship of the General Franco. On the other hand, towards 1960 it was again possible to publish literary and artistic essays in Catalan, and also to educate children, more or less clandestinely, in Catalan.

The arbitrary mixture of censorship and partial freedom that took place during the last years of the Franco regime was one of the circumstances that made possible one of the most important achievements of an intellectual nature in Catalonia: the Catalan Encyclopèdia with original contributions from the best Catalan writers and academics, many of whom, due to the political situation, were prohibited from publishing books with their own names. A reference work took place at the Enciclopèdia Catalana that I used with real pleasure and that I highly recommended to all my students during my years at the University of California. This encyclopedia was the forerunner of the intense intellectual life of Catalonia that followed the reestablishment of the Generalidad in 1977, and the establishment of the democratic Constitution of 1978.

Even so, and in general, the history of these two and a half centuries has been a history of absolute Castilian domination punctuated by brief periods of autonomy. Since 1977, I believe that there are all the indications to think that the time of repression has been followed by a time of present and future freedom, within the framework of a democratic Spanish monarchy and a democratic European Community. However, it is a fact that people’s intimate feelings and intuitive reactions change more slowly than laws, so that, as a historian, I accept the fact that it will take time (hopefully no more than half a century) before Catalans and Castilians can overcome the mutual misgivings associated with the sad story I have referred to. It is also a fact that, politically speaking, neither the Balearic Islands nor Valencia want to join Catalonia, and this is one of the many reasons why I will always distinguish between a flourishing linguistic culture and a politically disunited area where the circumstance arises that the same language is spoken.

Let us now look at the advantages relating to the Catalan situation, which I believe are many, and which I believe justify an optimistic vision of the future. First of all, the obvious survival power of the language. Despite two and a half centuries of official repression, despite a comparatively low birth rate and a constant dependence on immigration from non-Catalan-speaking regions, several million people have continuously used the Catalan language. Contrary to Gaelic or Breton, Catalan has not disappeared under pressure from neighboring dominant languages, in those cases English and French, respectively. Catalan has also not needed, as is the case of Basque or Hebrew, to get a totally new vocabulary of everyday terms of the 20th century because it has not been limited to being a language used strictly in the religious field.

A second great advantage is the degree of similarity between Catalan and Spanish. I speak, of course, as an advocate of bilingual solutions, rather than monolingual ones. People who think that Catalonia would have to be monolingual, either in Catalan or Spanish, will find no interest in what I will say. When I address the citizens of a place as strongly bilingual as Barcelona, ​​I suppose that whoever listens to me is interested in the rights and values ​​of a mixed population, and in adopting democratic and consensual solutions to delicate cultural relations.

I would like to return to the great practical advantage that the close relationship between Catalan and Castilian confers. If we review the situation of several existing bilingual states such as the case of Belgium, divided territorially between the French sector and the Flemish sector; Switzerland, where French and German are, for the most part, the main languages; Finland, where Finnish and Swedish have no linguistic interrelation; Canada, with English and French; and the Basque Country, the languages ​​of which, Spanish and Basque, have no linguistic relationship, it is evident that the structural and vocabulary differences between these language pairs make attempts at bilingualism considerably more difficult to achieve than not bilingualism between Catalan and Spanish.

A third great advantage that, in my opinion, largely explains the survival of Catalan despite the political repression suffered, is the fact that Catalan is the majority language of the dominant economic and intellectual classes in Catalonia. While Gaelic and Breton became practically rural languages, Catalan never completely lost its urban, bourgeois and intellectual tradition. In fact, during the first years of this century, it was relatively easy to standardize grammar and spelling and use it in all the areas of contemporary life.

The consequences of the long deletion are manifested in the fact that the Catalan vocabulary is not as rich as in other Romance languages ​​that have been used more extensively and constantly, such as French, Spanish and Italian. However, limiting ourselves to the present and the future, the most important factors are, first, that Catalonia has active economic, professional and intellectual classes that constantly use the language and, second, that the possibilities of social advancement are what motivate immigrants, both for practical and social reasons, to learn Catalan.

Finally, among the advantages I would mention the potentially integrating nature of Catalan culture. I think that, in this case, a few comparisons will be able to illustrate the Catalan situation. In Belgium, for example, the bitter memories of the two world wars and the snobbish attitude of the French-speaking population towards the Flemish language have made bilingualism strictly territorial, with a negotiated linguistic border separating the French-speaking territory from the flamenco and that only Brussels, the capital, is a truly bilingual territory.

In Canada, the traditional psychological isolation of the Anglo-Saxons and the aggressive defensive and susceptible attitude of the French-speaking population have also contributed to creating geographical boundaries for the two languages, although the situation has not produced the emotional and geographical division of Belgium. Also in Canada, the growing demands of the Indian tribes, in order to have their linguistic and cultural heritage recognized, tend to repress the exclusive passions of Anglophone and Francophone speakers.

To all this must be added the fact that there are too many cursed cultures in the world – in my opinion, and deliberately using this strong term – by pseudobiological elements. For example, in Germany the concept of citizenship has always been based on a biological relationship. Thus, and leaving the fanatic racism of the Nazis totally out of the question, it seemed natural to most Germans before Hitler that Polish and Czech immigrants did not receive German nationality, and that Jews were considered different despite the time they had been living in Germany, and without taking into account the degree of cultural integration they would have achieved. In the post-Hitler period, Germany has been slowly reconciling with the Slavs and with the Jews who have remained. Still, for most Germans, it is still more natural to grant citizenship to people of German origin who return to the country after centuries of residence in Russia or Romania, than not to grant it to Turkish immigrants who have been living and working in Germany since thirty or forty years ago.

In fact, there is no nationalism that is totally free of racist feelings, although there are great differences in degree. My impression, after living for twelve years in Catalonia, is that racism here is a feeling that belongs to a very limited minority. Most of the people I know truly confirm the definition, repeated many times by President Pujol, that everyone who lives and works in Catalonia has to be considered Catalan.

As is the case with most cultural phenomena, there are considerable historical reasons that explain the non-racist attitude of the Catalans. Geographically, Catalonia has always been a land of transit and immigration: Phoenician, Greek, Syrian and Jewish merchants and sailors; Roman and Carthaginian armies, and later Italian and North African sailors, merchants, and pirates. Later and from the beginning of the Middle Ages to the 19th century, French and Aragonese immigrants arrived and during the 20th century immigrants came mainly from southern Spain. It would be difficult for a population like this to be racist without having to reject itself and its ancestors.

Furthermore, trade brings people into contact with a different one, and the success of trade depends on establishing civilized relationships with those who have different customs and laws, a different skin color, a different religion, etc. If the local population is also small, its leaders will take decisions in order to establish mutually beneficial agreements (the famous pactisme of the medieval Catalans) instead of conquering or rejecting according to criteria based on exclusive demands. In any case, whatever the mix of elements that has served to form a tolerant and inclusive attitude, without a doubt one of the praiseworthy aspects of Catalan culture is, in my opinion, the will to integrate immigrants, both linguistically and culturally.

I would now like to comment on some of the integration mechanisms. The most important is undoubtedly the economic opportunity. If an immigrant from regions where there is high unemployment and a low quality of life finds work in the industrial or agricultural sector in Catalonia, he finds better homes and public services than those he had known until then, he finds parks where he can play with his children and schools where they can study, it is evident that he has powerful reasons to integrate, both he and his family, in Catalonia. The process has been working for more than a century, and we only need to look at the surnames and listen to the language of the conversations to check the evidence of economic and social integration.

Even so, integration was slow and partial, especially during the two dictatorships of this century, and the most important additional method of integration today – and what I personally consider to be the most important effort in modern Catalan history – is the program for linguistic normalization. The 1983 standardization law offers full immersion for Spanish-speaking children during the first four years of education and then a curriculum plan is included that includes subjects taught in both languages. The objective of total immersion is to get children to start Catalan when they are young, when their ears and tongues are more receptive to acquiring a new language, so that they can later be educated in both languages, so that when they are teenagers they can have a correct knowledge of both Catalan and Spanish. The law also said that a predominant education in Spanish would be provided to families who requested it. The relative infrequency of these requests shows the majority acceptance of the program.

I have always got the impression that this law is a statesmen program that, if faithfully carried out over a period of some three decades, would have to produce a genuinely bilingual population without the entrenched hostilities that, unfortunately, characterize situations of Belgium and Canada. The problem is that the Generalidad, or the taxpayers (since, in a democratic society, it does not seem correct to blame the politicians), has not provided the resources to make a program like this truly viable. Teaching in two languages ​​is inevitably more expensive than teaching only in one language. Whether the issue is that teachers are fully bilingual, or that more teachers are available to achieve more or less the same teaching in both languages, the authorities have to be willing, using a colloquial expression, to menys paraules i més fets [less words and more facts]. Until now this has not been the case, and although many budgetary excuses can be given, I believe that the normalization program cannot be carried out successfully if the necessary teachers are not trained, hired and paid.

There is another problem related to standardization, a problem that highlights what any intelligent person already knows: that the success of a legislative program depends on the spirit of the people who carry it out. If many teachers are Catalan nationalists who really want to impose Catalan as the only language, or are Spanish teachers who are bothered by the idea of ​​a bilingual community, the feelings of both positions will sabotage the real intention of normalization and its prejudices. They will soon be identified, and children, who are always sensitive to the environment created by adults, will applaud or reject them.

For all this and in relation to the standardization program, I would say that it has the potential to create a cultured and civilized bilingual society, but that achieving this potential requires both material resources and psychological attitudes that, until now, have been insufficient. I would also add that in a democracy the people have what they deserve. Under a dictatorship, the people are forced to make decisions, but under conditions of political freedom and representative government, there is no justification for masochistic lamentations that ask why our institutions do not work as well as we would like. It is really up to us, as voters and as parents, whether standardization becomes a joint venture of mutual respect or a competition for dominance.

In relation to the two great questions that I have dealt with so far, the potential assimilation of Catalan culture and the linguistic normalization program, I would like to comment in general terms on some of the various meanings of the term nationalism. In the 20th century we have seen that nationalism has ended up being a stronger political force than any other supranational doctrine such as socialism, communism, anarchism, Christianity (if we really take seriously what the words say) and capitalist democracy.

The failure of utopian ideals, both Christian and secular, together with the still greater internationalization of the economy and the media, has produced a reaction whereby human beings are determined to reaffirm their membership in a national community and its different values ​​(real or imaginary) with respect to other communities.

I would like to draw a distinction between twentieth-century nationalism, which seems to me to be one of the most dangerous forces in the world today, and linguistic, or national, cultures, most of which contribute to variety, and therefore to the pursuit of the happiness of the human race as a whole, which is the only race to which I feel emotionally attached.

Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, the European peoples awakening, in the Balkans, in Central and Eastern Europe, on the entire Baltic coast, in Ireland and in Spain, have claimed a state as a basic request for freedom for any nationality. And one of the most heartfelt regrets of Catalan nationalists is that Catalonia is a nation without a state. In 1991, during the agonizing spasms of the unfortunate Soviet Union, we heard comparisons between Lithuania and Catalonia, and during the Olympic Games a brief, but widely publicized movement was released, which had banners in English where you could read Freedom for Catalonia. (Freedom for Catalonia). Fortunately, the charismatic leader of the Catalan nation and president of the Generalidad, the Very Honorable Jordi Pujol, had the good sense to clarify that Catalonia was comparable to Lithuania, but that Spain was not comparable to the Soviet Union.

If by individual freedom we mean the rights and freedoms of Anglo-Saxon and French democracy, bearing in mind that these freedoms have developed over the past two centuries and have spread in other countries; and if by collective freedom we understand the rights constitutionally guaranteed in municipal and regional autonomy, and the use of Catalan and Spanish in all public spheres, there would be no need to multiply states, which, and by historical experience, contain new minorities with potential new demands of own state. That is why the stabilization of constitutional democracy has been an element of good luck for Catalonia and for Spain in general, since 1978. In this way, the peoples of Spain can, literally for the first time in history, expect a future of civil government under a Constitution that contemplates individual and collective liberties.

Under these circumstances, and with this perspective, the claim of a Catalan sovereign state is limited to a very small proportion of the population, there would still be many more people who would dream of a state if it seemed possible to actually carry it out. As an observer it seems to me that there are two general ways of approaching the question of how to serve the interests of Catalonia as a community. Concessions can be negotiated, from a nationalist point of view, which has been the general approach of both the Basque nationalists and Convergència i Unió. Or you can participate, as Catalan and Basque socialists do, in the Madrid government and think in terms of a plurinational Spain instead of a hostilely conceived and despised Spanish state.

The first method may have an effect on certain issues but tends to increase the old prejudices about the separatist, and potentially anti-Spanish, motives of the two smaller nationalities. The second method identifies, in my opinion correctly, the interests of the Catalan and Basque peoples with the interests of Spain as a whole. As you may have noticed, I have said Spain and not a Spanish state, because I also believe that one of the rich facets of the present and the future of Spain is precisely the presence of overlapping and complementary cultures; a Spanish and a Catalan culture. In the same way that I, as an American, have a special feeling for New England and California, the regions where I spent the first sixty-three years of my life.

There is another institution that I believe has contributed fundamentally, and naturally, to the establishment of a civilized and viable bilingual culture: the municipality. It is precisely in cities, much more than in rural areas, where people of different nationalities and education work together. Brussels, Helsinki and Montreal, due to their political and cultural function, are more truly bilingual than Belgium, Finland or Quebec as geographical ensembles. Here, in Catalonia, the Olympic investment has given Greater Barcelona, ​​clean beaches, new sports facilities and parks, concert halls and exhibitions that benefit everyone who lives here, regardless of the national group to which they belong. This cultural plurality of large cities has had a long and honorable history in Europe since the end of the century, especially in the cities of Germany, Austria, Scandinavia and Great Britain. The cultural life of a progressively governed city brings down national and class conflicts, while constituting a powerful force for an inclusive national culture.

Finally, let me summarize the main ideas with which I would like to leave you convinced, at least in part, by the observations of a foreign and non-nationalist historian who greatly enjoys living among you. I will start with the perspective that all linguistic cultures collaborate in the richness of human life, and that the conditions for the success of bilingualism are potentially very favorable in Catalonia. As there is no territorial division within Catalonia between the Catalan-speaking population and the Spanish-speaking population, there is an optimal opportunity to combine the particularities of Catalan culture and the practically unmatched breadth of Spanish culture. The fact that Spanish is the second language of many millions of American Indians and mestizos, and of several million black Africans, and that it is also the main language of Aragonese and Castilian neighbors, should be considered a wonderful open door to the diversity of human civilization.

At the same time, I believe that the civilized future of the human race depends on a relative reduction in the emotional and political strength of nationalism. Nationalism was one of the main causes of two world wars in the 20th century and today it is the main reason for the large number of local wars that take place in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union. The democratic constitution of contemporary Spain, and the development of supranational institutions in Europe and in the Atlantic community (with all the defects and limitations that we want to mention) demonstrate that it is possible to guarantee the freedom of linguistic and cultural communities without the need to multiply states, armies, police forces, espionage devices and other accessories that are so popular in sovereign states. The increasing economic and ecological interdependence of the entire planet also calls for municipal, regional, national and international collaboration agreements. Despite historical sentiments and traditions, we cannot allow sovereignty and national purposes to determine politics, as it has been for the past few centuries.

As you all know, the Spanish transition from a military dictatorship to a civilized democracy, a transition in which numerous Catalans played a decisive role, has been the object of great admiration by peoples from Eastern Europe and Latin America who are leaving dictatorial regimes. On this day of Catalan national affirmation, I hope I have made you meditate on the potential of Catalonia as a model of bilingualism. For the reasons I have mentioned, you have the opportunity to create a model of cultural integration and tolerance that can give hope to many communities around the world.



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