Mireia Esteva, 12 January 2022
The President of the Government, Pedro Sánchez (left), received the Generalitat, Pere Aragonès, shortly after the pardons to the nine politicians imprisoned from the ‘procés’ / EP
As a Catalan speaker, I am happy to belong to a country where my language, despite being a minority and having to coexist with one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, has been preserved, along with other languages also spoken in Spain. This is thanks to the fact that, unlike most of the countries around us, our languages are protected in the Constitution; the autonomous governments have had the power and the will to develop policies to protect them with complete freedom and the citizens have made the effort to learn and speak them.
When we lived under Franco’s dictatorship, we demanded the “normalisation” of the Spanish languages, as they were subject to all kinds of obstacles to their development. By normalisation we meant that we could speak it freely in all areas of daily life, that culture could be promoted in that language and that all citizens of a community were guaranteed to learn it at school. There should also be institutions that could protect them as they evolve, modernising them and adapting them to the evolution of society itself. All of this has been in place in Catalonia for more than forty years. However, although it is true that Catalan is spoken in Catalonia and its use is now standardised, it has coexisted with Spanish for centuries and most citizens are bilingual. This opens a multitude of doors for our personal and collective development.
Nowadays, our languages receive multiple influences, due to the development of tourism, cultural exchange, and immigration, as do other languages in the world. This is because languages serve to communicate and move with the people who speak them, and sometimes they evolve by developing new languages or simply disappear from the public sphere (e.g. Latin). Only social and cultural isolation and the tyrannisation of society can prevent languages from influencing each other and evolving with the times.
Catalonia has been socially and economically intertwined with the rest of Spain for centuries and, especially during the 20th century, it has been a pole of attraction for immigration from the rest of Spain, just as Madrid has been. For this reason, during the process of democratisation in Spain, in order to normalise Catalan in Catalonia, a complex social reality had to be faced: the evidence that citizens whose parents were born outside Catalonia were more likely to suffer situations of economic and employment adversity, with language being one of the factors that facilitated this situation of social disadvantage.
Faced with this situation, at the proposal of the PSC, the law of linguistic immersion was agreed upon, in order to facilitate that students living in families and neighbourhoods with a predominance of Spanish have the same opportunities to learn Catalan correctly as children from Catalan families. Because, when people shout in the streets that we want to be “un sol poble” (one people), some of us think that we want equal opportunities for all. Although for others, it means that they do not recognise the diversity of the citizens of Catalonia and would like to homogenise us, under a predefined pattern. This is impossible if we do not isolate ourselves from the rest of the world or move with a punishing stick every time someone thinks of stepping out of line.
The reality of linguistic immersion is that it suits the nationalists perfectly to generate social division, because they have perverted the meaning of their own existence. Spanish nationalism, which is centralist, resents any language other than Spanish, and Catalan nationalism does exactly the same thing: it wants us all to be homogeneous, but in a smaller territory. Today, the independence movement has brought to the surface and accentuated possible emotional gaps in terms of the sense of belonging, which makes social cohesion even more difficult. Nationalists of one stripe or another try to exaggerate the situation and use the language to beat each other up. Some dare to say that in Catalonia children cannot go to the toilet if they do not express themselves in Catalan, while others say that if children take a subject in Spanish in addition to the language, Catalan is persecuted. Some resort to the courts to settle what the others should have settled by applying common sense in politics. Thus, the latter say without blushing that Catalan is persecuted if children have to study a little more Spanish than English, giving fanatics the wings to harass those who do not share their ideas. What this situation resembles least of all is the sincere desire for schools to be a place where our young people can grow and where social inequalities can be reduced.
Parallel to this dysfunction, which means turning a language into a weapon, we have the flagrant contradiction that recognised Catalan political leaders who defend linguistic immersion (as has been the case until now) and refuse to comply with sentences, take their children to bilingual or trilingual schools, for a fee. Everything seems to indicate that language immersion is just an excuse to keep the parish going or seems to them to be the best option for the “children of immigrants”, but not for their own children. I am sorry, but this gets a bad press for half of Catalan citizens and, although there must be compensatory policies, these should not be confused with the imposition to speak a certain language. If there is any danger of Catalan disappearing, it will be to the extent that it cannot be learned and used without imposition, with a wide cultural offer.
Like any public policy in which public resources are invested, the policy of language immersion in schools cannot remain a totem that cannot even be talked about. It needs to be evaluated and, if necessary, improved with consensus, as a large part of Catalan citizens are already demanding. We need to confirm that we are doing well, because if we do not evaluate it, we simply do not know. Let us take advantage of the linguistic richness of our reality and create a school “for all”: a school that truly reduces social inequalities and that the rich, Catalan businessmen and politicians believe in and want their children to be educated in it.
Evaluating the law of linguistic immersion in Catalonia is nothing more than: analysing, assessing, judging and correcting a public educational intervention in a systematic and scientific way (of its design, implementation and results) to improve its quality, promote transparency, accountability, in order to contribute to the improvement of democratic quality. Because we must continue to preserve and protect our language, without undermining the right of each citizen to speak in the language they consider appropriate to interact with others, as protected by our own law. Protecting the language does not mean using it as a means of domination of some over others, nor to classify Catalan citizens by levels of quality, nor to harass those who express an opinion that differs from the official one.