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LANGUAGES: Spanish, Catalan, Valencian



Languages and their relationship to politics is as explosive a subject as history and politics. When does a dialect become a language? Black activists, even on our major universities, have been promoting Black English as a language, an activity which is a grave disservice to Blacks, who will not get decent jobs unless they can speak and write standard English. These activists are trying to gain political leverage. Variants of this problem exist around the globe. Spain offers a good example. Spanish is a major world language, and a beautiful one. Some would insist on the name Castilian, since in Spain Catalan is also spoken. With the coming of the Republic in 1931, there was a surge of interest in Catalan, and I went to Barcelona in 1932 to study it with Pompeu Fabra. In 1936, Spain was falling apart, and Franco promoted "Spain, one and great". Catalan was relegated to the shadows, but it revived under the post-Franco democratic regime. This revival has its downside. It is being used by nationalist, anti-Spanish elements, who have much in common with the Basque ETA. Barcelona has been a major publishing center of books in Spanish and a center for research on Spanish subjects. The great lexicographer of the Castilian language, Joan Corominas, was a Catalan. If Calatan nationalists push too hard, these major activities will be endangered. Catalan is the language of a restricted area, but what area?

Historically, the Catalan attitude can be understood, since Barcelona is an ancient city with a long cultural history, in comparison with which Madrid is an upstart. The problem is with Valencia and the Balearic Islands. which were reconquered from the Moors by the Catalans, who took their language with them. Both Valencia and the Balearic Islands speak Catalan, although Valencians in particular vehemently deny it. The June 2002 issue of the Bulletin of the Catalan speakers of Washington, DC devotes a page to the subject. It discusses the slight differences between Catalan and Valencian and proposes that the language be called Catalan-Valencian. It is just as though Spanish and English were referred to by the names of all the countries where they are spoken. This provincialism has infected all of Spain, where odd dialects including bable are being promoted. It is as though in the US, in addition to English, Black English, Spanglish, Brooklynese and other variants were given official status. There was a movement in favor of this a few years ago, but now Americans generally realize that this parochialism is a way to cut a group off from the modern, interrelated world of technology. The Bible had it right when it said the Tower of Babel, an expression of the human ego, resulted in the linguistic chaos which has plagued the world. Conclusion: Spaniards speak Castilian, Catalan, Basque. and Gallego. That's all. The lingua franca is Castilian.

Footnote: The language issue has become so political, that the Americans who now call themselves Blacks insist that it be written with a capital letter: Black, not black. I went through this piece checking to make sure I had respected this case of political correctness. I hope I didn't miss any offenders.

Ronald Hilton - 6/20/02


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