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PHILATELIC MADNESS: Spain--A threat to the United States?

Fred Hansson, the esteemed Honorary Treasurer of WAIS, is a geographer who, discouraged by the prospects for the subject in American universities, went into administration instead. A continuing interest in geography is reflected in his ownership of a large stamp collection. Incidentally, if any WAISer has interesting foreign stamps, please send them to me I will forward them to Fred.

Fred has sent me an article "Languages on Stamps. SPAIN" (American Philatelist, March 2001). It is written by members of the Organization for Multilingualism in Barcelona. The rivalry between Castilian Spanish and Catalan has a strong political component. since a language is a feature of a nation. Printing stamps is regarded usually as a privilege of sovereignty, hence stamps with portraits of kings or presidents. Printing stamps in say Catalan suggests a sovereign state. The article carefully counts the number of words on stamps in Catalan, Galician or Basque, It complains that no stamps have been issued completely in those languages and that the words for "Spain" and "Mail" are always in Spanish.

Until the Civil War the problem did not exist, even though in 1899 Catatalan separatists issued "separatist stamps", which Spain did not recognize. Franco stressed "Spain, One and Great". During the Civil War, when Catalonia was the center of resistance, not only the Catalan government, but also municipalities, political parties, and trade unions. It was chaos. the present compromise was reached after Framco, following a campaign promoted by the Organization for Multilingualism. The problem is that every region in Spain claims to speak its own language; the Valencians claim they speak Valencian, not Catalan. The result may be an insane confusion. The authors traveled around the world collecting similar examples of philatelic multilinguism. Even Great Britain has stamps in English, Welsh and Manx.

Will this madness hit the United States? Some states like California require that documents be issued in a variety of languages, and a case on which a Mexican woman demands that Mississippi issue driver's licences in Spanish has reached the US Supreme Court. Anyone who has lived in a country like Canada knows the confusion and cost of having all govewrnment documents appear in two languages. The situation is especially bad in the EC, which employs a host of translators. If regional languages were added, the unification of Europe would suffer a serious setback. In general, thw money used to satisfy the language aspirations of various regions or groups would be better spent on social programs to improve the lot of the people.

The danger is real. One remote solution for the world will be if English becomes truly the world language, or the European language. In the United States, the Bush administration is much less likely to tolerate the confusion which the Democrats encouraged. Finally, the internet will blur regional differences, and, since it is replacing ordinary mail, stamps may become obsolete. The end of printing stamps would give the existing ones the value of rarity, and rare stamps can draw fabulous prices. One more way of money laundering?

Ronald Hilton - 3/25/01