Why do we campaign for the Catalan language?
At Plataforma per la Llengua, we would like Catalan-speaking citizens to be able to benefit from the same rights, services and accessibility as other citizens from European linguistic communities of a similar size to ours. As it stands, however, we are very far away from this target and a lot more work has to be done to achieve this.
In terms of number of speakers, habitual use, prestige and tradition of uses, Catalan is a medium-sized language, just like Danish, Swedish, Norwegian, Finnish, Slovak, Hungarian, Greek and Czech. Speakers of these languages, in most of their linguistic domains, benefit from rights and considerations which are far superior to ours. The situation for speakers of these languages would, for us, be the minimum threshold of what we understand as normality.
To give just a few examples:
- When a Slovak person goes into a supermarket in Bratislava, they can find any everyday product labelled in Slovak. In Locarno, Italian-speaking Switzerland, everything is available at least in Italian; in some cases, product information may even be specific to Switzerland and not the same as Italy's version.
- For an audience of just 300,000 speakers in Iceland, Coca-Cola has labelling and its website in Icelandic. With 30 times the number of speakers, this is not available in Catalan, even though the distributors for Iceland and Catalonia are the same - Coca-Cola Iberian Partners, a Catalan company.
- When a citizen from South Tyrol, Italy, goes to buy aspirin, they can read its instructions in German. Furthermore, the labelling is specific to the region, as the Italian law on pharmaceutical products is different to that of Austria or Germany. There are only 200,000 German speakers in this territory. A citizen in Zurich has aspirin instructions available in French, German and Italian. A Latvian person has aspirin instructions available in Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian; these three languages combined have fewer speakers than Catalan.
- To apply for British citizenship, you do not need to know English if you can demonstrate that you know one of the native languages of Great Britain. For example, knowledge of Scottish Gaelic is sufficient, a language with a few thousand speakers which make up under 0.01% of the country. Catalan is of no use in obtaining Spanish nationality, even though over 20% of Spain's population speaks the language.
- Despite the language having only 50,000 speakers, and despite belonging to Denmark, the people of Greenland have their passport in Inuit. In New Zealand, it is in Māori. British people even have information in Welsh. A Catalan's passport is in 23 languages, 11 of which have fewer speakers than Catalan, but it has no information in our own language.
- A Norwegian person knows that they will have no problem in finding instruction manuals for washing machines, televisions, furniture assembly, etc., in Norwegian, and that they can play FIFA video games, for example, in their own language. Norwegian has only 4 million speakers, and they have perfect knowledge of English and understand Swedish and Danish without any difficulty.
- A Lithuanian person knows that, when they go to the cinema, all films will be in Lithuanian (either dubbed or subtitled). This is also the case for Bulgarian, Swedish, Finnish, Latvian, and even Icelandic citizens.
- An Estonian citizen (whose language has little over a million speakers) can buy a SEAT car with the navigation system in Estonian, and can consult the website, catalogue and user manual in Estonian. A Barcelona citizen has no such luxury, despite the fact that sales in areas where Catalan is an official language are substantially higher than sales in Estonia. In fact, ours is SEAT's fourth largest market in the world.
- A Canadian citizen can have a legal trial in French all around the country if he or she is the injured party, even if French is not the language of the province in which the person lives. This would be the equivalent of a Catalan citizen being entitled to a trial in Catalan in Extremadura; however, as it stands, a trial in Catalan cannot even be requested in Catalonia. Spanish is the default language for legal settings.
- When a Flemish citizen goes to live on the other side of Belgium, they know that they will be able to watch the Dutch public television channel without any problems, even if they are in an area where French is the only official language.
Is it normal for this to be different where we live? This is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of the exceptional situation we are faced with.
To give some more examples, the following applies to all of the European languages of similar size to ours:
- They have constitutions, provisions and regulations de facto which make them official in the State at the same level, at least, as any other language. The Spanish Constitution is the only one in Europe not to recognise a native language as widely spoken as Catalan as an official State language; as a result, Catalan does not have the tools or resources that are derived from this status.
- If the states are members of the European Union, they have all of the rights as official languages of the European Union without exception, with all the repercussions this involves. There is no European language as widely spoken as Catalan which is not an official language of the European Union. Ours is the only case. The reason for this is that none of the successive Spanish Governments have wanted to request that it be made official.
- Unlike our community, they do not suffer over 100 cases of serious linguistic discrimination by the Spanish public administration and regional administrations, with harassment and even physical violence towards citizens for the mere fact of having spoken Catalan to civil servants.
- They have little or no legal imposition of a language other than the native language in most of the linguistic domain. Plataforma per la Llengua has calculated that there are over 1,000 such impositions in force for Spanish only. It should also be taken into account that, as the successive Spanish Governments refuse to acknowledge Catalan as an official language of the State and of the European Union, this has consequences in the European regulation that determines which languages can be used in certain areas.
- Spain is the only one of these cases in which there are hundreds of legal provisions which force companies to label, have knowledge of, attend to customers and submit documentation in Spanish, with penalties or even cessation of activity if they do not comply. In the case of Catalan, there is very little in terms of regulation, and it has many obstacles to making it effective. In comparable cases, quite the opposite is true. The mandatory language is the corresponding native language.
- There are no other comparable linguistic communities in which the Constitution imposes the duty to know a language which is not the native language of the territory. In fact, Spain and Bulgaria are the only two states in the world which explicitly state in their Constitution that knowledge of a language is mandatory; however, Spain is the only one in the world to do so outside the linguistic domain of the imposed language.
- The Congress of Deputies is the only parliament in the European Union which bans MPs from speaking in a native language which is as widely spoken as Catalan. Most Catalan-speaking citizens do not have a State parliament where Catalan can be spoken. Indeed, the whole image and practices of the Spanish State are based on an exceptional structural linguistic supremacy which relegates Catalan to the position of a second language.
- As planned, the successive Spanish Governments have wanted to make the existence and vitality of Catalan invisible, both in Spain and in international projection, as well as in the personal identity of the citizens. This invisibility and desire to show Catalan as being residual is clearly seen in the fact that Spain included Catalan as a language in the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, a tool aimed at languages with far fewer speakers. No other European State has done this. In fact, Spain does not even apply the Charter which it has ratified.
- In all other cases, there is fair or neutral treatment of the State's symbols so as not to prioritise a language, and certainly not the imposed language. Spain, exceptionally, uses the letter Ñ and the Spanish language as an international brand. This is also the language used for international treaties, embassies and consulates, foreign education, etc.
- Exceptionally, in Spain, the head of State speaks only in Spanish for general public acts for the whole State; Catalan is relegated to the local level. Even the Constitution is sworn only in Spanish and it is only considered valid by doing so.
- Unlike the other linguistic communities of similar size, Catalan does not have full competencies in language teaching at school or there is no fair system for minimal linguistic requirements in relation to the State. For the territory in which Catalan is the native language, the only mandatory requirements set forth by the Spanish Government guarantee Spanish and a foreign language, something which is unheard of in other contexts. Teaching of Catalan falls under the regional will and is optional; it is also subject to serious obstacles in terms of making it the vehicular language in the same way as Spanish is the vehicular language in the territories in which it is the native language. The Spanish model is the antithesis of the other highly multilingual states, such as Switzerland, Belgium and Canada, which do not prioritise one language for the whole State, and they certainly do not do so with the traditionally imposed language.
- Nor have the Catalan, Valencian or Balearic Island Administrations had the desire to fully implement all the competencies in this area to make Catalan equal, at least as far as they could, to the rest of the European languages of similar size. To this end, much more effort could be made in areas such as cinema, product labelling and instructions, commercial guarantees, the media, responsible purchasing, Administration consumption, music promotion, Administration staff usage, signposting, etc. Catalan is forced to endure an abnormal situation in all of these areas.