Blogs in this series

Life in Culebrón is a disconnected series of pieces about the banal and ordinary of everyday life in an inland Alicante village seen from my very British perspective.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

¿Parlem Valenciá?

¡Parlem Valenciá! Speak the local Valencian language; it's an exhortation seen on plenty of walls in the Valencian Community which includes the province of Alicante where we live.

The language that most people call Spanish is, more accurately, the language of Castile. It's Castilian that is the home language for 20 countries of the World with the largest concentration of Castilian speakers being in the United States of America. Castilian is the third most popular mother tongue in the World after Chinese and Hindhi though English is still miles in front, numberwise, when additional language speakers are taken into account.

There are four main languages in Spain, all of which are Spanish: Galician, Basque, Catalan and Castilian. There are three variants on Catalan - Catalan itself, Mallorquin (from Mallorca and with other variants in the Balearics) and Valencian. Mind you radical Valencians or Mallorcans would argue that their's is a language not a dialect.

During the dictatorship all the local languages were supressed so as soon as the dictatorship crumbled there was a mad dash to reclaim local identity amongst the Catalans and Basques in particular. Now I'm all for that. Roots are a good thing, knowing where you belong and hanging onto the individualism of communities seems very positive. But these things are easy to radicalise and it is now difficult to find a Castilian sign in Cataluña. Whilst the Catalans used to only give grief to their rivals from Madrid over speaking Castilian it's now more acceptable to many Catalans to deal with me, for instance, in English than it is in Castilian.

I mentioned the Pinoso festival of Villazgo a couple of weeks ago. It's a big tourist event bringing people from all over the place. Some of them may even come from the next province along of Murcia (it is only 3kms from Pinoso after all). In Murcia they speak Castilian. But all the publicity for Villazgo was written in Valencian! There was no Castilian version.

Worse still, for government workers throughout Spain there are tests a bit like the UK Civil Service exams. In Valencia part of those tests include being able to read and write in Valencian. This is a problem for lots of Valencian speakers as it is very much a spoken language with significant local grammatical and word variations. Even first langauge Valencian speakers have to cram for their tests. For a teacher, for instance, with qualifications from Madrid or Toledo or Seville they have to pass the Valencian language test before they can work here.

It seems, to me, utterly ridiculous to abandon a language of World status for a local language spoken by a thousands rather than millions of people and then to make it a requirement for professionals to have language skills that are nothing to do with their jobs.

1 comment:

Colin & Carol said...

I must agree I'm in the far north of Catalunya. I understand traditions and the historical situation, but in an otherwise 'progressive' country these 'languages' are a real hinderence. People from the cities seem a little more relaxed about it and happily hold conversations in both languages at the same time. In the campo or amongst the politico youth it seems to be more of a problem. Que sera etc.