Kindergarten student revives Spain’s eternal battle over languages
In Spain, the language is political.
Historical and regional differences and demands for autonomy are often expressed through demands on which language to use. Yet the latest public battle was sparked by a simple request from a kindergarten student in Canet de Mar, Catalonia, a region that has long fought for the preeminence of the Catalan language. Instead, this time around, the five-year-old in question (and his family) had requested to have more lessons taught in Spanish, which sparked many more similar requests for more bilingualism throughout the region around. of the city of Barcelona.
The debate sparked both solidarity and strong opposition directed against the family, reports Spanish daily La Razon. Catalan, spoken by around nine million people, has been the region’s official language since the Catalan parliament passed a law in 1983. This came after the language was banned for four decades under the dictatorship of Francisco Franco.
Since then, the Catalan education system, unique in Europe, has been based on a model of linguistic immersion granting the Catalan language the status of a “vehicular language”, that is to say the main language of instruction for all subjects. . Spanish is an option of the program and is taught like other foreign languages. However, in reality, the Catalan education department does not impose a quota for each language, and each school has a certain freedom to organize its language programs as it sees fit.
Catalan government v. Spanish Supreme Court
In Canet de Mar, once a Catalan separatist stronghold, this new resistance to the Catalan language only contributes to a larger trend that worries supporters of independence for the status of their language.
Even before the schoolboy’s demand created a political storm, the Catalan language immersion model was challenged when the Catalan High Court ruled in December 2020 that schools in the region would teach at least 25% of their classes in Spanish. .
It is not a question of linguistic quotas but of powers over language policy.
The Catalan government opposed the decision, but the Spanish Supreme Court dismissed the appeal on November 23. Schools now have two months to modify their curriculum to include this resolution, although some have already done so, with parental support. For its part, the child’s family asked for this figure to rise to 50%.
The language has become even more of a hot topic since a 2017 independence referendum, which was rejected by Spain’s Constitutional Court. Since then, pro-independence feelings have waned.
Death threats against the boy’s family
“The language should never have been politicized in this way,” Rosa Maria Villaró, of the Workers’ Commission union, told El País. “It is not a question of linguistic quotas but of powers over language policy.”
The boy’s request and what followed were met with an unexpected vitriol, and the situation quickly grew out of proportion, especially on social media. Parents opposed to bilingualism have created a Twitter account to discuss measures to arrest and discredit the family.
The family even faced several death threats, but also received a wave of support. The “YoApoyoALaFamilia” (“I support the family”) hashtag has become a trending topic. The Socialist Party of Catalonia and right-wing political parties, such as Vox, Ciudadanos and the Popular Party, have also expressed support, but the Catalan government remains silent.
Interviewed by La RazonAna Losada, president of the Assembly for a Bilingual School (AEB), the main Spanish advocacy group in Catalonia, said her group would now deal with the boy’s case. She describes it as a “unique moment” in history with the model of total language immersion reaching its end point.
Yet even if all eyes are on the courts and the government to see if the laws will change, when it comes to language policy, it will surely not be the last word.
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