Monday, 5 April 2010

"Spanish should not be taught at all at schools in Catalonia", Prof Juan Carlos Moreno Cabrera. Interview by Carles Bellsolà

JC Moreno Cabrera 240
Prof Juan Carlos Moreno Cabrera, linguist.

He was born in Madrid and defends the linguist immersion in Catalan. The Professor at the Autonomous University of Madrid, Juan Carlos Moreno Cabrera has published a book, "El nacionalismo lingüístico (Península) -The linguist nationalism (Peninsula), with a profoundly provocative thesis; the only linguistic nationalism existing in Spain is the Spanish. And that is very aggressive, as explained in this interview with, translated to English.

In what consists the linguistic nationalism?

The most common idea in Spain about nationalism, linguist and general, is the claims of a series of regions that have stuck to, in an obsessive and exaggerated manner, the idea that their language and culture had to be recognized. Because a lot of people consider that their language and culture are already recognized within the Constitution and, therefore, all this insistence correspond to a desire of differentiation that goes against the globalization of society.

But you, instead, sustain that there is a linguistic nationalism from Spain.

In headlining my book this way, surely there have been a lot of people who have read it wanted to reaffirm their ideas. To them, my book may be intolerable, because I demonstrate something hidden, the State nationalism. Which is not recognized as such because is parted from the fallacy that once the State is established, in this case, the Spanish State, all the expectations are exceeded, including those ethnic and of identity. I demonstrate in the book that this is absolutely false. Not only the State has not transcended the national question, but is based on one Nation, one culture and one specific language, that has continued to be the Spanish.

Therefore, which side gives more signs of nationalism?

It is that, following my definition of linguist nationalism, Catalan, Basque and Galician linguist nationalisms do not exist. Why? Because the main definition of linguist nationalism is to consider that the own language is superior to the others. Which makes no sense with strictly linguist reasons. This idea, originated by Menéndez Pidal, exists within the Castilian nationalism. But I fail to see it in the so-called Catalan nationalism, nor in the Basque or Galician. I do not see anybody who claimed that Catalan is superior than Spanish -linguistically.

Thing that is done by the Spanish nationalism, following your book.

The second defining feature is that, because my language is superior, I am doing the others a favour if I impose it to them. I do not perceive this in the so-called Catalan nationalism. Catalans do not pretend that Catalan is spoken in Malaga or Castile. I do not know any Catalanist defending this. Instead, Spanish do defend that Spanish dominates in Catalonia, and becomes the main language. But they disguise this discourse under the "communication language" or the "meeting tongue". In my book, the deduced idea is that, if we apply these criteria, the Catalan, Basque and Galician linguist nationalism do not exist. A lot of people have reproached that I do not criticize the "imposition of Catalan". But, what imposition? If I defend that Spanish has to be spoken in Castile, is that an imposition? Thus, if Catalans say that Catalan must be the main language in Catalonia, is that an imposition?

But Spanish nationalists do not openly manifest that Spanish must be the dominating tongue. What they do is argue about the individual rights of speakers.

We talk about about individual rights, but languages exist within a linguist community, not being isolated individuals. If I travel to Germany, I may have every right to speak Spanish but I must speak German. Because I am integrating on a community with linguist relations where German is prevailing. To speak about individual rights in linguist matters makes no sense. And when they criticize that Catalan acquires
predominance in certain fields, do so because it entails the loss of the absolute domain, in these fields, of the Spanish. When they criticize that, even if they do not openly do so, are demonstrating what they are fearing is not that Spanish language disappear from Catalonia -nobody with a little common sense would think that Spanish might disappear from Catalonia, it is stupid, but in reality are expressing their fear that Spanish lost the absolute prevail in Catalonia.

Instead, there are studies that affirm that Catalan language is in danger of extinction.

It depends which languages is compared against. If we compare Catalan against Aragonese, it is not in danger of extinction. But Catalan has to be compared against other languages of similar demographic level. Catalan is a very important European language from the demographic point of view and is not in danger of extinction. However, is not the prevailing language within the Catalan Countries, this is clear. There are a lot of fields in which it has not been possible to achieve this domain. Understanding domain as nothing negative, but to be the tongue of habitual use, the language by defect. Logical. When two languages live together, advances against the most powerful one from the demographic, economic and political points of view are very difficult. It should never be said, though, that Catalan is out of danger, because it is in contact with Spanish.

Due to that reason, the measures to increase the use of the language like linguist immersion are appropriate?

The only linguistic immersion that I know is in Spanish. There is no linguist immersion in Catalonia. If the Catalan language is used at school, I find it normal. Might we say that teaching in Madrid in Spanish is linguist immersion? I would not say so. We understand immersion when an official language is not the tongue of the population and it is mandated to use that tongue at school, thing that occurs in several countries in the world. In Nigeria, the tongue at school is English, and every child that attends school must learn English, which is not spoken by any of the members of his or her family. Because English, and this is the question, is not the tongue of Nigeria, is was imposed by the colonial powers. But Catalan is not imposed by any colonial power, is the own tongue of Catalonia.

You, in your book, differentiate between additive bilingualism and replacing. Which is the case of Catalonia?

The bilingualism that is said to promote from the centre is theoretically additive. In other words, I add my tongue to the native and both live together. But in 90% of the cases, in reality, is a replacing bilingualism, in which the new language is pretended to substitute the native. If a Catalan child is educated in Spanish, in what there are a lot more books, TV programs, more opportunities, is promoted that the child said 'Now, I do not speak to my family in Catalan any more, because it is more interesting for me to speak Spanish well, it gives me more opportunities'. Precisely, Spanish must not be taught at schools in Catalonia. I know it is harsh, that a lot of people will criticize me for that, but it is true. In these moments, there is a profound disequilibrium in favour of Spanish. How do we correct that? Giving support to both languages equally? Then, the disequilibrium is maintained. The only solution is to give support to the native -own- language, and a lot more support than to the other one. It is evident.

There are other reasons invoked, such as 'market' or 'darwinist' reasons, as you said, to justify the prevail of one determined language.

The new discourse of nationalism is based upon economical criteria. It is said that there are tongues that have a big market and others that have a small one. This means using capitalism globalization criteria, seeing it all as markets, products and clients. This is how economies work, but we must not use this economic criteria in culture. It is like we say that at "Museo del Prado", one paint that has only been seen by 50 people must be taken to the basement because it has only been seen by a very few visitors. Culture is not economics, is something else.

Why do writers in Catalan sell so few books in Spain?

Spain has not assumed its multinational character. If true multilingual politics had been applied, children had been taught, at least, to read and understand the diverse tongues of the State. So that a literate adult would be able to read Josep Pla without having to read a translation. And a Catalan author might sell his or her work in Spain. So that Catalan authors would not think writing in Spanish. Now, logically, if a Catalan author wants to be read the maximum possible, ends up writing in Spanish. In this sense, the presence of Catalan is disappearing, and is only read in Catalonia. And even more, in little numbers.

How has your book been received in the rest of Spain?

Practically all reviews and interviews have been in Catalonia, Galice or the Basque Country. In the rest of Spain, the book has had practically no incidence. People like to read opinions that reinforce their own,  not totally opposite ones.

Carles Bellsolà.  14/09/2008

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