Language, communication and freedom

Language is often considered to be an aspect of culture. I dissent. First and foremost, language is a means of communication, but the diversity of languages certainly makes humans associate a particular language with a particular group of people. Humans feel identified with other human beings who speak the same language, while feeling more distant from those speaking a different tongue.

Culture or not, language is essentially what allows humans to communicate with other humans and it is therefore a catalyst for growth of the human spirit as language permits access to knowledge and to interaction and relation with other people. The use of language should therefore not be limited nor restricted in any way. This apparently elemental assertion has rarely been true throughout the history of mankind. The fact that different peoples speak different languages has been used as a perfect weapon to divide and hurt people as opposed to the enriching potential of multilingualism.

In “The Prince“, Machiavelli describes how the different tongue spoken in another state can be a hurdle to conquer that territory. Time and again we have seen how leaders have imposed the use of a particular language on people, in order to gain control over them and their lands, usually accompanied by oppression of another language that may represent a threat to achieving control of the people. This practice might have been thought to be proper of war time, dictators and other freedom-lacking situations and regimes.

Nothing further from the truth: Spain, despite being a Democratic state, is a prime example of language oppression and curbing of freedoms. I’ve been meaning to write yet another public condemnation of the practices of several regional governments in Spain, which have been implementing policies and practices to put down the use of the Spanish language (despite it being an official language on those regions) while also imposing the use of their local language (despite it being equally official).

Common practices nowadays in Spain include: favoring knowledge of the local language over medical skills to access doctor positions in the public health care system, fines on businesses which do not label their stores and products in the local language, forcing students to speak the local language during school recess, indicating parents and teachers they are not to use Spanish when speaking in front of children in school, teaching Spanish in school as a foreign language, conducting publicity campaigns depicting Spanish-speaking locals as inferior to local-language-speaking locals, among other preposterous praxes.

Many of those policies are targeted on the education system. What best way to indoctrinate on local and regional identity and differentiation from other people (i.e., the rest of Spain) than to stress the differences by imposing the use of the local language while putting down the use of Spanish?

With their obsession on collective regionalism, those local governments are infusing hatred among people, but most importantly, they are depriving people from the ability to communicate and access more and more knowledge, produced in languages other than their regional tongue.

The use of one or another language ought to be purely a matter of choice of the individual. At school age, when children are still uncontaminated by political maneuvers, parents should have a choice as to whether their children ought to be be taught in one or more language, or whether they should be taught in Spanish as well as the local language, or even in foreign languages.

By undermining the capability of people to choose the language they use for communication, and for schooling of their children, these regional governments are dumbing down the population. The general public is subject to the manipulatory wishes of these regional leaders who are depriving and isolating people of opportunities for their future, in the name of localism and glorification of their local identity.

A foreign (non-Spanish) friend of mine in Catalonia (one of the regions in Spain most active in promoting collective localism) finally opted to migrate to another European country, because the school system in Barcelona offered no possibility to study in Spanish. Only Catalan (the local co-official language) was an option. Spanish would be taught to his children as a foreign language, like English or French.

Limiting exposure to other languages is a crime against people, for it limits their capability to acquire knowledge, liberty and self-growth, and to help in the growth of the individual’s community. People and businesses should claim their right to use and think in whichever language they please, free of limitations from governments.

The latest episode in this battle was staged recently by the Balearic region of Spain and the German airline Air Berlin, which operates flights between several German cities and several Spanish cities (among other countries). The Balearic local regional government’s “Language Policy” director sent a letter to Air Berlin, asking them to use Catalan in their communications with their customers in the Balearic islands. Here’s an example of meddling by a public institution (local government) in private affairs of an airline. Who do they think they are to tell an Airline what language they should speak? I support the Airline if they choose to communicate to their customers in whichever language they decide to, Catalan included, but this should be purely their own decision. If they have not chosen to use Catalan so far, they probably have their own reasons, more than likely related to balancing the need to communicate with non German speaking customers and the need to streamline the Airline’s business. It is no business of anyone else to tell them which language to use.

The reaction of Air Berlin’s director, Mr. Joachim Hunold, was perfectly correct. He wrote in the airline’s own magazine a note denouncing the inference from the Balearic government, saying that “Spanish is no longer an official language. The partition of Spain into regional nationalisms is returning Spain to medieval mini-states. I used to think that we lived in a Europe without borders”.

Mr. is absolutely correct. Of course, regional leaders in Spain have tried to accuse Air Berlin of attacking Catalan. The president of Catalonia, Montilla, has even dared to tell the Airline how they should conduct their business, hinting that the Airline should not adopt an ideology. Apparently, for Montilla it is fine that a Government can impose an ideology on people, but individuals cannot comment on it. This is certainly not a surprise, since Montilla and similar local leaders are known for persecuting freedom of speech.

Certainly the airline incident is far less serious than other practices; it was just the latest in a chain of nonsense coming from these regional leaders.

It is outrageous that the Catalonian government fines producers for not using Catalan in their product labels, or when they’ve fined shop owners for using only Spanish on their shop banners. People should be free to label using whichever language they want. Most certainly businesses will choose a language that helps them sell their product. If they want to use Catalan, they will, but this should not be forced upon them.

It is also outrageous that children are manipulated through television advertisements that teach them to put Spanish-speaking people down.

People’s own opportunities for prosperity and liberty are being killed by these leaders obsessed with regional and local identity, and with differentiation from the rest of humans. Language is their best vehicle to control people. Let us not allow them to succeed.

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4 thoughts on “Language, communication and freedom

  1. Trist

    All this is concequence of the catalan language not having a state to back it, and thus considered as a second rate language an as nuissance by those would rather see it disapear.

    Reply
  2. Joe

    “Language is often considered to be an aspect of culture. I dissent.”

    Yeah, that’s a strong argument

    “Nothing further from the truth: Spain, despite being a Democratic state, is a prime example of language oppression and curbing of freedoms.”

    did you deliberately leave out of the picture something? Hope this helps to improve your otherwise excellent article:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Language_politics_in_Spain_under_Franco

    Reply
  3. Joe

    “The reaction of Air Berlin’s director, Mr. Joachim Hunold, was perfectly correct.”

    Yeah, a CEO challenging a (local) Government. Perfectly correct…

    Reply
  4. psr

    Dear Joe:

    When I say that I disagree that language is culture, I am not saying this is an argument for anything. I am saying this is my opinion… sorry if this was not clear from my writing.

    I did not deliberately leave out anything. The article talks about Spain nowadays, not under the dictatorship of over 30 years ago.

    You are absolutely right, though, that the language policies during that dictatorship are absolutely equal to the policies that are in effect today in several regions of Spain, only the situation is reversed. It used to be that the use of regional languages was restricted, and today we have the opposite situation: People are being forced to not use the Spanish language.

    Both policies are equally wrong. People should not be forced to use one or the other. Today in Spain, like 40 or 50 years ago, there is language oppression and curbing of freedoms (granted, we do have some more freedoms now than then, but not in relation to language use).

    And to answer your other comment: Why would it be wrong for a CEO to challenge a Government (regional or not)? Are Governments untouchable? Are they always right? Not always, and anyone should be able to challenge them, whether it is an individual, a corporation, or a CEO.

    Cheers,

    Reply

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