Monthly Archives: June 2009

Language choice in Galicia

The regional government of Galicia distributed a questionnaire among parents of schooled children. The goal is to find out parents’ preferences about which language (Spanish or Galician, or a mix) to use for teaching in school, to later design the “future language policies for elementary and secondary education in Galicia.”

The questionnaire had to reach parents directly, but a group called “galician coalition of linguistic normalization and dynamization” (CGENDL in Galician) has attached a letter (in Galician) to the questionnaire to mold responses in favor of one option (Galician). While this is bad enough (the questionnaire was supposed to be neutral), the letter rests on ludicrous claims:

1) “Galician is Galicia’s own language; it belongs to us all and we cannot play with its future”

This is irrelevant: It fails to take into account the interests of people who speak Galician. The language to speak should not be chosen because it is related to a particular territory. Languages are an instrument for communication. People who choose their education in Galician may do so, regardless whether Galician “belongs” to them or not. To make Galician-based education optional is not “playing with its future”.

2) “as teaching personnel, we think we must offer thorough information about language learning, based on scientific studies”

First of all, they legitimize their opinion as superior because they are “teaching personnel”, although the problem is not at all about teaching, but rather about policies of freedom of choice. Secondly, history shows that languages are not chosen or discarded based on “scientific studies”, but rather languages become used or not as a result of forced adoption or convenience of using another language. Their “scientific studies” are unknown to me, but they seem irrelevant, because what is most important is people’s free choice, based on what they want, because it may be what’s most convenient, most useful, or most interesting for them (everyone may freely choose their motives for using one language or another)

3) “It’s fortunate, rather than unfortunate, that our community has a thousand-year-old language, which must unite us”.

“Which must unite us”? Is Galician the only way to unite people? Must people be “united”? This argument rests on too many assumptions. Can the Spanish language not unite the Galician people? Or, do they imply that Galician must “unite” the Galician people in facing others who are not Galician? This argument reeks of a desire to incite differentiation and segregation: Galician on one side, speaking Galician, and other people on other other side, speaking something other than Galician. What monumental stupidity.

4) “The idea that Galician is an obstacle for students must not be allowed to prevail, perpetuating old prejudices intended to keep Galician consigned to a secondary place in society”

These teaching personnel need to wake up and open their eyes. If someone regards Galician as an obstacle for students is because that’s probably true. That is: Galician, as any other language, allows communication with other people who speak the same language, and allows access to materials written and recorded in that language. If someone thinks their child must be able to communicate with people outside Galicia, then the Galician language might represent an obstacle rather than a vehicle. Nevertheless, most likely most people do not regard either of the two languages as an obstacle, but both are official languages and people must be allowed to choose whether they want to receive their education in one of them or both. Precisely, Galician does not need to be secondary, but if anyone regards it as secondary for them, they must not be forbidden to think that way.

5) “In order to know Galician it is necessary to ‘learn in Galician’ “.

This is true, but of course they do not speak about the conflict this implies with the other official language, Spanish: If one must learn in Galician in order to know the Galician language, they should make the equivalent statement: In order to know the Spanish language, one must learn in Spanish. Clearly, a single subject (say mathematics) cannot be taught simultaneously in two languages: one must be used. Which one to use? This is the question driving the CGENDL to ask people to use Galician (although they conveniently fail to say that in this manner they are regarding Spanish as “secondary”)

Actually, the problem is not that serious: In another Spanish region, the Basque Country, people who learned mathematics in Basque 20 years ago, for instance, have no problem utilizing that knowledge in a Spanish-speaking environment.

The real problem is a freedom of choice problem: The CGENDL today, and the previous Galician regional government before, intend to impose the use of one of the official languages (Galician) instead of allowing parents to choose.

6) The all-time favourite argument of any obsessed person: “Galician continues to be a minority language, and therefore it needs positive discrimination both within the education system and outside of it”

Translation of this argument: “Because my interests are discriminated against, let us discriminate against the opposite to promote my interests”.

If there truly are intentional limitations to Galician, such damaging practices may be fought against. However, the solution to avoid discrimination must not consist of artificially promoting Galician through “positive discrimination”.

Assuming no imposed limitations exist to the use of Galician, the minority use of Galician is due to the majority of people choosing a language other than Galician (Spanish). “Positive discrimination” would therefore imply that people should be forced to use Galician, to ensure that it is used as frequently as Spanish. Again here we find the desire to force people into doing something, instead of allowing them to choose the language they wish to use “both within the education system and outside of it”.

Language is not an end

Language is communication, and nothing else. Human beings keep on insisting to attach properties of identity, culture and even politics to languages, but this is completely wrong. Every time the “identity” or “cultural” aspect of language is claimed by anyone, this is done so exclusively with the intent to separate, segregate and differentiate people from each other.

Humans should regard language primarily (and almost exclusively) as a communication tool. Languages are not an end, but a means. Preserving or promoting languages for the sake of it, (like the CGENDL and nationalist regional parties want to do) is nothing but an attempt to divide (rather than unite) people, with the only goal of gaining popularity.

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Why does Rodríguez Zapatero need the special congress permission?

This week ETA has killed police inspector Eduardo Puelles, and the Government and the main opposition party (PP) have given an image of unity in their response to this new assassination, calling for the defeat of ETA. It seems that the PP backs the Government’s current counter-terrorism policy.

However, it is hard to believe that the Government really wants to see ETA defeated while they still keep alive a permit in congress to allow the Government to negotiate with ETA killers.

Furthermore, we no longer hear the PP voice their old demand that the Government of Rodríguez Zapatero revoke the special permit to negotiate with ETA. The PP stopped asking for this since they failed to win the presidential elections of 2008.

As a reminder, the “special permit” allows the Government to initiate negotiations with ETA terrorists if ETA ceases the bombing, killing and blackmailing.

The problem is… how to assert that such practices have indeed stopped? Spanish president Rodríguez Zapatero once claimed that there was evidence to believe that the terrorists had laid down their weapons, and that he would order contacts with ETA.

The problem is, in fact, that the blackmailing of businessmen by ETA never stopped, despite what Rodríguez Zapatero said. And now we are reminded again that the killing never stopped either, with 10 assassinations already since ETA faked a cease-fire, when Rodríguez Zapatero replied with a permit from congress to negotiate with them.

Since 2006 until 2008 the main opposition party (PP) claimed the congress-granted permit for the Government to talk with ETA to be revoked. After the general election in 2008, the PP never again requested the revocation.

Today, both the Government and the opposition (along with several mainstream newspapers) highlight the “unity” of Government and opposition in counter terrorism policy, but I still doubt claims by president Rodríguez Zapatero that he wants to see ETA defeated. He would be more easily believed if he himself promoted the revocation of the permit to negotiate with ETA. After all, the special congress authorization cannot be applied, and is not needed; or does the Government need it?

New financing, …new programming?

Televisión Española (“TVE”, the Spanish public TV station) is faced with a new financing plan, put forward by the current government, the “Draft bill for financing of Spanish Radio and Television Corporation”. According to this bill, TVE would no longer display TV commercials. Advertisement income will be replaced by income from a tax on telecommunication operators and on private TV channels.

That is, TVE no longer needs to compete for the audience to ensure its income: All its financing is guaranteed by law, coming from national budget, and from mandatory taxes on private companies.

Therefore, if TVE requires not to compete with its programming against other TV channels, will TVE cease to broadcast rubbish? There is no longer any excuse to broadcast stupid contest shows, gossip TV shows, variety shows, TV fiction, or for paying broadcast rights of sports events, or for showing any programming which only goal is to attract an audience, regardless of any public utility.

The only reason for a public TV channel to exist is so public interest programming can be broadcast. Will they show now documentaries on literature, history, technology, or nature? Will they show programming explaining how the institutions of the State work? When will they start broadcasting a daily show summarising the daily activity of parliament, so people can see everything that our politicians do, instead of being informed of the occasional scandal? Likewise, will they broadcast a program to inform of the debates in the European parliament, and another one explaining the Spanish people the workings of the European Union, and how Spain is affected by it?

There are loads of important topics to fill the public TV’s schedule.

Furthermore, the cost of such programming would be far less than the current music shows, variety shows, TV series, etc, which fill up current TVE broadcasts. The new financing model makes it possible to stop paying for broadcast rights, whether music, sports, or any other programming.

Will we see new programming on TVE, when the new financing model is implemented? Unfortunately, I very much doubt it. I hope to be corrected when the time comes later in 2009 to end advertisements in TVE.