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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5 thoughts on “Language choice in Galicia

  1. Pingback: Dev Kumar Sunuwar » our Education System Needs Overhauling

  2. learn to speak spanish

    According to me both Spanish as well as Galician should be used in school to teach students.

    Reply
    1. psr

      Indeed, that’s the most sensible approach.

      But precisely those narrow minded regional localists want to have one of the two languages be the main one, or even the only one, to be used in schools and in life in Galicia.

      Now, when they even turn to violence (see here, here and here) to restrict the use of both languages, then they really lose all credibility.

      Reply
  3. trevor

    English and Portuguese also continue to be minority languages in Galicia, and therefore require positive discrimination. And, since they are considerably more useful than Galician, they should clearly receive more subsidies than Galician.

    Reply
    1. psr

      I won’t be the one to question that indeed English or Portuguese are more useful than Galician (at a world-wide scale), but that would open another debate altogether. Neither English nor Portuguese are official languages in Galicia, and the issue here was about the despicable practices of some (well identified) people in Galicia to force the population to use one of the two official languages, and using poor arguments at that.

      Reply

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