Misc 03/06/2015

For Spain, Catalan is nothing more than folklore

Abel Pié
3 min

“Con la venia” ("With Your Honor’s permission"): this Spanish phrase, which many lawyers use to address the judge, is key to understanding why Spain has required the bar exam, in Catalonia, to be taken in Spanish. The dictionary defines "permission" as a "license granted to an inferior". Well, this is the attitude of the Spanish government, which administers the exam: "I grant the license, therefore I impose the language".

This attitude shows that Spain does not believe in bilingualism, and that it considers the Catalan language to be a matter of folklore, not suitable for use in serious areas such as the law or science. The bar exam, which was held this past Saturday in Barcelona only in Spanish, is the proof.

Last year we called for the exam to be made available in Catalan. We demanded that those students who are Catalan speakers, who have studied for their law degree in Catalan, be able to take the exam in Catalan. Madrid didn’t understand. Maybe it’s complicated to understand. Or maybe they did understand, but didn’t care. I can assure you that the request from the Catalan Lawyers’ Council to Madrid was polite and in Spanish.

This demand from the 14 Bar Associations in Catalonia is well within the law. The Bar Associations, which happen to know a little bit about the law, requested something that is totally legal, but also logical and natural. It is not an unreasonable requirement, it is a right. If we live in Catalan and have the right to use Catalan because it is an official language in Catalonia, then candidates for the practice of law also have the right to sit their exams in Catalan. The petition that we made is so logical, so legal, so natural, that the Spanish General Council of Law gave us full and public support on the Thursday before the exam was held. Surely that means something.

The commission that assessed the students, of which I was a member on Saturday 30 May, was able to examine the multiple-choice test that the students had to take. It was an exam that we had not seen beforehand. It was distributed just before 10 am, when the exam began, and lasted until 2 pm. Four hours of stress and nervousness for the future lawyers. They had to answer 75 questions on practical cases, with 4 possible answers for each. Each correct answer was one point, and for each incorrect answer 0.33 points were subtracted.

Beforehand, without having read the contents of the exam, the opinion of the assessment commission was that the time given for each question was sufficient. But when the members of the commission actually read the contents, our perception changed. Short questions and long questions. Short answers and long answers. A mix of everything. Complicated rubrics, and with elaborate, credible answers. It required attentive reading, without distractions and with much concentration.

Faced with this exam, which was only available in Spanish, I filed a formal complaint that was included in the minutes of the commission. The complaint was written in both languages, with Spanish in the left hand column and Catalan in the right, so that nobody could claim that they didn’t understand. We do respect bilingualism. It is a right. And we respect rights. We are required to write it in Spanish, and if it were up to Madrid’s centralizing attitude, they would require children who want to be lawyers to use Spanish, not only in the bar exam, but also in primary school, secondary school, high school, and at university.

They argue that the exam must be "the same for everyone", as if the language of a question could change its answer. And they point to a ruling by the National Court in response to an appeal that we, the Catalan Lawyers’ Council, submitted last year, when the test was centralized in Madrid and was available only in Spanish. The ruling was in their favor, alleging that the certification "allowed for the practice of the profession in the entirety of Spanish territory" and that it did not consider that "providing the exam only in Spanish meant any disadvantage for general or third-party interests".

To them, Spanish shouldn’t just be a vehicular language; it must also be the only language. The disdain for the Catalan language shown by all of this confirms that the use of language as a political instrument is not down to Catalonia, but to Madrid’s short-sightedness.