Misc 16/06/2020

Spain’s justice system targets the Catalan language

It is absurd for a court of law to pass judgement on matters that pertain to linguistics

Sebastià Alzamora
2 min

Last Monday cartoonist Julio César Pérez (known as Amarillo Indio) asked on Twitter: “Why do we need linguists, when we can have judges instead?” His message perfectly captured the absurdity of the recent ruling by Spain’s Supreme Court ordering the regional governments of Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands to refrain from communicating with one another only in Catalan and obliging them to also use the one language shared by all Spaniards, as enshrined in the 1978 Constitution: Spanish. Indeed, the notion that a court of law —even if it is the Supreme Court— should rule on language matters is as ludicrous as claiming that linguists aimed to amend the Criminal Code using their dictionaries and grammar reference books. If judges take it upon themselves to establish whether a particular language may or may not be used in certain cases (in this instance, for administrative and institutional messages between three administrations that share a common language, Catalan), all they are doing is meddling in affairs that do not concern them and committing an abuse of power. Furthermore, in this case they are fuelling the social unease that already exists, rather than curbing it.

In normal countries, for want of a better word, courts of law —and, in particular, the higher courts— do not go about passing judgement on language matters. I’ll say it again, and I’ll repeat it as often as I have to: in the 21st century Spain remains the only EU member state which, rather than embrace and promote language diversity, takes an active interest in stifling and suppressing it, even by means of the Supreme Court. While it is true that other countries have a long-standing tradition of language hate and persecution (namely, France, which regrettably set the bar for Spain), nowadays not even France displays this level of hatred on such matters. On the contrary, there is a consolidated broad international consensus that regards language diversity as a cultural wealth and a top economic asset: contrary to what some fear, globalisation and digital technologies offer new distribution possibilities and new markets to lesser-used languages, which —paradoxically— include the vast majority of languages spoken.

As a matter of fact, Article 3.3 of Spain’s own 1978 Constitution establishes that “the wealth of the different linguistic forms of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be especially respected and protected”. It is one of those articles which the State itself disregards systematically and those who call themselves “constitutionalists” never quote. Quite the opposite: the fact that Catalan is not merely alive as a language but it is as powerful and fertile as any other European language is perceived by Spanish nationalism as an unbearable failure. They want to eliminate it, to wipe it out. They’ve been at it for three hundred years, to no avail. And this ridiculous Supreme Court ruling —which we’ve added to the collection— will fail, too.