Catalan language revival fuels backlash in Spain

Thu Jul 10, 2014 1:32pm EDT
 
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By Fiona Ortiz

CORNELLA DE LLOBREGAT Spain (Reuters) - Francesca Munoz, the principal at Sant Miquel primary school near Barcelona, is fighting a linguistic crusade that has fueled a remarkable recovery of the local Catalan tongue – and of the region’s secessionist movement.

For 30 years, public schools in Spain's Catalonia region have taught most subjects in Catalan, not the national Castilian Spanish language.

There are now some 10 million Catalan speakers in or near the region bordering France and the Mediterranean, putting the language in a league with Swedish and Greek after it was repressed under the 1939-1975 dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

"We feel so proud to have achieved this, but we can’t relax now. It’s still a daily battle," says Munoz, who led her school’s transition to Catalan three decades ago, when all the teachers were retrained.

Such is the strength of the Catalan renaissance that it is prompting a backlash among some parents concerned their children are getting short-changed on Spanish, the world’s second-most spoken language by native speakers after Mandarin.

These parents, worried that many schools now give only three hours of Spanish a week, have support from the center-right central government in Madrid, which passed an education law last year that will force the Catalan school system to provide more hours in Spanish if parents petition for it.

The nascent movement for more Spanish teaching has only hardened supporters of the Catalan language – and of the wealthy region’s independence drive. Catalonia’s secessionist movement has gained momentum during Spain’s recent economic crisis as taxpayers in the wealthy region complained they were financing poorer areas of the country.

"We need our own country in order to protect our language," Irene Rigau, education superintendent for Catalonia, said in an interview in her office in Barcelona last month.   Continued...

 
Demonstrators carry a banner, which reads: "Decided, Catalan school", in Barcelona in this June 14, 2014 file photograph. For 30 years, public schools in Spain's Catalonia region have taught most subjects in Catalan, not the national Castilian Spanish language. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino/Files