Is It Official?

Last month, an initial draft of a proposed Catalan constitution (for a future independent Catalan Republic) was released to the public. Consisting of 149 articles drawn up by a team of 17 people, including at least one foreign legal expert, it has also taken into account 3,400 contributions made by citizens through the Internet. The idea is to now encourage a wide-ranging debate about the contents, even if this means – as one of the team of 17 put it – 'ripping them to shreds'. One potential contender for being thus savaged might be the draft constitution's proposal that Catalan should be the only official language of the new state (together with Occitan, in the small segment of the Catalan Pyrenees where it's spoken). This, it is claimed, would finally provide a safe future for Catalan, which has been unofficial – and often banned - for 240 years out of the last 300. Special care would be taken to protect the linguistic rights of Spanish speakers, but Spanish itself would not be official. (And the existing multilingualism of Catalonia - where over 300 languages are spoken - would be respected). Those who back a unique legal status for Catalan could point out that in those areas where it has had least official backing, it has the smallest percentage of speakers (51% in the Valencian area and 35% in French Catalonia), and in those areas where it has had more support, such as Catalonia itself, that percentage is much higher, albeit not enough to ensure its long-term survival (80.5%). They might also point to countries like Latvia and Estonia, where up to 35% of the population are native Russian speakers, but where Russian is nonetheless not official. Those who balk at the idea of Catalan being the sole licensed tongue, could point to Finland, where only 5% of the population are native Swedish speakers, and yet Swedish has official national status, together with Finnish. Or they could refer ironically to Andorra, where Catalan is the only official language but where Spanish and Portuguese are more widely spoken. In fact, the argument about whether Catalan should be the only official language of a Catalan Republic could go on until the cows come home. Fortunately, there is an alternative: to not have any official language at all, like the UK, the US, Chile and Mexico, for instance. After all, it's easy to imagine that in an independent Catalonia, once the Spanish language laws were off its back – Madrid passed 64 different ones to make Spanish obligatory in various sectors, such as product labelling, in 2014 alone – and its airwaves no longer hampered by Spanish restrictions, and Madrid's interference in Catalan schooling staunched for good, plus the psychological impact on the local population as soon as they wake up in a brand new republic, would surely encourage the natural use of Catalan more than obliging judges and a handful of other functionaries to learn the language in order to keep their jobs. Just saying.

Matthew Tree, Catalonia Today, maig de 2016


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