Euskara and Ongoing Linguistic Battles

In November of 1999 the United Nations designated February 21st as International Mother Tongue Day.  The International Day has been observed every year since February 2000 to promote linguistic and cultural diversity and multilingualism.  This draws attention to the ongoing linguistic battle over the place of Euskara as theory and practice intersect.


Languages are the most powerful instruments of preserving and developing our tangible and intangible heritage. All moves to promote the dissemination of mother tongues will serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education but also to develop fuller awareness of linguistic and cultural traditions throughout the world and to inspire solidarity based on understanding, tolerance and dialogue.

The place of Euskara in Spain and France remains contentious, as reflected in tis story from the Economist magazine

Online source:

Hablen español, already
Jan 24th 2011, 18:50 by R.L.G

THERE are good reasons to debate what role minority languages should play in the countries where they are found. There are few reasons to be as snide about the question as Giles Tremlett was in the Guardina a few days ago, when Spain started allowing senators to debate in Basque, Valencian, Catalan and Galician:

The upper chamber of Spain's parliament has caused controversy by allowing senators to debate in five of the country's languages, with interpreters employed to turn their words into a tongue they all speak perfectly: Castilian Spanish.

On goes the snide: "critics" are quoted, and a scathing editorial. Then comes a scene in which Hispanophone senators are "forced" to pick up their earpieces when a senator speaks Catalan, an estimate on how much it'll cost, and a peevish quote from the conservative opposition leader: "Something like this would not happen in any normal country."

There then follows a fairly accurate description of the language situation in Spain: about 11% of the country speaks a minority language natively, and about a third of Spaniards know them and use them regularly. Unmentioned is the fact that these aren't unwelcome intrusions into a Spanish-speaking Eden, but indigenous languages spoken there since the Basques showed up in prehistory and Latin spun off Galician and Catalan before "Spain" existed. Also unmentioned is one of the reasons relatively few people master the minority languages: Francisco Franco's una bandera, una patria, una lengua policies, which forbade everything from Catalan names to shop-signs in Basque. These gave the minority regions enduring grievances, grievances which are inflamed when Castilian-speakers (and outsiders) treat them as pests for wanting to speak their own languages in their own country.

"Normal countries" that accommodate this include Canada, New Zealand, Belgium, South Africa (with 11 official languages), India and many others. Again, this is not to say that every minority should be given every privilege. But to say that senators should just speak the common language is to forget that that "common" language is a foreign language to many Spaniards.  Remembering that, and taking grievances seriously, is the best way to keep them happily in Spain



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