“Compromís asks that businesses be obliged by law to serve in Valencian.” “ERC demands that the PSOE shield Catalan on Netflix before Friday or it will reject the Budgets”. “A massive demonstration runs through Oviedo for the Asturian’s official status”. “Ayuso vindicates the Office of Spanish against the policies of nationalism and exclusion”. All four are recent headlines, news from the past few weeks. The language, the languages, return to the public debate. Or more than debate, controversy and even confrontation. To be used more as a thrown weapon against a political rival, as an element of confrontation, than as an element of cooperation and mutual enrichment.
The language, any language, is probably the greatest common heritage available to the group that speaks it. Nothing makes us more human. Even more: language makes us human. Without that ability to communicate, to emit and decode complex language, civilization would not have advanced, it would not exist. Taking care of that heritage seems reasonable.
Each language is a living being. It is born, grows, develops, dies. Today there are about 7,000 languages in the world. The website ethnologue.com – widely consulted by the experts, although controversial because in many cases it considers languages what other experts call dialect varieties – it says that there are currently “7,139 known living languages” in the world. And how many languages have died so far? “Attested, several hundred. And probably, a few thousand”, comments Rafael del Moral, sociolinguist and author, among many other works, of Brief history of the world’s languages (Castalia, 2009). Some languages, according to this expert, can live up to 30 centuries, but sooner or later they die. Latin, which was a language spread in practically the entire known world of its time, an almost universal Koine, lasted for about 17 centuries. “Until about a thousand years ago it was fragmented into other languages, the romances, whose speakers no longer understood each other.” Other languages last much less: “Mozarabic, which was born in the Iberian Peninsula almost at the same time as Spanish, lasted only about three centuries,” says Del Moral. “Most languages die because their speakers have another that is much more useful to them by allowing them to communicate with many more people,” he adds.
So, are public policies useful to protect a language? Probably yes, although these policies are so recent that they have not yet been measured for a long enough period of time to make an accurate balance. And when it has been done, some results have not been as expected: “The use of Catalan in the classrooms of Catalonia is sinking among students. According to a survey by the Generalitat, if 68% of students used ‘always or almost always’ Catalan in class in 2006 is now 21.4% “, said recent information.
What is known is that, where these support policies do not exist, languages that coexist with other more widespread languages are more likely to lose speakers and die when their last user dies. “The Kashubian, for example, which is spoken in an area of Poland, can be lost in a couple of generations,” says Rafael del Moral. Kashubian is spoken in the Kashubia region of northern Poland, but only in some rural areas and with very few children among its few hundred speakers. On ethnologue.com It is already listed in red, in the process of disappearing. Like the Irishman, also in red and at risk of disappearance due to the lack of supportive public policies and the enormous competence of the nearby Englishman. Asturian is also in red on that expert website. Will the co-officiality with the Spanish promoted by the Government of the Principality of Asturias, with much opposition from political forces that are not in the regional Executive, manage to save him?
In 2005, when she was still just a young writer and journalist with a degree in Hispanic Linguistics from the Complutense, Irene Lozano – later a political leader at UPyD and the PSOE – published Languages at war, a text that won the Espasa Essay Prize. Lozano argued in that book that nationalisms, in the absence of authentic distinctive features of their own identity, had made languages their main political weapon. It is to be hoped that some of the news with which this chronicle begins does not indicate that we are facing a new “languages at war.” On the part of no one, and much less on the part of those who from a Spanish nationalism one would say that they dream of a monolingualism imposed on all of Spain. Any language is probably the greatest common heritage available to the group that speaks it. And, with certainty, the linguistic variety that we have in Spain is one of the greatest collective riches that all of us have. Let’s talk what we talk about.