Saturday, April 11, 2009

Language Issues in Euskal Herria I

I've got to tell you, ever since that infamous article about the Basque language by Basque-phobe Keith Johnson I cringe each time I find an article about this issue in an US media outlet. Here I present you one published at Examiner:

Tyler Sprecker

Language, identity and education policy in Spain’s Basque country: Part 1

Governing has never been so complicated. Political scientists the world over have been scratching their heads over the simultaneous integration and devolution of governments. The European Union has expanded to include 27 member countries and Asia has discussed development of a European Union-like structure while separatist movements from Quebec, Canada to the Tibet, China fight on for sovereignty. All the while, political and economic commentators from Benjamin Barber to Thomas Friedman have reflected on the effects of globalization and what it means for people around the world.

For many, it has meant having to balance economic and cultural survival. That struggle is evident in the Basque Country of Spain, where the regional government is feudally trying to weave a trilingual web of Basque, Spanish and English among its citizens, making education policy a hotly debated issue. This two part series will explore language in Spain’s Basque Country, education policy and the current debate.

Spain’s Basque Country is a semi-autonomous region on the northern coast of Spain near the French border and longtime home to the indigenous Basque people. In fact, Basque is believed to be the last remaining pre-Indo European language in Europe. Communities in the Basque region had enjoyed a great degree of autonomy until the late 18th-19th centuries. Spain’s dictator Francisco Franco (1892-1975) even went so far as to outlaw the Basque language, nullifying all legal documents recorded in the language and punishing those that dared speak it in public. Since the ratification of Spain’s 1978 Constitution, the Basque Country has been named a “historical region” and has been afforded a great degree of autonomy.

Unfortunately for many non-Basque speakers, the Basque government seems to have concluded that the best way to protect the Basque language is to force it onto others, and that may not be such a bad assessment. Language displacement has occurred in many parts of the world as dominant languages such as English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Arabic have spread. As a necessity for survival, speakers of the marginal languages are often forced to learn the dominant language of their respective regions, creating a generation (or several) of bilingual speakers that function as a bridge between their cultural past and the future of their children. Faced with economic marginalization, parents will often times raise their children in the dominant language but will not teach them their mother language, or if they do, the marginal utility of that language will not be sufficient so as to warrant its use by the younger generation who often times will abandon it completely. Left to evolutionary forces alone, many marginal languages will simply disappear as they are replaced by dominant ones. Simply permitting a given population to speak their native tongue does not guarantee that language’s survival. But is this a matter of survival for Basque speakers?

Perhaps not; there are an estimated 632,000 native Basque speakers (roughly double the number of Icelandic speakers). Aggregate numbers alone, however, do not tell the whole story. While the Basque people are largely confined to one geographic location, only an estimated one quarter of Basque region inhabitants speak Basque as a native language, and the region’s main center of commerce, Bilbao, is largely populated by native Spanish speakers, with native Basque speakers largely confined to the outskirts and surrounding areas.

But to frame the debate exclusively in terms of culture versus economy is to distort it. In Part 2, I will explore in further detail Basque Country politics and the identity debate.

Just one little detail, Euskara is not forced "onto others", the government of the Basque Autonomous Community can do nothing about having someone in Andalucia or the Canary Islands learning the language. The language policy is implemented only in the three Basque provinces it rules and all the inhabitants minus the inmigrants of these three provinces are supposed to be Basques.

If they don't feel Basque and they refuse to speak Basque they can always go to Spain and live their happy lives in a Spanish speaking environment, in the end, Spain is not awefully far from the Basque Country.

We'll wait and see what Tyler tells us in the second installment of the series.

.... ... .

No comments:

Post a Comment