Monday, April 13, 2009

Language Issues in Euskal Herria II

This is the follow up to an article published at the Portland Cultural Travel Examiner about the Basque language that we posted here a couple of days ago:

Tyler Sprecker

Language, identity and education policy in Spain’s Basque country: Part 2

As I mentioned in Part 1, the language debate taking place in the Basque Country of Spain is more than one about culture versus economy. The status of Basque as a language is tied closely to Basque nationalism and the fight for sovereignty. The Basque Country of Spain enjoys a great degree of autonomy from the rest of Spain, though not enough for Basque Nationalists who want nothing short of absolute sovereignty. While not representative of all Basque Nationalists, the Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA), a pro-independence terrorist organization, has been the darker face of the independence movement.

Although the separatist movement has lost some steam in recent years, it remains an important force in Spanish politics. Basque separatists have long argued for their right to self-determination as a separate ethnic group with their own language and culture. Surely a sovereign country retains the right to choose and promote its own language? Given the Basque country’s semi-autonomous status and current demographics, that has been a point of frustration for many.

Many native Spanish speakers in the Basque Country feel frustrated with the Basque language requirement for civil service jobs, arguing that some professionals such as doctors should be focusing their time and energy on learning about disease and medicine rather than a second language. Foreign language requirements have aroused public discontent in other regions of Spain as well. Protests were recently held in opposition of a government decision to make knowledge of Catalan mandatory for civil service jobs in the Cataluña region.

While not recognized as such by the federal government, Basque is a co-official language along with Spanish in the Basque Country of Spain. The Basque Country government strongly encourages bilingualism among its citizens. Under current policy all civil servants are required to speak Basque. The government has even taken to encouraging business owners to encourage their employees to learn Basque if they do not already know it. Educational policy is geared toward the same goal as well.

The Basque Country of Spain currently has three educational models from which parents are obliged to choose for their children. In Model A, all classes are taught in Spanish, except for language classes; Basque language classes are required. In Model B, some subjects are taught in Basque while others are taught in Spanish. In Model D, all classes are taught in Basque; Spanish language classes are required. In all three models English language classes are a required part of the curriculum. Some schools have even been testing a new trilingual education model where subjects are taught in Basque, Spanish and English. Over the past several years, the Basque Nationalist led government has been closing Model A schools due to reportedly low demand.

The need for bilingualism appears to be shared by many, though there is disagreement about the languages. Many native Spanish speakers see Basque as a language with marginal utility and would prefer their children to be taught English instead.

Public policy as it relates to language, however, may see some changes in light of recent political developments. After 30 years of governance by the Basque Nationalist Party (or by Basque Nationalist Party-led coalitions), the People’s Party (PP) – Spain’s main right-wing party, and the Socialist Party of the Basque Country (PSE) have formed a governing coalition that is set to begin governing starting mid-May of this year. Exactly what this means for language policy is yet to be seen, although a joint-statement of policy goals agreed to by both governing parties was recently issued.

The joint release clearly states the new government’s support for freedom of choice for parents among educational models. It also states the parties’ support for bilingualism as official government policy whereby all students are to be bilingual, though their parents retain the right to choose their educational path towards that end. Only time will tell if such policies will in effect create a bilingual citizenry. The only other question remaining is: Have they chosen the right languages?

I insist, seems like the author took many of his cues from that infamous article by Keith Johnson although it does a better job at keeping a more objective view on the issue.

And I insist, how dare any US citizen label any group as "terrorist" after all the crimes committed by the US military in Afghanistan, Irak and Pakistan?

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