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Spanish Regional Languages : For or Against ?

By Mr Grumpy - Mon 2th Nov 2009

Speaking as little Castellano as I do, it should probably come as no surprise to anybody that regional languages frustrate me. It seems to me to sometimes be a conspiracy between the native Spanish to raise the bar to ensure that to be fully accepted into the community you need to learn both Castellano and the regional language (Which you will be lucky to learn via a book or CD, or even to find a Dictionary and Phrase Book).

Spain is fiercely proud of its regional diversity and this is demonstrated in it’s attachment to the various regional languages that can often seem bewildering to the outsider. The languages are broken down into several different classifications: The Official Language (Spanish / Castellano) ; The Co-Official Languages (Catalan, Valenciano, Basque / Euskadi, Galician and Aranese ) ; The Recognised Languages (Leonese, Asturian) ; The Un-Official ( Aragonese, Asur-Leonese, Eonavian, Fala , Tarafit and also the Gomeran language that is made up entirely of distinctive whistling patterns ).

Add the fact that there are many immigrants from other nationalities living in Spain (Romanian, English, French, German, Dutch, Russian, and Moroccan being the main ones) and you can begin to see that there is a vast diversity of understanding – and misunderstanding!

Similar to the “Dead” British languages - like Cornish, these languages probably flourished centuries ago when people rarely travelled outside their local area and had no need to communicate on a national platform – and so just needed to make themselves understood in their own social group. With the coming of easier and popular transport such as the train, and increasing levels of literacy and wealth, it meant that in the UK everybody sought to communicate at a much wider level.

I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that this would be the case in Spain to a certain extent aswell. What did happen for certain, is that during the Franco years, that all regional languages were outlawed as an attempt to unify the country.

Whilst I’m not much of a historian, from my knowledge of the pop group Frankie goes to Hollywood’s massive number 1 hit record in the early 80’s, I do know that one sure way to ensure that the popularity of something explodes out of control – is to ban it or make it illegal.

This backlash against the Franco government seems to have brought about a new enthusiasm for these languages (and regional identity and customs as a whole) that is evident when you consider the Autonomous Regions of Spain. Unfortunately this does not seem to have a positive effect on business as a whole. Many of the larger towns and cities in a region will generally speak Castellano, whilst the smaller, inland and rural towns and villages will predominantly speak that local / regional language.

Many Regions also offer a grant to the various Ayuntamiento’s to encourage their local schools to teach more of their subjects in the local language – and it seems to be the Schools in these smaller, inland and rural towns and villages that, due to a lack of trade and commerce in the town, are reliant on the grant and so need to teach much more of the regional language than the national one.

I know of quite a few school kids that have been taught the regional language to a high standard, but who’s Castilian remains a little shaky – which obviously limits their acceptance into University and even limits their acceptance into most professions. So it seems a vicious circle – where the locals are often unable to speak the National language to a high enough standard (and therefore obtain a good profession and bring revenue into the Town) and as such the Ayuntamiento becomes more reliant on the Regional Grant, and in return has to put more emphasis on teaching the regional language!

My daughter, at 2 and half, is already showing signs of speaking and understanding more Valenciano than Castellano and I am concerned that this will continue as she starts her formal education - especially as I don’t have Spanish (Or English) TV that she can learn from.

Maybe as an “Extranjero” my view is totally invalid and biased, I accept that and I willingly open up the debate to hear some other points of view that I may have overlooked .....

Comment on this Blog

Not at all Expat, my blogs are rarely as researched and well thought as yours are, and based entirely on my own experiences, opinions and misconceptions (I sometimes begrudgingly accept that other opinions sometimes do occur though)... comment away ...
Mr Grumpy - Wed, 9th Nov 2011
Hey Mr. Grumpy, I wanted to let you know that I mentioned your blog and this series on languages in a post today: clicking here. I did it in good faith. I think your entries are actually quite good, though as you can see I wanted to point out some underlying assumptions in them. I hope you feel I was "fair and balanced" in my presentation of your entries... feel free to let me know if not.
An Expat In Spain - Tue, 8th Nov 2011
I know many british are tempted to think that "Spain is different" but reality is that Spain is not any different to many other countries in Europe with regard to languages or anything else. On the other hand It is a fact that "UK is different" as british people are not used to speak other languages and dont have the least interest in doing so. This is a clear shortcoming you british have and if you are really interested in being integrated in foreign communities you must try to speak the official foreing languages and the local/regional language included. Now catalan is a very easy language to understand for any castillian speaker, so if you plan to live in Valencia for many years it is very convenient for you to learn it too besides official spanish. If you are there only temporarily I woudnt bother. It is up to you but by doing so people will appreciate it and be grateful and kind with you.
Thisisfunny - Wed, 8th Sep 2010
Dont have any doubt about the fact that all that people asking you to speak catalan (valenciano is exactly the same language as catalan) were fluent speakers of official spanish. I dont know in which context they asked you to speak catalan in order to know if they were being rude or not, but if the context was an "official" one and you were in a local governmental premise then there are laws that enact to speak the local language preferentially. If they were asking you to speak catalan while you were doing your shopping or in a restaurant or bar etc. and you clearly stated that you didnt know the language then they were being rude with you. Best thing to do is to learn BOTH languages. I understand this may be difficult for a british from UK, but i the rest of Europe many people speak more than one language.
Thisisfunny - Wed, 8th Sep 2010
Ok, I take your point, however, IN MY experience I have had great difficulty in communicating in Castillian in certain areas of Spain ( Valencia and Barcelona to be exact ) and have even been asked to speak the regional language instead. Does this mean that these people were simply being obstinate or rude if they all speak Castillian fluently ?
Mr Grumpy - Tue, 7th Sep 2010
That is only because your statements here are not exactly the same you wrote there in the Spanishlatinamerican blog, where you wrote literally the following:" In many areas of Spain, and in certain communities Castilian Spanish is not even widely spoken or understood" and then you posted a reference to this blog. Sorry but that statemente there is untrue. There is not a single place within Spain where Castilian Spanish is not widely spoken or understood. Final.
Thisisstillfunny - Tue, 7th Sep 2010
I have read, and re-read my blog and I can't see anywhere where I claim that some Spaniards do not understand Castillian Spanish. The overall point of my blog is that (in my humble opinion) in order to be fully ingratiated into the wider community it is better (not essential) to speak or at least understand the regional language, however, that this is not an easy task to do.
Mr Grumpy - Tue, 7th Sep 2010
My point I think it is not so difficult to grasp, nevertheless I already answered you in the Spanishlatinamerican blog. Summarizing: People within those areas use their local language with preference over official spanish because they are on their right to do so but they are BILINGUAL and although they use the local language with preference over official spanish they speak and understand spanish fluently aswell!. Again, I dont know of a single area within Spain in which official spanish is not spoken or understood.This is not an opinion but a fact and being a spaniard myself I suppose I am better aware of the spanish reality than you are. Also I have already read too many inaccuracies of british expats living in Spain writting their own blogs not to know that the image british people have about the spanish reality is so bizarre that they seem to be coming from planet Pluto and had landed in Spain with their space ships. Look how the BBC still considers ETA to be a "separatist group"
Veryfunnyitis - Tue, 7th Sep 2010
Perhaps as a mere 'Anglosaxon' I have failed to grasp the point you are making, but please bear in mind that a Blog is simply an opinion based on one's own experiences and NOT a cold statement of fact. Therefore I am sure you will excuse me if it is, as you say, 'Biased' - that's my opinion and am entitled to it, just as you are yours.
Mr Grumpy - Mon, 6th Sep 2010
Yes, your view is totally invalid and biased no doubt. We are not as exotic as you depict us, it is only that you in your respective countries have already lost a lot of the european regional diversity there once was. But dont worry Mr Grumpy you are not alone in the universe of mainly anglosaxonic people TOTALLY UNABLE to minimally understand Spain and Spaniards beyond stereotypes and clichés!.
This Is Funny - Mon, 6th Sep 2010
Hello, it's me again. Just wanted to point out that people in the monolingually Spanish-speaking center of Spain are quite rabidly against the regional languages, although the government is civilized. And to correct your facts, Valencian is the native language of the Valencian coast, including the major cities of Valencia, Castello, and Alacant. Spanish has supplanted it in those cities over the last hundred years because of political imposition, migration, and access to the national culture-- it is an incomplete version of what has occurred in the UK, France, or Italy. Your daughter will learn Spanish perfectly through social exposure, unless you are living in not just a village but one isolated from all outside culture. You should really be more concerned with the state of her English as she grows up-- children with separate home and outside languages almost always end up being "fluid" in both, but without the ability to speak at an advanced or professional level in their home l
Justin - Sat, 21st Nov 2009

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