Is language politics ‘divisive’?

Events in Catalonia apparently have put the wind up the establishment in Britain as much as in Spain. The Guardian, for example, the English liberals’ sacred text remains extraordinarily pro-Madrid, as it was loyally pro-London against Scottish autonomy in 2014.

Whenever natives get restless root causes are sought. Resistance can never be simple democratic desire for popular self-determination; there must always be deeper – probably irrational – reasons for the insubordination that only the establishment’s best analysts can uncover. Magnus Linklater points to language as the culprit (“Language is an important but divisive force” (Times 30 Oct 2007).

Linklater’s focus is on Gaelic, Scots is as ever ignored, but his target is linguistic diversity. “Just take a look at Catalonia, where since the early 1980s the “immersion” system in schools has transformed Catalan from an archaic Latin-based tongue, once suppressed by Franco, into the official language of the nation”, adding, “As a consequence it has become a divisive force.  For those who want to stay part of Spain, it is the language of nationalism and separation; for those who back independence, it is simply the expression of who they are”. Belgium and Northern Ireland are given as further examples of linguistic strife.

Pavel Iosad (2017), a linguist at the University of Edinburgh takes issue, “The rhetorical contrast between ‘archaic Latin-based tongue’ and ‘official’ language of the nation makes no sense. Why bring in ‘Latin-based’ at all — after all the majority language in the Catalan situation is the equally ‘Latin-based’ Spanish. And note the non-modernity trope again — how is Catalan ‘archaic’?”, explaining ”on the scale of how much it has changed from Latin it is roughly at the same stage as Spanish”.

Iosad describes Lainklater’s claim that language is ‘divisive’ nature of language as, “the nub and the ground zero of projection”, explaining,

“Here’s the thing: people speak a language because it’s central to who they are, or who they want to be, and there is absolutely no logical necessity that it should align to constitutional preferences. There are Spanish-speaking nationalists, and there are Catalan-speaking unionists. Minority languages are not spoken to spite the unionist majority. To say that Catalan was made divisive by immersion education feeding young nationalists, in the same breath as noting it was suppressed by Franco, honestly beggars belief. To blame the people who fought for the right to be educated, and live their lives through their own language, a right that was denied to them, for being divisive, betrays an unwillingness to step away from the majority’s view of minorities as a needy nuisance”.

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