Spanish-Catalan face-off in Catalonia

Since writing my previous post about the role of minority languages in Spain’s educational system, I’ve continued to look into the dramatic ongoing battle between Castilian (i.e. “Spanish”) and Catalan in Catalonian schools. While my expertise is in linguistics, not history, politics, or law, this issue is so important in Spain, and so illustrative of the passions that language can inspire, that I wanted to share what I’ve learned.

To recap from the previous post: current Catalonian educational policy gives primacy to Catalan, designating it as the language of instruction. Castilian is treated more like a foreign language, an object rather than a vehicle of study. The last seven years have seen a complicated series of judicial challenges to this policy in both the provincial (Catalonian) and national (Spanish) courts.

Here are the details, including links to the actual court decisions for the truly zealous reader who relishes the challenge of wading through dense legal Spanish. My retelling is mostly based on an April, 2013 summary (in Spanish) in, with some historical background from a 1996 review article (in English) in the journal Hispania. An excellent summary of the current stand-off (in Spanish) is here.

  1. Before Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, Catalan was the language of daily life in Catalonia, including in education. It was used except when interacting with the national government.
  2. During the Franco years (1939-75), Catalan was repressed in schools, the media, and even in baby naming.
  3. In 1983, eight years after the death of Franco, Spain established its federal system of Comunidades Autómomas, including Catalonia as one of the 17 Comunidades. One of the new Catalonian government’s first actions was to enact its pro-Catalan language normalization statute (see previous post).
  4. In 1994 the Spanish Supreme Court upheld the language normalization statute. Catalonia then implemented a pro-Catalan educational policy (see previous post).
  5. In 2006, a handful of Catalonian families petitioned for the right for their children to be educated in Castilian.
  6. Four years later (in 2010), on the heels of a decision by the Spanish Constitutional Tribunal that Catalan shouldn’t be “the only [language] to be…a vehicle of learning”, the Spanish Supreme Court ruled that Catalonia “should adopt whatever measures are necessary (cuantas medidas sean precisas) to adapt their educational system to the new situation”, i.e. to the Constitutional Tribunal ruling. The vagueness of the “whatever measures” wording would prove problematic.
  7. In July of 2011 a district-level local court gave the Catalonian Department of Education two months to implement teaching in Castilian (el plazo máximo de dos meses), in accordance with the Supreme Court decree. The Department appealed this ultimatum, arguing that it had fulfilled the previous Supreme Court decree by instructing schools to provide individual attention (in Castilian) to Castilian-speaking students.
  8. In February of 2013 the Spanish Supreme Court upheld a higher local court’s dismissal of the district-level ultimatum. The Supreme Court reiterated that it was up to the Catalonian government to properly implement bilingual education, and accepted the government’s plan for individual instruction.
  9. In March of 2013, the same district-level court that had previously issued the two-month deadline ruled in favor of a new group of Castilian-speaking families, stating that individual attention was not enough, and that “the system has to adapt [i.e., teach in Castilian] to the whole class that a student is part of.” Elsewhere the decision complained that “it’s one thing for Catalan to be the center of gravity and another that it takes over, to the point where in the cases we have examined, Castilian is only used for three hours a week.” Needless to say, an appeal is already underway.

I will post future developments… 

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