POLITIAL ROUND UP – 16th June 2008

Re-inventing Spanish

Bibiano Aido, the country’s youngest minister at 31, put her foot in it well and truly last week and is probably beginning to wish she’d stayed at home in Cadiz. First she announced a new help phone line – for men to talk about their urges to get violent with their partners. Then she started tampering with the language and said “miembra” (member, as in Parliament, clubs, etc.) instead of “miembro”. The country’s columnists and cartoonists immediately went to work on her. One woman columnist – Gloria Lozana in La Razón – said she finally understood why the Prime Minister had created the Equality Ministry – to entertain us during incidents like the transport strike. Sra Lozana reported that one member of the Royal Academy – the final arbiter of all matters concerning language – had said Sra Aido should stop making jokes in bad taste. Another said saying miembra was incorrect, but that can happen to anyone who has no knowledge of grammar or language. Even the president of the Divorced Women’s Group – Sra Perez del Campo – had a go at the Equality Minister. She said giving abusive men a helpline was the same as giving one to terrorists, who would probably use it more if only to advise the authorities of where the next bomb was going to go off. El Mundo columnist David Gistau said that the day would come one when heterosexual men would have to walk around tinkling a little bell, like the lepers did in the Middle Ages. Not all the criticisms came from the right. Socialist MP Alfonso Guerra, who was Felipe Gonzalez’s right hand man during the first Socialist government since the Civil War, declared he was sick of political correctness. Sra Aido defended her use of the word “miembra”, saying: “If Anglo-Saxon words like guay and fistro (from the word fist) can get into the Royal Academy’s dictionary, why can’t miembra”. Guay means “cool” and the young people I know who use it constantly don’t know where it came from – because it certainly didn’t come from English. The other person who got caught up in a linguistic uproar last week was the director general of Air Berlin, Joachim Hunold, who told the German press that the Balearics regional government had sent him a letter asking him to instruct the airline’s staff on flights to Mallorca to speak mallorquin, the islands’ version of Catalan. Apparently he was also asked to publish the Air Berlin Magazine in mallorquin as well as Spanish. After he refused to do so, more than 8,000 complaints were posted on the Internet over the following 48 hours. Episodes similar to this are reported in the press almost on a daily basis. One newspaper recently reported that whole families are leaving the Basque Country to move to other parts of Spain where their children will be educated in Spanish, a language spoken by 350 million people the world over, rather than Basque, spoken by some 80% of the just over 2,100,000 people who live in the country’s Basque region. According to a report in Saturdays’ press, parents in Galicia, the Basque Country, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands are getting together to form a nationwide pressure group to demand that their children be educated in the country’s official language, that is, Castellano (aka Spanish). In Valencia, where an offshoot of Catalan is spoken by many, the regional government – which is in the hands of the main opposition party, the Partido Popular – has refrained from introducing it into the school curriculum, mainly because Valenciano is of little use to people out in the real world. If we leave China aside, the two of the most spoken languages in the real world are English and Spanish. Since the Hispanics overtook the African-Americans as the largest minority in the United States, the possibility of the US becoming bilingual is real. When it comes to learning a foreign language, more Americans have always opted for Spanish rather than French or German, because of their geographical closeness to the huge Spanish-speaking population that lives south of the border with the US. In fact, people who speak both English and Spanish can travel the world over and make themselves understood. The regional governments of Galician (pop. 2.7 million), the Basque Country, Catalonia (7.2 million) and Balearic Islands (pop. one million) should look at the figures, which speak louder than any words in any language. English is spoken in 75 countries, where 375 million people speak it as a first language, a similar number speak it as a second language. In all, one out of four of the world’s population speak English to some level of competence. Spanish is spoken by some 350 million people in 23 countries, as opposed to the mere 13 million people in Spain who are trying to replace a noble language with three dialects and one language that has been re-invented in the name of nationalism.

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