VIVA THE LANGUAGE OF CERVANTES

As the Nationalist-dominated regional governments in Galicia, the Basque country, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands continued the efforts to suppress the use of Spanish in their schools, public administration and even signs in shop windows, a group of intellectuals, writers and artists counter-attacked last week with the Manifesto for a Common Language. There were 18 of them to start with – led by the intellectual Left’s favourite philosopher, Fernando Savater – but the list started growing quickly after the El Mundo newspaper joined the cause, to be followed shortly afterwards by one of the most-watched TV channels, Telecinco. Their demands are simple: Spanish should be the common official language throughout the country; all citizens should have the right to be educated in the Spanish language, no matter where they live in Spain; in the bilingual regions, all citizens have to right to be informed by officialdom in either of the two official languages and not just the regional one. Street signs and signs on public buildings, administrative communications, information leaflets, etc. should be written in both languages and never just in the local one, and the country’s official representatives in the central government and regional governments should express themselves in Spanish at all times when speaking in their official capacity. Representatives in regional parliaments can speak either language, as the mood or moment dictates. Both Deputy Prime Minister María Teresa Fernandez de la Vega and Education Minister Mercedes Cabrera insisted last week there was “no problem, the Spanish language is not in danger.” Sra de la Vega said the “plurality of the national and regional languages is a heritage we must recognise and defend”, but the manifesto’s signatories said that was exactly where the problem lay – that the nationalists in the regions are determined to impose the local language on all residents there, regardless of whether they want to speak it or not. Ironically, while the linguistic argument rages at home, the Instituto Cervantes, which was created in 1991 to promote and teach Spanish language and culture abroad, reported last week that the demand for Spanish lessons in its 70 centres worldwide had increased by between 50 and 70% last year. The Institute plans to open several new centres next year – in Sydney, Australia, New Delhi, India, and Senegal, and to extend its network in Brazil and Europe. So there’s hope for the language even if the nationalists succeed in silencing Spanish in Spain. Those of us who love speaking “castellano” will just move to wherever there’s an Instituto Cervantes.

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