Tuesday, February 06, 2007

This is my second blog of the day. And – as current tradition has it – it’s on the theme of Galician nationalism. What I’m doing here – for those who retain interest – is laying out my manifesto on the subject. After that, I’m going to give it a rest. Partly because I have visitors this week and partly because, to be honest, I’m getting bored by it. So, what follows is a list of general principles which - taken together - would define the framework within which I would devise specific policies for Galicia, if I were unfortunate enough to have the responsibility of unravelling this Gordian knot. In this manifesto, I use ‘nationalist’ and ‘Nationalist’ in the way I recently defined them:-

The most important thing is the future of Galicia, not its past. The possibly arcane issue of whether Galicia is a nation or a Nation should not be allowed to go on being a hostage to fortune when Galicia faces some very tough challenges.

Things need to move forward democratically.

It’s not very relevant that Galicia was, according to Wikipedia, an independent nation for a few short years several centuries ago. Or that a group of upper class scions rebelled against someone either before or after this. Or that any other selected historical item happened or didn’t happen. One thing is for sure, Galicia has certainly not been an independent nation for a very long time and isn’t now.

Nor is it relevant that Galicia probably had Celtic tribes living in it before the Romans and the Goths/Visigoths happened along.

Nor is it even relevant that Franco [or some Castilian nobles before him] was a bastard to the Galicians, as well as to countless thousands of others. The Civil War finished several decades ago.

It’s wrong [silly even] to attribute fascistic sympathies to everyone who doesn’t display Nationalist – or even nationalist - sympathies.

Notwithstanding all these reservations – and despite the fact I don’t accept that Galicia could ever qualify as a ‘nation’ in the juridical sense – it has to be accepted that Galicia is a region with its own history and culture. It is, in short, a discrete community, just as Asturias, Cantabria, etc. are. If there really is a strong desire amongst the majority of Galicians to have this sentiment labelled ‘national’ in the Constitution, then this is OK, provided it is done [as in Andalucia*] on the basis of an acceptance of the unity of Spain and its indissolubility. So, the ‘nationalist’ view of things should be accommodated in a sensible, pragmatic way.

As for the specific of language – whilst it is acceptable to promote Gallego, it must not be forced on anyone. And while it would be wonderful if everyone in Galicia [both natives and foreigners] were equally fluent in both of the region’s co-official tongues, this must a matter of free choice. There must be no compulsion, either direct or indirect. Provided the taxpayers were prepared to foot the bill, every official document [including the tourist pamphlets and Guías published by the town councils] would again be in both languages. As would all letters from the local and regional administrators. The recent practice of using only Gallego should stop. This would not rule out a facility in Gallego being a pre-requisite for jobs where only Gallego is spoken but this would be the exception, not the rule. It would depend on local facts and not on the a priori major/minor linguistic aspirations of Nationalists/nationalists. People should not be denied employment or lose their jobs for purely doctrinaire reasons, whether they are Galician or come from other parts of Spain or elsewhere.

As for schooling - the policy of each educational establishment should be left to the institution and the parents and should reflect local realities. There might [as now] be schools in which only Gallego was used and there might be schools where only Spanish was used. Elsewhere, there would be a mix, with the ratio depending on local demographics. It might be possible to leave this to each municipal council to determine, provided the voters had the last say. Either way, it’s not something which should be dictated by the Xunta simply because the BNG is currently a power broker.

Well, that’s it. But, finally, I have something ask about the Gallego which would be promoted - Which Gallego exactly? If you take a look at Wikipedia’s linguistic map for Galicia, the challenge becomes obvious. Added to this are the following observations I made 18 months ago, possibly before Xoan Carlos and Carlos began reading my blog:-

From comments made by readers and friends, there appear to be several forms of the Galician language in operation:-
1. Literary Galician. Unintelligible to most
2. Academic Galician. Also largely indecipherable. May be very similar to 1. The preserve of the Royal Academy. Changes annually, to the confusion of both teachers and pupils.
3. Popular Galician. Understood by virtually everyone in the region and spoken by a significant percentage, albeit with major differences between provinces. And between the coast and the mountains.
4. TV Galician. This is a mixture of all these and is spoken by ambitious young people who didn’t start to speak the language until their 20s and so have a vocabulary and a [‘Castillano’] accent that amuse the real speakers.

So, asking rhetorically which of these various Galician variants the nationalists/Nationalists would impose on the wiling/unwilling populace, I now depart this scene. And I leave them to use my blog to voice their disagreement to their hearts’ content. I only ask that they eschew juvenile vitriol at my personal expense. Actually, I don’t; it makes for amusement.

Thank-you and Goodnight.

* Sorry, Xoan Carlos, I don’t like ‘Andalusia’


Xoan-Carlos said...

As is often the case on Wikipedia, I think someone is taking the piss!
As far as I'm concerned there's
-Popular Galician (spoken by the over-40s and working class/rural inhabitants)

-RAG Galician, with a standard that has been updated but not changed a great deal in 30 years and is the standard used in education and the media. Spoken by those under 30 who have learnt the language at school and "neofalantes", largely educated, middle-class speakers, who may have originally spoken Spanish

Regional variants -- all mutually intelligible

Reintegracionista/Portuguese -- written form used by probably no more and 100 ultra nationalists or "lusistas"


P.S. I'm giving this subject a rest too

Carlos said...

Of course, I agree with Xoan-Carlos -briefly, I have to leave in exactly 3 mins.

I'm going to give this subject a rest too, but whether Colin likes it or not, Galician is a real language not a chaotic mess... And as I said before, there are many examples in Europe of linguistic models being established by academics and writers, the same case with English and Spanish although at an earlier date, not to speak of German or Italian...

Colin, talking about maturity, that was naughty... Ageism not a nice thing in any of its versions.



Neno said...

First of all, I must thank you for showing your interest in the current issues of your new homeland.
Somehow I am sure that Galicia would not have so many '(N)nationalist' issues if it felt a little more appreciated by its countrymen (but how could they do that?).
Probably, that and most of the problems of Galicia could be solved if economic growth were to be reinvigorated (jumpstarted?). Unfortunately, I don't believe there is anybody seriously trying. Or maybe, showing once more that Galicians are actually Spaniards, whoever is trying is being so convoluted about it that nobody actually understands it.

Colin said...

I must be missing something. Or a few things, actually.

I don't recall ever saying or suggesting Gallego was a chaotic mess. I report what I read and am told - by Galicians mostly. As is crystally clear [I would have thought] I have little personal knowledge of Gallego as I hardly hear it spoken here in Pontevedra and have not [yet[ studied it. But it's not remotely an issue of whether it is a language or not. The issues raised include 1. How USEFUL a language is it, relative to Spanish? 2. How much should it be forced onto people who choose not to speak it? and 3. What is the justification for this? I feel answers have not yet been very forthcoming on at least the second and third issues. Without this, there is a risk that the charge of 'language fascist' will stick.

And what comment about 'maturity'? What ageism??

Colin said...

Neno, My thanks for this comment. I was beginning to feel a bit beseiged.

I'm sure you're right that, as in Ireland, attitudes would change with more economic success and greater self-confidence. And less of a sense of grievance against the rest of Spain.

If it's true no one is trying to invigorate economic growth, then it really must be asked why.

Is is all too easy to live off 5bn euros worth of EU grants, for example? Are we seeing the problems of welfare dependency on a regional scale?

Is corruption a debilitating factor?

Are nepotism and croneyism worse here than elsewhere in Spain? Is Galicia - below the surface - really as 'feudal' as some of my Galcian friends insist it is?

Is the construction boom masking real structural problems that are not being addressed?

Was it sensible for the Xunta to let/force Pescanova to invest in Portugal?

Is it true that Galicia lost a major investment by IKEA because no one is ensuring there is industrial land available around Vigo?

Needless to say, some of these issues rank rather higher with me than the percentage of Gallego used in the schools.

Time, I think, to stop looking at individual trees and to examine the forest.

Anonymous said...

Well done Colin! I totally agree with your comments. It is time for all to move forward, take care of serious issues, look after investments, etc.
I believe extreme nationalism generally stops this, focing in other matters which may not be as high priority as giving Galiza an economic estability.
We can't keep relying on EU grants and once they stop we are going to suffer and find hard to recover from it. Actually, I've not heard yet any economic proposals to how we will adapt to this new EU globalization and new EU policies. Instead, many politiciams keep directing their polities to local matters which have no impact in a any short or long future.
Debating about whether or not we are nation, which will provide nothing to me.....and seems not to improve anything, is a waste of time. It is good to debate about it and call ourselves Nation but first let's get serious and debate about which directing we are following. Emigration, losing of population, internal migration from the rural areas to cities, boom house prices, pensions, etc......let's talk about these issues and forget discussions which take us nowhere.

Though thanks to all for commenting on this matter which it is interesting but now is becoming just too repetited.


Colin said...

Thank-you, LLionesin.

And thanks to everyone who has contributed. I didn't ever expect we would all end up agreeing with each other but I am delighted the debate has taken place.

I hope this doesn't sound patronising but it's impressive to me that it has been possible to have a dialogue in English, especially when it is the third language of the Galician contributors.

My last word is that I certainly do hope Gallego not only survives but thrives. But alongside Spanish/ Castellano. I have told my daughters for some time now that with both English and Spanish they can take on the world. But with Gallego as well, one could also take on Brazil. It's not something I would recommend to them but my best wishes go to those who choose to add a third string to their bow.

Anonymous said...

Well Colin, I am still looking for a book that can teach an Englishman to learn Gallego. I have "Gallego 1" from the Instituto de la lengua Gallega but it is in Spanish. Until I conquer that language I am not doing very well. I suggest to all those who are out there telling me all about learning Gallego to sit down together and find someone who can write a book in English. More people arrive from England each year and would like to be able to talk to the locals in their own language. A small phrase book English/Gallego would be very handy for tourists for starters.
Eamon de A Coruña

Colin said...

Well, this may surprise Xoan Carlos, Eamon, but I actually have a 'Glosario Básico´ inglés-galego. It's available, I think, from the ominous-sounding Equipo de Normalización Lingúistica or the Escola Oficial de idiomas de Pontevedra, if you are passing this way. Get studying!

Xoan-Carlos said...

Eamon, good on you for wanting to learn Galician, I’m sure that you will find it very worthwhile and I would be interested to know what sort of reception you get. Xerais (www.xerais.es) publish a very good basic Galician-English dictionary as well as most Galician text books used in schools (including language). You might be able to buy online, otherwise I’m sure most bookshops can place an order.

Colin, maybe I should start my own blog given that I seem to be out-penning you lately (any suggestions to xoancarlos@tiscali.co.uk)

Yes I totally agree that there are more pressing problems in Galicia than whether it is a nation or not. One of them is without doubt the environment, which given that I see that you mention the Pescanova debacle, I have pasted the following news item from Vieiros today, which I hope you can understand: “06/02/2007 20:59] A Unión Europea tería tomado medidas en caso de que a Xunta permitise a planta de Pescanova en Touriñán. O director xeral de Mercados e Relacións Externas de Pesca da UE, César Deben, recoñeceu que unha piscifactoría na Rede Natura incumpre a normativa. Deben sinalou diante de numerosos xornalistas que as autoridades europeas seguiron con atención a polémica e consideran modélica a decisión do goberno.”

There are many other problems such as poor infrastructure; inefficient farming; domestic violence (which is current the topic du jour); unemployment; health and safety (on roads and at work) the heavy weighting of primary sectors in the economy that over exploit Galicia’s natural resources; inefficient and corrupt rural concellos (together with cronyism and nepotism); the low value of Zara-type manufacturing jobs that only Galicia, Portugal and China excel in attracting… the list is too long to discuss here.

I did not plan to comment again in the issue of language and nationalism after my long post yesterday, but now that I have had time to properly read your last post I think it’s fantastic that given that we have a Right-wing party in Galicia that wouldn’t dare to refer to “the unity of Spain as indissoluble” in a Galician statute, an outsider should come along and tell us that this is what we should do.

The indissolubility of the Spanish state is already referred to in the Spanish Constitution (article 2: “La Constitución se fundamenta en la indisoluble unidad de la Nación española, patria común e indivisible de todos los españoles, y reconoce y garantiza el derecho a la autonomía de las nacionalidades y regiones que la integran y la solidaridad entre todas ellas.”) and to unnecessarily replicate this would simply antagonize nationalists (a “problem” segment of the population that Al-Andalus* does not have to deal with lacking any sort of nationalist movement). Also, the borders of Europe’s nation states have changed hundred’s dozens of times over the past century ― what guarantees are there that Spain will always be a united state?

Also, Unlike, Cantabria, Asturias, Al-Andalus and every other autonomous region except for the Basque Country and Catalonia, like it or not, Galicia has had a national movement since at least the mid-to-late 19th century, and this is something that is well documented, taught in schools since the 1980s and part of the people’s shared understanding of Galicia’s identity. Like it or not, as soon as a statute stating this Galicia is a Nation is eventually drafted and approved via a referendum (as the two previous statutes were), it will also be “juridically” recognized as one.

Furthermore, your comment that the past and the Civil War are not relevant is offensive to many Galicians (like people elsewhere in Spain) who have relatives who have been murdered, forced into emigration, suffered repression in Galicia or become political refugees (all four apply in my family’s unexceptional case) as a result of events that have happened in the past. It matters today that the PP still prevents those executed by the fascists under made up charges from having their names cleared, that PP-run councils should refuse to change the names of streets that honour fascist leaders or pull down statues of Franco.

Most linguists and Galicians agree that the Galician language should be favoured over Spanish. The only people on this forum who have argued otherwise are all non-Galicians. Moderate imposition is not linguistic fascism. For you to say that you “have little personal knowledge of Gallego as I hardly hear it spoken here in Pontevedra” (If you look at the document linked in my post yesterday you’ll see that even in this very Spanish town 35% of the population are monolingual Galician-speakers or prefer it to Spanish) highlights the fact that most Galician speakers have the courtesy to revert to Spanish when they encounter a foreigner (something you probably are not aware of and is a difficult obstacle to overcome when learning Galician) or/and that you probably move within very small circles. You ask “how USEFUL a language is it, relative to Spanish?” ― Very, in many cases, but even so, this is irrelevant. How useful is Maltese relative to English? And how useful is Estonian, when a large minority in Estonia speak Russian and Russia is more “useful” in the wider world? Your idea that a language should be given some sort of special treatment because it is an international language or the language of a State or Empire amounts linguistic colonialism or at the very least cultural homogenization ― the sort of blind pragmatism I would expect from a lawyer. If you use the globalization argument, as others have, it would be fair to compare Spanish to a bottle of Coca-Cola, and Galician to a homemade sausage or chorizo – Coca-Cola is more relevant internationally, but a homemade chorizo reflects a given cultural identity better than a drink that is consumed by 300 million people worldwide ― chorizo is a native product; Coca-Cola isn’t; although anyone would be foolish to say that one is more useful than the other.

I have avoided any sort of vitriol ― given my non-Mediterranean culture I unfortunately find it very hard to gesticulate and get passionate about things (a part from British trains) and have my hands in my pocket as I type this comment. However, I sometimes wonder why you’re not living in Madrid with your daughter, or any of the sunny places on the Mediterranean where you would be able to eat chips with everything and indulge your image of a Spain of bullfights, throwing goats from belltowers and Flamenco music without being upset by nasty upper- and lower-case octopus/turnip-top munching nationalists. Just, think, you could be the next Hemmingway or George Borrows. Or maybe you just miss the gray skies of the Wirral!

*This is the use preferred by Jihadists in their “reconquest plans”


Colin said...

"I have avoided any sort of vitriol ..... However, I sometimes wonder why you’re not living in Madrid with your daughter, or any of the sunny places on the Mediterranean where you would be able to eat chips with everything and indulge your image of a Spain of bullfights, throwing goats from belltowers and Flamenco music without being upset by nasty upper- and lower-case octopus/turnip-top munching nationalists. Just, think, you could be the next Hemmingway or George Borrows. Or maybe you just miss the gray skies of the Wirral!"

Xoan Carlos,

Until you resorted to this downright silliness, you had my respect if not my agreement. But at least you have the decency to realise it's pure vitriol.

You can't have read anything I have written on www.colindavies.net [e. g. my diatribe against the Costa del Sol, plus other things there].

I guess a nerve must have been touched.

One day I hope to see your own 'manifesto', containing a reasoned view of why people should be compelled to learn and use a language they don't want to. We all know you love languages, perhaps Gallego in particular. And this I share. But, frankly, this is not enough. Compulsion based on love is not very different from compulsion based on hate. If you believe it is, give us the case for it. For all the words you've written on this todate, I haven't seen this case. Or, if it's there, I certainly haven't been convinced by it. You seem to just take it as a logical given that, if you live in Galicia , you must be compelled to learn Gallego, even though Galicia is part of Spain and Spanish is a co-official language. I am left wondering how far away you are from the extreme Catalan position that everyone who lives there - regardless of their origin - must have a [punishable] obligation under the law to learn Catalan. Can you really imagine this ever being the situation in the country where you now live? Or in Wales, even.

Very final word, when we are talking about a child's education and its chances of progressing in Spain and the rest of the world, I suspect most parents would agree that it's legitimate to ask about the utility [even the relative utility] of the subjects taught. It has absolutely nothing to do with the history, legitimacy, beauty, etc. etc. of the subject. Otherwise, we'd all be compulsorily learning, say, Art Appreciation.

Anonymous said...


I think Colin is kinf of right here. I am galego too, but perhaps you just go too far with the language. Promoting it and using in those areas in which galego has been spoken for ages is totally fine, imposed it on areas in which the mayority of speakers are castilian speakers make just no sense.
You have travelled around Galiza, and let's not say bullshit here, you realize that there is no chance 65% people speak it. In fact, many of the speakers have a very low level of the language and in many cases sounds just like castilian with few "galician words". Now, promote the language to these people who do not know it and would love to know, it is great, but impose it, it is not fine!

I think your views are too extreme when comes to the language and would love to see all this applied to the english language in Spain too, because it is ridicolous to compare the level of english in Spain with our cousins in Portugal.......Perhaps this is also a matter to get extreme on....right Xoan?


Carlos said...

“I only ask that they eschew juvenile vitriol at my personal expense.”
“And what comment about 'maturity'? What ageism??

I wrote my last post in haste, so my apologies for not having made myself clear.

To me it is obvious that by choosing the collocation “juvenile vitriol” you are in fact implying, to all effects, that youth often goes hand in hand with irascibility. A clear case of reverse ageism. It is not difficult to infer from that attitude that you do not include yourself in either the juvenile or vitriolic categories, that is, that you consider yourself endowed with a higher degree of maturity and temperance. And my accusations of naughtiness (in its childish variety), as opposed to maturity, referred to my belief that you could not really be serious about your question of “what variety of Galician should be promoted” and that you had only written the ensuing remarks as a provocation.

“I don't recall ever saying or suggesting Gallego was a chaotic mess.”

You certainly did not put it in those terms, but your partial depiction of the state of the Galician language clearly implied it.

As to the “imposition” of Galician, I wish all “impositions” were like that: ensuring that everybody is able to communicate with their fellow countrymen and preserving a common heritage that would irremediably disappear in a few globalised generations if expedient measures were not taken. It is a sweet “imposition”. I honestly cannot see why you (and reportedly some people around you) are making such a fuss about it. It is not as if they were asking everybody to become proficient in Chinese or expert nuclear physicists. Galician is a sister language to Castilian, for goodness sake, not something arcane or opaque. Around me, nobody is complaining. Everybody can manage quite well. I work in the field of education and, among my colleagues, I’ve seen none of the attitudes you claim to have detected. This debate does not exist in Galician society at large. The current government, democratically elected and therefore representing Galicians, has done nothing but respond to a demand that was already there. They have not produced a folly out of a magic hat. Around me, everybody switches from Castilian to Galician quite naturally as the situation may require.

Taxes are also imposed, and I’m sure some would complain about it, but we all have to pay them because they exist for the benefit of society. Compulsory education is also imposed, again for the benefit of society (although I’m sure some teenagers would rather be working). Galician is also beneficial for Galician society in terms of historical justice, cohesion, self-recognition, self-esteem and national pride, not so distant cousins of prosperity.

Colin said...

Xoan Carlos

When someone is accused of making 'juvenile comments', they are being accused of making the sort of immature comments that adolescents sometimes make. There is no inference to be drawn that ALL comments made my young people are stupid/immature. You have misread the sentence and so accused me of saying something that I didn't.

By the way, you also misread my comment about me not hearing much Gallego spoken. You say that people are kind enough to switch to Spanish when I address them. And so they are. But this doesn't apply to the people at adjacent tables in my favourite cafe, to the people shopping where I shop and talking to each other and to the assistants there, to everyone I pass in the street, to the men working on the wall just opposite my house, etc, etc, etc. Very few of these are talking in Gallego, though I'm sure they could if they wanted to.

Enough is enough. Let's just agree to differ.

I wish you luck with your aspirations, especially as you have confirmed what I have suspected all along - viz. that you are driven by a fear that Gallego will lose out to Spanish and atrophy unless measures are taken to oblige people to at least learn it, if not to actually use it. OK but you have to take your fellow Gallegos with you. They are entitled to differ with you. As you have pointed out, what I think is irrelevant. But I am entitled to my view that - whether this is good or bad - you are currently in the minority. If I am wrong on this, well it doesn't matter, does it? What matters is the facts. And who gets political power. And what they do with it. Vamos a ver.

Xoan-Carlos said...

Dear Colin,

I think you miss the irony of my "silliness".

for every so-called "imposition" of the Galician language, I could give you 10 examples of how Spanish is imposed. Like Carlos says, people do not generally object to this "imposition" (if they do it is often for some underlying political motive -- e.g. centripetal nationalism). It is rarely discussed in Galicia's press; only in the Madrid press. Even if you are right and very few people speak Galician in Pontevedra, it is interesting that a town full of Spanish speakers would vote in a BNG mayor who is going to "impose" nationalistic rules on them.

Llionesin: Galician language is in a very sorry state in O Bierzo and the other regions beyond Galicia's borders -- this situation is only comparable with that of Galicia of 30 years ago. Regardless of the type or quality of Galician that is spoken, 65% of people consider themselves to be Galician speakers (see the link to the survey in my comment of a couple of days ago), just as most people in Merseyside speak English, even though people in other parts may think they don't speak it as well. These speakers, I think, deserve the same respect and protection as Spanish speakers, whether they're old peasants or young doctors. Your idea to have schools in the cities teaching in Spanish and those in the villages teaching in Galician is not conducive to a bilingual society and would create a linguistic apartheid, and possibly a political one too as a result of the way in which language is unfortunately becoming linked to politics.