Wednesday, September 22, 2010

In a recent Comments exchange, reader Moscow suggested the class factor is stronger in the UK than in Spain and elsewhere in Europe. This is certainly true but, firstly, things are nothing like what they were, say, 50 (or even 25) years ago and, secondly, they’re perhaps not quite as bad as Moscow thinks. 

However, it’s undeniable you can still scarcely read any social or political commentary in the UK without stumbling across the phrases “middle class” and working class” as handy references for the main social strata in British society. This may be true of the USA as well, as I’ve just read an article which referred to the “white working class” there - though the race divide may well be even greater than that of class. 

Here in Spain the phrases “working class” and “middle class” certainly exist – indeed, I heard the latter on the radio only today – but they’re used much less frequently than in the UK. And the Spanish unions currently preparing for a general strike at the end of this month seem less strident about the plight of the working class than the (alleged) Trotskyist in charge of the major UK union. Who appears to be hell bent on re-introducing the concept of class war into British politics, ably assisted by one or two of the candidates for the Labour party leadership currently being contested. Who'll promptly dump class-based terminology, if they succeed. And ramp it up, if they fail.

This, of course, is open to challenge by Moscow and anyone else but my impression is the main (but overlapping/contradicting) dividing lines in Spain are between:-
Right and Left
Rich and Poor
Catholic and Non-Catholic
The Madrid Centre and the Regions
Spanish Nationalists and Regional Nationalists
Pontevedra and Vigo

Which, even ignoring the last one, is quite a lot of tension(s). No wonder I regularly say I wouldn’t want to be president of this fissiparous place. Being British prime minister – whatever class you’re from – must surely be the easier challenge.

A final word on this, with reference back to the UK . . .  This is what one left-wing writer had to say this morning in The Guardian, Britain’s leading left-wing paper:- The old class identities and cultures that were once the bedrock of Labour support have largely gone. Labour has to build a new political coalition from a diverse range of identities, classes and interests. To do this it needs a political relationship with people based on a vision of the good society, and an economy of wealth creation and fair distribution. Which rather takes me back to my first point, viz. that things are not as antediluvian as they seem in the UK. Though not before time.

Back to mundanity . . . Autumn appears to have arrived this morning, just as the papers were telling us what we all knew – that this had been a pretty good summer in Galicia, especially in August and September. All the Galician cities had more sun and higher max and min temperatures than the 30 year average, though not spectacularly so. And all of them also had less rain than usual, with the exception of Lugo, up in the hills. There, summer rainfall was almost 65% more than the average.

Living up to his reputation for optimism, Spain’s president Zapatero has told financiers in New York that Spain’s debt crisis is over and the Spanish economy won't shrink either in this quarter or the next. Let’s hope this confidence proves well-founded.

Finally . . . One reads of some strange religious festivals and processions here in Galicia but few can beat yesterday’s pilgrimage to the chapel of A Santiña de Trasufre, near Muxia, where the faithful bathed their verrucas in water from the fountain and beseeched the relevant Virgin (de Las Verrugas?) to miraculously eliminate them. Some folk clearly have even more faith than Sr Zapatero.

Tailnote for new readers: My elder daughter has now net-published six chapters of a novel which is “A fast-paced political thriller but, above all, a personal tale of pride and paranoia.” Set in a fictionalised Cuba, it’s being e-published at the rate of at least a couple of chapters a week. If this entices you, click here. And, if you enjoy it, please tell her. It’s tough being an aspirant novelist.


moscow said...

And I also seem to remember I wrote that the dividing lines between classes had become blurred, and that things had changed a lot. Obvioulsy things are different from the 70s and 80s.
Then again, I remember that already then people were saying that the class system had died out. Were they in denial then? Are they in denial perhaps even now?

You asked me what I meant by the right accent. I am sure you know what I mean. But still I will say that only in Britain there is a form of speech that is extra-regional and pertauisn to a distinct 'class'.

10 years ago we had 'estuarian' english, a form of speech used by people of higher/more elevated (whatever adjective you want to use) class in order to disguise their (posh?) accents and sound a bit more average/common and so cache a bit their origins and be more in tune with the times&theworls and so on. Which you may argue is progress of sorts. British society has evolved to the point that certain forms of speech - call it Anthony Eden vernacular - have become a career impediment, unaceptable almost.
But what remains, a Nick Clegg or a David Cameron accent even, is still on a class of its own, and there is nothing equivalent in Spain or in Germany. There are just educated people and people with less years of instruction on their shoulders.

Colin said...


And, yes, I do know what you mean by "the right accent". I'm sure it abounds at all the top private schools. But that't the first time I've heard Estuary English described in terms of reverse snobbery. I thought it was on offshoot (amongs the young mainly) from Neighbours (Australian) and East Enders (British). And vry irritating to those of us who didn't speak it. Or, as this article puts it, a bastardised form of Cockney.

And this has the ring of truth about it (from the same article)

"A reason posited for the growth of EE, especially among young people, is that it is said to "obscure social origins and is very often adopted as a neutral accent." (Kohlmyer, 1996) Those who have come from a traditional RP background, adopt it because it increases "street credibility," and those who have local accents adopt it because it sounds more "sophisticated." Rosewarne thus sees the acquisition of Estuary English as part of the process of accommodation and a shift to the "middle ground" so that the RP accent is accommodated "downwards" and the local accent is accommodated "upward", resulting in accent convergence. The sociolinguistic consequences of this are that for over a decade, it has been common for the young people in the south eastern segment of England to speak differently from their older family members."

I agree that both RP and "the right accent" - as well as Estuary English - are extra-regional but, if anyone can acquire them, can they really be said to be the property of any class, as such? Being seen as of a (upper) class is quite different from being seen as the 'right' (arguably the best educated) way to speak.

Which is not to deny your point that this doesn't happen elsewhere. I don't know whether it does or it doesn't. I think if grew up speaking thick Andaluz, I'd try to lose it if I wanted a good career. But that's just me.

BTW - Are High and Low German classless?

moscow said...

Well, Felipe Gonzalez has a pretty strong andalucian accent.

Yes high and low German have nothing at all to do with class. Hochdeutsch is originally a regional form, it is actually south German, whereas low german is northern german. Here is low means 'nether' as in Netherlands or Niederlaender or low-lands. Plattdeutsch, the north German form of speech is actually closer to Dutch than the present southern german Hochdeutsch standard.

Colin said...

Yes. I’d been told this about him. But also that he ‘counterbalances’ the impression given with impressive, ‘educated’ language.

Given how the rest of Spain regards Gallegos, I can’t help wondering whether they don’t (consciously/ subconsciously)soften/eliminate their accent. Rajoy? Varela? Salgado? Bono?

Any idea as to what accent the Inditex founder displays, if any? Asturian? Galician? None?

moscow said...

That is where you go wrong, Colin.
Gonzalez indeed speaks impressive cultured Spanish. And he is very eloquent, on a par with Tony Blair - whom he resembles in more ways than one. But he also has an accent. In Spain these two aspects are not in contradiction. A more appropriate comparisson would probably be Bill Clinton, who as well as also having an (also 'southern') accent has spectacular oratorial/conversational skills.
And I believe he also has a lot in common with Gonzalez.

Then again, I am aware that speaking "in accents" has become fashionable in the UK and that this does not diminish from the speakers perceived intelligence, say William Hague and his yorkshire accent, some BBC reporters speaking in exaggerated pseudo-nothern accents (Scottish accents not included since there has always been 'educated' Scottish). Still, a bit 'foonny' the whole lot.

I have never heard Salgado or Varela speak, but I understand Salgado grew up in the Basque country, so she speaks with a Basque accent? Same for Varela. Is Bono Galician? As for Rajoy he does indeed speak with a very distinct Galician accent. Maybe anothe reason why he will never become PM?

Colin said...

Don't know whether you will see this . .

Galician views at dinner last night re the accents of national Gallegos:-

Rajoy - Pontevedra. Lost all his accent

Salgado - Ourense. Ditto

Spinoza - Ourense. Still has it.

Blanco (not Bono) - ???. Has lost some of his.

Colin said...

Not quite sure where I'm going wrong as regards Gonzalez. I've never heard him speak but said that others agreed with you that he has an accent.

Bono should have been Blanco.

Seems there's some disagreement between you and my Galician friends on Rajoy. Perhaps they can't detect his residual accent.

Colin said...

Moscow, Are you really saying that Rajoy's not having the right accent (or having the wrong accent) might stand in the way of him becoming president . . . ?

moscow said...

Absolutely correct. And I believe he is desperately taking intensive lessons in andalucian to improve his chances.

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