Monday, November 11, 2002

While we were watching the Antena 3 news a few minutes ago, there was a human-interest story from Nowheresville, Galicia, the fifth pine tree. Some poor woman's donkey had wandered out in the road ten years ago and had gotten itself run over. The damage to the car and the fine cost more than the woman could pay, so she'll have to sell her little stone house to meet the bills, according to speedy Spanish justice. Now, of course, that the whole thing's been publicized, some magnanimous philanthropist will pay off the three hundred euros and everything will be fine. What struck me curiously, though, was that the woman was speaking Galician, a relative of Portuguese, spoken in the part of Spain that sticks out over the top of Portugal, to a reporter who was interviewing her in Spanish. I asked Remei to explain. She said something like this, paraphrased:

Everyone in Spain can understand Spanish, at least the standard dialect, which they've heard on the radio and TV all their lives. Besides, almost everyone went to school, at least for a few years, and if you're older than about 35 you were taught mostly or completely in Spanish, no matter what part of Spain you're from. In Catalonia, everyone can speak Spanish. Some may speak it so badly that they're embarrassed to do it, but if forced to, they could manage. People in small villages don't usually speak very good Spanish. In bigger towns and smaller cities in Catalonia, they use Catalan among themselves but are perfectly competent in Spanish, though they probably have an accent. Barcelona is completely bilingual, perhaps even majority Spanish-speaking. In the Basque Country and Navarra everybody who speaks Basque can speak Spanish perfectly too. In Valencia and Mallorca they speak Valencian and Mallorcan, both versions of Catalan, among themselves and perfect Spanish with outsiders. Some Valencians and Mallorcans go so far as to say that their "languages" are not related to Catalan, which is just plain ridiculous. And they claim that they don't understand Catalan, so that when dealing with people from Catalonia they will say, 'Speak Spanish, I don't understand Catalan," which is even more ridiculous. They have every right to speak whatever language they want, of course, but everyone in this damn country has some sort of silly attitude about languages and nationalism. Anyway, in Galicia, there are lower-class people in small mountain villages who are mostly elderly and illiterate and really don't know how to speak Spanish. Understand the TV and radio, yes, but they've never had to open their mouths to speak Spanish in their lives. I suppose that when these people die out, which will be within ten or fifteen years, there will be no more monolingual Galician speakers, as there are already no monolingual speakers of Catalan or Basque.

UPDATE: Antonio says it's important to add that Catalonia, Valencia, the Balearics, Navarra, and the Basque Country have always (at least in the last few hundred years) been rich, fertile provinces agriculturally, that all these people except the Navarrese have historically had large commercial and fishing fleets and big ports, that these were the first provinces to become industrialized, and that they were the first areas to develop important financial institutions. They've always been rich, densely populated areas, and they've always been zones that received a steady in-migration that only spoke Spanish from poorer areas of Spain. The in-migration has diluted the use of the local languages in all those places. Galicia, however, has always been poor, and it's always been an overpopulated source of out-migration. Anybody from outside Galicia who in-migrated there went to one of the ports like Vigo or La Coruña, still heavily Spanish-speaking today. But rural Galicia received absolutely no in-migration from other parts of Spain because there was absolutely no reason to move there, kind of like Oklahoma in the '30s. Since Galicia was so poor, (it's gotten a lot better; it's barely distinguishable from the rest of Europe, except in very tiny isolated places) many older people never went to school, where Spanish was taught, and the only exposure they've ever had to Spanish is TV and radio. They have probably met only a few non-Gallego speakers in their lives, and they've been just fine speaking only Gallego to one another in their little villages. Antonio says that the reason that people in Argentina call all Spaniards "gallegos" in an insulting manner is because most Spanish immigrants to Argentina were Galician, and they were a bunch of oafish rednecks in sophisticated, rich pre-Perón Buenos Aires. Now the tables have been turned and the Argentinians are the poor cousins from overseas while the Spanish are the rich, sophisticated folks; it was reported in the Spanish press that there has been friction that has become problematic between Spanish and Argentinian employees who work for one of the large Spanish companies (BBVA, BSCH, Repsol-YPF, and several others) in Argentina. The Argentinians claim that the Spaniards are overbearing, rude, arrogant snobs who act superior. This is probably a little unfair. They can't be that bad, though I wouldn't be surprised if there are a few prize pijo specimens who give all Spaniards a bad rap.

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