Sunday, April 15, 2007

Latest news from the linguistic front: TV3 has been putting heavy emphasis on a story out of El Prat, a largely Spanish-speaking industrial suburb of Barcelona. Seems a doctor working at a municipal gymnasium would only speak to clients in Catalan, refusing to speak Spanish, and they fired her. Stinkorama. So TV3 is all outraged, saying the woman was fired "for speaking Catalan."

No, she was fired for being rude to the clients and for breaking the official rules. Around here the unwritten social rule is that you speak whatever language you want in private. Many people prefer to adapt to the language the other person in the conversation speaks, and some people insist on speaking their own preferred language. You'll get conversations in which one person speaks Catalan and the other Spanish. So far, fair enough. There is actually very little conflict among individuals in Catalonia over which language to speak. The little conflict that exists is usually caused by people who are just jerks, and language is just one more thing for them to be jerks about.

(Problem for Catalonia's image in the rest of Spain: If some guy comes from Zamora to visit Barcelona, he's likely to talk to some twenty people a day, and the probability is that one of them is going to be a jerk because at least 5% of people are jerks wherever you go. That jerk will refuse to speak to the Zamoran in Spanish. The Zamoran is justifiably irritated, and he goes back to Zamora with memories of the jerk, not the 95% of adaptable normal people that he met. He will then tell everyone he knows about the jerk. Thus all Catalans get an unfair reputation as jerks, as refusing to speak Spanish though you know how is a particularly Catalan form of jerkishness that exists nowhere else.)

However. If you work for the government, your obligation is to speak with the citizen in the language that he prefers, and if you are a private-sector worker who deals with the public, then the social expectation is that you do the same with the client.

This doctor blew it both ways; she did not fulfill social expectations by using Spanish with clients who preferred to use that language, so she was being rude, and she did not fulfill her obligation as a municipal employee by using Spanish with citizens who preferred to use it, so she was breaking the rules. No wonder they fired her. She was pissing people off with her attitude, and you can't do that if you're a public servant. It's ridiculous that TV3 should try to make her some sort of martyr.

Catalonia is steaming mad over the Tele Madrid documentary (link about four posts down).

El Periódico, on Thursday, called it "biased," "an unreal situation of persecution or at least discrimination," and "giving protagonism to the extremes" in an editorial. Meanwhile, the Generalitat, the PSC, CiU, Communists, and ERC, and the labor unions CCOO, UGT, and CGT all condemned the documentary. Antoni Bassas, in El Periódico, says the documentary "would get an F, for lying, at any university," and called it part of "a strategy of provocation of Catalonia." He demanded that Madrid regional premier Esperanza Aguirre apologize for the documentary's contents.

But Toni Soler, who is a jerk, takes the prize for his comments in today's La Vanguardia. He mentions the documentary's "incendiary tone, hilarious dramatism, and peculiar manner of understanding journalism (sic)," and calls it "trash TV."

However, he then says, "However, the Tele Madrid documentary is not just a bunch of lies. It is true that in Catalonia official signs are in Catalan, there is no public education in Spanish--except in individual cases--and in some areas knowledge of Catalan is obligatory." For example, if you want to be a civil servant in Catalonia, you must pass the Level C exam in Catalan, basically impossible if you are not a native speaker. This effectively eliminates all non-Catalan-speakers from being candidates for tens of thousands of jobs.

Soler continues, "It is useless to say that there is no conflict, that Spanish is not discriminated against, and that any child can go to school in the language he wants...Let us admit that, by a democratic mandate, the Generalitat's linguistic policy discriminates against Spanish."

At least Soler is honest; he believes Spanish should be discriminated against because "Catalan is our own language, and it is at a disadvantage because of historical, demographic, and market reasons." Wow. He actually admits that government favoritism to Catalan over Spanish violates the concept of the free market. I've never seen a Cataloony do that before.

He's full of shit about the democratic mandate, though. The rule of law trumps the verdict at the ballot box. No matter if some politician calls a referendum on bringing back the death penalty and 90% of Spaniards vote in favor, Spain cannot bring back capital punishment because the Spanish consititution explicitly prohibits it. No matter what the voters vote to do, if it's unconstitutional or illegal then it can't be done.

The Spanish constitution quite clearly prohibits discrimination against Spanish-speakers. Hell, it says straight out that Spanish is the national language and that all citizens have both the right to speak it and the duty of knowing it. The Catalan language laws are unconstitutional.

Perhaps now a few people at TV3 will be a little bit more sensitive to the negative manner in which the United States is invariably portrayed in the documentaries that it runs, since everyone's so offended at the negative portrayal of Catalonia in this one.

Naah, I doubt it.

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