Is there any hope for Catalan?
M. Carme Junyent: “The only we need for a language to survive is to use and spread it”
M. Carme Junyent, lecturer at the Department of Catalan Philology and General Linguistics of the UB has led the publication of the book El català, la llengua efervescent (Viena, 2021), about the situation of Catalan and the actions we should take to turn it into the common language in Catalonia, regardless of of where the speakers come from. The 77 authors that take part in this book offer complementary views on the issue, which range from academics to social networks.
Catalan is a particular language in many ways. There are fields such as the radio, the internet and the publication of books where it is clearly a leading language compared to others with a similar number of speakers. However, in audiovisuals, science and new technologies, Catalan faces a situation of minority. Despite being a co-official language in three autonomous communities in Spain (unlike in France and Italy), and many forces are against it, ranging from justice administration to common linguicides, but it has millions of people who, without having it as their native language, identify themselves with it and use it daily.
The book describes the multiplicity of situations in which the Catalan exists in each of the territories where it is the oficial language. This is why there are many diverse views on its current situation and future. The UB is present in the opinion of 19 of its lecturers and researchers: Mònica Barrieras, Albert Bastardas, Eloi Bellés, Emili Boix-Fuster, Vanessa Bretxa, Montserrat Camps, Pere Comellas, Mireia Farrús, Avel·lí Flors-Mas, Marina Massaguer, Jordi Matas, Josep Murgades, Neus Nogué, Eva Pons, Carles de Rosselló, Montserrat Sendra, Esteve Valls, Carme Vilà and F. Xavier Vila.
On the occasion of the publication, we talk to Junyent on her view of the current situation of Catalan:
What diagnostic of the language does the book present?
The aim of the book was for the authors to say how they saw the situation of the language and what actions would be necessary to change it. In this sense we can say there are 77 diagnoses. These are very diverse but no one says we are doing well. In any case, hope prevails and there are proposals to carry on.
Is Catalan going backwards? Latest data show we are near the threshold of 35% of speakers, in which some linguists put the frontier of extinction.
Data shows Catalan is going backwards, the 30% is only an indicator. But the most important thing is that we can manage this. There is hope because we have many new speakers, people who make the effort and learn the language. This is a gift, and we should not spoil it by unacknowledging this effort and avoiding Catalan whenever we address them. If we do our jobs, there are hundreds of people willing to work with us.
Do you think the language immersion system has worked? For years, people said “we won in the classroom but we lost in the playground”. Have we lost in the classroom too?
Immersion itself, a program applied in places where Catalan is not the common language in the environment, did work out. What did not work was the system, which continued as if immersion did not exist. Teaching in secondary education schools, and now in primary schools too, is not carried out in the vernacular language of the school even through immersion means this should happen with no problems. Once more, we are the ones that fail, the ones that don’t believe we have a language for everyone.
Why the co-official status did not represent any guarantee for the survival of Catalan?
For several reasons. Fulfilment of the law has not been required in many fields (Catalan as vernacular language in education is one example, but there are others). Also, official status of a language is no guarantee, like in Ireland. The only thing we need for a language to survive is to use it and spread it. The rest (like officialdom) is good but cannot do the work we speakers have to do.
Can only a Catalan state guarantee the survival of the language?
The State is a language exterminator. I would not trust it. In a case like ours, it might act if we reach a moment when the situation is reversible, but we can find ourselves in a case like Ireland, and then we won’t have the time. I would not link both projects. A state can arrive at any time, if we lose a language, we lose it for good.
Carme Junyent (Masquefa, 1955), is a tenured lecturer of General Linguistics at the UB. Expert on minority processes migratory languages, she has given many courses and conferences, and dissemination activities in Spain. She is the founder and director of the Study Group of Endangered Languages (GELA) and the Group of Linguists for Diversity (GLiDi).
She has kept a critical speech regarding the situation of the Catalan language, and at the same time, has fought the most spread language prejudices that stop the growth of new speakers. She led several projects on migration languages and has published, among others, Vida i mort de les llengües (1992), Contra la planificació: una proposta ecolingüística (1998), Escoles a la frontera (2016) and El future del català depèn de tu (2020). She also coordinated Visbilitzar o marcar. Repensar el gènere en la llengua catalana (2013).