el foldybread (itsmagnetic) wrote,
el foldybread
itsmagnetic

Language stuff



So!  When I first got here, as I think I posted, it seemed like it was a lot easier to find Catalan speakers to talk to.  Or well, at least that they didn't seem to have the complex that Catalan speakers in Barcelona generally do, that with anyone they aren't used to speaking Catalan with there is some force that makes them switch to Spanish.  Well, basically that's still true here, that I've seen.  I have yet to meet someone who actually switches back to Spanish with me here.  If I speak in Catalan, and the other person does, they speak to me in Catalan.

But, what I've really noticed is that the public face of Catalan here is a lot less than in Catalonia.  I would say that the vast majority of signage in privately owned businesses are in Spanish only, even in a few cases where I've seen all the employees and customers speaking Catalan.  This isn't terribly surprising - I know that the language policy of the Balearic Islands has been a lot less comprehensive than in Catalonia since democracy, and most people have kept what they've had since it was compulsory to have everything be in Spanish, or just kept on doing what they were used to.  The one big exception to that, surprisingly (at least to me), is McDonald's.  I've been going there off-and-on because a) it's cheap and b) it's a hell of a lot better here than in the US.  They are the one private establishment I've seen here, the one and only, to have all of its signage be exclusively in Catalan.  They also seem to train their employees to use Catalan, at least in a functional "how to read the menu and understand orders" way.  I am not used to thinking of McDonald's as being big on cultural sensitivity, but I guess they do make a bit of an effort.

Now that I've moved into a new neighborhood, the situation is pretty different.  In the old city, there seemed to be a solid Catalan-speaking population.  The neighborhood where my apartment is is very different.  I have only heard people speaking Catalan around here a handful of times.  The overall population seems to be from somewhere else - whether from elsewhere in Spain or in the world.  The language on the streets may mostly be Spanish, but it's also quite a few others - Russian, Chinese, Arabic, etc.  Lots of Latin American immigrants.  I mean, my two flatmates are prime examples - one from Russia, one from Mexico.  Natalia, the Russian lady, speaks Spanish very well but says she still has a lot of trouble with it, but I don't think she speaks any Catalan.  Oscar, however, appears to speak Catalan pretty well.  I am not sure how long he's lived here, but I guess he had a leg up since he already knew Spanish when he came.  He also speaks English quite well.  He seems a bit of a language nerd like me.

So I haven't made great strides in making Catalan-speaking friends here.  I mean, I don't feel bad about that since I've only been here three weeks and haven't exactly been hanging around even mostly Spanish-speaking places (I think I've probably met as many Germans, Dutch and British folk going out as anyone else).  Also, the one bar I've been going to more regularly than any other is run by an awesome Argentine guy, so I default to Spanish with him, as would be expected.  The one place with mostly Catalan interaction, I'm happy to say, is the GLBT group.  The standard story about Catalan and Spanish is that if you have a group of 10 and 9 people are Catalan speakers but there is one Castillian speaker (even if he or she might understand Catalan), everyone switches to Castillian almost as a knee-jerk reaction.  Well, I can say with certainty that is not true there.  There is exactly one person who comes who doesn't seem to speak or understand Catalan very well (a lady from Galicia) and that doesn't seem to effect the linguistic dynamic one bit.  I am assuming she can actually understand Catalan on some level, because it's not like she is left out of the conversation.  One of the people who works at the center, Miguel Ángel, is actually from Granada, but speaks Catalan quite well (having lived here for not very long, I don't think, maybe a year or so).  Unfortunately that is only once per week for me so far.  I need to start making friends with these folk outside of the Friday coffee social hour thing.

This is all just about Palma, where the influx of people from elsewhere is pretty strong.  When I was in Sóller, even with all the tourists, I don't think I found a single person who didn't speak Catalan (who wasn't German or British).  Scratch that, there was one waitress who didn't speak Catalan, but she understood it, just spoke back to me in Castillian.  I don't know if she was a Catalan speaker of the "he's-not-from-here-speak-Spanish" variety or if she's a Castillian speaker of the "understands-Catalan-won't-speak it" variety.  So, overall that was very heartening.  I'm sure that in some of the even less touristy towns around Mallorca the situation is even better.  I know from reading that Manacor (Mallorca's second biggest town) has the best reputation for incorporating immigrants into the Catalan-speaking community in the islands.

There was a story, probably a few years ago now, that a politician from the Socialist party here, a Spanish speaker (and, I'm going to guess, a Palma resident) made some public announcement that it was time for people in the Balearic Islands to realize that Catalan was a minority language here now and that they needed to give Castillian a bigger place in the government because of that.  He was shortly thereafter contradicted rather completely by a survey that showed Catalan was still the first language of the vast majority of residents of the Balearic Islands.  How could he miss that?  Because I'm going to guess Catalan was a minority language in his world.  It would be very easy for me to go around Palma and never use Catalan, and here it rarely, depending on where I went and whom I talked to.  It's still there though, even if coming from the outside I have to look for it. 

I guess I just find it really fascinating how social situations develop for a language like that.  I suppose, given the language policy that was in effect before 1975 (for the previous few centuries), it's rather amazing that there are still Catalan speakers here at all, let alone a majority.  Look at France and Italy and the UK.  The first has almost totally eradicated its minority languages, in the name of modernity and national unity.  There are still many speakers of Catalan, Occitan, Breton, Basque and Arpitan in France (but if you haven't made an effort to know about that, you may not know about most of those), but to be perfectly frank, I'd give it a few generations before nearly all of those speakers are gone.  Catalan is hanging on there by a thread because of increased ties with the Catalan speakers in Spain, Basque is probably stronger because of its very strong local identity, but everything else is soon to be a thing of the past.  Italy is slightly less sad of a story than France, since they do have some concessions to regional languages, but not to most.  The UK is probably the best, especially in Wales, but Cornish and Manx are casualties of the same attitude that is leading to the slow deaths of languages and cultures in France.

Anyways, this is probably too long of a rant, but oh well.
Tags: catalan, langauge, mallorca
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