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Sociolingüística catalana

The Ideas and Proposals of Precursors of Catalan Sociolinguistics, by Jordi Solé i Camardons


Which authors have we included in our research? We have chosen to study some unjustifiably forgotten such as Josep Armengou, (2) and some who are very frequently studied, such as Carles Riba, (3) albeit from a new perspective in this latter case – that of his pre-sociolinguistic discourse. We have followed an itinerary of sociolinguistic intelligence that cannot forget an author such as Josep Yxart, (4) studied mainly as a key figure of literary criticism in Catalonia; our research will use Yxart to illustrate the two sides of sociolinguistic thought: intelligent intuition and the heavy weight of the sociocultural and ideological context limiting those ideas; some remarkable reflections on language by Enric Prat de la Riba, (5) father of Catalan nationalism; but above all the original, ecolinguistic hypotheses of Joaquim Casas-Carbó, (6) with sustainable trilingualism as his standard; Alexandre Galí (7) against diglossic bilingualism; the learned reflections of the Valencian educator, Carles Salvador, (8) politician of language ignored by educators and Catalan sociolinguists; or the great Joan Fuster, (9) ecolinguist who opens up new paths of sociolinguistic rationality and imagination. In short, eight authors who we can consider to be the precursors of the Catalan sociolinguistic discourse.

This is by no means an exhaustive study: we have excluded, for example, the reflections of Antoni Rovira i Virgili, who considered language to be the "mother of nationality" and stated that "the linguistic map of Europe is broadly, excluding a few exceptions, the map of nationalities" (1916). This sociolinguistic itinerary also excludes Delfí Dalmau (10) with his thorough understanding of linguistic universalism and passive polyglottism (1936), because I have already dealt with this in my book, Poliglotisme i raó. El discurs ecoidiomàtic de Delfí Dalmau (1998). However, his discourse is closely linked to the figures and topics that we will study in this research.

3. The ideas of the precursors

Josep Yxart makes interesting analyses on the relationship between language and intelligence, and on the role of geolinguistics in language use, etc. Moreover, as we have already pointed out, he reveals the two sides of pre-sociolinguistic discourse with his intelligent defence of the use of Catalan in literature and pointing out the incoherencies in the Spanish nationalist discourse on language. At the same time, he makes reflections that fall within a diglossic ideology –with areas in common with the opinions of Joshua A. Fishman (11)– something that he tends to overcome in time.

The article "Del uso del castellano en Cataluña" (1886) analyses the (in)convenience of abandoning a living language in a hypothetical future by inventing an opponent, a Spanish-speaking outsider and civil servant with a linguistic occupation mentality. His defence of the use of Catalan in literature stems from the observation of reality put forward by Taine. This leads him to carry out a full analysis of the Catalan sociolinguistic situation, distinguishing between the different spheres of use and the different social strata, or between the various areas of the Catalan-speaking territories and other areas of Spain, distinguishing language abandonment from complementary symbolic support in areas such as Euskadi. He makes it very clear that the presence of Spanish across Spain is marked by a political factor and not by a natural reality. As regards the maintenance of Catalan, Yxart correctly rejects an interpretation based exclusively on will and highlights the influence of nature and routine; however, he does not forget the positive factors of active linguistic conscience and language loyalty. Our critic uses concepts such as "shift" (language), "imported language", need (for use); he identifies language and people and, using different words, he speaks of the facility of language use. He rejects arguments of cosmopolitanism and invents an empire of Europe dominated by France; in fact, French is an interesting, fictional sociolinguistic allegory that serves to question Spanish linguistic imperialism and the linguistic ideologies that it spread. To avoid lengthening further this summary, readers can consult his original texts for his interesting diglossic differentiation.

The highlight of the ideas that we can extract from the bold, coherent discourse of Josep Armengou, is perhaps his defence of the idea that Catalan is the language of the people, of the working classes. A contemporary idea that is still useful at a time when certain sectors may tempt us to disseminate a different idea: that Spanish is today the own language of the Catalan people. He also introduces the complementary idea that the reality of language use is interclassist and can never therefore be an argument for partisan struggle, since all the people and all democratic ideas should be behind Catalan. We should also point out the relationship between language and psychology as a way of expressing ourselves: "a language creates a psychology (...). A language that is not one’s own cannot translate the man that each of us carries within". For Armengou, "To kill a language is to commit a crime against humanity. It is to kill a collective spirit, the way a human community is and thinks". This discourse shares elements with the writings of the Basque sociolinguist, J. M. Sánchez Carrión (1987).

A key point in Armegou’s discourse is the radical rejection of language disloyalty of native Catalans and those who have decided to form part of the Catalan nation: "only snobs, in an attempt to act clever, could abandon our democratic language (...) the wretches who have adopted Spanish as their domestic language and educated their children in this, not the language of the parents, but of the colonisers. They have no excuse...". There is only one fitting option available to native Catalans: not to forget their language and to receive and integrate new-comers in Catalan. Thus, he proposes the badly-termed (since it is the product of a very active option) passive bilingualism: "Bilingual dialogue is dialogue par excellence (...) we must always presume that our interlocutor understands the language of the country...". But, at the same time: "Forbid any Catalan from addressing us in any language other than Catalan". Armengou rejects diglossic ideology and anticipates future and eternal attacks against Catalans aware of their condition: "We want Catalan to be the official language of Catalonia. Not to create a broken, provincial and exclusive Catalonia, but to ensure the survival of our national spirit...". He accuses Spain of launching a triple offensive of coaction, invasion and promoting abandonment; of trying to convert Catalan into a language of museums... For as long as we are part of Spain, this latter must defend all languages that form part of it and cease to hate diversity, thus becoming a plurilingual state.

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