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Linguistic nationalism: an interventionist alternative to the liberal conceptions of the linguistic market, by Henri Boyer


This is obviously the establishment of a model of linguistic nationalism that presents a hard core of representations (exclusivity, a historical-patrimonial nature, the aggression/oppression of which the language is/was a victim, the community loyalty with regard to it, which was exemplary in the past and must extend itself into a linguistic political activism) whose relevance would probably be discovered in a variety of places.

In this way, it is no surprise that Catalonia has become, since the beginning of the 80s, the driving force behind sociolinguistic reconquests for the languages of Spain other than Castilian (Galician, Basque, …), and a well acknowledged example in glottopolitical issues on an international level: in his comparison of three of the contemporary initiatives to revert linguistic substitution, J. A. Fishman (1993), while considering that the objective of full normalisation will take longer to achieve than for Hebrew in Israel or for French in Quebec, greets the restoration in Catalonia of Catalan as a fully active language of communication in a modern society, both on a functional and a symbolic level, a restoration that is moreover consensual (Fishman, 1993). This recognition is shared among the scientific community of sociolinguists that measure the entire route followed in the Principat over two decades of linguistic normalisation.(Boyer and Lagarde dir. 2002).(8)

In fact, the “battle for the language” (Pujadas, 1988), a clearly collective battle where political Catalanism was a powerful driving element, became progressively institutionalised under the direction of the Generalitat, and especially by the action of the Direcció General (today Secretaria) of Política Lingüística and of other structures for glottopolitical management (such as the Consorci per a la Normalització Lingüística).

After a sociolinguistic recovery period, the question was to now turn Catalan into the priority language of Catalonia. Thus the new linguistic law of 1998, called the law of linguistic policy, clearly specifies the respective statuses of the two official languages in Catalonia, according to the two accepted principles on the matter (Mackey, 1976): the principle of territoriality, that establishes Catalan as the “own language” of the Autonomous Community of Catalonia; the personality principle that protects the user-citizen is acknowledged through the coofficiality of Castilian and Catalan.

This law, for those responsible for language policy, strengthens the national identity and consolidates the Catalan linguistic model.Nevertheless, the circumstances in which this law was approved were not as favourable as those of the preceding 1983 linguistic law, and nationalist voluntarism (a mixture of all nationalist tendencies) was certainly a decisive element in its adoption.

The indisputable success of a vigorous linguistic normalisation policy that the 1998 Law set out to broaden, is unquestionably due to the very real aspirations of the Catalanophone community (a community that is without doubt majoritarily regarded as national) on the matter, without neglecting the effectiveness of the administrative and technical normalisation machine. A machine and legal regulations that, by their very effectiveness, institutionalise, some say ( one could even say “become part of the administration”), the normalisation initiative, with the risk of partially anaesthetising the nationalist fibre of civil society; on the other hand, it can be seen that the demonstrations in support of linguistic normalisation are often only reactions to hostile manifestations to this normalisation, perceived as anti-Catalanist. That is perhaps one of the limits of an essentially official linguistic policy, even when it does try to encourage “bottom-up strategies”.

6. Conclusions

Nowadays it is not very politically correct, I agree, not to proclaim one’s distances from nationalism, linguistic nationalism among others. Of course, the bloody events of the war in Yugoslavia and the childish tensions surrounding the language of the new States originating from it (specifically its name) (see for example Djordjevic 2002) have added fuel to the fire of the detractors of linguistic nationalism. In France, they are often the defendants of an uncompromising French nation-state, of which the absolute unilingualism is well-known, barely tempered in recent times by essentially international constraints. In Spain, they are the defendants of a whole-Spanish from another era. Of course, one can accuse the Catalan nationalists in power until 2003 of instrumentalising Catalonia’s linguistic identity in some respects, in the exercise of autonomous power and in front of the SpanishState.But the sociolinguist’s mission is neither to celebrate nor to demonise one or another (glotto)political option. We can and perhaps must serenely observe which political options/decisions (democratically) tend towards the protection of multilingualism, towards the defence of “small languages”, “stateless languages” , “minority” or “regional” languages.Now, it must be noted that in the face of threats from “globalisation” on the matter, whether J.L. Calvet likes it or not (Calvet 2002, Boyer 2002), some political options are more pertinent than others in different places. Certain democratic, integrating linguistic nationalisms, such as the one that has enabled Catalan to once again become a language of full societal use in Catalonia and has enabled the linguistic question to become the subject of a sometimes tense but promising wide debate in Spain, deserve the sociolinguist’s full attention.

Miquel Siguan, as a rigorous observer of the linguistic situation in Spain and in Europe, points exactly to the challenge to which a language such as Catalan is and will be confronted, while clearly signalling citizens’ responsibility in the matter in their political choices: “In the foreseeable future, Catalan will continue to exist among a mixture of languages, some of which are very strong at an international level. It will have to fight for its continuity. And what will decide the future of the language will be the decision of the inhabitants of the Catalan lands to go on speaking their language, and the political options available to them when it comes to electing leaders who will defend it” (Siguan 2002 : 55)

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Henri Boyer
ARSER-Laboratoire DIPRALANG / University of Montpellier III


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