In the first of a two part series, Spotlight on Spain, Language Rich Europe partner, Marta Genis from the Universidad Nebrija takes us through the plurilingual context in Spain and the status of its various languages in each region.
The richness of the different linguistic modalities of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be specially respected and protected
So says the 1978 Spanish Constitution, in its Preliminary Title, section 3 (3) , therefore including the idea of a multilingual nation, a state with different linguistic modalities and a common language, Castillian Spanish, that all of us have the “duty to know and the right to use”. This makes a really diverse, rich and complex country that we are fortunate to live in, being among the few countries that have these assets. All public institutions, therefore, have the duty to raise awareness, defend and promote this rich reality.
As a multilingual country, Spain has different situations. Most communities are monolingual. Extremadura, Andalucía, Castilla la Mancha, Castilla-León, la Rioja, Madrid, Canarias and Cantabria are monolingual communities with Castillian, known around the world as Spanish, as their mother tongue.
Another situation is that of monolingual communities with non official languages, such as Asturias where Bable is widely spoken and Aragón where there are several Fablas. With regards to Aragón, most people speak Spanish, but there is a language called Altoaragonés, Fabla aragonesa or Patués, located mainly in Huesca and the north of Zaragoza. This romance language is closely related to Catalan, Castillian and Gascon or Occitan, spoken in the south of France. Several dialects developed from this main branch of the Fabla Aragonesa: in the eastern part of the province, ribagorzano, fobano, chistabino; in the western part, ansotano and cheso; in the centre, tensino, bergotés and belsetán; in the south, there is another variety which corresponds to the Somontano region. The most widespread is the Patués, with more or less 30,000 speakers according to the Consello d’a Fabla Aragonesa.
There are also bilingual communities, such as Cataluña,Valencia, Islas Baleares, Galicia and Euskadi where plurilingualism is promoted at official level.
Catalan, an official language in the whole state, is spoken in Cataluña, Valencia and Islas Baleares. Catalan is not only spoken in Catalonia but also in other regions of Spain – La Franja de Ponent (Aragón), the Islas Baleares, the Comunidad Valenciana and El Carxe in Murcia. It is also spoken in the south of France (Catalunya del Nord), and in Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) and it is the official language of Andorra. Scholars distinguish two main groups of dialectal varieties: Western Catalan and Eastern Catalan. This simple division is based mainly on the presence or absence of the schwa vowel. Other scholars distinguish up to twelve varieties of Catalan, but most frequently six varieties are recognized: Northern Catalan, Central Catalan, Balearic, Northwestern Catalan, Valencian and Algherese.
Galego is the language spoken in Galicia, where it is official along with Castellano. It is also spoken in border areas of Castilla-León and Portugal. Galego is very similar to Portuguese, as they both descend from Galician-Portuguese, a single Latin-derived language. It is also spoken in a several places around the world due to the region historical immigration circumstances. Barcelona, Zurich, Montevideo and Buenos Aires are good examples of these Galician communities that use Gallego as their vehicular language.
The language called Euskera, Vascuence or Vizcaíno is the only surviving pre-indo-european language in Europe. It is spoken in the Comunidad Autónoma del País Vasco, in the Comunidad Foral de Navarra and in the South-East of France (Pirineos Atlánticos). The Euskera or Euskara has the following dialects: Western dialect, called Bizkaiera or Mendebaldekoa; the Central dialect, Gipuzkera or Ertaldekoa; Nafarrera, spoken in the North of Navarra and the Northeast of Guipuzcoa; the Eastern Navarrese or Ekialdeko Nafarrera; the Labourdin-Navarrese or Nafar-Lapurtera, spoken in Labourd, lower Navarra and part of Soule (France); and Souletin or Zuberera spoken in the territory of Soule and in the canton of Olorón (Bearn, Gascony).
This is the situation of Spain as regards to the tapestry of the languages spoken in its territory. It is necessary to have this background information in order to be able to understand the different types of school in the Spanish educational system and the different types of approaches adopted as regards to vernacular and foreign languages.
Next week Marta Genis will introduce us to the status of first and foreign languages within the Spanish Education system.