Being right, but with good reasons

Today’s return – if, that is, it had ever actually left us – of the eternal linguistic debate in the Catalan-speaking territories, and especially in Catalonia with the affair of language immersion in the schools, has made me even more convinced about something: I believe that we are right to place Catalan at the heart of our national existence, but we lack better arguments to help us defend the language from those who attack it or, quite simply, are lukewarm or indifferent about it. It is true that strong words have been used to keep those who try to attack the language from crossing an invisible red line, one that should never be crossed, regardless of the circumstances. But the arguments people have used are weak and somewhat antiquated. We have defined the subject of language as something “sacred” and “untouchable.” We have resorted to citing our language’s thousand-year origins. We have given this subject all the mythical virtues that we like to attribute to Catalans: seny (common sense) and resistence, tradition and modernity, cohesion and industriousness… And, above all, identity: the Catalan language, the core of our identity – don’t even let them think about touching that

Nonetheless, the majority of appeals [in favor of Catalan] have either been built on the past, or the reasoning they use makes them easily refutable by those “enemies of the language and the country”, as Joan Solà used to call them. The evoking of the past only draws an emotional response from those who feel they are direct inheritants of this past, but not from those people who come from other traditions and are being incorporated into our national future. And if I can speak plainly – and the need for brevity obliges me to do so here –, the argument of having a language be an instrument of social cohesion is as valid for Spanish as it is for Catalan, which is what the Spanish State wants, and this is why it makes Spanish preeminent. As a result, I believe that the arguments in favor of Catalan should, first and foremost, look to the future. What I am saying is that we shouldn’t make Catalan into a cause similar to that of the bluefin tuna or the bearded vulture. If we are going to make a cause out of it, we should do so in a way that shows why the Catalan language is the best path to disseminating an extremely solid cultural tradition that can be a shared starting point for old, new and brand new Catalans. It should be a foundation that we can build a common future on. In the past the language was what allowed us to continuously rejuvenate our cultural tradition: it strengthened it with new contributions and turned it into a generously shared heritage. At the same time, we must be honest and point out that the cohesion we are seeking through the Catalan language is both a national and political cohesion, and not just social or having to do with mere coexistence. Indeed, without a project of national emancipation behind it, the defense of Catalan becomes an idle – and tiresome – exercise, condemned to failure.

Seen from this perspective, invoking identity would no longer be a mere reference to the past, a sort of cultural self-preservation that inevitably excludes people. If when we refer to identity we are not just talking about the preservation of Catalan’s origins, but instead we make it an open project that everyone is invited to participate in –and if the common foundations of this ambitious project are made up of a national and cultural tradition that uses the Catalan language as a vehicle–, then we will start to have a number of good arguments – and good reasons – to fight for Catalan, both inside and outside the schools. North Americans have always seen identity this way: that an immigrant can make his or her dream of freedom come true in their new home, something that was impossible in their country of origin. Catalans, both old and new, still have a ways to go before we make our own dream come true right here. And to do so, we need the Catalan language.


Salvador Cardús is Full Professor of Sociology in the Autonomous University of Barcelona’s Sociology and Political Sciences Faculty. He works to spread the word about issues relating to education, nationalism and immigration. He is author of the book El desconcert de l’educació (Disorder in Education), an out-and-out positivist work and a manifest countering the clichés that have always been linked to educational issues.


Translated from Catalan by Margaret Luppino

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