Minority Languages Of The Pyrenees Essay

2569 words - 11 pages

If you encounter a native of France or Spain, he will most likely speak French or Spanish, as the national language of his home country. However, a notable number of people speak a cultural language as well. The salience of these languages on the north vs. south side of the Pyrenees Mountains is substantial. Catalan, spoken in northeastern Spain and southeastern France, and Basque, a language isolate spoken in northern Spain and southwestern France, are minority languages. Both are distinct from Castilian Spanish with their own literature, people, and culture. While Basque and Catalan are prevalent in their respective Spanish autonomous communities, the “border” of the Països Catalans (Catalan Countries) and Euskal Herria (Basque Country) extends into the south of France. I will discuss the status of Basque and Catalan in their respective cultural regions, the social, political and economic implications of the two languages and cultures, and the effect the boarder between France and Spain has on these communities.
The historic oppression of identity and culture by the Spanish has created social tensions between these groups and the Castilians in Spain. During the time of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, attempts at Spanish centralization and assimilation were at an all time high, with these regional languages banned from use in publications, official documents, and public speech in the 16th century and again in the 1930s, although Basque and Catalan in particular had continued de facto use in government and in confided interactions (Alguera 89). This attempt at assimilation had already occurred previously in the French state as discussed early with the success of French public schooling and language promotion. However, in Spain in the final years before Franco’s death, attempts were made to “Spanishize” Basque and Catalan culture, not stomping them out but integrating them into a larger Spanish framework (Lamikiz & Jauregiondo 294).
The status of the Catalan and Basque languages on the Franco-Spanish border varies greatly from Spain to France, with the languages being generally more prevalent in Spain. In Catalunya, Catalan is spoken fluently by 85% of the population with 97% claiming they understand (“Generalitat de Catalunya.” 6). This mutual intelligibility between Spanish and Catalan suggests that Catalan is only a dialect of Castilian. While many people would like to say this is true, and Spain under Franco attempted to integrate Catalan into mainstream Spanish culture this way (Alguera 89), the Catalan is a distinct language with it’s own lexicon, literature, grammar rules, etc. It is a mandatory subject for children in public education in the autonomous community (“Catalans.” 109). This contrasts the Basque Country where only 30% of the population is fully fluent in Basque (Gobierno Vasco 17). Interestingly, although Basque is classified as a vulnerable language ("Data on the Basque Language.") and is spoken by less than a third of the...

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