In a Billy Wilder film, What Happened to My Father and Your Mother?, an American diplomat lands in Italy and, as he exits the plane, snorts: “I’m fine with foreigners speaking languages other than English, but couldn’t they? agree and all speak the same?” I remembered the scene while reading the criticism provoked by the decision of the presidency of Congress to allow the use of official languages in the Chamber. I must be the only non-secessionist who does not consider it a bad idea, which does not prevent me from agreeing with some complaints from critics: the measure was not taken out of conviction, but forced by Catalan nationalism; I was not convinced, however, by the underlying objection, according to which Spain has a koine—a common language—and therefore it would be best to use it exclusively in Congress. I try to reason my disagreement.
A koine is not the work of the Holy Spirit; It is forged by men, by history. Right now Italian is the common language of Italians, but in 1860, when nationalism unified the country, only 2.5% of them spoke it. Shortly after, however, the State imposed it as Koine and made the other languages inconsequential. It was not an exceptional operation, but it was so useful that we could replicate it in the EU, only in English, of course. It is true that, in Spain, Spanish is already koine – although I have still met Catalans who did not understand it -, while, in the EU, English is not yet koine; but there is little missing: there will not be many educated Europeans who do not understand it – in fact, it is enough to travel around the world – and in the Nordic countries everyone speaks it; If we put our minds to it, in one or two generations English would be the European Koine and the other languages would be relegated to a subaltern or irrelevant status. Do we want it? In the US, many Puerto Ricans do not accept changing Spanish for English, as pragmatism and English only enthusiasts advise. Would we accept it, including those of us who write in Spanish? Languages are not just a pragmatic issue: their use involves personal, emotional, family, and cultural labyrinths; To dry utilitarianism all this seems like sentimental flatulence, but history teaches that it is a very bad idea to ignore it. Solving the devilish problem of coexistence between languages involves, from the outset and in general – what happened in Congress is anecdotal – being respectful of others: it is easy to understand the need for a common language (especially if it is one’s own). , but it is usually more difficult to recognize that others also have the right to fully use theirs; It also implies depoliticizing languages, contrary to what nationalism has done since its origin: promoting Catalan is not equivalent—should not be equivalent—to promoting Catalan nationalism. But, if it is about politics – which is what it is about in 99% of the cases when we talk about languages in Spain -, I will repeat what I wrote recently in this column: the use of Catalan interests us all, but especially to those of us who are opposed to secession; The tongue is the most powerful weapon to achieve it, but it is not deactivated by disabling it (something immoral as well as impossible), but by using it for good (to unite by telling the truth) and not for evil (to divide by telling lies). In other words: secessionism can only be effectively refuted in Catalan, because what has been set up in Catalan can only be dismantled in Catalan.
No matter how many tricks the nationalists do, it still seems healthy to me that the real Spain is recognized as best as possible, also linguistically, in everyone’s Parliament. It is not always easy to find simple solutions to complex problems (this is what we rightly reproach populism). That of languages is, and I would say that, like so many others, it cannot be fixed if we do not find a balance—difficult, changing, unstable, elusive—between the common and the proper, between the particular and the universal. For the rest, do not doubt it: if Spain does not make Catalan its own without reservations, the great beneficiary is secessionism.
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