Daily Archives: 10 August 2007

Babylonian Confusion in Spain



A country, a nation, a culture is normally defined by a common tongue, a language in commune. At least that is how it used to be, in the old days. Well, not everywhere, it seems.

Everybody knows about Switzerland, where French, German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romansch are spoken. And perhaps Belgium, where French, Flemish and some German is spoken. But one often forgets, with most people in Britain speaking English, that many speak Welsh in Wales, Scottish Gaelic in Scotland, Cornish in Cornwall, and Irish in Northern Ireland.

What about Spain then? Don’t they speak Spanish in Spain? Hm, yes and no.

Spain is different from most countries, in as much as four separate languages are in use officially: Castilian, Catalan, Galician and Euskera (Basque).

Castilian is the language from Castilia and Madrid, and is used officially all over Spain. That is, used and spoken by the Courts and Central Government offices. And spoken mono-lingually by some 29,000,000 people up and down the country (out of an approximate population in Spain of 40,500,000).

During Spain’s dark hour, the Spanish civil war, General Franco tried his best to make every soul on Spanish soil speak the only language that he spoke, i. e. Castilian, or else … Anyone found speaking anything other than Castilian between 1937 and 1944 stood a fair chance of being punished, and often that meant imprisonment. The Generalísimo nearly succeeded in this and in much else and would have done, had he lasted not only 40 years as a dictator, but 400.

After Franco, things swung back to where nature had put things originally. People grew up, speaking their mother tongue. In Spain, the number of languages listed is 15. Of those, 13 are living languages and 2 are extinct.

In the Spanish regions of Galicia, Asturias, Pais Vasco, Catalunya, Illes Balears and Comunitat Valenciana, the regional language is spoken by the people, taught at school and is used by the Provincial Government authorities. In other parts of Spain, six more languages, other than Castilian, Catalan, Galician and Euskera, are spoken locally, such as Extremaduran, Asturian, Valenciano, Aragonese, Fala and Aranese, but not taught at school and not used by the Provincial Government authorities.

Lest one forgets history. In most of southern Spain, Arabic used to be the official language, ca. 1050, or rather Mozarabic, a Romance language with Arabic influences. Mozarabic is now extinct.


But sometimes extinct is not forever.