Welcome to the debate on the Law of Languages, a proposal that I began to formulate at the end of 2014 together with my colleagues the essayists Juan Claudio de Ramón, Joaquim Coll and the linguist Javier Pérez, among others. The recent publication of my book By a Law of Languages, where the proposal is articulated in detail, has aroused interest and has been the subject of some criticism. In this article I will explain the core of our proposal, which has been largely misunderstood.
The Law on Official Languages and Linguistic Rights, its full name, is a proposed state law that aims at a language reform in Spain. It addresses two poorly resolved issues at this time: the impossibility with which Spanish speakers find themselves in bilingual communities to exercise their linguistic rights and the insufficient initiative of the State in the recognition and visibility of the country's linguistic diversity.
To address these two issues in a better way, the proposal advocates in detail for a paradigm shift: stop talking so much about languages and move on to talk about speakers. Of the citizen-speakers, their linguistic preferences and their linguistic rights, terms both absent in the current public debate. In this way, we would be able to take the discussion about languages to the field that corresponds to it, that of citizenship. It would be an alternative perception to the current romantic vision of languages as support for the differentiated people. Linking languages and citizenship would, in turn, allow us to be in a position to develop a state linguistic regulation in order to regulate not Spanish languages but minimum linguistic rights for all citizens regardless of where they live.
The proposal arises from the diagnosis of what has not worked well in these 40 years of democracy. The first question: we have reached a point where nationalistic linguistic policies in bilingual communities know no limit. Everything is fine and everything is allowed if it is done in favor of Catalan / Valencian or Euskera and, to a lesser extent, Galician. We can observe it in the multiple linguistic incidents that constantly occur in these communities.
Meanwhile, citizens whose mother tongue or preferred language is Spanish completely lack linguistic rights (in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and in a more nuanced way in the other bilingual communities). The reason is that linguistic policies depend at this time exclusively on the will of the autonomous administrations as the state linguistic legislation is dispersed and insufficient. Since the nationalist autonomous governments are embarking on pro-monolingualism policies , it should be up to the Spanish Government to remedy the consequent absence of linguistic rights of Spanish speakers, taking into account in a legislation approved by Congress the already abundant linguistic jurisprudence issued by the Court Constitutional and the autonomous Superior Courts of Justice.
Language law, however, not only focuses on this serious problem, but also addresses a second issue. We propose a global linguistic reform that takes into account all official Spanish languages and the rights of all its speakers. We think that this is the best way to address the enduring Spanish linguistic dispute because it is the fairest way: to regulate everyone's linguistic rights. Therefore, the second objective of the law is to provide Catalan / Valencian, Basque and Galician with a greater and better presence in the central institutions of the Government and the State. Since the proposal has its axis in the linguistic rights of citizenship, the law would specify with which institutions and state bodies the speakers of Catalan / Valencian, Basque and Galician have the right to communicate in their language.
This would shape state multilingualism, which in fact already constitutes a reality in many areas of our lives. Some examples of linguistic rights exercised de facto by the speakers of Catalan / Valencian, Basque and Galician, but rarely publicly recognized: the DNIs in the bilingual communities are bilingual; the central telephones of some ministries allow communication in Spanish, Catalan / Valencian, Basque and Galician, and it is the user who chooses; the awards and grants of the Ministry of Culture are open to creators in all official languages.
However, these and other actions of state multilingualism have never been communicated or valued by successive central governments, who have limited themselves to processing them in a purely bureaucratic way. The reason is that the State has always been inhibited on this issue, a topic that is precisely crucial for the common Spanish project. But since the first Statutes, the State has left the linguistic account of democracy fully in the hands of nationalists; The lousy results of it are visible to all.
To change things, the State must intervene and must do well on such a sensitive issue. The intervention must take place on two successive levels: discursive and legislative. For this, it is necessary, first of all, to develop a global and equanimous vision of all languages and their speakers, with a strong will for inclusiveness and being firm in defending everyone's linguistic rights.
Thus, the proposal of the Law of Languages does not discuss the usefulness of minority languages nor does it seek to give anything to nationalists. It is a clear and detailed plan for the State to gradually become actively involved in the management of the linguistic diversity of our country as a civil rights key, becoming a new linguistic actor. This is the core of the proposal.
Mercé Villarrubias is a linguist and writer; and author of the book Por una Ley de Lengguas (Ed. Deusto, 2019).
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