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Post In Catalonia, (Castilian) Spanish is Alive and Well
Created by John Eipper on 10/19/19 4:07 AM

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In Catalonia, (Castilian) Spanish is Alive and Well (Jordi Molins, Spain, 10/19/19 4:07 am)

Enrique Torner wrote on October 18th: "I still have to meet a student of mine who was in Catalonia and was greeted and welcomed in Castilian. On the contrary, [my students] tell me they had to struggle to understand the little Spanish they heard there because it was always surrounded and overwhelmed by Catalan speakers!"

This is false. I have spoken with my friend Germà Bel, formerly at Princeton and Cornell, now at the University of Barcelona. Germà Bel is one of the leading Republican Catalan economists, and publicly an independentist (with some political responsibilities in the past). By the way, I believe WAISer Sir Paul Preston has helped Germà publish some of his books. Germà has authorized me to explain that he is currently giving three courses (between undergrad and graduate studies): two of them in English, and one in Spanish (most students of which are Latin American). This is in the Faculty of Economics, the biggest one in Catalonia. In the undergrad course, for example, there are several classes in parallel for such a course, in English, Spanish and Catalan. The language for each class is clearly described before the students enroll in the course.

My wife is Ukrainian. When she came to Barcelona, we discussed which language she should learn first, either Catalan or Spanish (we speak in English to each other). We decided she would learn Spanish first, since in Barcelona there are many Spanish monolinguals, but all Catalan speakers are bilingual. Now, she is learning Catalan with me, but she is more fluent in Spanish than in Catalan.

In the meantime, the neo-Nazis have razed Barcelona at night, with the complicity (some say; I do not dare say anything bad about the Nazis, since the Spanish law protects them so much) of the Spanish police. There are several videos of the neo-Nazi aggressions towards citizens, and the friendliness between the Nazis and the Spanish police (up to the point of shaking hands in a video).

JE comments:  Catalonian independentists seem to prefer English over Castilian Spanish.  The latter is viewed as the language of empire, while the former is simply a lingua franca.  Do I understand this correctly, Jordi?  I find myself offering my students the same advice Enrique Torner gives his:  Barcelona is not the best place to learn Spanish.  It's difficult enough for kids to immerse themselves 24/7 in a foreign language, without having to face the possibility that the language you're trying to speak is resented by the person you're speaking it with.

(It's also hard enough to communicate with a spouse, but imagine when both of you do it in a foreign language!)

Jordi, is the turmoil in the Barcelona streets dying down, or the opposite?  You point out a right-wing backlash.  Are the two groups fighting each other?

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  • Barcelona Report: No "Right-Wing Backlash" (Jose Manuel de Prada, Spain 10/20/19 6:43 AM)
    The Neo-Nazis are not razing Barcelona, contrary to what Jordi Molins says in his latest post. This means that there is no such thing as a "right-wing backlash," as John E described it.

    It took about 24 hours for Qim Torra (the President of the Catalan government) to refer to the acts of violence that started on Tuesday evening.

    I say "refer," because so far he has not condemned them, as he would certainly have done so if the Neo-Nazis were to blame.

    Nobody can deny that the majority of the demonstrators are peaceful.

    Yet it is clear that the main actors of these disturbances are mostly radical pro-independence activists. However, as in any crisis of this kind (such as, more recently, the case of the "yellow-vests" in France), other kinds of radicals have joined them just for the sake of confronting the police and causing harm.

    The bulk of them are, to use Jordi Molins' term, "Republicans."

    The police (a combination of the "Mossos" and the national police), far from being in fraternal terms with the perpetrators of these acts, are doing their best to contain them, so far without the full support of anyone in the pro-independence leadership save for the Conseller d'Interior.

    Other leaders and nationalist politicians are actually criticizing the performance of the police, accusing them of being too harsh.

    Needless to say, no nationalist would be questioning the police if if they were hitting the Neo-Nazis.

    (And, by the way, contrary to what Jordi Molins says, Spanish law doesn't protect Neo-Nazis.)

    What is very disturbing here is the willingness of the nationalist leadership to take as much political advantage of the violence as they can, instead of firmly condemning it.

    This was the tactic of the Basque nationalists of the PNV in connection with the terrorist attacks of ETA and its allies.

    In the case of Torra, he notoriously encouraged the radical CDR a year ago. Very soon after, the radicals assaulted the Parlament, and the Mossos only barely prevented them from getting inside.

    Bizarrely, even that police action was criticized by some nationalist politicians, who fear that this kind of episode can be harmful to the Procés.

    After the regrettable charges by the national police in October 2017, it would certainly not very edifying to see the Catalan police hit Catalan patriots, even if this is justified because the patriots in question threaten to storm a key institutional building.

    Yet this position is absolutely untenable, when there are people within the movement that are clearly violent, and when the Catalan premier himself tells them very explicitly "apreteu i feu bé d'apretar" ("you put pressure, and are right in putting pressure").


    Even this past Monday the spokesperson for the Generalitat said that she "empathized" with the massive action that aimed to stop air traffic at the airport. Yet at the same time she justified the police action on the grounds "the crowds endangered the safety of the people."


    John E asked if "the turmoil in the Barcelona streets is dying down, or the opposite."

    I fear it is the opposite.

    JE comments:  There are reports of 37 people injured, but so far no deaths.  Is this information accurate?

    I'm sure Jordi Molins will respond.  For now, a question for Jordi: what do you mean by the Spanish law "protecting" Neo-Nazis?

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  • Language and Study-Abroad Programs in Barcelona (Enrique Torner, USA 10/20/19 1:27 PM)
    Responding to my claim that I still have to meet a student of mine who was in Catalonia and was greeted and welcomed in Castilian, Jordi Molins (October 19th) replied that my statement is false.

    However, the only support Jordi was able to offer was that the University of Barcelona offers all kinds of courses in English, Castilian, and Catalan. That does not have anything to do with being welcomed to a place! When you first arrive at a city, if you are a foreign student, you are usually welcomed by a family, a friend, or an employee working at an airport, a hotel, a restaurant, or anything of this sort. The family, out of a desire to please you, will welcome you in English; later, they will speak to you in Castilian, because they are being paid to help students learn Castilian. The same with friends, who many times are friends of friends they have met in another city in Spain. Employees at any establishment start conversations in Catalan more than 90% of the time; once they realize the other person doesn't speak Catalan, they will switch to another language, Castilian or English, depending on where the other person is from.

    Students attending courses at Catalan universities in Castilian will be welcomed by the professor in Castilian, and classes will be in this language. However, students only spend a few hours of the day taking classes. Instead, they spend most of their time with peers they have befriended, and these friendly conversations usually take place in cafeterias, bars, or homes. One on one, Catalan speakers will speak Castilian to foreign students of the language, but Catalan to Catalan-speaking friends, and Castilian to Castilian-speaking friends. That's the way it was already when I lived in Barcelona over 30 years ago; this is the situation my students have been describing to me during the 27 years I have been teaching Spanish in the US. I have a hard time understanding people at noisy places like restaurants, and I have been living in the US for over 30 years. Just imagine students who have only been studying Spanish for 2-4 years!

    Now, don't misunderstand me: I love Barcelona and Catalonia, and am proud of my Catalan culture. And the students who go to Barcelona love the city much better than Madrid. They love its history, art, cuisine, and even the people they befriend: they just feel frustrated that they can't cope at friendly, noisy places, and they spend lots of time there!

    JE comments:  Enrique, can you comment on the experience of Minnesota State students in Spain vis-à-vis Latin America?  My conclusion after 20+ years:  Spaniards rarely befriend American students.  Rather, US students tend to hang out with other Americans.  Students who spend a semester in Latin America (our most popular destination countries of late:  Peru, Chile, and Colombia, in that order) make many local friends.

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