Financial Times

August 20, 2014 11:58 pm

Bias in favour of Catalan language

From Dr Sonia Sierra, and others.

Sir, We agree with much of your editorial “Catalonia’s shame, a stain on Spain” (August 13), although we feel that your final conclusions regarding education matters are misplaced. It is not a problem of Catalonia v Spain, but a problem of some Catalans challenging the status quo. However, constitutional changes must be approved by a large majority in the Spanish parliament, where Catalans are represented too.

You appear to be advocating further language safeguards for Catalan speakers. For those familiar with the Catalan situation, this is puzzling. The regional government already owns nine TV and four radio stations, financed by all Catalan taxpayers but broadcast only in Catalan. It also generously subsidises almost all Catalan newspapers, which are predominately written in Catalan, as one of a number of subsidies that favour the cultural expressions of one side of the region’s population but are paid for by all Catalans.

Pre-school pupils in Catalonia don’t receive even one hour of education in Spanish, then just two hours at primary school and three at secondary. Catalan dominates during the first years of schooling except for a few hours a week of Spanish and English. According to data from the Catalan government itself, 55 per cent of the population speak Spanish as their mother tongue; 31.6 per cent speak Catalan. According to Unesco, more than 1,500 research studies have shown the importance of teaching children in their mother tongue, particularly reading and writing skills. It seems clear that children’s language rights are not protected in Catalonia, hindering the development of a majority of children who cannot study in their mother tongue.

No other bilingual country imposes the “Catalan model”, discriminating against a national language in favour of the regional. All education powers are devolved in Catalonia, and the only option left to parents is litigation. All lawsuits have been won by them – but the Catalan government has yet to comply. Granting yet more powers to Catalonia’s education authorities will only perpetuate an already unfair situation.

Sonia Sierra, Associate Professor, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Susana Beltran, Senior Lecturer in Public International Law, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona

Santiago Mondejar, Fetcham, Surrey, UK