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Controversy over Spanish court’s decision on Aranese Language

Magistrates in Madrid rule giving “preference” to Val d’Aran regional tongue as invalid, a “dramatic” move according to expert

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16 February 2018 07:46 PM

by

Guifré Jordan | Barcelona

In the heart of the Catalan Pyrenees, hidden behind the mountains, lies a quiet and beautiful valley called Val d’Aran and its 9,900 inhabitants. This picturesque valley, in the northwestern corner of the country, is unique for many reasons such as its famous ski resorts, its mountainous villages and its language: Aranese. Spoken by less than 10,000 people, it is a dialect of Occitan, the traditional tongue spoken in Occitania, in southern France.

Yet the tranquility in the valley has been interrupted this week by a Spanish Constitutional Court ruling. The judges in Madrid have banned the preferential use of Aranese in the Val d’Aran administrations, going against a bill passed by the Catalan Parliament in 2011. Seven years after the bill was voted for in the chamber, the court ruled as invalid the provision that gives “preference” to Aranese in local administrations, public media, education and place names. The magistrates also claim that giving more priority to Aranese than to Catalan and Spanish is not in line with the Spanish Constitution, even though most Catalan lawmakers agreed on it in 2011.

Speaking with the Catalan News Agency, an expert and president at the Aranese Language Academy has strongly criticized this decision. “This is dramatic, because it creates an argument to deny the possibility of positive discrimination for our language,” says Jusèp Loís Sans.

Meanwhile, the European Language Equality Network also states that the decision violates international treaties that Spain has ratified. What's more, a Catalan MEP, Ernest Urtasun, has asked the European Comission on the issue. They are all concerned that a remote valley offering natural protection to Aranese from bigger languages for a millennia might not be enough in the 21st century.

Sentence in 2010 against Catalan identity, stepping stone for independence movement growth

The Spanish Constitutional Court also prohibited the preferential use of Catalan in the rest of the country in 2010. It was one of the several elements related to Catalan identity that were eliminated in a controversial change of the Catalan Statute of Autonomy, ratified by citizens in a referendum in 2006.

  • "If Aranese is still alive, and socially present, because of the current language policy of the Catalan and Aranese institutions"

    Jusèp Loís Sans · President of the Aranese language academy

The 2010 decree is widely thought to be the turning point for the dramatic increase in pro-independence sentiment in the early 2010s. Only two years later, the main two parties of the Catalan chamber at that time, CiU and ERC, agreed to set up a roadmap to hold a vote on self-determination for the first time ever.

"Language diversity bothers Spain"

With this precedent in mind, the Plataforma per la Llengua civic organization, that defends Catalan language and identity, has also rejected the judges’ decision this week. “The Spanish Constitution obliges all Spaniards to know Spanish, but when administrations make laws which tend to put Catalan, Aranese or other languages on the same level – although they never reach the same one –  they quickly smash it,” said Òscar Escuder, president of Plataforma per la Llengua. “This is more evidence that makes it look as if language diversity bothers Spain.”

Administration support essential

For the Aranese Language Academy, administration support is the only way for such a small language community to survive. “If Aranese is still alive, and socially present, it is because of the current language policy of the Catalan and Aranese institutions,” says Jusèp Loís Sans.

An official for the Catalan administration said on Friday that this is evidence that in Spain, the Catalan and Aranese languages are suffering unjustifiable attacks and harassment in the EU. He was referring to the sentence against the minority linguistic community in the Val d’Aran. Yet it was also a reference to the controversial plans of the Spanish government to use direct rule in order to change the language policy that currently gives preference to Catalan in the schools of Catalonia.

Civic organizations including a center for the union of Occitan and Catalan cultures have also rejected the measure, concerned that it is only a remote valley offering natural protection to Aranese from bigger languages for a millennia, but it might not be enough in the 21st century.

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  • The town hall of Les, in the Val d'Aran, with a poster announcing the dates for a local celebration (by Marta Lluvich)

  • The town hall of Les, in the Val d'Aran, with a poster announcing the dates for a local celebration (by Marta Lluvich)