The Spanish Government argues once again against language diversity

The Spanish Constitutional Court has accepted to make a decision on the Spanish Government’s appeal against the Catalan law promoting the Occitan language in the Val d’Aran County, in the Pyrenees. The Val d’Aran has autonomy status within Catalonia, considering its historic links with the Occitan culture. It is the only place where Occitan has the status of preferred co-official language. Now, this status has been cancelled because of the Spanish Government’s appeal. The Catalan Minister for Culture considers the appeal “an attack against language diversity”.


September 19, 2011 11:47 PM

Madrid (ACN).- Occitan is no longer the preferred official language of one small valley in the middle of the Pyrenees, the Val d’Aran. The Spanish Government presented an appeal to the Spanish Constitutional Court against the Catalan Parliament’s law on the Val d’Aran and its language, the dialect of Occitan called ‘Aranese’. The appeal argues against the co-official status of Aranese and, especially, against its status of preferred language. The Court has decided this Monday to discuss and sentence on the appeal, and therefore the law has been put on standby. This decision leaves the Val d’Aran without the right of having its own language as the preferred co-official language in its territory until the Court finally decides on the matter.The Val d’Aran is one of Catalonia’s counties and it has autonomy status due to its history and culture. This small valley in the most western part of the Catalan Pyrenees is one of the only places where people continue to speak one of the oldest Romance languages, Occitan, a language with more than a thousand years of history that was widely spoken in all southern France and the Pyrenees area. The Catalan Minister for Culture, Ferran Mascarell, considered the appeal as “an attack against language diversity”, and proof of “the Spanish Government’s obsession […] against language plurality in Spain”. Mascarell added that the appeal goes against the Spanish Constitution, which states “in article 3 that the wealth of the different linguistic modality is heritage that must be respected and protected”. Monday’s Constitutional Court decision comes in the middle of the controversy over Catalan as the only language of instruction at school, created by the Spanish Supreme Court. In addition, the Val d’Aran’s Trustee, Carles Barrera, who is the valley’s main public authority, is said to be “angry and not-understood”, and stated that the Spanish Government’s attitude is “pathetic”, as “it signed the European Chart of regional and minority languages in 2001".

In the Val d’Aran, Aranese, which is a dialect of Occitan, is a co-official language, together with Spanish and Catalan. Accordingly, citizens from Val d’Aran also have the right to contact public administrations in Aranese, including the bodies and offices dependent of the Spanish Government. In addition, Aranese has the privilege of being the language used firstly by public administrations, such as municipalities and the Val d’Aran’s General Council. It was also the language regularly employed in communications between the Aranese institutions and the Catalan Government. Furthermore, Aranese was the common language used for instruction in Aranese education centres.

The Catalan Statute of Autonomy, approved as well by the Spanish Parliament and scanned by the Spanish Constitutional Court, foresees that Aranese will be the preferred language in the Val d’Aran (article 6.5). Accordingly, in September 2010 the Catalan Parliament approved a law establishing that Aranese would be the priority language used in the valley, followed by Spanish and Catalan. It was approved with all the support of all the political parties except the Spanish nationalists. However, the Spanish Government appealed against the Catalan Parliament’s law. As the Constitutional Court has decided this month to accept to discuss the appeal, it automatically puts the approved law on standby, affecting the current status of Aranese and the right of Aranese people to fully use their native language within the Val d’Aran.

The Spanish Government’s appeal is based on the languages used to relate with the State’s public administration. It understands that the Catalan Parliament cannot rule on the use of co-official languages by the institutions and bodies depending on the Spanish Government. In addition, the appeal states that the “Constitutional Court has already declared the preferred status of a co-official language as unconstitutional".

The Catalan Government will appeal too, as it considers that the Catalan Statute of Autonomy has the authority for the Catalan Parliament to decide on the issue, and it also recognises the status of Aranese language and the right of Aranese citizens to relate with all public administrations, including the Spanish Government, in their native language. The Catalan Minister for Culture insisted that the third article of the Spanish Constitution states the obligation “to respect and protect” Spain’s linguistic diversity and plurality, which is “heritage” and “a wealth”. However, Mascarell emphasised that for Spain’s two main parties, the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE) and the People’s Party (PP), “everything that is not part of the Spanish language has to be limited to the maximum levels”. According to Mascarell this attitude of intolerance “increases the mistrust of Catalans toward the Spanish State and their conviction that [Spain] is not useful for the cultural and linguistic rights of Catalonia”.