'You can watch 35 movies in Catalan and 93 in Icelandic on Disney+ in Catalonia'

Catalan faces constant difficulties to survive on a social and administrative level, say activists

A demonstration in favor of the immersion system in Catalan in schools, on March 17, 2018 (by Júlia Pérez)
A demonstration in favor of the immersion system in Catalan in schools, on March 17, 2018 (by Júlia Pérez) / Gerard Escaich Folch

Gerard Escaich Folch | Barcelona

November 27, 2021 11:49 AM

In the last 15 years, the use of Catalan has declined by 500,000 speakers. Plataforma per la Llengua (Platform for the language), a non-governmental lobby for the Catalan language, reported that in 2021 there are only 4,500,000 frequent speakers. 

One of the main reasons for the decrease is social use. "Most Catalan-speaking citizens, when they're addressed by somebody speaking Spanish, they switch to Spanish, and that's a tremendous failure," said Òscar Escuder, president of Plataforma per la Llengua to Catalan News.

In Barcelona, 53.1% of the population "almost never" or "never at all" use Catalan in their lives. Only 29.9% use it "often" or "almost every day," says a report published by Plataforma per la Llengua

Escuder blames authorities for not protecting Catalan. They "have not fulfilled their role," according to him, and this is not only regarding the Spanish executive but also the French government and regional administrations. 

Plataforma per la Llengua condemns France‘s officials because one of the biggest Catalan-speaking communities outside of Spain is found in their south-eastern territory. The so-called ‘North Catalonia’ has 476,735 speakers. However, the region, with Perpignan as its main city, has also seen a decrease in Catalan users.   

Half of languages in danger

Internationally, another minority language -or in this case indigenous language- that is setting a good example to follow is Greenlandic. 

Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, Vice-President of European Language Equality Network (ELEN) said to Catalan News that Greenlandic is "spoken by 90 percent of the population. It is used in government, it is used in universities, it is used in legislation, and so on. So, it is an indigenous language that has all the tools of a contemporary one." 

Professor Jones said there are 7,000 languages "spoken in the world today, and some of those languages are in very precarious situations. Over the course of the next decades, and certainly by the end of this century, we will see that number halved."  

This is why in states where the level of visibility for multilingualism is not strong enough, "it's very important for minorities to be able to have a certain dialogue with each other because that inspires activism and activism is essential," says expert Elin Jones.

Education worsens the problem

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal confirming that 25% of educational instruction must be given in Spanish

The ruling refers to the educational system in Catalonia for the last 40 years. Catalan public and semi-private schools use Catalan as their main language because of the immersion system. 

But these last years, criticism has grown because of the policy. Some political parties and social institutions say Spanish is discriminated against in school and that students should be able to be taught in other languages and not only in Catalan. 

Despite the immersion system, figures shared by the education department show a decline in the use of Catalan in classes. Officials revealed that 47% of teachers always or almost always speak in Catalan to 4th-year secondary school students – that is significantly fewer than 15 years ago when 63% did.

Vice-President of ELEN, Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, considers the immersion system, the "most powerful way of developing bilingual skills in the populations, and that it is better than so-called bilingual education," as she said to Catalan News.  

Yet, only 21% of pupils often use Catalan during group activities, which means a sharp decrease compared to 2006, when 67% of them did.

Whereas in public and semi-private schools, there is a policy towards immersion. Universities are completely different. They are not regulated in this system, so each university follows its own guidelines. 

Some may write down Catalan as the main language for instruction, but reality shows that teachers will change to another language, like Spanish, as early as the first day. Reasons, among many, involve students not understanding the language or teachers feeling more comfortable in Spanish. 

At universities, figures show a clear disadvantage for Catalan. Plataforma per la Llengua and student associations received over 120 discrimination language complaints in just one month, between October and November 2021. 

Audiovisual media, also part of the problem

Globalization has allowed viewers worldwide to learn about other cultures, meaning Catalan speakers can now watch content from abroad in its original version. But, this comes at a price for minority languages such as Catalan. 

“On Disney+, you can watch 35 movies in Catalan, and from Catalonia, you can stream 93 movies in Icelandic," Òscar Escuder points out to Catalan News. 

Icelandic has around 300,000 speakers, but he has "nothing against Icelandic,” he says. “I'm very glad for them that they can watch as many movies as possible," he added. 

The Plataforma per la Llengua president talks about the 144 movies available on Disney+ that, despite having a Catalan dubbed version, are not accessible in Catalan to viewers in the region.

Streaming services, right now, are one of the main sources of audiovisual content for kids. Television has lost its reputation for children and young adults. Catalan public broadcaster, TV3, has a kids channel in the language of the territory but despite its popularity years ago, it now only reaches 0.5% of the audience in Catalonia

The increase in online platforms pushed Catalan politicians to demand a minimum content-created quota on streaming services. 

Esquerra Republicana approved Spain’s 2022 general budget with the condition that this minimum demand was met. Once the audiovisual law passes through, services like Netflix, HBO Max, Disney+... will have to add content created in any of Spain’s co-official languages, like Catalan, Basque or Galician.  

Is there any future for Catalan?

Things look quite dark for Catalan right now, but there is still hope. 

Professor Jones said to Catalan News, that "our societies and our policies need to be adequate to ensure that people who move to our territories to live and to become part of our society have equal opportunities to become speakers, as they have the right to learn the language."   

Plataforma per la Llengua’s Òscar Escuder defends the "use of Catalan in all normal situations, if not it gives the impression to newcomers that Catalan is not necessary at all." 

Kids are not watching TV in Catalan as much as before, but according to Plataforma per la Llengua figures, 80.9% of Catalonia’s inhabitants believe that Catalan will still be around in a hundred years. 

The only condition is to invest now, because if not "it will be too late to play a catch-up game in 10-15 years' time," said Professor Elin Haf Gruffydd Jones, Vice-President of ELEN.