Wednesday, June 11, 2008

What You Say

Language is power. If you can communicate with someone you are in a far better situation than if you can’t. Both socially and commercially. That’s why we need to speak Spanish and, by the same token, why local businessmen, town halls and official organisations need to speak English.
Many Spanish owned businesses now use bi-lingual staff and, the fact is, there are plenty of young people who, despite being British, have lived here since their earliest years and are comfortably bi-lingual. In the town halls, you will find English-speakers only in the tourist departments – as if tourists, who, during their five day visit, spending 200 euros on the choo choo train or whatever other vulgarity is available, are somehow more useful to the community that the foreign residents.
A doctor I know who works at the hospital in Huercal Overa says that up to 20% of the patients there are English speakers. Some of the doctors studied in the United States and are fluent in English, but none of the staff can speak a word. Why should they?
Because it makes things a lot easier.
In Spain at large, the problems of ‘language’ are currently upsetting the purists from two different directions. Firstly, as Spanish nouns generally end in either ‘a’ or ‘o’, being ‘feminine’ or ‘masculine’ (remember your Latin), certain people of a liberal disposition feel in some cases slighted. A woman minister (ministress?) has upset the Real Academia Española by describing herself as a ‘miembra’ rather than a ‘miembro’ of the government. One member (thankfully, masculine) of the Royal Academy says ‘If it’s not an error, it’s a stupidity. The minister is a champion of shallowness regarding the subject of sex and gender’.
In Spanish, a ‘masculine’ word doesn’t connote masculinity. It’s just a word. The masculine form is also the fall-back when there’s a group of articles or people of both sexes. You say ‘vosotros’ rather than ‘vosotros y vosotras’. Except for leftist politicians and fringe groups. Some people now use the arroba sign to cover themselves – such as in compañer@s. ¡Idiotas! (sorry, ‘idiotos’ doesn’t exist in castellano).
But a far more serious problem for purists, patriots, pragmatists and conservatives is the limits to which the nationalists in parts of the north and east of the country are prepared to go to crank up the ‘bilingüismo oficial’ which is now an accepted ‘coñazo’ (pain in the arse) in Catalonia, the Balearics, and to a lesser extent in Valencia, the Basque Country and Galicia. Nowadays, for purely political ends, Catalonian children must take practically all their classes in catalán and they will grow up to speak Spanish (if they are lucky) as about as well as I do. Very useful when they want to leave the confines of their community.
In Mallorca recently, a nutter – sorry, a ‘senior nationalist politician’ – accused Air Berlin, which flies in more tourists to the islands than they can count, of disrespecting their amusing local patois by only using German and Spanish on their flights. His thrust was that the company is run by Nazis and he calls the service ‘Air Goebbels’.
The Germans are not amused.
Of course, every Catalán, Basque, Gallego and Ibicenco speaks Spanish (at least, this generation does) so the whole language question is at best, artful. Returning to the Almerían coast, most of the English (the word is ‘ingleses’ in Spanish, which is accepted to mean something nearer ‘northern Europeans’) don't unfortunately speak any Spanish, so there is evidently a certain commercial, social and political case for bilingualism.

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