José Antonio Sierra
Hispanist / Founder of the Spanish Cultural Institute in Dublin
embers of the Spanish Parliament are already able to express themselves in the co-official languages Catalan, Galician, Basque and Aranese in plenary sessions, commissions and other areas of the Congress of the Spanish Parliament. This is something that until now, although it was not explicitly forbidden, was subject to calls of attention and, in case of reiteration, to the withdrawal of the use of the word.
Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution states:
“1.- Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it.”
This first sentence was a cause for discussion when the 1978 Constitution was drafted, just as it happened with the 1931 Constitution when Ortega y Gasset and Unamuno suggested that it should read “Spanish” and not “Castilian”. The Royal Academy of Language in 1926 recommended the preferential use of the term “Spanish” and to use “Castilian” for historical content.
In 1978, Senators Camilo José Cela and Julián Marías, both academicians of the Spanish Language, proposed “Castilian or Spanish” as the official language, thinking that it could satisfy everyone. In the Congress, the Senate’s decision was reviewed and the formula that “Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State” was chosen, and that “All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it”. It must be taught obligatorily throughout the national territory and its use must be facilitated in any place and circumstance without anyone being able to prevent it.
“2.-The other Spanish languages shall also be official in the respective Autonomous Communities in accordance with their Statutes.”
The official status of the Spanish Castilian language is not an obstacle for the other Spanish languages to be official “in the respective Autonomous Communities in accordance with their Statutes of Autonomy”. In the Catalan, Basque and Galician Statutes, the Catalan, Basque (or Euskera) and Galician languages, respectively, are declared official, together with Spanish. The 1978 Constitution, even more than that of 1931 -the only one that mentioned the Spanish languages- supposes a recognition of the Spanish languages. Another thing is and will be their use in the respective Autonomous Communities which, in no case, should be detrimental to the use of the official Spanish language of the State, the common heritage of all Spaniards as well as of the millions of Spanish speakers in all America and Africa.
“3.- The richness of the different linguistic modalities of Spain is a cultural heritage that shall be the object of special respect and protection.”
Among these modalities are included the speeches that do not have the character of official languages but which will be the object of “special respect and protection” within the framework of the respective Statutes. These are, in particular, Aranese (Aran Valley), the ‘Aragonese fabla’ of the Pyrenees, the Bable of Asturias, etc.
The use of the co-official languages in the Congress is one of the commitments acquired by the new president, Francine Armengol, after her election on August 17, as well as being a proposal that Yolanda Díaz had presented weeks before. It was also the main condition that the Catalan independentistas of Junts and ERC had demanded to support the election of Francine Armengol as president of the lower house.
Freedom of expression
Article 20 develops the general principle of ideological freedom contained in Article 16 of the Spanish Constitution, which I consider important regarding the freedom to express oneself in Catalan, Galician and Basque in the Congress:
“1.- The rights are recognized and protected:
a) To freely express and disseminate thoughts, ideas and opinions by word, writing or any other means of reproduction.
b) The right to literary, artistic, scientific and technical production and creation.
c) To academic freedom.
d) To freely communicate or receive truthful information by any means of dissemination. The law shall regulate the right of the conscience clause and professional secrecy in the exercise of these freedoms.
2.- The exercise of these rights may not be restricted by any kind of prior censorship.
3.- The law shall regulate the organization and parliamentary control of the mass media dependent on the State or any public entity and shall guarantee access to such media for significant social and political groups, “respecting the pluralism of society and the different languages of Spain”.
4.- These freedoms are limited by respect for the rights recognized in this Title, in the precepts of the laws that develop it and, especially, in the right to honor, privacy, self-image and the protection of youth and childhood.
5.- The seizure of publications, recordings and other means of information may only be ordered by virtue of a judicial decision.”
Pinganillos or Spanish
Something different are the necessary technological resources such as earphones, devices and the hiring of interpreters for the use of the co-official languages. The Senate set for 2023 a budget of 280,000 euros to pay the Senate interpreters. In the note registered by the groups that have requested the use of the co-official languages, it is established that, for oral interventions, the Congress will have translation and interpretation services so that its interventions can be made in any of the official languages.
The reform foresees a period of six months to have the necessary means and during that period the MPs who present their writings in an official language other than Spanish must include the translation in that language. The reform of the Rules of Procedure should include a section that states: “The MPs shall have the right to use in all areas of their parliamentary activity any of the co-official languages in accordance with the Constitution and the corresponding statute of autonomy”.
Reference to the Republic of Ireland
The Republic of Ireland has two official languages: Irish or Gaelic and English. Irish, the official national language, is spoken daily for communication by less than 3% of the country’s 5,197,800 inhabitants. Although in the Irish Parliament and Senate both Irish and English, the official languages, can be used, some deputies and senators begin their speeches for a few minutes in Gaelic and then speak almost all of their speeches in English.
Perhaps, in the case of Spain, in order to avoid earpieces and possible absences of other MPs and senators during the interventions in Catalan, Galician and/or Basque something similar could be done: Begin and end their presentations for a few minutes in Catalan, Galician or Basque and make most of their intervention in Spanish. This would save the cost of translators, the inconvenience of the earpieces and would help Spaniards who only know Spanish and have no knowledge of Catalan, Galician and Basque.
The Spanish Cultural Institute, now Instituto Cervantes in Dublin, Ireland, was officially inaugurated on February 11, 1974 by Mr. Richard Burke, Ireland’s Minister of Education. He began his speech with a few words in Irish, some in Spanish and most in English. In this way all the attendees were able to hear him without the need for translators or earpieces.
The Institute included in its academic program courses in Catalan, Galician and Basque in 1975, languages that, in 2023, cannot be studied in any official language school in Andalusia and in few schools in the rest of Spain. In the Congress, languages that cannot be studied in almost any official language school in Spain will be spoken. I do not know if this is done out of respect and special protection as stated in point 3 of Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution. The Spanish co-official languages that can be used in the Congress cannot be studied in almost any official language school in Spain.
The University of Malaga, in its courses for seniors 2023-2024, has included a course about Spanish languages directed by Professor Francisco Carriscondo of the UMA, who is also the founder and director of the Language and Press Project of the UMA, which contains the largest news archive that exists about the languages of Spain.
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