Over the last decades, questions about managing linguistic pluralism and multilingualism have become a major political and scholarly concern. Linguistic diversity constitutes a salient dimension of the new social and political contexts of complex cultural diversity or ‘super-diversity’ (Vertovec 2007). Thus, a great political challenge emerges in the articulation of the functional character of different languages as a medium of social integration and of expression of collective identities.
In contexts of plurilingualism, the distribution of linguistic rights has to do with which linguistic communities, out of those co-existing in the private sphere, find recognition in the public domain. The extent to which different vehicular languages, taken as the languages used for communication among people that may have different or more than one mother tongues, may become part of a common or standardized communicative framework depends upon how linguistic policies are defined. Yet, language has both an instrumental and an expressive dimension. Whereas from an instrumental perspective, language is primarily understood as a medium that denominates things and facts, allowing thus people to communicate, the expressive aspects are crucial to how the members of a community conceive of themselves and frame their way of life (Taylor 1985). The instrumental and expressive dimensions cannot be separated easily; nor can one be reduced to the other. Linguistic policies need to be sensitive to both. However, managing the relationship between these two dimensions of language appears to be a terrain of dispute, in particular when subject to multiple political levels and actors:
Under democratic conditions, language policy is not only a tool for establishing an extensive frame of communication but it is also directed towards protecting the status or the “honour” of the members of the linguistic community and overcoming collective resentment in institutional contexts marked by cultural heterogeneity (Kraus 2008, 77).
Language is a key component of citizenship rights in a double sense. First, linguistic rights largely enable the exercise of other citizenship rights due to the ubiquity of language in all dimensions of collective life, and second, they strongly facilitate the configuration of a shared sense of community since social cohesion is not possible among a community that cannot speak fluently. Yet citizenship is a multi-layered phenomenon (Kymlicka 1995; Yuval-Davis 1999), which clearly exceeds the limits of the nation state, and has relevant developments at the sub-national level. Building on this assumption, the objective of this paper is to assess whether and how the current Spanish political regime has managed to accommodate the various linguistic communities, which in some cases overlap with the formal limits of the sub-national units, i.e. the autonomous communities (regional governments), whereas in others they do not coincide at all. More specifically, this paper aims to disentangle the political dilemmas and multifaceted claims regarding linguistic policies in Spain, being this a rather complex and subtle policy area in which multiple layers of national identity, social conflict and value formation converge. Additionally, linguistic policy often creates political tensions in the territory, not only across the national and regional levels, but also within the regional arena itself. Given these circumstances, the nature of linguistic conflicts and their political underpinnings have continuously generated controversy in both scholarly and policy debates in Spain.
There are four official languages in Spain, but only Castilian is official in the entire territory. Basque, Catalan and Galician are only co-official in certain regions, i.e. autonomous communities, and thus subject to a specific legal framework. Each of these languages, in turn, entails particular conflicts and debates in terms of which linguistic policy to follow, on the one hand, and of how to balance the use of these various languages, on the other. In addition, there are minorities in other regions, placed in well-defined territorial areas, which use any of these co-official languages, enjoying lower and dissimilar levels of protection. Finally, during the 2000s Spain received several millions of migrants coming from different countries of the world, enriching thus the linguistic diversity of the country, while also creating new challenges for already existing linguistic policies and legal frameworks. Furthermore, in recent decades the push for globalization added pressure to acquire a third language, making it still more difficult to keep the fragile equilibriums in place within and across regions.
A main outcome of this paper is that the linguistic policies established in Spain to manage the diversity of languages that exist at multiple levels since democratization are constantly exposed to political conflicts. This is because they occur at the crossroads where different types of communities interact (a la Kymlicka). First, these ‘linguistic communities’ are not always a majority in the regions where they are placed, and obviously they are a minority all-together in respect to Castilian. These linguistic communities call for recognition, linguistic rights and guarantees, including affirmative action. Second, in a number of cases they coincide with ‘sub-national communities’. These have their own identities – relying on regional institutions and policies in many areas – and which implement linguistic policies to support co-official languages to assure and expand their use vis-à-vis the use of Castilian, as far as the linguistic preferences of the majority of the population and their capabilities would allow in the short run. Third, Castilian has a powerful but undefined status in Spain: a linguae francae for some, a linguistic community of a majority of the population, and a ‘nation-state’ language in many respects. In all, there is not a consensus on the role of Castilian, which all linguistic communities in Spain accept. Finally, there are ‘migrant’ communities – internal movers, European Union (EU) movers and third-country nationals. These have expanded enormously all over the Spanish territory during the last decades, and have thus come to share spaces with most of the already existing ‘linguistic communities’, while also reshaping the sociolinguistic context to some extent. This third type of community requires a different set of policies, whose implementation lie in the hands of national and sub-national or local governments, and which should be attentive to multiculturalism and ethnic diversity, including but also going beyond linguistic issues.
A number of sub-national governments in Spain face the challenge of addressing various linguistic communities and their claims. Their policies and models attempt thus to accommodate pressures arising from different organized actors and social groups. Whereas the national government’s policies would favour the status quo where Castilian remains as the dominant language, or develop policies to expand Castilian across the map, we expect some constituencies to support political parties defending policies that attempt to strengthen co-official languages. To the extent that they are politically organized, immigrant communities might also ask for linguistic protection, multiculturalists’ rights and direct support to their cultural activities, depending on the social context and existing cleavages. Given this social and cultural complexity, defining a political strategy capable of keeping linguistic policies away from political conflict seems rather impossible.
To clarify the political dilemmas emerging from these issues, the empirical part of this paper focuses on the identification of claims made in the public sphere by representatives of any of the linguistic communities that coexist at the sub-national level in Spain regarding linguistic rights of citizens (increasing rights, protection of existing rights and claims against discrimination). Our analysis delves into four Spanish regions: Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the Basque Country and Galicia, each of which displays very different characteristics regarding their sociolinguistic situation. In our analysis, we look more closely into the linguistic claims made in recent years (from 2005 onwards) by different actors involved in linguistic conflicts, with a particular focus on the areas of public education, media and the public space. We make use of media and document inquiry mechanisms. This information constitutes the empirical basis upon which we then provide a comparative assessment of the selected regions. We expect to find variation across the cases regarding the extent to which political and social conflicts increased, or on the contrary, they turned out to be cases of accommodation and claim reduction. Under which circumstances each of the cases falls is a matter of discussion in the comparative analysis, while the extent to which these responses can be transferred to the EU level are assessed in a specific section.
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