Friday, December 5, 2014

Attempt at ‘linguicide’ during Franco’s dictatorship

The repression of Franco’s regime is often seen from its most cruel point of view, that of the unpunished murders, the inexplicable disappearances or the arbitrary tortures. The repression and persecution of the regime had, however, more subtle forms of political influence. The censure penetrated into all aspects of daily life and, markedly, into the language, the text books destined for learning, the publications and radio broadcasting. Everything was under the control of the censor, the regime’s institutions and those who supported the ‘Falange’ party.
The law approved by Franco’s government, on April 5th 1938, when Franco’s troops penetrated the Catalan soil, left the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (passed by the Constitutional Courts of the Spanish II Republic) without effect. As a consequence, the Catalan language, which was official, together with Spanish, was left out of the Parliament of Catalonia, the Administration, school and University. Its public use was prohibited and it was consigned to home life, which meant it was pushed back into a situation of diglossia, that is, where Spanish was predominant over Catalan. Catalan was choked and hidden and its public use was tauntingly despised. The region was covered with posters and signs where one could read ‘If you are Spanish, speak Spanish’, ‘If you are Spanish, speak the language of the Empire’. If a citizen was heard speaking Catalan in a public space, he was addressed with phrases like ‘Speak in the Christian tongue’ or ‘Let’s see when you stop barking’. Public signs with offensive sentences like ‘Prohibited to spit and speak in Catalan’ could be read.

The historian Borja de Riquer considers that ‘Franco’s regime tried out a ‘Spanishisation’ and assimilation policy in Catalonia by imposing the Castilian culture and language as the only official ones’ and he recalls a service from March 16th 1939 from the undersecretary of Public Order: ‘The regional languages must be prohibited when they do not properly serve a greater ambient or a particular greater sphere of promotion of the principles of the Movement and the work of the Government’. 

The ‘Catalanophobia’ and the obsession to eliminate any vestige of ‘Catalanity’ reached the ridiculous extremes that Josep Benet gathers in ‘Catalunya sota el règim franquista’ [Catalonia under Franco’s regime]. Thus, he explains that the sign of Hotel Sabadell in Burgos had to be covered up, to hide its name, in spite of the fact that it had no tie with the toponym, but that it reflected the name of the owner: Just Sabadell. This man, who was pushed by the ambient, had to renounce his surname because of the analogy with the city in the Vallès area. An even more significant event, which is gathered in the same work, is that immediately after the occupying fascist troops entered into the city of Barcelona, the popular Catalonia square became the ‘Spanish Army Square’ (also known as ‘National Army Square’ in other documents of the time).

In this context, many prominent personalities had to go into exile because of their ideas, which were contrary to those of the winners. With regards to the language, the most paradigmatic case is, without a doubt, that of Pompeu Fabra (Barcelona, 1868 - Prada, Conflent, 1948), who was the author of the official ‘Gramàtica catalana’ [Catalan grammar] of the IEC (1918) and of the ‘Diccionari general de la llengua catalana’ [General dictionary of the Catalan language] (1932). Franco’s regime was especially hard upon Fabra’s work, in a way that when, in 1943, the first books – those of Jacint Verdaguer – in Catalan were allowed to be published, under the supervision of Josep M. Cruzet, the condition was that they not be published in accordance with the rules of the Institute of Catalan Studies. Therefore, they were published as if they were written in a language without codification.

The concealed policies of the regime also greatly damaged the Catalan language. Thus, in 1939, the Governing minister Ramón Serrano Súñer nominated Luis de Galinsoga as director of ‘La Vanguardia (Española)’, which was the most important newspaper published at that time in Barcelona. Always with the support of General Franco, of whom he was the panegyric and biographer, Galinsoga came from the direction of Sevilla’s ‘ABC’ and had stood out due to his written pieces and blatant anti-Catalan manifestations. In 1959, a popular campaign, headed by the Catalan people, managed to get Galinsoga expelled from the helm of the newspaper, as a repulsive reaction against the phrase ‘all Catalans are shits’, which Galinsoga had pronounced while attending a church service given in Catalan.

The debate about the attempt to murder Catalan by Franco’s regime again became centre stage during a discourse of King Juan Carlos, on April 23rd 2001, during the delivery of the ‘Cervantes Prize’ to the writer Francisco Umbral: ‘Our language was never an imposed one, but one of encounters; nobody was ever forced to speak in Spanish: it was the most varied people who made the language of Cervantes their own, out of free will’. The King’s words caused an enormous consternation, especially taking into account that it was a text prepared by the ministry of Culture of the government of José M. Aznar.

The consequences of the linguistic prohibitions and persecutions of the Spanish dictatorship still continue to this day. As the philologist Joan Solà, who won the Prize of Honour of the Catalan Letters 2009, has said, ‘the poorness of present day Catalan only comes from the fact that it has not been able to be taught as a normal language and, therefore, has not been able to make the student long to read good authors, which is an excellent way to acquire a rich and precise language’. In Benet’s point of view, ‘the nation, individual and language is the same thing (...) It is like separating the blood from the body. The language is spiritually as strong as blood. The Catalan people have always been politically subdued’.

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Help Catalonia is an association that receives no subsidies whatsoever from the Spanish state, the Catalan government or indeed any other organisation. We, the people who work in this project, do so on a voluntary basis and for no financial gain whatsoever.
If you like the task we are performing and would like to help us carry on our undertaking you may make a donation through bank account No. IBAN ES69 0049 4751 4421 9506 0811 
Or you may also make a donation via PayPal clicking the button "Donate" . THANK YOU

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