divendres, 4 de setembre del 2009

This is a bilingual place. Part 1

The gift of bilingualism
There is no native Catalan in the world who only knows one language. All Catalans are bilingual de facto and live with two co-existing languages, Catalan and Spanish. This is not, as many want to see, a problem at all -or at least it shouldn't. It is a gift, a richness we should benefit from at take advantage of. Not only because we learn Spanish, the 3rd most spoken language (but the 2nd in terms of native speakers) in the world, since we are little kids but also because, according to linguists, it is then easier to learn new languages when you know more than one.

Code switching
One of the most striking things for people outside bilingual areas where both languages are alive, is the fact that one can have a conversation in two languages at the same time: one speaking Spanish and the other Catalan, according to which language they feel more comfortable with. This of course, happens, but it is not the general rule. Usually, one of the two languages -I must say a lot of times Spanish- becomes the language of the conversation. For most of us this is not a problem, and switching between languages is something we do constantly.

It's there really 100% bilingualism?
So yes, bilingualism exists, but it is not a balanced bilingualism. First of all, people in Catalunya can have Catalan, Spanish, or both languages as mother tongues. Excluding the case of those who have two mother tongues and speak both at home normally, people usually have more command over one language. This is not something wrong or bad, it is just a fact and it is the most normal thing in the world.

At school we learn both Spanish and Catalan since we are kids (besides English, of course). In public life, despite the fact that Catalan is the main language in education (as the Catalan Government has competency over Education and favours the use of Catalan) most of the linguistic input out of the academic context is in Spanish (cinema, magazines, most newspapers, ads, food packages, music for teenager).

Feeling uneasy: the need to say more about it
By now you might have the suspicion that this bilingualism is not free of problems, mainly political but also linguistical (like everything-sigh). In this post I tried to be as objective as possible, but I found it quite hard, as I have very strong feeling of support for Catalan. I really feel I should write something more personal about it. It is for this that I have decided to split the subject in two. Therefore, I will write another more subjective post on bilingualism.

4 comentaris:

MaryMoon ha dit...

A few weeks ago I was told by a linguist that being bilingual is a disadvantge for us.
I beg your pardon? A disadvantage?
Then he started explaining that one of the two languages is stronger than the other, and the weakest one is the most important in terms of speakers and blah blah blah. He is from the center of Spain, of course, and does not know how it feels to be bilingual. I still wonder why he is working in translation... His foreign language is obviously weaker than his mother tongue, and it doesn't seem to be a problem for him.

Xavi ha dit...

This is going to be a somewhat controversial subject (even it shouldn't really) when you go subjective, but I really think you should do it.
I absolutely agree that being bilingual is a clear advantage in communication, because it clearly enables you to use more languages in a more appropriate way.
And if we talk about MaryMoon's comment, probably the problem has to do with being a non-bilingul person and talking about something he has not gone through... not even as a translator.

Jim Morrison ha dit...

Interesting post! There are of course thousands of monoglot Catalan speakers - Catalan children that have not started school yet ;-)
And yes, I agree that bilingualism is an advantage.

Anna ha dit...

Hi Jim,

Not even them...
They watch Disney movies in Spanish...:P:P, and they hear Spanish on TV and also on the street. Well they do not really notice it is something different than Catalan I guess...