|"Come, let us go down and confound their speech." |
Living with the Tower of Babel in a modern society
For starters, there are _not_ five official languages, only four. Somehow outsiders have been given the impression that Valencian is a distinct, official language from Catalan, and continue to reproduce this false impression in educational textbooks or blogs. It is not! Valencian is a _dialect_ of Catalan, not a separate language! Don't take my word for it, just check the CIA factbook.
I am in a strong position to argue this point. I live in Valencia, I married a Valencian-speaking Valencian, and I am currently enrolled in classes of "valencià." So let me say it again and once and for all, valenciano is linguistically a dialect of catalán. There is no debate among language experts about this.
I suspect the origin of confusion on this issue has to do with the ongoing political tension surrounding regional identity and language between the Comunidad Valenciana and Cataluña. The government of Valencia regularly posts the dialect of valenciano in its official decrees as if it were a distinct language so as to distinguish itself from its northern neighbor. But one should not be naive. This representation of Valencian is political posturing. (It is kind of like renaming french fries "freedom fries.") It reflects certain Valencians' annoyance at being
To make sense of this language
|Lingual boundaries don't always following political boundaries.|
"Castellano" (Castilian Spanish), a.k.a. "español" is the national language and, in case you had any doubt, is natively spoken by everyone in Spain. (Some Spaniards, however, as explained below, are bilingual and thus also speak other official languages). Castellano is a Romance-language, that is based on the Latin introduced by the Romans. Castellano originated in the northern part of the Castilla la Vieja region, at the foot of the Cantabrian mountains. As Castilian, centrist Spain conquered other regions of Spain (discussed in my entry on 1492 and "la Hispanidad"), rulers required the conquered to speak "castellano" or Spanish, though often locals continued to speak their own regional language.
Linguistically castellano is technically the name of a dialect of Spanish, español. Though in Spain by default everyone usually refers to Spanish as castellano, and not español. Or actually, Spaniards call Spanish "castellano" when talking about Spanish within Spain, but tend to call it "español" when talking about the language at a global level, or when referring to the language as spoken by non-Spaniard Spanish speakers. Spanish, after all, is the second most natively spoken language in the world, after Chinese (Mandarin). (It drops to third, behind English, in lists of total number of both native and secondary speakers, and to sixth place for number of only secondary language speakers. French, Russian, Portuguese, and Arabic apparently have more pull in secondary language markets.) So one can understandably be confused by this equivalence made in Spain between what is castellano and español, given that everywhere else in the world it is simply called español.
|A globally significant language.|
To add to the confusion, there are dozens of regional dialects of Spanish _within_ Spain: murciano, extremeño, andaluz, leonés, aragonés, canario… which, themselves being dialects, could be considered on par with castellano, the dialect of the Madrid and Castilla La Mancha regions. Moreover, within these dialects one can encounter dozens of very distinct accents, dialects or sub-dialects. Just within Andalucía alone there must be hundreds of different accents. A person from Sevilla speaks with a very different accent than someone from Granada, even though both are in the region of Andalucía and natively only speak Spanish, a.k.a. "castellano." All this on top of the myriad of global regional dialects for "el español."
|Four linguistically distinct languages, but hundreds of regional dialects.|
Have I lost you? Well, now I'm going to bring in the other languages.
Catalán (Catalan) is another Latin-influenced language spoken in "los países catalanes," which includes Catalunya, but also includes Valencia and the Balearic Islands. Today, politically and geographically Valencia and the Balearic Islands are not part of Catalunya even though they share the language. Much like English is named for England, but spoken by non-English people (e.g. Americans, Canadians, Australians...), Catalán, the name of the language, comes from the medieval Catalan Principality, which only loosely corresponds with modern Catalunya, and which was part of the "Crown of Aragón" kingdom that once reigned over the Valencian, Catalunya, and Balearic Island regions (many, many centuries ago), not to mention regions of Italy and France. What's more, Catalan is still spoken in parts of southern France and Sardegna in Italy.
But the Catalunya region of today is not a vestige of that Empire. The modern political community emerged at the same time as and parallel to Valencia and the Balearic Islands. So
Gallego (Galician), also a Romance family language, is the third most spoken official language and is used in Galicia. It is similar to Portuguese, reflecting Galicia's geographical proximity to Portugal, but is considered a distinct language.
|Names in Euskadi look so different that highway|
signs have to also list the castellano name:
Donostia, a.k.a. San Sebastián
There is a fifth distinct language, aranés, a variant of Occitan spoken in Val d'Aran. But it is spoken by so few people that it is not counted among the official languages.
|The Instituto Cervantes, official purveyor of|
Spanish culture and language around the world
If you have followed me so far, this is all you really need to know to understand the official languages of Spain, their relation to each other, and how they loosely graph onto geographical regions and cultural identities.
However, now I want to venture into the realm of speculation. It is my impression that, when people here use "castellano" instead of "español" to refer to the Spanish language, they do so in part because all of these languages—catalán, gallego, español especially—in Spain are (in spirit, if not linguistically) "español." I'm playing a bit on the lingual confusion created here by how "español" (the noun) is a language, but "español" (the adjective) is a description which incorporates (at minimum) a nationality and (more broadly) a shared geo-cultural identity which transcends regional languages.
Not everyone here would agree with my cultural assertion that Catalan, Valencian, Castilian are all "español." (Consider the opinions of separatists who would argue that the Basque Country or Cataluña are distinct cultures and therefore also languages from Spanish). There is a hugely important backstory to this fierce regionalism and linkage between language and political identity: under Franco's dictatorship, all regional language (esp. Catalan and Basque) were banned, and only castellano was allowed. When the dictatorship ended, the regional languages, which had continued to be spoken at home and in private, flourished once again, as did much lingual resentment towards central Spain and castellanismo.
But, again, I think the (unconscious) reasoning for why Spaniards refer to the Spanish language by its national dialect, "castellano," within Spain, while recognizing that the actual linguistic language (as disseminated globally) is "español," comes from the view that all four languages are "español." Seen in this light, Valencians sometimes make a reverse move by calling their catalán language by the local dialect, valenciano. Yet other catalán-speaking regions like Mallorca and Menorca speak catalán dialects such as mallorquí or menorquí, and don't claim them as a separate language. This says more about the identity politics and posturing of Valencia than about its linguistic distinctiveness.
Bottom line: Spain has four distinct languages, but many, many regional dialects, idioms, and cultures.
Postscript: Another blogger, Mr. Grumpy at Tumbit, posted a brave series of entries on his thoughts about the regional languages and dialects in Spain, Valenciano/Catalan, Galician, and Basque. I point you to them because 1) they provide a nice introduction to each language, but also because 2) they illustrate a common misconception among Anglophones: that bilingualism is somehow an
... and can justifiably be deployed to keep people out of a culture a much as bring them in. While I certainly at times share Mr. Grumpy's frustration with how Catalan can alienate foreigners (though, to use American legal lingo, we are in fact "aliens"), I think it is time we Anglophone expats stop