The Languages of Spain: More Than Spanish
Posted by Dreamer
A look at the variety of languages in Spain (including Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian), the status of official languages in Spain, and how to say some simple phrases in these languages.
You know that they speak Spanish here in Spain. You may also know that they speak Basque, Catalan, and Galician as well. But did you know that they speak Aranese and Asturian in Spain too? Spain is a veritable tapestry of languages – a reality that deserves a closer look.
Spanish is the official language of Spain, as stated in Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution. (This has often been a source of comment for the text’s use of the word castellano and not español.) However, Spain effectively operates under a federal system. The central government and the Spanish Constitution manage the country while Spain’s autonomous communities and their Statutes of Autonomy maintain varying degrees of self-government. If the autonomous communities decide that a particular language in their territory is a language to be used and protected, then Spain as a whole must stand by that decision. But as you can see in the Other Languages section, the autonomous communities haven’t always recognized all the languages used within their territories.
Spain’s non-Spanish languages enjoyed different degrees of development and use throughout their histories, but in the 19th century they witnessed a sort of Renaissance, and official recognition for some of them under the Second Republic in the 1930s. This, however, was reversed with the rise of Francisco Franco and his discouragement and suppression of all languages other than Spanish. Now in democracy, Spain’s non-Spanish languages are enjoying another Renaissance, especially under the state sponsorship of co-official languages.
Today, Spain’s main co-official languages are Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian and all Spanish citizens have the right to use these languages. Accordingly, public education is offered in Spain’s co-official languages in their respective autonomous communities – sometimes preferentially and sometimes not.
The Basque language is called Vasco, Vascuence, or Euskera in Spanish and Euskara or Euskera in Basque, but the origins of the language are not known with certainty. Today, Basque is a co-official language in the Basque Country and part of Navarra where approximately 26% of the population in these areas speak Basque, although figures vary by area. According to the Basque government, 48% of people in Guipúzcoa are Spanish-Basque bilingual, while 10.3% of people are Spanish-Basque bilingual in Navarra. However, only 14% of conversations that take place in Basque-speaking areas are estimated to take place in Basque.
To the untrained eye, Basque looks like a mouthful of consonants, but Basque is really one of the most ancient languages in Europe. Consider the fact that the Romans referred to the Basques and their language as ancient! However, modern standard Basque – called Euskara Batua – dates from the Royal Academy of the Basque Language’s efforts in the 1960s and 1970s. This body – called Euskaltzaindia in Basque – is responsible for research and regulating the use of the Basque language from its headquarters in Bilbao. Another important body in the Basque world is the Instituto Vasco Etxepare. Headquartered in San Sebastián, it is charged with promoting Basque language and culture in the world.
The Catalan language is called Catalán in Spanish and Català in Catalan, and evolved from Latin between the 8th and 10th centuries. Today, there are over five million Catalan speakers in Catalunya and the Balearic Islands, where Catalan is a co-official language. The Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC) – headquartered in Barcelona – is responsible for regulating and researching the Catalan language in Catalunya and the Balearic Islands. The Institut Ramon Llull (IRC) – also headquartered in Barcelona – promotes Catalan language and culture in the world. They also award certificates to foreigners who demonstrate minimum levels of Catalan-language proficiency according to the ALTE scale.
Catalan is the native language of over 40% of Catalunya’s population and the day-to-day language of over 50%. This has been facilitated in recent years by the persistent efforts of the Generalitat (Catalunya’s government) to promote the Catalan language, including initiatives such as Voluntary Workers for Language (Voluntariat per la llengua), and the growth of Catalan media.