Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What a Load of Bull!

The Encyclopedia Britannica has made a major boob by featuring a photo of “Juli”, a bullfighter from Madrid, on its Galician webpage. Although the photo was taken in the bullring in Pontevedra, it is very misleading to present this as a typical image of Galicia. Only a handful of bullfights take place in Galicia each year. It is one of the parts of Spain where the activity is least popular.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Galician and the G-20

I read with interest a short piece in the Xornal de Galicia today, entitled G-20 lingüístico. The writer, Fernando Ojea points out that it was odd that the leader of the world’s most spoken first language, Hu Jintao of China, could not speak with any other world leader at the recent G-20 in his own language. That's assuming the others don’t know Mandarin, of course.

Meanwhile, Zapatero (Spain) could talk freely with Calderón (Mexico) and Fernández (Argentina). At least four leaders at the summit, Obama (US), Brown (UK), Harper (Canada) and Rudd (Australia) could have a cosy chat. I’d also assume that the leaders of India and South Africa, where English is official, would have no problem joining in. Neither would too many others I guess – Zapatero excepted.

Lula of Brazil could talk shop directly with Barroso (the Portuguese PM and president of the European Commission). Ojea points out that this means a Galician speaker could have direct communication with five of these leaders, while a monolingual Spanish speaker would be limited to three. Ojea emphasises that “Galician is not the same as Portuguese” (this can be debated till the cows come home), but it allows for easy communication in its sister language. It is worth noting here, that representatives in the European Parliament can use Galician as it is accepted there orally as a form of Portuguese.

This brings me to a recent blog manifesto called O galego é útil (Galician is useful). It claims to be a-political and aims to promote the idea that knowledge of Galician makes it easier to learn other languages, as well as allowing for relatively easy communication with approximately 200 million native Portuguese speakers around the world.

Finally Ojea goes on to suggest that Portuguese should be the second foreign language taught in Galician schools and that if Galicians can master English, then they have the world at their feet. Indeed, it is very satisfying (if a little hypothetical) to think with my own knowledge of English, Spanish, Galician and Portuguese, that I could communicate with around half of the leaders at the G-20 in their native language.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Galician in Serious Decline?

A study carried out by the Real Academia Galega (an instititution dedicated to the study of Galician language and culture) and funded by the Xunta (Galician govt.), claims that Galician has gone from being the main language used by around 60% of the Galician population to only 20% in just twelve years.

Although the results of the study have just been released, it covers the period between 1992 and 2004. It is claimed that the study is the most extensive sociolinguistic analysis carried out in a Romance language in terms of the number of people interviewed.

According to Carlos Callón, the president of the Mesa pola Normalización Lingüística(Linguistic Standardisation Board): "Galician has never been in a worse situation than it is today."

The study also finds that in this twelve year period, the number of people who never speak Galician has risen from 13% to just over a quarter of the population. Meanwhile those who use Galician as their first language has dropped from 30.5% to 16%.

The study found that those who define themselves as bilingual tend to use more Spanish. According to Callón, this shows that “there isn’t bilingualism” but “an unequal diglossic situation”. It was also found that 85% of subjects were taught in Spanish and that 11% of under-18’s who had always lived in Galicia claimed they were only given classes in Spanish.

The study confirmed what is already known - that Galician continues to be more associated with rural areas. Ferrol was the most Spanish-speaking city (85% of the population) with Vigo and A Coruña not far behind (both 81.9%). Santiago and Lugo were the most Galician-speaking cities with (41.9%) and (40.5%) respectively, opting for Galician.

The findings of the study have been questioned for reasons, such as a disproportionate number of city dwellers being interviewed and the fact that people over 54 years of age were not included in the survey this time.

Compiled from articles in the Xornal de Galicia and El País in March 2009