Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Stones from a glasshouse

Lots of media coverage recently (here and here, for example) of the fact that Spain's co-official languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, Valencian) can now be spoken in plenary sessions of the Spanish Senate.

Plenty too of the kind of criticism one would expect: the senators all speak Spanish anyway so why pay for a tower of babel when they can communicate just fine without it. In short, it is a purely symbolic measure with no practical benefit.

The cost involved is fairly minuscule in the greater scheme of things. The Senate's annual interpretation budget is reported to be €350,000. Not the sort of sum that normally warrants international or even national coverage in these days of multi-billion euro bailouts.

Of course from another perspective it is a sizeable sum. And public money, lets not forget. But in the context in which it is being criticized as wasteful - spiralling unemployment, budget austerity etc. - it is clearly too small to make any impression.

So to deny senators the right to use the co-official languages would also be a purely symbolic measure with no practical benefit.

Interestingly, the Spanish nationalists who disparage the use of the co-official languages are not always such pragmatists. In the very same edition of El País where people are complaining about the cost of interpretation at the senate, there is an article by two academics criticizing Europe's various failings, including this one:
Otrosí, el número de solicitudes de patentes de origen chino supera ya al de todos los países europeos juntos y, entretanto, aquí nos pasamos el rato discutiendo si la Oficina Europea de Patentes debe imponer la traducción de las solicitudes a una docena de lenguas, o solo a cinco, o solo a tres, mientras nuestra diplomacia se encocora y desmelena porque se va a excluir el español, una lengua que, no se olvide, es responsable de apenas el 1% de las solicitudes europeas de patentes
So Spain has for many years been holding up agreement on a European patent - identified by the European Commission as a key element of Europe's competitiveness strategy - just because Spanish is not to be one of the official languages.

As one patent attorney puts it:
It is a pain to watch the Government of a country like Spain ruining progress on EU level by insisting on nurturing some sort of national pride
Catalan, Basque and Galician have had right of audience in the EU's Committee of the Regions for some years now. I understand it is Spain itself rather than the EU that foots the bill for this since they are not official EU working languages. But it probably doesn't cost very much anyway since there are a number of interpreter colleagues with passive CA, GL and EU (and interpreters cost the same whether they work out of ten languages or two).

Furthermore, under the administrative agreement concluded between the Council and the Kingdom of Spain, Spanish citizens may use in their written communications with the Council languages other than Castilian which have official status in Spain, namely Catalan/Valencian, Basque and Galician. This preservation of minority languages is very important and should be worth that much to the authorities to “invest” into interpreting services or translators that may allow senators to express themselves in their mother tongue, thus feeling less constraint then if they would have to speak in Spanish.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?