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On the situation in French Catalonia


The French Government has long had a policy of condemning languages other than French to what might be called a jurisprudential void. (This once proved a boon to Henry Miller, who got away with publishing his US-banned 'Tropic of Cancer' in Paris because, being in English, it was non-existent according to French obscenity laws).
Oddly enough, this policy applies not only to foreign languages, but also to those spoken by many bona fide French citizens for generations, Catalan being a prime example. Last week I made a trip from Barcelona to Perpinyà (Perpignan, in French) and got a chance to see what happens when an entire culture is placed in legal limbo.
It was like stepping into an alternative universe. Here was the French equivalent of what Franco tried to achieve south of the border: a Catalonia reduced to the status of a de-culturised backwater. The only indication that a century ago almost the entire population was Catalan-speaking, were a few ratty-looking bilingual street signs in the Old Town. Catalan history, too, had been swept under the carpet, schoolchildren still being fed the myth of the Eternal Hexagon, without a mention being made of the fact that their home territory was annexed by Paris as late as 1659 and resisted its French occupiers for nearly 150 years.
Now, though, things are changing. Friends in Perpinyà belonging to the one-third minority who still speak Catalan, assured me that their native tongue has recently become so prestigious that over 60% of the local population want their children to learn it. They are unlikely to do so, however, given that state schools in the area provide one hour of Catalan per week for a mere 15% of their students. Of course, older students can always learn the language in the nearby university of Girona. But to do so they have to apply, via Paris, for an Erasmus grant from Brussels. And there was I, thinking that the UE was all about letting state borders crumble into dust.

- Textos i contingut: Matthew Tree - Disseny i programació: Nac -