“The Valencian linguistic secessionism: the dangers and the derivations of a partisan use of linguistics”
[La linguistique dans tous ses états. Actes du Xème Colloque de Linguistique Hispanique (Perpignan, 14-6th March 2002). University of Perpignan-CRILAUP. Pp. 401-9]
By Franck Martin (University of Saint-Étienne)
(Translated from the original French version)
Based on an absolute refusal of the “Catalan features” of Valencian, on the firm resolution to break the family ties between Valencian and Catalan, on the defense of the autochthonous character of an “independent Valencian language”, the Valencian linguistic secessionism has been keen along the years to invade the field of linguistics with the hope of obtaining a certain appearance of legitimity, or even a certain hegemony if it were possible. This invasion, in an almost psychoanalytical sense (mobilization of pulsional energy), has succeeded in situ in discrediting all serious linguistic treatment of this matter and it implies a great danger, not only for the extent of the Catalan language in Valencia, but also for the understanding and use of one of the main traits of the “Valencian condition”. Three main axes let us understand this feature and also measure all the things that are at stake. The first one is aimed to pollute some linguistic notions, but at the same time highlights the weak points of the Valencian secessionist message. A second axis helps us to discover two of the main motivations of the secessionists, a latent but undoubted antivalencianism, and a hysterical anticatalanism. In the last analysis, based on some important characters of this movement, a last ensemble of reflexions allows us to bring some elements that can explain one of the main Valencian worries of this moment: the recent creation of an specifically Valencian entity, the “Valencian Academy of Language”: can it be the solution for a difficult conflict, while Barcelona and Majorca work together in a coordinated development of the Catalan language?
Together with a really negationist approach of the Valencian History (with a partisan interpretation of the Reconquest, a hagiographic interpretation of the Valencian Golden Age, a mistaken presentation of the historical denomination of the Catalan language of Valencia, a fallacious interpretation of the success of the Normes de Castelló, or even a deviation of the local historiography, in linguistic matters, the secessionists have a tendency to display at first in an exaggerated way the Valencian forms of the Catalan language:
“[...] Valencian and Catalan have so many morphological, syntactical and most of all phonetic differences, together with a rich vocabulary, which is peculiar and different from others, that they can not honestly speaking be considered by the linguists as the same language [...] Valencian and Catalan are two different languages [...] and therefore the desire of unifying Valencian and Catalan is as absurd as the desire of unifying Spanish and French” .
The Catalan language of Valencia has its own linguistic specific forms of course. They have been (and are still being) studied by many researchers. These specific forms are in any case regionalisms coming essentially from two processes that the Valencian history has originated: an Arab and a Castilian influence which has been stronger than in the rest of the Catalan territory: “Some Valencian features are the ending –e for the first singular person of the Present Simple (jo cante) in front of the typical Catalan ending –o (jo canto); [...] the preservation of the final –r, which disappears in Catalan; [...] the distinction between /v/ and /b/ in the Plana de Castelló and all the Valencian-speaking area placed on the south side of the river Xúquer [...]” .
Since a French-speaking Belgian has no appropriate reasons to state that he speaks a different language from the one of his French friends, a Valencian can not similarly claim an absence of relationship between Catalan and Valencian. It would be the beginning of a huge chaos, which nonetheless the secessionists are considering: “[...] When [the Andalusians or the Spanish-Americans] become conscious of speaking a language which is different from Spanish, no linguist will be able to deny them the right of setting standards for their language, of proclaiming its independence and of wrtiting their own grammar books and dictionaries [...]” .
To complement this first approach, many secessionists have devoted other works to two typical linguistic concepts: language and dialect. Even though it is difficoult to define each concept, this kind of objection would not be enough to establish such a partition of the Catalan language. Among the most relevant exemples we can find José Ángeles Castelló’s works. Appealing to the mutual understanding in order to dissociate language and dialect, this author multiplies the peremptory formulations and prefers the empirical observation rather than the reasoning:
“[...] There is no justification, if we speak in linguistic terms, to consider Valencian as a dialect of any other language. This concept [...] can not stand a minimal analysis [...] It is not scientific, it is dogmatic [...] If we pay attention to a Catalan television programme, we will find a considerable list of words and expressions that the Valencian listener does not know [...] if the average Valencian speaker does not understand it, it is a clear evidence that it is another language [...] people that “half-understand” each other speak different languages [...] And I do not state that, but linguistics [...]” .
Chimo Lanuza’s recent work is another exemple. He is the author of Valencià ¿Llengua o dialecte? Una aproximació des de la sociollingüistica [Valencian, Language or Dialect?, a Sociolinguistics Approach], and this work refers to prestigious linguists. If the operation tends to give some credibility to his assertions, each reference gives rise to predetermined interpretations. Therefore, after quoting the American linguist William J. Entwistle: “[...] it is usually said that a dialect has a geographical irradiation centre, [...] that it is linked to a social organization class, [and] that it has an evident dependence relationship regarding the linguistic centre” . , he obtains conclusions with the help of a procedure that is commonly used by the secessionists, the introduction of a generic formulation that allows the substitution of the reasoning by the argumentation: “You can easily see the reality of this definition: it is absolutely impossible that Valencian fits it [...] in order to declare that Valencian is a Catalan dialect, we would need a strong linguistic centre in Catalonia, with a strong influence over the dialectal areas. But this is not what happens: neither Barcelona nor any other Catalan city rules whether culturally or linguistically Valencia” .
But the most regrettable thing must be placed at other level. Chimo Lanuza Ortuño does not say that Entwistle has given this title to his work: The Spanish Language, together with Portuguese, Catalan and Basque, without quoting Valencian or even the “Valencian language”. He does not say a word about the linguistic map where the American linguist shows us Catalonia and the “valencianophone” part inside a sole ensemble called “Catalan”. He forgets, in short, this Entwistle’s forthright conclusion: “[the] Catalan language is still spoken in Roussillon [...] and it spreads over the whole of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, the Valencian coast and the city of Alghero, in Sardinia [...]” .
As he makes reference only to a part of Entwistle’s works, taking the quotations he does from these works out of their original context, and hiding one of the argumentations of the book, Chimo Lanuza Ortuño presents then Entwistle as a possible defender of secessionism, while his works are written in a totally different sense. In this respect, Valencian secessionism could not be considered as a partisan rhetoric exercise. It corresponds to a cultural revisionism, which is caused undoubtedly by an unconditional refusal of the word “dialect” (which is commonly seen with a pejorative sense), but also by two other ensembles that do not have much in common with linguistics as such.
Under the cover of a progressist valencianism, many secessionists are encouraged by a latent, but undoubted antivalencianism, by a radical opposition against the expression of certain Valencian features, and first of all against the regional language itself. The acknowledgement of an “independent” language is considered within the purpose of reducing Valencian to an anecdotal thing, of making it a marginal, a folklore thing. The linguistic habitus of the majority of the secessionists is, in this respect, significant. A lot of them write in Spanish rather than in Valencian and some of them confess, in private of course, that they do not know and that they not even want to learn the regional language that they pretend nonetheless to defend daily. Many of them put Valencian also in a second place, like for instance Eliseo Palomares, who wrote not long ago regarding the matter of the well-known “Fallas” and the local toponymy inside them:
“What we want to point out is the fact that year in, year out we can see fewer and fewer posters that explain the meaning of the falla in Spanish [...]. Today, the fallas are not only a local but also an international festival, and we must regret that owing to a badly understood patriotism we make these totally original architecture monuments incomprehensible for a lot of foreigners [...] The ones that have the craze of translating the names of villages and streets into their equivalent names in the vernacular language are also rather politically naïve and childish” .
We can quote, finally, another exemple, when in 1982, the creators of an information campaign used the famous Valencian “paella” to warn the population against cooking this dish in the open air in order to avoid the risks of fire. Ingenuously, the publicists had inserted two slogans inside the advertisement:
“Some “paellas” kill/ “Paella” is the most expensive dish of the summer” .
As they considered this text as an attack against the Valencian identity, the secessionists requested a ban, making sure they used the word “autochthonous” in their argumentation, which is classic to assert an independence of Valencian:
“It despises seriously the autochthonous cultural Valencian heritage” .
Since they base their argumentation on the protection of a cultural heritage, the secessionists have the intention then to foster an “autochthonization” of some specific distinctive features (and the regional language among them). They desire, often secretly, to relegate this tangible part of the “Valencian condition” to a low-level, aborigin and exotic culture, which can be compared with the process that Robert Lafont describes in the case of the Occitan language in 1967:
“On the French Riviera, the proliferation of Provençal village names [...], the folklore representations, go together with [...] the ruin of the autochthonous language [...] This is the worst process: the indigenization of the population [...] Disculturation and exotism are always synonyms” .
Therefore, secessionism can be seen as worse than any discrimination policy. At first, it is more acceptable than censorship, but it is still a powerful tool that Hill show down the normalisation process, if not stop it altogether.
Another ensemble of motivations is an exacerbated anticatalanism against two groups that are equally hated: The Catalans, (whether catalanists or not), and the Valencians who are in favour of linguistic unity. Rooted in the common and unlike history of the two neighbouring territories, this anticatalanism became consistent in the key moment of the expression of the new valencianism after the Spanish Civil War, the publication of Joan Fuster’s Nosaltres els Valencians in 1962. If, after twenty-five years of francoism, this study showed the inclusion of the population inside a singular ensemble, that had a disappearing language, Fuster’s liking for the “Països Catalans” [Catalan Countries] gave this anticatalanism the chance of expressing itself violenty. So, in 1962, Diego Sevilla Andrés wrote in reference to Joan Fuster’s publication:
“[...] the Valencian personality [...] deserves a somewhat more delicate treatment than the one that the new nazis [...] that speak about the Catalan Countries give her” .
Nourished by an specifically Valencian movement, “blaverism” (the name comes from the blue [blau in Catalan] strip of the official flag of the Valencian Community [the “Senyera”]), this anticatalanism expressed itself soon with a total brutality. Taking advantage of the doubts and uncertainties of the pre-autonomy period, the “blavers” began to instrumentalize Valencian, a deviation aimed at helping and aiding a far-right ideology:
“[...]anticatalanism plays a key role [...] it is the first time that [it has become] the core of a fascist sociopolitical movement [...] The singularity of the Valencian fascist discourse lies in the fact that we can find its preferential victims within an endogen subject, they are the catalanists” .
Since then, a real phobia, which mixed fear and disdain to find all unitarian expression, has grown. Whereas the Catalans were considered as invaders, the local University staff was compared to a fifth column, to a Trojan horse controlled from Barcelona in order to be sure that a new “re-Reconquest” of the territory and that the annihilation of all “Valencian condition” expression, was done. Some cultural acts were forbidden, many bookshops were sacked, and some intellectuals were threatened (with the excuse that they defended the unity).
In order to avoid it, the University scholars published several works, where they warned public opinion about the dangers of a partition:
“An idiomatic segregation would not benefit anybody and it would harm the weakest ones most of all” .
But it was done without considering the determination of the far-right in Valencia. With the help of some unscrupulous newspapers (Las Provincias among them), the Valencian far-right has been able to take advantage of this matter around the vernacular language, which every population loves, in order to bring lots of Valencians round to their cause, and also in order to make this conflict perennial. So some ideologists still build theories around the Valencian idiosyncrasy, the bases and the immanency of the “Valencian condition”; and they use the notion of “Valencian” or “Levantine raciology” in order to affirm better the existence of a “physiological” distinction between Catalans and Valencians. Some demonstrations with curious slogans (All of us against Catalonia!, All of us against Cacaluña!) are still being organized for the defence of the autochthonous character of a so-called “independent” language, or to demand the closure of the Catalan TV channel (TV3), which is considered by some miserable minds as “foreign” or “ununderstandable”. In short, together with the desecration of Joan Fuster’s tomb in 1997, according to one of the great “autochthonist” myths that says that the Valentian population has an “Arab blood” rather than a “Catalan blood”, the sentence “we prefer to be Moors rather than Catalans” can still be heard, while in the libraries, the books that show Valencian as a dialect of Catalan, or that include Ausiàs Marc inside the Catalan literature are still being vandalised.
Therefore, since it is the main reason for secessionism, the Valencian anticatalanism has kept all its virulence. If it is true of course that it can not be exaggerated, it is also true that it can not be neglected, since it shows the sense and nature of the Valencian linguistic conflict. Most of all, it demands an immediate attention, because its impact, both in the linguistic and in the identitarian field, is considerable. In the linguistic field, the Fact that the territory was granted autonomy in 1982 and the development of a series of laws have undoubtly revitalised the progress of Valencian. Even though a total linguistic normalization has not been achieved, the population has been able to reach an improvement of their linguistic aptitudes, an increasing use of Valencian in different communication contexts and, in the process, an apprehension without an excessive depreciation. Nevertheless, there are still some limits, which are directly linked to the secessionists pressure and to some battles that they have been able to win, in addition to the one of symbology.
The Autonomy Statute of 1982 is the first example. While the Balearic Statute makes express reference to Catalan (“The Catalan language, which is the vernacular language of the Balearic Islands, will have, together with Spanish, the character of official language”), the Valencian text gives only a vague and obscure definition that does not rule out the possibility of considering Valencian as an “independent” language, as it uses the word “language” (“The two official languages of the Valencian Community are Valencian and Spanish”). Moreover, while the Catalan Estatute envisages an extra-autonomic development, the Valencian text excludes all relationship with the culture and the language of other parts of the Iberian Peninsula, through an equally unprecise formulation, that blends the words “Valencian Country” [“País Valencià”] and “Kingdom of Valencia” [“Regne de València”] in its preamble:
“The Spanish Constitution being adopted, it is, inside its frame, where the Valencian tradition that derives from the historical Kingdom of Valencian meets with the modern conception of the Valencian Country, which gives rise to the Valencian autonomy as integrating the two opinion trends that place the Valencian features inside its strict geographical frame” .
We can find another exemple in the Law of Teaching and Usage of Valencian [Llei d’Ús i Ensenyament del Valencià (LUEV)] from 1983, the cornerstone of the local linguistic policy. Influenced by the secessionists, some politicians have managed to eliminate all reference to the Catalan language, and so this law uses ambiguous formulations (“historical and own language from our people”, “our more outstanding sign of identity”), or even the denomination “Valencian language”, which the University staff dislikes (“The Valencian language is an essential part of the cultural heritage of all our society”). Most of all, unlike its Catalan counterpart, which makes reference to a “linguistic community” and that envisages a total interchange in Catalan of the public documentation (“Formed in its territory and shared with other territories, with which it forms a linguistic community that has brought along the centuries a precious contribution to culture, the Catalan language.../The public authorities will have to write in Spanish the copies that will take effect outside the territories where the Catalan language is official”), the Valencian legislator has enough to state:
“[...] the copies or the certificates of the documents that will take effect outside the territory of the Valencian Community will be written in Spanish”.
Within this frame we can understand that the “(re)valencianization” of the territory has not been able to take advantage of the necessary momentum that a real normalization needs. Instead of taking advantage of the joint efficient mesures which were developed in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, in the texts and as a result in practice, the Catalan language of Valencia was a victim of a policy that we can define, not exactly as timid, but as isolationist, a real withdrawal which can be seen as contrary to any quantitative reasonable progress.
In the identitarian field, the derivations were and are still being too heavy. The first one is an extreme confusion, a major identitarian problem. While after forty years of francoism, the population could try to achieve a fairer apprehension of their differentiating features, it was plunged into a real chaos, into a huge disorder that made all approach to the “Valencian condition” difficult. In order to try to discover themselves, some Valencians have begun to study what they thought or desired that their “Valencian condition” could be, remembering the past rather than asking themselves about the future. Nonetheless, they met then, and they meet every day with some books that theorize wrongly about their identitarian references, which are often written in a “counternormalized” Catalan, a laboratory language that follows a kind of spelling rules that we can consider that are absolutely against a serious academic codification.
Another important consequence is the appearance and consolidation of an ostracism in front of all expression of “Catalan condition”. Led in the name of a valencianism sometimes designed as “pure”, the defence of an “independent Valencian language” has been based on a racist and xenophobic ideology that corrodes constantly the Catalan-Valencian relations. The secessionists have used, and they use constantly, linguistics for an aim which is contrary to the most beautiful and generous function of every language: the understanding among individuals.
Another consequence affects, in short, the placement of Valencian within the local identitarian space. Supported by the secessionists, since last years’ tensions have had the regional language in its core, it has become the key element for the recognition and affirmation of the Valencian identity. Whether spoken with fluency or not, Valencian has become the cornerstone of the “Valencian condition”, its most explicit objectivation element. Although it can favour its drive at first, this fact allows us to point out a more criticizable consequence, a tendency to considerate two degrees of “Valencian condition” and therefore, two degrees of Valencians: the ones really Valencians, as they are “valencianophones”, and the second-class Valencians, as they are “non-valencianophones”. This is a singular feature of local history: whereas Spanish has the first place as to usage, the language that determines the identity is the least spread. But this is a consequence of the conflict: if Valencian has become the most important element in order to define the “Valencian condition”, can it be the most important element of a real “Valencian condition” (a “plus-Valencian” condition)? Since each group of the population has exactly the same right to claim that they are the owners of the different Valencian features, according to the sociolinguistic configuration of the territory after the Reconquest, if we consider Valencian as a so important diacritical element, does it not imply the risk of dividing the population, of creating new discriminations?
Approved in 1998, the “Linguistic Agreement” and the “Constitution Law of the Valencian Academy of Language” has opened a possible solution for the conflict, taking as a point of departure the increaing admission of the Valencian specific forms without systematazing its “Catalan condition”. The “Linguistic Agreement” itself shows us a certain awareness about the fatal effects of the “Valencian-Valencian” quarrels. Nonetheless, the present situation remains worrying. If the Valencians have managed to nominate finally their first academicians, more than three years have been necessary, while no significative rehabilitation of the Catalan language of Valencia has been undertaken during these years. And if it were not enough, the secessionists have spread unceasingly their counternormativized works, taking profit at the same time of the development of new technologies. Most of all, the institutionalization of a strictly Valencian academy, while Barcelona and Majorca work together within the scope of the Catalan Studies Institute [Institut d’Estudis Catalans (IEC)], leaves many questions without an easy answer: such an enterprise, does it not imply the risk of giving a certain legitimity to secessionism?, of continuing the isolationist Valencian policy?, of exhausting the Catalan language in Valencia in the long term? Owing to the absence of all reference to the unity of the Catalan language inside the “Agreement”, even though it was called AVL (Valencian Academy of Language [Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua]) instead of ALV (Academy of the Valencian Language [Acadèmia de la Llengua Valenciana]), does this new institution not imply the risk of a slow but irreversible partition of the Catalan language? Because if the AVL’s achievements do not lead to this reality, if they do not make little by little a peculiar Valencian codification official, what sense would this institution have?
Anyway, beyond the unanimity of linguists, Valencian has become a political matter that carries two opposite identitarian conceptions: whether the construction of a Valencian autochthonous identity, which is in this case likely to prolong the diglossy; or a pancatalanist emancipation that can help the linguistic normalization. The defence of the “Catalan condition” of Valencian is a way to direct the Valencian Community towards Catalonia in the linguistic field, but also in the cultural, economic and even political field. It is a way to insert Valencia inside a more space, the one of the “Catalan Countries”. On the contrary, the defence of the independence of the “Valencian language” corresponds to an affirmation of a singular identity, to an objection to all possible agreement with Catalonia. Which one of the two positions will win? If some fears regarding the possible existence of these “Catalan Countries” could be justified, if it is true that some discourses that come from Catalonia show a certain Catalan greed that grasps quickly the frontiers of the two neighbouring autonomies, with a reasonable policy, could Valencia not have the possibility of entering and affirming itself within a “catalanophone” area without a dissipation of its differential features? If it is obvious that the Valencian Community, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands share the same language, which is in every region full of lots of particularisms, would it be illusory to considerate that these “Catalan Countries” could not exist within the respect of an specifically Valencian and Balearic identity? Beyond the intrinsic action of the AVL, in the months to come, the future of Valencian depends more than ever on the answer to these questions.
2002 © Franck Martin. It is forbidden any use, copy or distribution of this material. The author has expressly authorized this reproduction.
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