Minority Languages

Catalonia is trying to pass some half-assed measure to prevent people from switching from catalán to Spanish when speaking to immigrants. The campaign has some pouty slogan that makes me wish for catalán to die out as fast as possible.

What always bugs me about the efforts to goad immigrants into minority languages is that all the measures are punitive and seem aimed at making immigrants hate the language and its speakers. Nobody ever tries to make their culture more attractive or their community more welcoming so that immigrants would be eager to speak their language.

In Quebec, for instance, there’s a constant fight to get non-Muslim immigrants* to speak French. But the French-speaking community is so closed, so utterly impenetrable, and so actively hostile towards anybody not of the community that, of course, immigrants adopt English instead. English-speakers aren’t going to snub you and tell you that you aren’t supposed to have opinions even after 20 years living in the country (true story).

In Ukraine, too, the efforts to make the culture more attractive and more known are currently at an ebb. Ukrainians are notoriously bad at making their achievements known to the world.

In my small and unpopular parish**, there is always somebody standing at the door to welcome newcomers and to make them feel comfortable and wanted. As a result, we had 6 converts last year and two more this year. But if instead of welcoming people, we entered into pacts to be as demanding as possible with newcomers (like the Catalonians are trying to do), people wouldn’t stay.

Make your culture attractive, and people will want to join. The only way to learn to speak a language is through love. And you can’t mandate love. Quit ordering people to like you and show them why they could. And if you are a small, unpopular, largely unknown culture, do what my priest says and “always be humbly grateful for any interest.”

* Muslim immigrants already do. That’s why they have much easier entrance to Quebec.

** Orthodoxy is hard. The most popular church in the area is a clappy-happy Baptist affair with rock music, loud yelling, and zero expectations. And we are about to start a 40-day-long Great Lent.

8 thoughts on “Minority Languages”

  1. Many years ago while visiting Barcelona, I tried out my rusty Spanish when buying tickets at the train station and was pointedly answered in catalan Apparently I would have been better off just using English.

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  2. “the French-speaking community is so closed, so utterly impenetrable, and so actively hostile towards anybody not of the community”

    They can’t speak it with each other? Very odd…..

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  3. The chauvinistic attitude here around French is why I have come to be nauseated by the language. It is most unfortunate but I now dislike it and consider it a language of assholes. It is really unfortunate to have acquired this load of resentment and this mental block, but it has to do with how the French-renaissance clique treats everyone else, including other French speakers, other Creoles and other Cajuns. As I say, they turn my stomach although I was very interested and fascinated for many years, and the reason I dislike them so now is that they have tried their very best to cause it.

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      1. I dislike it because French was my first fully acquired foreign language — I started Spanish sooner, but I got good, academically good, at French first and I spent significant time in France and around general Frenchness, so it’s part of me. That they’ve somehow taken, or made me hate, or alienated me from, because they are so mean that I don’t want to be associated with them at all

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        1. Gosh, it’s really exactly like my experience. I started learning French when I was 12. And I had a really cool teacher from France, I was very good. Loved the language. And I feel exactly like you describe. That it was taken away from me and just shat on.

          With Spanish, it was the exact opposite. Everybody was so kind and welcoming and patient. So I learned even though I only started at 23.

          My sister had an identical experience. She speaks fluent French but she avoids it as much as she can because speakers make her feel like a despised immigrant. She emigrated at 16, and it was 21 years ago. How many times can you hear, “you are an immigrant, so what do you know?” So she’s much more comfortable with her Spanish.

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      2. AND they are always complaining about how mean the British were to them in the 18th century. And the Americans in the early 20th. AND they’ve even claimed they are the only people ever discriminated against because of their language. It’s the exceptionalism, I guess, that irritates me — it is SO American. (It’s also what I dislike about Brazil.)

        AND I have just had an idea. All of the current identity speak / identity politics is exceptionalist tinged. Hm, I will have to work on this idea.

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