Minority Rights Group International (MRG) Deputy Director, Claire Thomas, writes this opinion piece for the Thomson Reuters News Foundation.+ LEARN MORE
Just over half (51 per cent) of the Valencian population can speak Valencian, according to 2011 census data . Valencian is a variant of Catalan which has been described as a distinct dialect, but there is disagreement within Valencia about its status. The regional government and supporters of the regionalist political party Unión Valenciana consider it a separate language, whereas the cultural association Acció Cultural del País Valencià and trade union Sindicat de Treballadors i Treballadores de l’Ensenyament-Intersindical Valenciana have fought for its inclusion within Catalan. The majority of Valencian-speakers work in services, especially the tourist industry.
King John I of Aragon and Catalonia drove the Moors from Valencia in the thirteenth century and the Catalan language was introduced to the region. There is controversy over how prevalent Catalan was at this time and whether the Valencian version derived principally from Mozarabic (Romance languages written in Arabic script and spoken during the centuries of Moorish rule), or like Catalan itself, from an old version of Occitan. The Valencian culture and language experienced a golden age in the fourteenth century but declined from the fifteenth century as Castilian was adopted by the aristocracy and bureaucracy. Valencian literature was revived in the nineteenth century.
The Second Republic’s proposed autonomy for Valencia in 1931 went unrealized, but autonomy was achieved in 1978. Under Valencia’s 1982 Statute of Autonomy, Valencian and Castilian are the official languages of the Valencia Autonomous Community. This was followed by the 1983 Law for the use and teaching of the Valencian language, which included provision for its standardization. This has been carried out by the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua. Despite this work and a new government directorate from 1989 to promote the use of Valencian, in 1991 the government invited educational establishments to draw up their own language standardization plans. Teachers keenly took up the proposal.
Reversals for Valencian as a distinct language from Catalan started when the Acció Cultural del País Valencià and Sindicat de Treballadors i Treballadores de l’Ensenyament-Intersindical Valenciana took the Valencian government to court over its 1995 instruction that Catalan language teaching qualifications issued in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands should no longer be recognized in Valencia. This culminated in a ruling by the Spanish Supreme Court in May 2006 that Valencian was part of the Catalan language. The Supreme Court took into account dictionaries and studies in Catalan philology. An earlier decision by the European Parliament found that the Catalan and Valencian translations of the European Constitution were essentially the same. Spain was obliged to translate the Constitution into all Spanish official languages and deliver copies to EU institutions before holding its referendum on the EU Constitution in 2004.
The dispute over whether Valencian is a distinct language or a variant of Catalan has hindered its revival. There is growing interest from young people and families outside the region’s main cities use Valencian at home, yet there is little use of Valencian in business. The regional government has been criticized for scarcely using the language despite its programmes for promotion of Valencian. However, regional laws are published in Valencian and Castilian, while national laws are published only in Castilian. Municipalities and other lower levels of public administration use Valencian to a lesser or greater extent. It is hardly used in judicial proceedings, although speakers have the right to demand documents in the language and interpreters.
Valencian is a compulsory subject at all educational levels and it is the main teaching language in some schools. Valencian has increased as a language of instruction and as a subject in pre-school, primary, and secondary levels, especially away from the main urban areas where Castilian predominates. The provision of Valencian in higher education is limited.
There is a weekly newspaper, El Temps, and a monthly magazine, Saó, published in Valencian. Book publishing, especially of poetry and short story collections, is on the increase. In 1988 the regional government set up Canal 9 Ràdio, which broadcasts entirely in Valencian, and in 1989 the government set up Canal 9 TVV, which broadcasts around 60 per cent of it programmes in Valencian.