Catalan is a regional language spoken in the autonomous community of Catalonia in present-day Spain. It is spoken by over 5.8 million people in Catalonia. However, more than 60% of Catalan speakers are bilinguals with Castillan Spanish as their first language and Catalan being their second language. This is a result of a recent trend that threatens to diminish the Catalan speaking community and their linguistic rights. Policies seeking to undermine Catalan rights have been adopted in spite of Catalan being a constitutionally protected language. The post aims to highlight the journey of Catalan becoming a constitutionally protected language along with its normalisation and promotion and focus on the recent policies (especially education policies) undertaken to undermine and diminish the influence of Catalan in Spain. These developments have been analysed through the frameworks of renowned academicians such as Stephen May and Kristina Boreus.


In 1939, Francisco Franco’s nationalist forces overthrew the Second Spanish Republic in the Spanish Civil War and vehemently promoted a unitary national identity which consequently led to the diverse cultures and languages of Spain being repressed and undermined. Catalan was one such language. He attempted to establish the dominance of Central Spanish ideals upon the unique and diverse communities of Spain.[1] Franco introduced an extremely detrimental policy that established Castillan Spanish as the only official language of state and public education. Importantly, this policy heavily reduced the competency of speakers of Catalan and encouraged the usage of Castillan Spanish in Catalonia.

In 1978, the Spanish Constitution was passed after Franco’s death. As per the model of federalism that was envisaged by the Constitution, each autonomous community had the constitutionally protected right to protect and preserve their own regional language and culture. This was instrumental as it conferred the discretion to determine the language rights upon the regional community.


As previously mentioned, the 1978 Constitution provided for the much-needed discretion for the protection and promotion of Catalan. In furtherance of the same, the Catalonian parliament formulated the Language Normalisation Policy of 1983 which aimed to normalise and promote the use of Catalan in every situation.

The 1995 Catalan Language Social Council Plan detailed 100 steps to normalize the usage of Catalan in all spheres of life including media, commerce, medicine etc.[2] While this policy enjoyed great success in the education sphere, the Spanish justice system still continued to operate in Castillan Spanish and only 8.4% of court rulings in Catalonia are made in Catalan with the remaining being made in Castillan Spanish.[3]

The Nationalist People’s Party that came to power in Spain in 2011 believed that granting linguistic and cultural autonomy to regions such as Catalonia was a threat to the national cohesion. Subsequently, the Organic Law for the Improvement of Educational Quality (LOMCE) aimed to restructure the entirety of the linguistic model adopted by the various autonomous communities in Spain. The policy mandates the use of Castillan Spanish and deprives a Catalan child of their right to receive education in their own regional language. Whilst the initial state intervention in 1978 did undertake a promotional approach in recognising the language rights of autonomous communities, the policies of the current government are reversing all the progress made.


In furtherance of the argument in support of the linguistic rights of the Catalan populace, analysis of current educational policy that seeks to undermine the importance of Catalan is done from the viewpoint of Kristina Boreus and Stephen May.

Discursive Discrimination Against Catalan Speakers

Kristina Boreus defines discrimination to mean the unfavourable treatment of members of a group on account of their membership of that group and discursive discrimination to be a situation wherein the unequal treatment of groups of people takes linguistic expressions. She has also developed a framework which consisted of 4 categories of discursive discrimination – 1) Exclusion 2) Negative-other presentation 3) Discriminatory objectification and 4) Arguing for unfavourable treatment of group members.

The first type of discursive discrimination is through ‘exclusion’ where a group of people are deliberately deprived of access to certain goods or services which showcases their unequal treatment. The LOMCE required schools in Catalonia to conduct instruction in Castilian Spanish rather than Catalan which was the regional language and was protected under the Constitution. Such outright deprivation of the right of Catalonian citizens to access education in the regional language and the blatant preference being given to Castilian as the medium of education, highlights the discursive discrimination being faced through exclusion.

Secondly, negative-other presentation occurs when a particular group identifies another group to be inferior by attributing certain negative descriptions to them. The primary justification given by the Spanish government for its Anti-Catalan stance is that Catalan speakers disrupt national cohesion. They believe that Catalonia and especially Catalan is a breeding ground for secessionist activities that will detrimentally impact the rest of the nation. By accusing Catalan speakers of disrupting national cohesion and instigators of secessionist ideas, the majority Spanish Government attributes these negative characteristics to this group of people. Thirdly, the speakers of Catalan are also objectified as agents of secessionist and anti-national activities and are discriminated against on this very basis. Thus, when the Spanish Government discards the personal interests of Catalan citizens and enacts such stringent policies they are opting for discriminatory objectification.

Lastly, discursive discrimination occurs when one group of people explicitly argue for the unfavourable treatment of another group. The Central Spanish Government is imposing Castilian Spanish upon Catalan citizens and depriving them of the opportunity to learn in their own regional language that was supposedly protected by the Spanish Constitution. The recent policy measures by the Central Government undermines the very status of Catalan and treats it like a language that can be slowly excluded from the region. Thus, this falls under the ambit of Kristina’s framework of discursive discrimination.

Stephen May’s Framework Regarding Minority Language Rights

Prof. Stephen May highlights the most common academic arguments presented to counter the demands of minority language rights and subsequently critique the same. The three primary intellectual criticisms are—the problem of historical inevitability, the problem of essentialism and the problem of mobility and use.

Firstly, the problem of historical inevitability refers to the argument that attempting to maintain minority languages in the modern world is principally futile. The presumption behind this argument is the assertion of benefits and inevitability of language modernisation that is inextricably linked with majority languages such as English. In the Catalan context, language modernisation and standardisation were the basis of Franco’s policies against Catalan speakers. Importantly, adopting a presentist approach while viewing minority languages ignores the socio-political context in which the majority languages assumed dominance. Furthermore, there is a presumption of a natural and evolutionary rise of majority languages in any nation. However, this significantly overlooks and undermines the dislocation and anguish faced by minority language speakers whose languages were driven into the ground for the majority language to rise. Here, Franco’s idea of a monolingual Spain came at the cost of eliminating other diverse languages and cultures. Moreover, the weakest argument put forth against minority language rights is that of linguistic fait accompli which seeks to argue that while current majority languages enjoy dominance due to brutal and draconian practices of the past, there is nothing that can be done anymore. The 1978 Spanish Constitution is a clear example to the contrary. It sought to normalise and protected various autonomous communities that were devastated by the Franco regime and successfully rebuilt the diverse and multicultural nation of Spain.

Secondly, the problem of essentialism is that minority language rights essentially fix those language groups at a particular point in history that is long gone by eternally. The presumption is that language does not define us and may not even be a constructive feature in our identity. However, historically rich languages such as Catalan are inextricably linked with the identity of its speakers and play a decisive role in defining their identity in society. It is not merely a surface feature of ethnic identity but rather an essential ingredient of the same.

Thirdly, the problem of (im)mobility refers to the criticism that minority language rights actively limit the individual mobility   of its speakers who might be better off by shifting to a majority language. However, this argument can be countered through language normalisation policies seen across the world. An example of the same is the Language Normalisation Policy of 1983 adopted by the Catalonian Parliament which sought to normalise the use of Catalan, in every sphere of life and established a wider and more commercial use of the same. This proved to be a success with over 90% of the under-25s in Catalonia now fluent in Catalan.


The language normalization and promotion policies post 1978 is a perfect counter to the various arguments put forth by intellectuals to oppose linguistic minority rights. However, while the grant of autonomity was successful, the recent policies imposed by the nationalist Spanish Government indicate a reversal in approach and pose a grave danger to the future of Catalan. A thorough analysis through the linguistic frameworks of Kristina Boreus and Stephen May also highlights the same. Despite constitutional protection and its significance with respect to the language rights of its speakers, the current practices threaten to undermine Catalan.

[1] Earl Rees, Spain’s Linguistic Normalization Laws and the Catalan Controversy, 79 Hispania Journal, 313-21 (1996).

[2] The Catalan Language Social Council Plan, 1995.[3] Eduardo Faingold, Language Rights in Catalonia and the Constitutional Right to Secede, 40 Language Problems and Language Planning, 146-162 (2016).

This article is authored by Abinand Lagisetti, a second-year law student at the NALSAR University of Law.

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