Air Berlin against the use of Catalan when flying to and from Catalan-speaking regions – Where is the European Union language policy based on “multilingualism” when one really needs it?

I don’t like to write about ‘domestic’ problems, so to speak, and I don’t usually do it because I cannot be neutral, but I think this one has transnational implications that go beyond Spain’s language policy – or, better, the language policy of Spain’s Autonomous (i.e. ‘slightly less than federal’) Communities – to reach the very language policy of the European Union, because this is what we are getting by the current “be official or die” policy of the Union.

As I’ve written before, the language policy of the European Union, of which language commissioners are always so proud, talking about “multilingualism as an important asset of Europe“, is just a fraud, a disguise of the actual untenable situation that just help create language predators in the Union, politicians looking for more and more European public support for their languages and, consequently, less for the others. How can a language like German (100 million speakers) be officially equal to Maltese (300.000 speakers) before the Union, while languages like Catalan (11 million speakers) or Basque (4 million speakers) aren’t? How can we European citizens pay millions of euros from our budget for translations from and into only some languages (see El Mundo report or its English translation), while others are left undefended by the institutions? How can we tolerate that English be the unofficious actual language of Brussels, or that any country holding the presidency decides to translate documents into English, or English+French, or English+French+Latin according to their will or frame of mind, while the institutions continue to sell this false idea of ‘multilingualism’, for whose supposed implementation our taxes are yearly wasted?

Air Berlin imageThese are the latest news from regional and national language predators looking for their weekly pray: anti-Catalan and pro-Catalan politicians, against or in favour of the opinion of a “small” private airline (expressed by their director), looking to win one individual linguistic battle here, no matter if it affects the whole European language policy system – in fact, no matter if it’s the very consequence of the EU’s language policy system… I have my view on this, indeed, and it refers (as always) to the need of a common, only one official language legally obligatory for all the Union, and then national or regional support for other languages, but I’ll let you judge from the news. I’ll just add that Catalan-speaking communities are already calling for a Boicott on Air Berlin for the company’s attitude towards the regional language of the Balearic Islands, and that the words of the (intended to be) funny cartoon to the right, “saupreussischer Katalanen” is being translated, instead of “damn-Prussian“, a common Bavarian expression, followed by “Catalans”, as “fucking swine Prussian Catalans” in Catalan-speaking journals, to exasperate still more Catalan language defenders…

Edit: I didn’t see there are other comments of the Catalan blogger community, as the early comment of one of Menéame’s creators Ricardo Galli (in Catalan) on this subject, which criticizes the “literal interpretation” – I would say directly willing misinterpretation – some Catalan-speaking journals gave to the cartoon, which he compares to the overreaction of some Muslim media to Muhammad’s cartoons. His comment in English.

This is an automatic translation of one of the first articles on the subject:

“Today Spanish is no longer an official language”, says blunt Joachim Hunold, managing director of Air Berlin in the journal’s editorial Air Berlin Magazine, available to all users of the company during flights. “There are towns in Majorca where children no longer speak Spanish. In schools, Spanish is a foreign language,” he added. With this letter to passengers, Air Berlin, one of the major airlines operating in the Balearics, denounced the situation, according to the airline, suffers Spanish in front of Catalan.

The cartoon with which the editorial accompanies the article has caused more trouble, and it translates “If they come to Bavaria, these damn-Prussian Catalans, they’ll have to speak Bavarian. Damn it!

It all began when the director general of Linguistic Policy, Margalida Tous, sent Air Berlin and other airlines to destinations in the Balearic Islands, a letter urging them to also use Catalan in their communications with their customers. “I am contacting you to express the interest that the Balearic Islands Government has to ensure proper use of the official languages of the archipelago in the communications company that provides its citizens with Air Berlin who choose to make their journeys,” the letter begins.

“Do we have to give courses in Catalan by law to my employees? And those who fly to Galicia or the Basque Country, who want to turn us into Galician or Basque? is Spanish no longer spoken in Spain?”, Hunold wondered . “The partition of Spain in regional nationalism is actually a return to the medieval mini states. So far I thought we lived in a Europe without borders“, he finishes. The editorial was accompanied with a cartoon which reads in a Bavarian German: “If they come to Bavaria, these damn-Prussian Catalans, they’ll have to speak Bavarian. Damn it!” .

The Balearic Government does not explain the Air Berlin public reply to his request for the company incorporates the use of Catalan. “We regret that a letter made in a constructive spirit has taken this misinterpretation”, say from the general direction of Linguistic Policy. “The president Francesc Antich is concerned about this issue and surprised because there are correct relations with the company. I think that the collaborative spirit of the letter has not played well and he will talk directly with Joachim Hunold to restore the situation”, added.

In fact, the letter urges Air Berlin to “ensure that customer service offered, as personally written documentation, web, instructions to passengers on board, etc., are made in Catalan, just as being made in other languages“. In addition, it offers “the possibility of establishing lines of collaboration to incorporate Catalan in response to the company’s customers”.

Air Berlin insists on the fact that “the director has exercised his freedom of expression”, says Alvaro Middelmann, CEO of Air Berlin in Spain and Portugal. He argues that the conflict between Spanish and Catalan “is a reality” and puts an example that does not want to “implement the third time Spanish in Catalonia”. And states that “Spanish is being discriminated against in certain parts of Spain”. “Air Berlin is a European company, to make it clear, and we must ensure the common language of all Spaniards”. That is why we believe that the introduction of Catalan “would be a wrong comparison with other regions and is inasumible”.

The Department of Linguistic Policy states that at no time “the letter spoke of punishing or compelling, but it offers the collaboration of government to improve service to the company but he recalls that Catalan is the official on the islands and has Baleares many customers. ” The same sources explained that so far no other airline has been in contact with the Balearic government to complain about their linguistic recommendations.

These news came from La Vanguardia, and I read it in Spanish Digg-like site Meneame – you can read people’s comments to the first and second most voted news on the subject.

Indo-European language revival in 2007 – Summary of our European Union’s language project

After another year of Indo-European language revival we owe a little summary of what (I think) has happened during the last 12 months, and how our expectations have developed.

The last year of 2007 has been great in terms of:

Collaboration : thanks to the dozens of contributions we have now an almost stable phonological and morphological Indo-European Grammar, and, while the syntax still remains a muddy field, we are possibly as near as we can be to the original Proto-Indo-European language. Due to some demands in the past, we offered a printed version of the grammar, which won’t give us almost any benefits, but will allow us to send copies to different European and international libraries.

Work : Not only external people, but also we (i.e. the original 4 + 2) have been working enough to obtain some sufficiently revised Indo-European and Proto-Indo-European resources, including our websites and our new projects. To get to work with the Indo-European language revival is tough for something that looks more like a hobby than a real university project; it’s funny that what we pretended once to be some kind of I+D University Foundation-Company has become just another European cultural association.

News : THIS was something completely unexpected. After our 2006 news ‘boom’, so to speak, with tens of Spanish newspapers talking about the new European language after the university prize in innovation, we didn’t expect another year of public expectation. But, it happened again. All because of a Spanish Digg-like collaborative news site, Menéame, to which some blog-author sent his own news about us. Then, the Spanish newspaper El Mundo (currently the most visited online newspaper) made a report about the project, and following it the first Spanish television in regional news (TVE1) and the second (TVE2) in La 2 Noticias talked about it. After that, many blogs and tiny news sites have echoed it. After all those unexpected moves of the Spanish media, I just prefer not to think about how people and media will react to the project in the future; if news come, they will indeed be welcome…

– “Donations” : there are no direct money donations, but we are spending more and more each month, even though we don’t make a cent; we have thus to ask for it each time we want to do or create or publish something new. Also, time and work donation has been fantastic, as our Indo-European linguistics section alone can show.

Corpus Linguistics : all work and releases concerning the Indo-European language are quickly released, so there is nothing more to explain about it.

It has been a bad year in terms of:

New members : Today I’ve answered the last of a dozen mails of people interested in joining the Dnghu Association. As always, I guess we won’t get him, however good his CV is and his initial interest seems to be. We cannot offer anything but to work for free. I think it is clear enough in the Indo-European Language Association website, but maybe people just like to believe that the truth is different. I’ll repeat it: we are a few – from 4 to 6 members depending on the season -, plus some institutions that support our work, and that’s all. To join us now is (still) to work for nothing but to help Indo-European become a spoken language.

Project and people handling : we still lead an unorganized group of people, instead of an organized association. We still plan hundreds of projects, create dozens of them, close all but one or two after some time, and then plan a hundred projects again. We dedicate too much time to documents and study, and not a second to get or retain potential users or members. We look for specialized workers, we ask for help to university professors, but do not rely on ‘normal’, ‘just interested’ people from other academic fields.

Teaching and learning : apart from potential members, there are hundreds of potential learners who would just like to learn (Proto-)Indo-European and/or its early dialects (whatever the reason), that contact us from time to time asking for real learning methods or courses, whether self-learning material, online courses, foreign language courses at Biblos, etc. Last year the answer was easy: we didn’t have a stable grammar to work with. Now we just don’t have/get the time to prepare such learning materials.

Language use : since the very beginning of the online project in 2005 we’ve had some kind of websites prepared for writing or speaking in Indo-European. We haven’t done it. Again, it’s probably more a question of time management than grammar issues, as the language we wanted to use is now correct enough to speak it.

And that’s all I can think of right now. I’ll try to write about our ideas for the future another day.