Speaking as little Castellano as I do, it should probably come as no surprise to anybody that regional languages frustrate me. It seems to me to sometimes be a conspiracy between the native Spanish to raise the bar to ensure that to be fully accepted into the community you need to learn both Castellano and the regional language (Which you will be lucky to learn via a book or CD, or even to find a Dictionary and Phrase Book).
Spain is fiercely proud of its regional diversity and this is demonstrated in it’s attachment to the various regional languages that can often seem bewildering to the outsider. The languages are broken down into several different classifications: The Official Language (Spanish / Castellano) ; The Co-Official Languages (Catalan, Valenciano, Basque / Euskadi, Galician and Aranese ) ; The Recognised Languages (Leonese, Asturian) ; The Un-Official ( Aragonese, Asur-Leonese, Eonavian, Fala , Tarafit and also the Gomeran language that is made up entirely of distinctive whistling patterns ).
Add the fact that there are many immigrants from other nationalities living in Spain (Romanian, English, French, German, Dutch, Russian, and Moroccan being the main ones) and you can begin to see that there is a vast diversity of understanding – and misunderstanding!
Similar to the “Dead” British languages - like Cornish, these languages probably flourished centuries ago when people rarely travelled outside their local area and had no need to communicate on a national platform – and so just needed to make themselves understood in their own social group. With the coming of easier and popular transport such as the train, and increasing levels of literacy and wealth, it meant that in the UK everybody sought to communicate at a much wider level.
I don’t know for sure, but I’m guessing that this would be the case in Spain to a certain extent aswell. What did happen for certain, is that during the Franco years, that all regional languages were outlawed as an attempt to unify the country.
Whilst I’m not much of a historian, from my knowledge of the pop group Frankie goes to Hollywood’s massive number 1 hit record in the early 80’s, I do know that one sure way to ensure that the popularity of something explodes out of control – is to ban it or make it illegal.
This backlash against the Franco government seems to have brought about a new enthusiasm for these languages (and regional identity and customs as a whole) that is evident when you consider the Autonomous Regions of Spain. Unfortunately this does not seem to have a positive effect on business as a whole. Many of the larger towns and cities in a region will generally speak Castellano, whilst the smaller, inland and rural towns and villages will predominantly speak that local / regional language.
Many Regions also offer a grant to the various Ayuntamiento’s to encourage their local schools to teach more of their subjects in the local language – and it seems to be the Schools in these smaller, inland and rural towns and villages that, due to a lack of trade and commerce in the town, are reliant on the grant and so need to teach much more of the regional language than the national one.
I know of quite a few school kids that have been taught the regional language to a high standard, but who’s Castilian remains a little shaky – which obviously limits their acceptance into University and even limits their acceptance into most professions. So it seems a vicious circle – where the locals are often unable to speak the National language to a high enough standard (and therefore obtain a good profession and bring revenue into the Town) and as such the Ayuntamiento becomes more reliant on the Regional Grant, and in return has to put more emphasis on teaching the regional language!
My daughter, at 2 and half, is already showing signs of speaking and understanding more Valenciano than Castellano and I am concerned that this will continue as she starts her formal education - especially as I don’t have Spanish (Or English) TV that she can learn from.
Maybe as an “Extranjero” my view is totally invalid and biased, I accept that and I willingly open up the debate to hear some other points of view that I may have overlooked .....