The Mulberry Graveyard

Letter From Spain

Spain is a country with strong regional identities.  The central government recognizes four official languages: Spanish, Galician, Basque, and Catalan.  The people in the “periphery” of Spain may refer to Spanish as Castilian, to distinguish it from their own language.  In the Basque country, Catalonia, and Galicia, signs in the regional language are omnipresent.  At least two million people speak Galician (estimates run as high as four million), and perhaps seven million speak Catalan.  Galician and Basque have their own Royal Academies that rule on usage, and Galician is more closely related to Portuguese than to Spanish.

In the northeastern corner of Spain, Catalonia and its capital, Barcelona, have a long history of periods of autonomy or outright independence alternating with suppression of the Catalan language and culture.  One can see Barcelona’s leftist stance in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930’s as another attempt by the Catalans to preserve their autonomy.  Under Francisco Franco, who ruled the country after the right won the Civil War, it was illegal to use Catalan in public.  One political leader gained a jail term and lifelong popularity by serenading the dictator in Catalan.  Only after Franco died in 1975 did the language begin its long climb back to health, with legal recognition of Catalan and even, in many realms, legal preference.


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