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Sue Wilson.

As we pulled out of the Andorran service station for the drive back into Spain I settled back into the passenger seat to read the newspaper, El Periodico, I had just bought and realised to my dismay that it was in Catalan rather than the usual Castilian.

For the next two hours I attempted to decipher the articles which interested me.

A four page article about Sitges, my summer residence, held my interest and by the end of the journey I decided that I could read more Catalan than I had previously thought. With Spanish and French behind me and some exposure in the streets of Sitges, I was able to understand, if not speak, Catalan.

This knowledge may prove very useful in Barcelona and the surrounding area of Catalonia as many of the signs and written material I need to understand are now only in Catalan, nationalist fervour having dispensed with the Spanish version after a campaign with the slogan "Bilingualism is not freedom."

Shops now display signs proclaiming "Diluns tancat," where previously "Lunes cerrado" made it clear they would be closed Mondays. Letters from the council used to be in both languages but are now only in Catalan although my residents association meetings are held in Castilian as more people can understand that.

It is easy to see why Catalan is held to be so important.

During the Franco years the Catalan culture was suppressed as undesirable. Only Castilian could be taught in the schools and posters urged people to speak it with catchy little slogans such as "Don't bark, speak Christian!"

As a result, most people still prefer to read Castilian rather than Catalan but feel guilty about it.

After Franco's death in 1975 the statute of Catalonia was drawn up naming both Castilian and Catalan as official languages and huge sums have been spent trying to revive Catalan. Unfortunately for the Catalan nationalists, and the Catalan Regional Government which funded it, a new study by Barcelona University has shown that out of the Catalan classroom 60pc of children revert to Castilian.

It is hoped this does not lead to even more vigorous attempts to promote Catalan at the expense of Castilian.

The Catalan government is sponsoring Catalan classes in Lleida for seasonal fruit pickers from Columbia which is a bit like Wales sponsoring Welsh classes for visiting Australian sheepshearers. And AOL Time Warner has been forced to dub the Harry Potter films in Catalan even though there is virtually no demand from consumers.

Catalans visit the cinema 30 million times a year but only 2pc choose to watch films in their own language.

Of the Harry Potter books sold in Catalonia, three quarters have been in Castilian. Kids don't care about the politics.

More seriously, the Catalan government is demanding that court judgments are handed down only in Catalan.

This could deny young people a law career or opportunities in other parts of Spain and isolate Hispanic people in the Americas from where so much culture, literature and commerce emanates.

Catalonia has grown strong on international trade and surely the best way to preserve a culture is the economic strength of the region. Spanish is an international language, Catalan is not.
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Copyright 2003 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Aug 25, 2003
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