“WWITH THE pencil stroke ”is an expression usually used metaphorically. But only one feature differentiates the two forms of the name of a Spanish city: “Valencia” (in Spanish) and “Valencia” (in regional language). A left-wing regionalist party recently launched a debate in the Spanish Senate insisting on “Valencia” as the only spelling, even in Spanish (which does not have the letter è).
Spanish regional disputes are often also small. Some Catalans detect an insult in the use of the letter ñ, which is only used in Castilian (Spanish), but not in Catalan. Barcelona’s second largest football club was named “Español” when it was founded in 1900, to distinguish it from FC Barcelona, whose founder was Swiss. The club renamed itself Espanyol to appease local sensitivities in 1995.
In recent weeks, the language wars have reached a high political level. The same Valencian party that insisted on Valencia also lobbied to be allowed to use the “Países Catalanes” (Catalan countries) in the Senate – a charged expression beloved by separatists, which includes the region of Valencia, Catalonia and the Balearic Islands , who all speak Catalan.
Meanwhile, the Socialist-led minority government needed the support of regionalist parties to pass its budget last week. It did so in part by promising more children’s television in Basque and agreeing to require streaming platforms based in Spain to offer 6% of their content in Spain’s main minority languages, Basque, Catalan and Galician. (Details remain unclear. Content dubbed in these languages will count, subtitles apparently will not.)
A little more serious, a quarrel over schooling now threatens a constitutional conflict. Catalonia’s immersion model has generally required all subjects to be taught in Catalan except Spanish itself. This annoys families elsewhere in Spain. But on November 23, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled that 25% of lessons should be in Spanish – and the Catalan government’s education director immediately told schools there should be “no change” in practice. . The national government has remained calm, saying the Catalans should respect the courts. The leader of the main opposition party, Pablo Casado, said if they don’t, the Senate should revoke Catalonia’s right to set its own education policy.
Fortunately, many ordinary people in Spain are bilingual in Spanish and a regional language. But faced with politicians with Spanish identities, whether in Madrid, Valencia or Barcelona, you have to choose your accents.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the headline “Emphasizing the negative”