Marcos Maceira: we cannot speak of Galician-Spanish bilingualism since these two languages do not enjoy the same status

Marcos Maceira: we cannot speak of Galician-Spanish bilingualism since these two languages do not enjoy the same status

The discourse on the ethnolinguistic situation in Spain is typically focused on the situation of the Catalan and Basque communities. The situation of the Galician language rather remains in their shadow, although it has its very distinct features. ICELDS discusses the situation of the Galician language with Marcos Maceira Eiras, President of A Mesa pola Normalización Lingüísticaa citizen platform aimed at the protection and promotion of the Galician language.

ICELDS: What is the official status of the Galician language in Spain and how effective is it is in terms of language promotion?

Marcos Maceira Eiras: The Galician language has been acknowledged as an official language along with Spanish since 1981. This official status was a materialization of the demands of the Galician society. It was also accompanied by the Law of Linguistic Normalization adopted by the Galician Parliament in 1983. This law could have served as a tool to reverse the process of linguistic substitution in Galicia. However, just there has never been a will to effectively apply this law and other few pieces of legislation that cover the Galician language. As a result, we have a legal recognition of Galician’s official status. However, in practice, Galician continues to lack public presence and recognition that would allow its use always and everywhere.

ICELDS: The available data provided by the Galician Institute of Statistics classifies the population along five categories: those who always speak Galician, those who mainly speak Galician, those who mainly speak Spanish, those who always speak Spanish and others. How could you characterize the Galician-Spanish bilingualism, and what are the main trends related to the actual use of Galician by the population?

MME: I believe we cannot speak of Galician-Spanish bilingualism as long as these are the two languages that do not enjoy the same social, political, and legal status. Spanish is a language of power, both at the national and autonomous community levels. In turn, the Galician language continues to be considered as a lower status language. Inequality is evident at all levels. For example, only four percent of the all TV broadcast is available in Galician; there is only one radio station with coverage in the entire territory of Galicia that broadcasts in Galician. Such school subjects as mathematics, chemistry or physics are not taught in Galician. These data just demonstrate the the overall subordination of Galician. We could say that freedom for Galician is not conditioned to the question of its inferiority. Despite all limitations, difficulties and even violation of linguistic rights, it is incredible that this language is still being used by such a large part of the Galician population.

ICELDS: There are different written forms of the Galician language – official and reintegrationist[1]. How this discrepancy affects the linguistic situation and contemporary public debates in Galicia?

MME: Apart from what I mentioned earlier regarding the subordination of Galician, one of the main threats for the Galician language is its hybridization with Spanish. Either with one norm or two norms, the efforts should be focused on recovering the use of Galician and these activities must bring the best possible result. The Galician language needs to be preserved and recovered in its genuine form. The resources to do it are available in the Portuguese language, which is the Galician (Galician-Portuguese) variant that has suffered fewer changes as a full-fledged official and undisputed language. Beyond the normative debate, those who work for the disappearance of Galician make many efforts to remove Galician from its common linguistic place.

ICELDS: You represent A Mesa pola Normalización Lingüística. What is the role of the organization in the promotion and protection of the Galician language?

MME: A Mesa was established in 1986 as a platform for the rehabilitation, restitution, and promotion of the Galician language. Currently, we have around 4,000 members and are the main association of language protection. The situation of the language itself forced us from the very beginning to be an entity for social mobilization, as it is the only way to make progress. Despite many difficulties we keep it. As a response to the policies pursued by the Galician government, we launched a civic platform Queremos Galego which unites more than 500 different entities from different domains (civil society, politics, sports, etc.).

The Galicianization of the public administration or business (although it has been very much advanced), as well as the social sensitivity towards the linguistic rights, could not be understood without the mobilization driven from and by A Mesa.

Besides, we also offer counselling and complaint assistance related to the violations of the right to use the Galician language. All this work should be attributed to the duties of the public authorities because even the Galician Statute of Autonomy indicates that obligation. However, in Galicia, these activities are performed only by civil society entities, and A Mesa is the only one of a national nature.

ICELDS: In their contributions to the European Parliament’s plenary debates, Anna Miranda from the Bloque Nacionalista Galego and Lidia Senra from the Alternativa Galega de Esquerda en Europa frequently used the Portuguese language. What was the main message behind this language choice?

MME: In fact, these two MEPs used Galician in the European Parliament but with a closer accent to Portuguese. It is the accent that allows Galician to be used in the European Parliament. This is the way of expressing the rejection of the politics of the Spanish state that does not allow the recognition of the official languages other than Spanish. These MEPs gave a positive message of resistance and dignity to demonstrate that the Galician identity and the Galician language are entitled to exist despite all the obstacles.

ICELDS: How the Galician-Portuguese linguistic proximity and debates related to the Galician language are seen in Portugal?

MME: I believe that they perceive it with sympathy and willingness to contribute. Recently, a group was formed by dozens of Galician and Portuguese organizations to share experiences pertinent to the linguistic unity and the proximity of the two language variants. It is called GaliLusofonia and A Mesa is a part of it.

ICELDS: In Spain, Athletic Bilbao and FC Barcelona are known as carriers and promoters of the Basque and Catalan identity and traditions. Can the leading football clubs from Galicia – Celta Vigo and Deportivo da Coruña – be similarly viewed as carriers of Galician identity?

MME: In this regard, attitudes of fans and managers must be differentiated. The management of these clubs takes up the language-related changes in a very slow pace. It is often only a symbolic aspect which is very far from the examples of Athletic Bilbao or FC Barcelona which demonstrate that a world-class club can incorporate the identity of its respective community which also involves the language issues. The fans promote the use of Galician by their clubs, but since the clubs are legal entities, much depends on the position of their owners. An example is the requests made to the shareholders of Deportivo da Coruña to use the official name of the city in the name of the club (A Coruña, and not La Coruña).

Interview conducted by Dr. Kiryl Kascian


[1] Reintegrationists claim  that the Galician and the Portuguese languages share the same origins, literary traditions and still remain two different variants of the same language continuum.

Image: © Plataforma Queremos Galego!

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