Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Local languages applied - Catalan

During the last three days I was in Barcelona at the European Forum on Science Journalism, but more about that during the following days. Now I want to talk about a language that has made its comeback into every day life and is doing really well.

I have been to Barcelona quite a long time ago, just for a transfer to change airplane and reach Malaga. Then I remember the signs at the ariport were in Spanish and English. Today when you come out of the airport you see them in Catalan, English, Spanish. Now you will say: but what's so special, right? Well, I already know that Catalan now is "official", but one thing is knowing it and a different one is experiencing it. Imagine the Naples airport with signs in Neapolitan, English and Italian or the Turin airport with Piedmontese, English and Italian ... it gives a very particular feeling to see that. In Catalonia people are very proud of their language and culture. When you talk to them they will tell you that it is relevant to use it for anything, at home and in business and of course at school or universities.

I was not sure about what to do: going by bus to the city centre or taking a taxi, but considering that probably Sunday around noon was the only moment when I could have a short walk in the centre I chose the bus. It turned out to be the right decision ...

When I reached the centre I saw something that looked a bit like a market and of course: I had to go there and see what was on. It was an exhibition of goods with labels in Catalan and there was an information stand. So I looked a bit around to see what they had. I started to talk with some young people who could not really understand English and so they called a man who then spoke French. Well my French is far from being perfect, but we managed to talk and so I found out he was the husband of the president of ADEC (Associació en Defensa de l'Etiquetatge en Català) and that they are actively promoting Catalan and with that typical Catalan products.

They had publicity material and I took some of them with me. I also got the contact to the association itself - that is: I will need to write them, but I should do that in Catalan - so if there is someone out there who can help, it would be great.

Besides all the other particular things and also similarities I found between the Amalfi Coast's traditions and typical things in Barcelona, I immediately had one thing come in mind: if this is Catalonia and it is so distinct in how things go and are done, in architecture etc. how might other regions of Spain be? I mean: I had that feeling of wanting to know more.

Now what does that tell us: I was looking at Barcelona with the eyes of a tourist and seeing all these particularities with all these particular names brought me to the conclusion that besides Catalonia there are many other regions of Spain to be explored. This was local languages applied - unification using diversification. Underlining the differences Catalonia helps the other regions in Spain to become more relevant as well. Tourists will come back over and over again, because they will feel the need that there is really a lot to discover.

Now imagine how that would be when a tourist comes to Italy. Having different languages which distinguish the local products from the national onew will help them discovering Italy - if you have the same name written on a product you need to read further to understand where things are from and the local product, the particularities loose much of their marketing force. Instead of just buying a bottle of wine when they go back home that is from Italy they will buy various bottles of wine: from Sicily, Tuscany, Campania, Puglia, Veneto, Piedmont (just to name some). That is: it would increase the demand and therefore economy would have better prospectives.

In Catalonia they went so far to have Catalan also in Universities, used for research, in schools. Kids grow up with Catalan and Spanish on one level and immediately also start with English. This means these kids will be used to think in various ways and will be able to easily connect to other cultures. They will be better communicators. And this will lead again to economical advantages for the region.

Of course we cannot apply everything at once, but step by step reconsidering what local culture really is about, we can follow this really great example Catalonia is giving us.

The same is valid for the whole world - for all regions, all people, any culture.

And yes: sooner or later I'll be back in Barcelona and discover it more deeply. During the next days I'll (time permitting) tell you more about the Museum, the conference, people I met ...
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