A Country in Two Places
Cerdà suite111
Next column left, six authors, Joan-Lluís Lluís, Joan Daniel Bezsonoff, Pascal Comelade, Jordi Pere Cerdà, Patrick Gifreu and Gerard Jacquet, tell how the linguistic reality in Northern Catalonia influences their work.
Retained by the South during the period of the Aragonese crown under the terms of the Treaty of Corbeil in 1258, incorporated into France in 1659 with the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, Northern Catalonia (Catalunya Nord) has, for almost four centuries now, been subject to French influence.

In the 1960s, however, when Southern Catalonia experienced something of a cultural revival, Catalan culture began to reappear in the north. By the 1970s, Catalan was being taught in schools, initially on a voluntary basis and then as an option within the curriculum.

Subsequently there emerged a political Catalanism that since 1993 has exercised a small share of power on Perpignan City Council. All of this served in the 1990s to launch a process of supporting and promoting Catalan culture and Catalan consciousness, in a statutory context that was more favourable than ever to the Catalan language.

The Decline of Catalan

The number of people who live their lives through the medium of Catalan in Northern Catalonia is dwindling. Thus, while in 1993, of a population of 304,888 habitants, 36.8 per cent of North Catalans declared they had a perfect comprehension of Catalan, in 1997 the figure was only 24 per cent. Those capable of speaking without difficulty decreased from 33,6 per cent to 17 per cent, and there was also a fall in the percentages for reading and writing.

The Present Situation

At the present time, the majority of those who speak Catalan in Northern Catalonia are elderly people, living in the villages, while young people find less and less opportunity to use it in their social life.

Immigration and emigration alone do not explain the decline in the number of speakers. Its causes are to be found rather in the prestige accorded to the French language in the constitution, and the exclusion of all other languages from official life. Consequently, French has long been associated with progress, education and prosperity.

Northern Catalonia continues to be hounded on the French side when its Catalan identity is expressed too strongly, and to be neglected on the Spanish side for failing to emphasis its identity.

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