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Cartographies of Differences

Interdisciplinary Perspectives


Edited By Ulrike M. Vieten and Gill Valentine

This volume investigates the process of learning how to live with individual and group differences in the twenty-first century and examines the ambivalences of contemporary cosmopolitanism. Engaging with the concept of ‘critical cartography’, it emphasizes the structural impact of localities on the experiences of those living with difference, while trying to develop an account of the counter-mappings that follow spatial and social transformations in today’s world. The contributors focus on visual, normative and cultural embodiments of difference, examining dynamic conflicts at local sites that are connected by the processes of Europeanization and globalization.
The collection explores a wide range of topics, including conflicting claims of sexual minorities and conservative Christians, the relationship between national identity and cosmopolitanism, and the ways that cross-cultural communication and bilingualism can help us to understand the complex nature of belonging. The authors come from a variety of disciplinary backgrounds and all contribute to a vernacular reading of cosmopolitanism and transnationalism, aimed at opening up new avenues of research into living with difference.
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The Territorial Principle: Language Rights and Linguistic Minorities in Spain and Italy, 1992–2010

← 156 | 157 →NAOMI WELLS

The Territorial Principle: Language Rights and Linguistic Minorities in Spain and Italy, 1992–2010

ABSTRACT: Under pressure to rethink the state in more plural and inclusive ways, recent decades have seen many states, including Spain and Italy, recognise the rights of speakers to use languages other than the official state language in the public sphere. Such recognition is typically granted only within a specific region or province where a significant community of speakers of a language resides, as is the case for both the Catalan-speaking group in Spain and the German-speaking minority in the north of Italy. Although such policies may appear to support greater societal multilingualism, a rigid implementation of this territorial approach risks reinforcing nationalist associations of languages with territorial boundaries at the regional or provincial levels. This chapter will use the cases of the Catalan- and German-speaking minorities to consider the limitations of the territorial principle in recognising and supporting the multilingual reality of the state.


Recent decades have seen the appearance of a shift in Western Europe from the traditional pursuit of a culturally and linguistically homogenous nation-state, to, at least theoretically, a greater recognition of minority groups and their languages. Linguistic minorities have also received increasing attention at the international level, with documents such as the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages providing reasonable expectations for the state to provide some level of services in languages spoken by a significant number of people within the state (May 2003, 148). This shift has been accompanied by what can be described as a ‘language rights’ ← 157 | 158 →discourse,1 which primarily concerns ‘people’s right to live in their language and to enjoy a secure linguistic environment’ (Rubio-Marín 2003, 57). Nevertheless, the question of which rights should be applied to which language communities remains a subject of debate, with the impossibility of providing a model for all contexts (Kymlicka and Patten 2003, 34–35). Notably, documents such as the European Charter exclude the languages of migrant communities.2 Although there is no legitimate justification for excluding migrant groups from recognition of their language rights (Cheesman 2001), it appears to be based on the idea of a greater historical entitlement of so-called ‘national’ minorities (May 2003, 149), which is often tied to a long-standing presence and geographical concentration within a specific territory.

This reflects and reinforces a tendency to grant minority language rights based on the territorial principle. The territorial principle essentially ties provision for the use of a language to the existence of a geographical concentration of users of that language, meaning that certain rights are granted only within a specific region or area of the state. The theoretically opposing personality principle means that all citizens enjoy the same set of official language rights, and consequently services in their respective languages, throughout the state (Kymlicka and Patten 2003; ­McRae 1975; Réaume 2003).3 While the territorial principle is often conflated with the ← 158 | 159 →official recognition of only one language within a territory (De Schutter 2008, 107), a territorial regime may also recognise two or more languages (McRae 1975, 41), as in the cases of Spain and Italy. While in both states one single language remains official throughout the territory (Castilian and Italian respectively), services in the languages of minority groups have been granted to large and territorially concentrated groups within restricted areas. This is apparent in the cases of the Catalan-speaking group in Spain and of the German-speaking minority in the province of Alto Adige/Südtirol4 in the north of Italy, which will be the main focus of discussion here.

The reliance on a territorial model for granting minority language rights in both cases has important consequences for how societies develop the capacity to live with and communicate across difference, in this case primarily linguistic difference. In particular, the Chapter will address how the territorial principle encourages a tendency to oversimplify or ignore multilingual contexts at both sub-state and state levels. To offer an immediate example, in Alto Adige/Südtirol it is actually a significantly distinct Austro-Bavarian Tyrolean dialect that is the everyday language of communication of the local population rather than standard German. Nevertheless, both state and provincial policies have focused solely on the recognition of standard German (Egger 2001, 42–47). This situation can cause difficulties for Italian speakers who are only taught standard German in schools and consequently feel unable to communicate effectively outside of the classroom. It can even become a cause of tension since Italian speakers often see the use of the dialect in their presence as a form of exclusion (Egger 2001, 46). This demonstrates the dangers of the oversimplification of the multilingual contexts and repertoires of speakers, which appears to be reinforced by the approach encouraged by the territorial principle to ← 159 | 160 →lay claim to a territory in the name of a language, and typically a standard form of language.

The chapter is based on a broader comparative study of the language policies of the central states of Spain and Italy between 1992 and 2010 in reference to linguistic minorities. Three sources of primary data were identified for the purposes of this study: official state documentation and legislation, elite interviews with political and institutional representatives and expert commentators, and state-wide newspapers. This triangulation of data allowed for consideration of concrete laws and regulations, as well as less visible practices, ideas and informal statements of intent which are a key element of language policy studies (Kaplan and Baldauf 1997; Shohamy 2006; Spolsky 2004).

Language rights and disputes in Catalonia and Alto Adige/Südtirol

Both the Catalan-speaking group within Catalonia5 and German speakers in Alto Adige/Südtirol have secured official status for their languages, often considered the highest guarantee of language rights (Pérez Fernández 2006, 29), although for both groups these rights are almost entirely restricted to the specific region or province in which they are concentrated. It is, however, important to note significant differences in the specific linguistic regimes in both areas. To begin with Alto Adige/Südtirol, it is located on the border with Austria and became a province of the Italian state due to border changes after the First World War. Much of the Italian-speaking ← 160 | 161 →population arrived after this border change, particularly under fascist rule. As a result, there is a significant division in the region between Italian and German speakers, and memories of fascist repression of the German language appear to have led its speakers to fear close linguistic contact with the Italian group (Baur and Medda-Windischer 2008, 244; Egger 2001, 120).

Language regulations in the province focus on monolingualism, with separate schools for the officially recognised language groups in their theoretical ‘mother tongue’,6 although all students are also required to study the ‘second language’ (art. 19, Special Statute for Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol 1972). More exceptional is the use of ‘ethnic’ proportions, known as the quota system, which requires that within the province positions in public bodies are allocated to members of each language group based on their relative numerical strength within the provincial population (Steininger 2003, 137). The introduction of this measure was aimed at ensuring the German-speaking minority was given appropriate access to employment in public bodies, from which it had previously been largely excluded (Peterlini 2000, 160). Furthermore, these regulations were also introduced as a solution to an international dispute between the Italian and Austrian states, which was only declared resolved in 1992. This approach to minority protection may appear extreme, with Georg Grote noting that it has even been referred to it as a form of ‘cultural apartheid’, but it is also viewed as a model for allowing previously conflicting groups to live peacefully on the same territory, while maintaining their distinct identities (2012, 118).

In Catalonia, on the other hand, there is no such clear division between Catalan and Castilian speakers, and, with very few exceptions, Catalan speakers are fluent in the state language (Institut d’Estadística de Catalunya 2008, 142–144). In common with German speakers, the Catalans did face the repression of their language under fascist rule, which also coincided with a large influx of monolingual Castilian speakers from other Spanish ← 161 | 162 →regions (Conversi 1997; Woolard 1989). Consequently, memories of fascist repression are also a cause of continued fear of assimilation. Nevertheless, the aim in Catalonia has been to avoid clear divisions along linguistic lines, in contrast to Alto Adige/Südtirol, with Catalan language policies explicitly requiring that students are not separated in schools based on their language use. Furthermore, while knowledge of Catalan, as well as Castilian, is required for posts in the public services (art. 11, Language Policy Act 1998), there is no explicit attempt to award jobs based on ethnic proportions, and indeed any explicit reference to an ‘ethnic’ division between Catalan and Castilian speakers would be extremely controversial.

However, despite these differences, both cases have in common that after significant periods of democratic and peaceful rule, these language regimes have been increasingly challenged. For example, in Alto Adige/Südtirol, the fact that the German-speaking group is now politically dominant within the province, and that the province has significant political autonomy, means that its minority status has been questioned (Egger 2001, 32). Certain political representatives in Italy have claimed that Italian speakers are now discriminated against, and have even argued they should be accorded the status of linguistic minority within the province. For example, in 2004 when constitutional reforms were being debated which would potentially devolve further powers to the province, the Minister for Foreign Affairs in the centre-right governing coalition argued that ‘è logico che la minoranza italiana abbia un riconoscimento giuridico e formale’ [it is logical that the Italian minority be legally and formally recognised]7 (Franco Frattini cited in La Repubblica, 23 February 2004).

Although this proposed amendment was not passed, right-wing Italian deputies from the province later proposed a Bill for the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate discrimination against the Italian language community (Bill 1711, 29 September 2008). A 2009 Bill even called for an annual fund of 50 million euros to be devoted to ‘migliorare l’inserimento nella vita economica e sociale della comunità di lingua italiana della provincia’ [improving the presence of the Italian language community ← 162 | 163 →in the social and economic life of the province] (Bill 2136, 2 February 2009). It would be easy to dismiss such bills as merely right-wing propaganda and attempts to court controversy and publicity, and there have as yet been no serious attempts to have such bills discussed in parliament. Nevertheless, there has been a slight decline of the Italian-speaking population in the province, which has been viewed by some as a sign of discontent within the Italian-speaking community (Carli 2003, 218).8 A clearer sign that the Italian group may no longer be dominant is a tendency, particularly in German-dominated valleys, for some Italian speakers to declare their children German speakers in order to send them to German-speaking schools, which Anthony Alcock notes may be a sign of assimilation (2000, 189).

Fears of assimilation in the education system are also the primary cause of complaints in Catalonia, although here it is the absence of separate schools for different language groups which is criticised. Since 1992, Catalan has progressively been adopted as the primary vehicular language of education (art. 3.1, Catalan Decree 75/1992). Castilian does, however, remain an obligatory subject in all schools and, most importantly, regional legislation states that by the end of compulsory education all students must be able to use both Catalan and Castilian ‘normal y correctamente’ [normally and correctly] (arts. 21.3 and 21.6, Language Policy Act 1998).

Nevertheless, this model of immersion education has been a continual source of controversy, with accusations that this policy is an attempt to recreate the previous assimilationist policies of nation-states on a regional or provincial scale. The conservative Spanish newspaper ABC used the now infamous headline, referencing the repression of Catalan under the Franco dictatorship: ‘Igual que Franco, pero al revés’ [Just like Franco, but in reverse (DiGiacomo 1999, 123)] (ABC, 12 September 1993). Various civic organisations also arose within Catalonia during the 1980s and 1990s to oppose the immersion model (Mar-Molinero 1997, 157). More recently, three identical sentences by the Supreme Court in 2010 responded to appeals by parents ← 163 | 164 →who demanded the right for their children to be taught via the medium of Castilian (Sentence 6628/2010; Sentence 6629/2010; Sentence 6632/2010). While the Supreme Court found in favour of the parents, the legal advisor from the Catalan Directorate of Language Policy believes it is unclear whether the Sentence only affects the three families who made the appeal or whether ‘tiene un carácter más general y puede afectar a toda la enseñanza’ [it is of a more general character which could affect all teaching] (SI19). However, the sentences clearly place doubts concerning the validity of the current Catalan education model.

Critics argue that the immersion system is aimed at the assimilation of the Castilian-speaking population of the region, in a move towards territorial unilingualism (Herreras 2006, 374). In fact, the conservative Spanish Popular Party went so far as to announce the creation of a special commission in 1993 to investigate discrimination against Castilian speakers (DiGiacomo 1999, 123). In common with Alto Adige/Südtirol, there have been claims that it is actually monolingual Castilian speakers who are now the ‘persecuted minority’ within Catalonia. The higher socioeconomic status of Catalan speakers has been seen as further proof, by establishing a link between knowledge of the language and social advancement (Woolard 1989, 121–122). Ramón Lodares has taken this argument furthest, going so far as to claim that the defence of Catalan is aimed at the creation of an ‘elite enclosure’ of Catalan speakers (2006, 21).

Bilingual obligations and national majorities

Before addressing the validity of some of these criticisms and how they relate to the territorial principle, it is first necessary to recognise that they are often exaggerated, particularly in the press and in political discourse. While the respective territorial regimes do require certain linguistic adjustments for ← 164 | 165 →the resident population (McRae 1975, 41), Italian and Castilian speakers remain citizens of a state where their language is official throughout. For example, to argue that the intensive teaching of Catalan is an attempt to assimilate Castilian speakers is to ignore the fact that the Catalan education system is based on the principle that all students acquire a sufficient knowledge of both languages (Branchadell 1997, 109). Studies have even shown that any imbalance at the end of obligatory education is still in favour of Castilian, despite the intensive teaching in and of Catalan (Areny and van der Schaaf 2000, 26; Branchadell 1997, 103). This reflects the continued dominance of the state language within Catalonia, particularly in the cultural sphere, and it is difficult to imagine a future where Castilian could disappear. Despite the high socioeconomic status of Catalan speakers within the region, as David Atkinson notes, ‘this is not reflected as much as one might expect in the language’s position, which is in a sense prestigious without being dominant’ (2000, 195–196).10

However, it is the appearance of a threat to the dominant position of the state language which is typically the cause of such criticisms. This is evident in Alto Adige/Südtirol, where attempts to redress the balance with the quota system do have an immediately negative effect on the previously dominant Italian-speaking population. Furthermore, the equal official status of both languages does place certain obligations on both the minority and majority; obligations which appear to have caused Italian speakers particular difficulties. While the choice to use either language with the public authorities means that bilingualism is not an explicit obligation for citizens, there is a strong motivation to achieve bilingualism for work ← 165 | 166 →prospects, for, as Kenneth D. McRae notes, ‘The freedom of the citizen may be the burden of the public servant’ (1975, 48).

However, until recently it has been the German language community that has felt this motivation more strongly, with knowledge of Italian widespread (ASTAT 2006, 152). Bilingual demands have, however, typically been a cause of resentment among Italian speakers. Lucio Giudiceandrea, the author of several essays and books on Alto Adige/Südtirol and the Italian-speaking community, of which he is himself a member, explains that:

L’italiano, sempre fino a qualche anno fa, […] diceva, ‘Non è giusto che io venga costretto a parlare un’altra lingua. Io sono italiano, qui siamo in Italia, e se tu come minoranza vivi in Italia, è il tuo obbligo studiare la lingua nazionale ma non il mio obbligo parlare la tua lingua. (II1)11

This is not an unusual attitude among national majorities, who view any pressure on themselves to learn the minority language as unfair and even a violation of their own rights, while taking for granted the obligation of minorities to learn the state language.

Both territorial regimes do place obligations on the majority group to obtain a high level of fluency in the language of the minority, which has been the cause of resentment among some members of the majority group. However, as Denise Réaume argues, ‘Personal bilingualism is not that difficult, as minority-language communities everywhere prove daily. What makes it seem difficult to majority-language speakers is the absence of support for second-language learning, and, one suspects, an ideology of superiority’ (2003, 293). While support for second-language-learning is a legitimate concern to be addressed below, there is clear evidence of this ‘ideology of superiority’, which has been encouraged by right-wing Italian parties in the province. A similar attitude appears to play a role in the criticisms directed at Catalan language policies, in the assumption that speakers of the official state language should automatically enjoy greater rights than ← 166 | 167 →speakers of other languages. Furthermore, the fact that the state language remains official in both contexts means that attempts to have speakers of the state language declared a ‘minority’ are patently inappropriate.

Linguistic minorities and linguistic borders

Nevertheless, recognising these tendencies, particularly in the rhetoric of vocal right-wing political representatives and of the national press, does not mean placing the linguistic regimes of both regions beyond criticism. As Monica Heller explains, linguistic minority groups can be guilty of taking an excessively rigid approach to linguistic boundaries, with any attempt to blur such boundaries seen as a threat to the group’s identity:

[u]sing the logic of the monolingual, monocultural nation-state, mobilized minorities seek to break apart the monolithic identity of the state within which they search for a legitimate place. However, in order to do so, they must construct a fictive unity, which effectively produces internally structures of hegemony similar to those against which they struggle. (2006, 29)

Linguistic minority groups may reinforce the traditional nationalist ideology of ‘one territory, one language’, even where the territorial regime actually recognises more than one official language.

For example, in Catalonia the use of the term ‘lengua propia’ [own language] to refer to Catalan (art. 2, Language Policy Act 1998; art. 6.1, Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia 2006) appears to lay claim to the territory in the name of the Catalan language, suggesting that Catalonia only has one ‘rightful’ language (Siguán 1993, 91). This despite the fact that as recently as 2008 Castilian remained the habitual language for 45.9 per cent of those resident in Catalonia, compared to just 35.6 per cent for Catalan (Institut d’Estadística de Catalunya 2008, 172). As Albert Branchadell notes, ‘Too often Spain is treated as a multilingual (multinational) polity made out of discrete, linguistically (nationally) homogeneous units, Catalonia among them’ (2012, 1). This clearly reflects a territorialist conception of ← 167 | 168 →homogenous language communities (Laponce 1984, 92), despite the bi- and multilingual reality of Catalonia.12

Furthermore, the immersion education system and the bilingual demands placed on those resident in Catalonia are likely to cause particular difficulties for migrants from outside of Spain potentially required to master two languages on arrival. Admittedly, the Catalan government makes efforts to prevent migrants from becoming marginalised or from being denied an education due to their lack of knowledge of Catalan. For example, while continuing to prohibit the separation of students in schools, the Catalan government provides for a system of ‘welcome classrooms’. New arrivals to the region are assigned to a class alongside Catalan classmates, but are separated for several hours to attend intensive Catalan language and culture classes along with other new arrivals to ensure the students’ progressive incorporation into normal classes (Vila i Moreno 2011, 135).

Catalan language classes for adults are also funded by both public and voluntary bodies, although Joan Pujolar notes, from participant observation of a course organised by a local voluntary organisation, how these can become a way of marking the territory through language and establishing the legitimacy of territorialised groups (2009, 101). Although the leading proponent of a territorial regime, Philippe Van Parijs, argues that territoriality is distinct from privileging the historical claims of ‘the sons of the soil’ (2011, 138), this is how it often appears to function in practice, treating newcomers as exceptional and thus requiring them to rapidly assimilate to the language ‘in possession’ of the territory (Réaume 2003, 277).

Turning again to Alto Adige/Südtirol, the attempts to provide services and recognition for the German and Italian, as well as the smaller Ladin, ← 168 | 169 →linguistic groups was intended to ensure peaceful cohabitation within the provincial territory. However, a clear danger is that linguistic divisions may be reinforced by the political and administrative system. The focus on the recognition of distinct linguistic groups risks institutionalising these divisions and preventing, or at least discouraging, the development of cosmopolitan forms of sociability across linguistic and cultural divides (Glick Schiller, Darieva and Gruner-Domic 2011, 402–403).

A clear failing of the current system is its inability to recognise or fully accommodate the children from multilingual families in schools, which are estimated to number between 8 to 10 per cent of the population (Baur and Medda-Windischer 2008, 249; Cavagnoli 2000, 368). Bi- or multilingual citizens are also not recognized by the rigid quota system, which reinforces a traditional conception of monolingual, monocultural citizens. Although the fact that more than one linguistic group is officially recognised within the province means it does not precisely fit the ‘one territory, one language’ requirement, this approach still departs from what De Schutter describes as a ‘transparency concept of language’. Promoting what he sees as a Westphalian understanding of linguistic diversity, it means bilingual speakers ‘who do not uniquely identify with one of their linguistic belongings are thereby treated as a sort of “free riders” with illegitimate preferences’ (2008, 112).

Furthermore, the past two decades have seen increasing attempts to improve German-language teaching in the Italian school system within the province at the request of the Italian-speaking community. This greater focus on German teaching in Italian language schools shows how national majority assumptions are being questioned, with learning of the language of the minority, German, now widely accepted as vital and even beneficial to the Italian language community within the province (Rauzi Visintin 2006, 54). Recent decades have consequently seen various pilot schemes in Italian language schools with a greater focus on the vernacular usage of the German language from a young age (Egger 2001, 110). Nevertheless, these schemes have faced opposition from German-speaking political representatives, primarily within the politically dominant Südtiroler Volkspartei. They have argued that the vernacular use of German in Italian-speaking schools goes against the principle of ‘mother tongue’ education and have focused ← 169 | 170 →on the symbolic value of language as specific to each group (Grote 2012, 118; Fionda 2008, 30–32).

Admittedly, memories of fascist repression have led the German group to fear close linguistic contact or possible language mixing between the two groups as the path to assimilation (Egger 2001, 120). Nevertheless, this rigid interpretation of the principle of ‘mother tongue’ education as necessarily requiring the continued separation of linguistic groups means that despite spatial proximity, there appear to be limited opportunities for what Gill Valentine describes as ‘meaningful contact’ across and between these groups (2008). Again, although this separation of linguistic groups within the province is not an example of territorial unilingualism, it departs from a similar ideological position, particularly the principle that languages in contact must be separated as much as possible (Laponce 1984, 91). As Suresh Canagarajah notes, ‘Looking at language as immobile has involved treating it as territorialized in one place and owned by one community. It has left us with a strong sense of language ownership, treating those who borrow resources from another language as “illegitimate” users’ (2013, 78).

Territoriality and the state

Although criticisms are often directed at the regional or provincial governments for these failings, it should be remembered that it is the central state which is ultimately responsible for designing a system of minority recognition which clings to the territorial principle. Both Spain and Italy have given the appearance that, by recognising the cultural and political autonomy of areas such as Catalonia and Alto Adige/Südtirol, they are moving towards multilingual models of state. However, in reality, the policies of both states appear to promote less the vision of a multilingual state than that of a monolingual state with seemingly ‘anomalous’ and clearly territorially delimited areas where the use of other languages is permitted. For example, the use of German by the public authorities is restricted to the provincial, and at most regional, territory. As Senator Oskar Peterlini from ← 170 | 171 →the Südtiroler Volkspartei explains, ‘Anche noi come parlamentari […] qui a Roma naturalmente non possiamo parlare in tedesco, parliamo in italiano’ [We also as politicians […] here in Rome naturally cannot speak in German, we speak in Italian] (II3). Consequently, if German speakers intend to move to any other area of Italy, they will inevitably lose the specific language rights they are entitled to within the province. Although, at a provincial level, it may no longer be appropriate to refer to German speakers as a minority, at the state level their minority status remains undeniable due to the territorial nature of the rights accorded to them.

In Spain too, the institutions of the central state have typically functioned solely in Castilian. However, a 2010 reform did allow for the use of all of Spain’s official languages in the Senate (Reform of the Regulations of the Senate, 27 July 2010). The provisions made in the Senate were, however, considered an exception due to its theoretical role as the chamber of ‘territorial representation’ (art. 69, Spanish Constitution 1978), as the representative from Spain’s Office for Official Languages confirmed: ‘el Senado es la cámara de representación territorial y es lógico que se permita el uso. En el Congreso no se permite, sólo en el Senado’ [the Senate is the chamber of territorial representation and it is logical that such use is allowed. But not in the Congress, only in the Senate] (SI2). Despite being considered an exception, this reform still represents the first genuine possibility for extraterritorial and official use of Spain’s other languages outside of the specific territories concerned.

Nevertheless, a potentially more important limitation of the application of the territorial principle by the Spanish state has been the failure to encourage familiarity or knowledge of Spain’s other languages throughout the state (Mar-Molinero and Stevenson 1991, 168–169). For example, at university level, there are more students of Catalan in Germany and the United Kingdom than in areas of Spain outside of the officially Catalan-speaking regions. In the 2007–08 academic year, there were only 205 students of Catalan in Spanish universities not located in Catalan-speaking areas, compared to 866 in the UK, 1053 in France and 1953 in Germany (Council of Europe, 17 February 2011, 267–268). Although universities are independent institutions from the state, no attempts have been made in obligatory education to teach the co-official languages in other areas ← 171 | 172 →of the state or at least to make significant efforts to encourage familiarity with this multilingual reality. Consequently, some Spaniards may legitimately feel unprepared for the potential difficulties they face in moving to an officially bilingual area of the state, which is one of the primary failings of the territorial approach. By focusing on the recognition of specific language groups within specific territories, the question of contact and communication across and between majorities and minorities throughout the state is overlooked (Valentine 2008, 324).

This territorial regime also ensures that the Castilian language remain privileged since, while speakers of co-official languages have their rights restricted to clearly demarcated areas, the rights of Castilian speakers cross all borders within the state (Ninyoles 1994, 153–154). In light of this clear inequality, it is unsurprising that some regional governments have taken a defensive approach to the promotion and protection of other languages within their territorial limits. As Clare Mar-Molinero argues, ‘it seems clear that only within their territories can these languages [Catalan, etc.] be protected, and the temptations to do this with aggressive, even monolingual policies must be strong’ (1995, 55). Consequently, it remains the case that the central government is viewed as the champion of the official state language, while specific regional or provincial governments are solely responsible for the protection and promotion of specific co-official languages. Particularly when those at the centre advocate a greater use or dominance of the state language, it is easy to see how this approach can foster the desire among minority language speakers for clearer political boundaries and even separatist aims (Réaume 2003, 280). On a related subject, Ash Amin has noted more widely how a territorial conception of cities and regions results in ‘a world of nested or jostling territorial configurations, of territorial attack and defense’ (2004, 1). The focus of language policies in Spain on the centrality of territoriality and the evident jostling between the centre and the periphery would appear to support this wider critique of a territorial approach to politics and policy.

Admittedly, in both Catalonia and Alto Adige/Südtirol there have generally been few demands for more multilingual policies at the state level. The political representatives of the German-speaking minority in particular seem unconcerned with the presence of German at a wider state level, which may ← 172 | 173 →reflect the continued attachment to a neighbouring state. Nevertheless, even if Catalan and German speakers, or at least their political representatives, have typically favoured a territorial model, this does not necessarily prove its wider validity. In fact, this more likely reflects their success in achieving significant territorial control and official recognition for their languages, even if alongside the state language. However, the policies implemented in both areas appear to have reinforced the territorial approach of both states in their treatment of languages and linguistic minorities more generally, leaving little space for the recognition of smaller and less territorially concentrated communities and their typically multilingual repertoires.

Without space to consider other cases in detail here, the idealisation of territorially confined linguistic communities is evident in the wider approach of the Italian state in relation to linguistic minorities. For example, a new Law passed in 1999 to extend recognition to other language groups in Italy excludes both recent migrant communities and long-standing communities which have been associated with a nomadic tradition (Law 482/1999). The exclusion of migrant languages was theoretically due to the focus of the Law on ‘historic’ minorities13 but, interestingly, the original Bill had included the languages of the Roma and Sinti populations (art. 1, Bill 169/1996). These groups have been continuously present in Italy since at least the 1400s (Clough Marinaro and Sigona 2011, 583), a long established presence comparable to other historic settlements of speakers recognised in the Law, such as the small enclaves of Albanian communities or the much smaller Croat community of just 2,000 people dispersed over three towns in the Molise region (Cermel 2009, 152). As Valeria Piergigli clarifies:

← 173 | 174 →se si considerano i gruppi rom e sinti di antico insediamento, sicuramente presenti in Italia e formati da cittadini italiani, non sembrano esservi valide ragioni ostative ad estendere loro, per quanto possibile, la disciplina racchiusa nella l. 482/1999. (2011: 895)14

The removal of the Roma and Sinti communities can be primarily explained by widespread discriminatory attitudes, with their removal from the Bill demanded by the right-wing opposition parties in explicitly discriminatory language (Camera dei Deputati, 25 May 1998; 17 June 1998). Their removal was ultimately agreed in parliament, despite some opposition, on the basis that a separate Bill would be passed (Bill 169-ter), in response to the supposed need for measures ‘adeguate alle loro peculiari caratteristiche storico-culturali’ [adapted to their specific historic and cultural traits] (Senato della Repubblica 2009: 4). Nevertheless, no such law or action followed, leaving the Romany language excluded from any form of recognition. This demonstrates how the quite clearly discriminatory justifications for their exclusion from Law 482 were ultimately sanctioned due to the implicitly territorial conception of linguistic minorities. Interestingly, a right-wing Deputy also proposed an amendment for this to be made explicit in the Law with the addition of the adjective ‘stanziali’ [sedentary] as a requisite for those minorities recognised (Camera dei Deputati, 17 June 1998). Although clearly departing from a discriminatory position and rejected by the majority in the Chamber, it would arguably only confirm a discriminatory factor already present in the Law.

As a representative from the Italian Ministry for Education confirmed, the exclusion of the Roma and Sinti populations was justified on the basis that ‘non poter collegare la lingua a un territorio ha impedito alle legislature di allora di riconoscere la tutela anche dei Rom’ [not being able to link the language to a territory prevented the governments of the time from also recognising the Roma community] (II2). While it is true that the inclusion of the Roma and Sinti groups would have caused some difficulties in ← 174 | 175 →relation to the application of the Law,15 this is due to the Law’s reliance on a territorial model of recognition. The fact that their exclusion was accepted as a necessary concession for the passing of the Law demonstrates the impossibility of the legislator to imagine any alternative to a territorially conceived regime. The exclusion of the Roma and Sinti communities offers the clearest example of the reluctance to accept or accommodate any transgression of this incontestable link between linguistic communities and typically a historic claim to a specific territory.


In sum, language policies in Spain and Italy maintain a territorial conception of linguistic minority groups, despite the fact that the neat coincidence of territorial and linguistic boundaries is almost always the exception rather than the rule (Patten 2003, 302). A leading proponent of linguistic territoriality Van Parijs does recognise its limitations in linguistically heterogenous areas, but still argues that ‘the guiding principle should remain the same’ (2011: 168). However, there are clear dangers in adapting a principle which maintains unilingual territorialism as its ideal model and which reinforces the rigid association of languages with ‘territorial boundaries and border control’ (Laponce 1984, 91). For example, it may lead those communities which do not fit the territorial model to create the ‘fictive unity’ described by Heller and thus mask more complex multilingual realities, in order to be deemed deserving of recognition. Even where a territorial regime officially recognises more than one language, as in the cases discussed here, it still ← 175 | 176 →appears to adhere to similar ideological principles such as the need for a clear separation of languages or the legitimacy of territorialised communities over migrant populations (Pujolar 2009).

In theory, officially recognising certain languages within specific territories does not necessarily require ignoring other forms of recognition for a wider range of languages (Van Parijs 2011, 15), but in practice the ideological foundations of the territorial approach may mean state and sub-state authorities are unable or unwilling to envision any alternatives. Understandably, communities such as the Catalan- and German-speaking groups often feel a strong emotive and historic link to a specific place, and there will normally be some practical needs to tie certain provisions for the use of their languages to that place (Réaume 2003). However, as Amin argues, there is a need to develop a new politics of place which does not deny such attachments, but which questions the assumption of a cohesive territorial culture and instead focuses on ‘the actual, material dynamics of cultural formation’ (2004, 20), which typically means composite and hybrid forms of attachment. Such an approach would also mean questioning the privileging of the rights of specific groups based on claims to territorial ‘ownership’ of the place and the related concept of indigineity. The recognition of the range of distinct but also overlapping language communities in any one place, as well as the need for communication both across and within these communities, must be the admittedly challenging goal, rather than affording rights only to the majority or historically established groups within each territory.


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← 181 | 182 →Appendix: Key to interviews

II1 – Lucio Giudiceandrea. Interviewed in Bozen/Bolzano, 9 September 2010.

Journalist and author of various essays and books on the Italian community in Alto Adige/Südtirol.

II2 – Ministry of Education (Italy) representative. Interviewed in Rome, 7 September 2010.

Representative from the Italian Ministry of Education, and specifically responsible for coordinating teaching activities in minority languages.

II3 – Oskar Peterlini. Interviewed in Rome, 22 September 2010.

Senator for the Südtiroler Volkspartei in the Italian Senate from 2001 to 2013. President and Vice-President of the Regional Council of Trentino-Alto Adige/Südtirol between 1988 and 1998.

SI1 –General Directorate of Language Policy (Catalonia) representative. Interviewed in Barcelona, 24 October 2011.

Legal advisor within the General Directorate of Language Policy of Catalonia in 2011.

SI2 – Office for Official Languages (Spain) representative. Interviewed in Madrid, 28 November 2011.

Representative from the Spanish Ministry of Territorial Policy and Public Administrations. Responsible for the Office for Official Languages in 2011.

   1   Despite the prominence of the language rights discourse, its relevance to language, from a traditionally individualistic rights perspective, has been questioned due to the inherently social nature of language (Peled 2011). Consequently, while in accordance with the language rights discourse that there is a ‘vital human interest in language’ (Réaume 2003, 284), this Chapter will also incorporate what Yael Peled describes as a broader framework of language ethics. This addresses, for example, the question of whether majorities should also learn the languages of minorities and vice versa, rather than solely focusing on the recognition of rights for distinct language groups (2011, 448).

   2   While this chapter will focus on long established linguistic minorities, it will also attempt to give some space to the question of migrant groups as central to any discussion of language rights and contemporary linguistic and political regimes.

   3   However, evidently the state itself is a territory within which the personality principle is applied (De Schutter 2008, 106). While recognising this flaw in the terminology, the terms are understood here as distinguishing between rights restricted to a specific area of the state and those which apply throughout the state’s territory.

   4   The name of the area itself is a point of linguistic contention (Grote 2012, 3), but this chapter will use the official bilingual Italian and German denomination to avoid an explicit implication of bias.

   5   While this article will focus on the political region of Catalonia, it should be noted that Catalan also has co-official status within the Balearic Islands. The co-official language of Valencia, ‘Valencian’, is also often considered a variety of Catalan although there is still debate over whether it should be considered a distinct language (Nicolás 2006, 181).

   6   Alongside German and Italian, the language of the smaller Ladin minority also has official status in certain valleys within the province and is subject to similar measures of protection, although schools in designated Ladin-speaking areas teach primarily via the medium of both German and Italian (Egger 2001, 128).

   7   All translations are my own unless otherwise stated.

   8   Between the 1991 and 2001 censuses in the province, the percentage of people declaring themselves Italian speakers fell by 1.18 per cent, while the percentage of German speakers rose by 1.16 per cent (ASTAT 2002).

   9   See appendix for key to interviews.

  10    It should also be noted that the lower socioeconomic status of certain sectors of monolingual Castilian speakers is due primarily to the fact that many, and particularly those who emigrated under Franco, had low levels of education and qualifications on arrival, rather than resulting from a conscious effort by native Catalans to exclude them (Atkinson 2000, 192; Woolard 2003, 101). Nevertheless, this should not mean ignoring continued class implications related to the higher social status associated with the knowledge and use of Catalan, even if it may cause discomfort within some Catalanist sectors (Woolard 2003).

  11    ‘The Italians, until a few years ago, […] would say, “It is not fair that I am forced to speak another language. I am Italian, here we are in Italy, and if you, as a minority, live in Italy it is your duty to study the national language but not my duty to speak your language”.’

  12    In fact, in Catalonia there is also an officially recognised community of speakers of Aranese, an Occitan variety, in the Val d’Aran (art. 6.5, Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia 2006). The official recognition of a third language in both cases, with the previously mentioned recognition of the Ladin language in Alto Adige/Südtirol, does show that smaller language communities, or ‘minorities within minorities’, are not ignored. Nevertheless, the fact that Aranese and Ladin speakers are territorially concentrated within specific valleys, and consequently that services in both languages are primarily restricted to these valleys, again shows a reliance on a territorial approach.

  13    Marina Chini (2011) discusses the possibility of defining recent migrant groups as ‘new linguistic minorities’, although again the emphasis still appears to be on the need for a territorial rooting of such groups.

  14    ‘if we consider the Roma and Sinti groups to be of ancient settlement, clearly established in Italy and composed of Italian citizens, there do not appear to be any valid reasons for preventing the measures contained in Law 482/1999, as far as is possible, from being extended to them.’

  15    It should also be noted that other measures listed in the Law were extremely difficult to apply to those minorities which were included and which equally displayed extremely distinct linguistic, cultural and historic traits. For example, the Law appears to presume the existence of a widely accepted standard form of the languages recognised (Toso 2004, 50), which was not the case, for example, for speakers of Sardinian language varieties (Tufi 2013).