The Contemporary Age. From Language of the Monarchy to Official Language. (19th century)

Galicia was the scene of the first anti-Napoleonic revolts

The homogenising intentions of the Spanish Empire did not have the success of the policies promoted by the Modern State. During this period, the foundations of the nation-state were consolidated, bringing the development of an official culture and consequently, one sole language. The prestige of Castilian went beyond the limits of the civil service, gradually becoming the language of the middle classes, culture and education
Summary
  1. The Languages of the Empire
  2. The Homogenisation of the Emerging State
  3. The Language of the Nation
  4. Latin Gives Way to Castilian as the Language of Knowledge and Culture
  5. Castilian, the Language of Education

1. The Languages of the Empire

Attempts to linguistically unify the many ‘Spains’ were by no means few; however, before the 19th century, these were in general extravagant or fanciful. The State under the House of Habsburg in the 16th and 17th centuries, and under the House of Bourbon in the 18th century, was an enormous empire, not only possessing colonies in America and the Pacific, but also maintaining diverse and varied domains in Europe (in Italy, the Netherlands, etc.). Even in the peninsula, the very heart of the Empire, the diversity of traditional institutions in the territories halted any unifying force. In part, the influence of the Catholic Church was very powerful, its influence in the field of education and letters no less than in other fields, and the State lacked a sufficiently developed mechanism, but not only in education. The Hispanics, as with the rest of the Europeans, defined their identity with regard to religion and obedience to the monarchy, rather than with regard to language or lay culture. Naturally, the language of court gained prestige and literature in Castilian experienced moments of brilliance. But the linguistic differences served to reinforce differences of class and make them more visible, and from this period, every individual felt completely bound to his place in the social class in which he had been born. Social mobility was minimal, which limited an individual’s expectations.

2. The Homogenisation of the Emerging State

The situation outlined above, gradually but clearly changed in the contemporary age. Without abandoning their imperialistic ambitions, states became national, and attempted to create a unified and regulated economic area; they attempted to eliminate interior frontiers by smoothly connecting different regions with roads and rapid means of transport; they attempted to draw well defined borders and protect them with a standing army of autochthonous troops; they set up powerful administrative and bureaucratic mechanisms and attempted to free themselves of the tutelage of the Church and finally, establish educational systems that would place under their controlled larger and larger sectors of the population.

The sources of political legitimisation also changed drastically, and with them, the ideological reference points: no longer was it faith in God, blind obedience to the king and affection for ancestral customs; rather, loyalty to the nation, faithfulness to the state and adherence to the constitution and the laws. In these contemporary conditions, the project of linguistic and cultural homogenisation of the populations that coexisted under the flag of the same state was no longer an impossible dream, but rather a real possibility, and in some areas it even became an urgent necessity. This homogenisation had to be carried out in favour of the language and culture of the nation, that is to say, the State. Only this could guarantee the universal validity of one law and the equality of all citizens in its eyes. To achieve this, the State and society worked together: the former imposed a sole language on its mechanisms, that became more and more extent and closer and closer to the citizens; the latter promoted the same language in public areas (the mass media, civic institutions, recreation, etc.), an area that was in permanent growth. Finally, the keystone was the generalization of compulsory education that would take in larger and larger sections of the population for longer periods of time, until it became universal and of some length.

3. The Language of the Nation

On paper, the chain of ideas that underlies contemporary nationalism of a “liberal” origin (using “liberal” in the widest sense) leads from the State to the nation, and the nation to the language. Where there is a State, there must be a nation, and this nation must have its own, exclusive culture, expressed in a sole language. Obviously, this is not commonly expressed in these terms. More often, it is commonly held that national culture (sometimes reference is made to the “national spirit”) is prior to the nation, and this in turn precedes the State, and it is even claimed that the nation existed since time immemorial, and that the State merely fulfils a predetermined destiny. It is also true that such a project did not appear out of nowhere, fully formed; rather, it was forged with the passing of time, with many variations and in accordance with the circumstances. However it was formed, in states such as the Spanish state where various ethnic communities with a territorial base survived, sometimes vigorously, with their own vernacular cultures, the “State” nationalists had to confront the problem of integrating them into the nation-state project. Often, this integration meant the destruction of minor languages and cultures; however, occasionally they looked for ways to accommodate them that did not imply their total annihilation (passing first through a process of converting it into a “museum exhibit”, in the case of the more civilized countries).

4. Latin Gives Way to Castilian as the Language of Knowledge and Culture

There occurs a process of the promotion of the State languages to completely scholarly languages, with Latin being laid aside, expelled from the universities and overtime becoming a relic reserved for the seminaries and ecclesiastical rites (where it lasted until the 2nd Vatican Council; yesterday in terms of years). In the same way that no-one could imagine a language better suited for learning Theology, Philosophy or Law (or even Pharmacy and Geometry), the main area of knowledge taught by universities until the 19th century, so there was no way to explain in Latin the emerging fields of knowledge such as Political Economy, the different types of Engineering or the new, non-Aristotelian Physics and Chemistry, that were making room for themselves in the universities. It was considered obvious that with “undigested Latin in the classroom” one could not mould “model citizens”; rather, these pupils should be taught in the “majestic Castilian language”.

5. Castilian, the Language of Education

By the middle of the 19th century, Castilian had won the battle in for the university, and around this time the institutes of secondary education were created, whilst the first serious legislative plans to provide at least three years of schooling for the whole of the child population were drawn up; this project was hampered both by the lack of material on the part of the public administration (not only in terms of finance, but also human resources: there were not enough qualified teachers) and by the deeply rooted practice of child labour. The children of farmhands and fishermen had to help with the tasks of their parents, and children of urban labourers worked just as hard (or even harder) than their parents. Those arms could not be at rest everyday at school; how would learning to read and write help them?