Occitan (Aranese) in Spain
Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana
Version française
Occitan (Aranese) in Spain
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

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2.2. Geographical and language background

The Aran Valley is a small Occitan-speaking enclave with an area of 620 km on Spanish territory on the northern slopes of the Pyrenees in the region of Catalonia. The Occitan spoken in the Aran Valley is a variant of Gascon (differing in certain aspects from the Gascon spoken to the north of the Pyrenees, differences that are mostly attributable to the influence of Castilian and Catalan).

Much of the Aran Valley is covered in forests, with some fields and pastures. It is closer to Toulouse than to Barcelona, the natural entry and exit route being on the French side, while in the south the mountains constitute a natural barrier that is more difficult to surmount. Before the Tunnel de Viella was opened in 1948 (the roadway was not tarred until 1964), the valley was only accessible from the Spanish side in summer.

Between 1940 and 1960 the construction of the tunnel and of various dams ushered in a period of demographic growth, characterized by a decrease in the average age of the population and an increase in the birth rate. The development of tourism triggered off another population boom from 1970, which was particularly noticeable in the main towns and in the villages close to the ski resorts. The structure of the population by age group is now more balanced than in other parts of the Pyrenees, except in some hamlets which seem destined to disappear. The present population (1991 figures) is 6,184. The capital, Viella, has 3,109 inhabitants.

Almost the entire recent history of the Aran Valley has been marked by temporary or permanent emigration, mainly to the towns in the south-west of France and in Catalonia. From the 1950s, all the Pyrenean valleys experienced a rural exodus which resulted in an aging population and abandoned hamlets. Since 1970 the trend has been reversed, with the creation of new jobs in tourism having attracted numerous immigrants, chiefly Castilian speakers.

The main economic activity is currently tourism (winter sports but also summer holidays). Primary industry accounted in 1986 for only 5% of the active population, whereas 67% were employed in the service sector, and the number of those employed in different jobs according to the season was constantly increasing. The standard of living in the Aran Valley is above the Spanish average, with per capita savings and income relatively high and the unemployment rate fairly low. The average income of Aranese speakers was slightly higher than that of non-speakers.

Three languages are spoken in the valley: Occitan (generally known as Aranese), Castilian and Catalan. A high percentage of the valley's inhabitants also speak French. According to the 1991 census, 5,552 persons (92_3% of the population over two years of age) know Aranese, and 3,361 (60_9%) can speak it. Knowledge of the written language is less widespread: 51% can read Aranese, but only 18_6% can write it. The lowest levels of knowledge of the language are to be found in the two main towns, but familiarity with the written language is greatest there. Knowledge of Castilian is almost universal. 96_4% of the Aranese population also understand Catalan, and 73_3% are able to speak it. As far as use of the language is concerned, a survey conducted in 1984 revealed that about 60% of the valley's inhabitants always or usually spoke Aranese, while slightly more than 10% spoke it as a second language. The presence of a significant number of Castilian-speaking immigrants, along with permanent contact with tourists, has strengthened the role of Castilian as the lingua franca.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

The Aran Valley was incorporated into the Occitanian county of Comminges at the end of the Muslim occupation and changed allegiance several times before being united, in 1220, with the Kingdom of Catalonia and Aragon. Its inhabitants retained communal ownership of the land, forestry and water in the valley, unlike the inhabitants of neighbouring valleys, who were subjected to the feudal system. Documents written in Aranese Gascon and dating from the 13th century still exist. By means of a charter granted in 1313, King James II of Catalonia and Aragon recognized the traditions and customs of the valley, including its governing bodies (the Conselh Generau and Sindic). These institutions, unlike those of Catalonia, survived the measures of centralization imposed by the Bourbon monarchy in 1714, and the Conselh Generau was not abolished until the Aran Valley was incorporated into the province of Lleida in 1834. The first autonomy statute of modern Catalonia, adopted in 1932, did not provide for any special regime for the Aran Valley, despite the demands of its inhabitants. Under the Francoist dictatorship, the Aran Valley, like the whole of Spain, was subjected to monolingual centralism. Following the restoration of democracy, the new Catalonian Autonomy Statute (1979) guaranteed teaching, respect and protection of Aranese and provided for the reestablishment of the Conselh Generau, which was finally accomplished in 1990 when the Catalan Parliament adopted the law establishing the special regime for the Aran Valley.

The main events that have affected the position of the Aranese language in recent years are the formulation and promulgation of a standardized spelling system, the introduction of Aranese into the school curriculum, the creation of the Centre for Linguistic Standardization and the adoption of the law establishing the special regime for the Aran Valley, which gave Aranese the status of an official language within the valley.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

The Aran Valley is one of the 41 comarques (districts) which make up Catalonia, an autonomous community within Spain since 1979. It enjoys a special status, different to that of the other comarques, by virtue of the various legal provisions adopted by the Catalan administration, particularly the law establishing the special regime for the Aran Valley.

Since 1990 Aranese has been an official language in the Aran Valley, a status it shares with Catalan, which is an official language throughout Catalonia, and with Spanish, the official language of the State. The Catalonian Autonomy Statute of 1979 provided for the restoration of the Aranese political institutions. The Catalonian Linguistic Standardization Act of 1983 recognized the public use of Aranese in the valley but did not invest it with the status of an official language, although the Catalan Government undertook to enact the measures required to guarantee its standardization. Between 1983 and 1990 the Catalan Government did in fact take a number of steps to this end: publication of spelling standards and recognition of the place of Aranese within the family of Occitan languages, application of the new standards in the teaching of Aranese, allowing the people of the Aran valley to use Aranese in their dealings with the Catalan administration, etc. Nevertheless, it was not until 1990 that the law was adopted whereby Aranese became an official language in the valley. The new law also provided for recognition of the bonds uniting the Aran Valley with other parts of the Occitan linguistic community, reestablishment of the political institutions abolished in 1834, introduction of Aranese into the school curriculum, into the regional administration and the media under its responsibility and promotion and development of Aranese culture.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

Since the Catalonian Autonomy Statute was adopted, education is the responsibility of the Catalan Government, which delegated some of its powers to the valley authorities in pursuance of the law of 1990 establishing the special regime for the Aran Valley. The support measures adopted by the Catalan Government include notably the introduction of Aranese as a school subject and as a classroom language, the production of textbooks and other teaching resources and the in-service training of teachers. These measures have brought considerable progress, and the amount of Aranese taught and spoken in schools has greatly increased in the course of the past ten years. School textbooks in Aranese have been published (generally by the Catalan Ministry of Education or with its collaboration): an Aranese tutor in three volumes designed for the three levels of compulsory schooling (from the ages of 6 to 14), social science textbooks, reading books, comic strips and collections of stories, etc.

At preschool level, Aranese is the principal language of instruction in some nursery schools. Around 60% of nursery children receive most of their instruction in Aranese. These children can then continue the learning process in Aranese at primary school with specially adapted materials until the age of eight or nine. All the other pupils also receive Aranese lessons.

In primary schools and at the first stage of secondary education, the teaching of Aranese is compulsory in every school, and every pupil is taught partly in Aranese. In primary schools, pupils receive most of their lessons in Aranese until the age of 9. From the age of ten, they are taught Aranese for two hours per week and learn certain subjects, such as social science, in Aranese.

At the last stage of secondary school and in technical training, although pupils attend compulsory Aranese courses, less headway has been made in introducing the language as a teaching medium than at the lower levels. Aranese is not used as the main classroom language in any secondary or technical school.

As far as higher education is concerned, there are no tertiary institutions in the Aran Valley. Finally, with regard to teacher training, fewer than 40% of the teachers in the Aran Valley are natives of the valley, and only 20% of them can read and write Occitan (1984 figures). In 1990, as a result of in-service training courses, 80% of the valley's teachers were officially qualified to teach Aranese.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

Aranese does not seem to be used within the judicial system, and it appears that no provision has been made for a translation service.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

It also appears that the national authorities makes no use of Aranese, except perhaps in oral communications. They do no more than tolerate its use. As for the Catalan Government, it recognizes the existence of Aranese, supports its use and makes fairly extensive use of it, both orally and in writing. It has also taken measures to promote the knowledge of Aranese among regional officials posted to the Aran Valley.

As far as the local authorities are concerned, most communications within the valley, as well as the debates of the municipal councils, take place in Aranese, although there are variations from one municipality to another.

The linguistic situation in the public services is complex. Numerous different combinations are encountered, with Aranese being used together with Spanish or with Catalan. In the services provided directly by national authorities, Aranese is almost entirely absent.

Official place names, in standardized Occitan spelling, were published by the Catalan Government in 1984 and feature on most road signs. Signposting in towns and villages is also in Aranese, but the use of Spanish is very common in shop signs. The use of Aranese surnames and forenames is also permitted.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

Under the law establishing the special regime for the Aran Valley, the Catalan Government is required to guarantee the use of Aranese in the media that are subject to its authority. The means of communication in Aranese also receive official aid under the statutes of the radio and television network for which the Catalan Government is responsible.

As regards the daily press, there are no newspapers printed wholly or partly in Aranese. As for periodicals in Aranese, there are currently no magazines published entirely in Aranese, although in the past there was a fortnightly magazine entitled Toti, which was issued free of charge. The magazine Aran, with 40% of its contents in Aranese, has a circulation of 3,000 and is also distributed free of charge.

In the world of radio, the Catalunya Ràdio station, part of the Catalan Government network, broadcasts in Aranese for seven hours per week, while Ràdio Municipal Lès broadcasts programmes in Aranese for nine hours per week. Aranese listeners can also receive a wide range of programmes in Catalan, Spanish and French broadcast by the public and commercial stations.

As regards television, one of the Catalan Government channels, TV3, transmits one weekly programme of 15 to 20 minutes' duration. The two channels of Televisión Español transmit mainly in Spanish, apart from some programmes in Catalan. The three Spanish commercial channels only use Spanish. By means of a special tuner to convert SECAM signals, Aranese viewers can also receive several French channels.

Finally, in the domain of information technology, the only software in Aranese is the VORA program (Aranese spellcheck) produced by the Programme for Information Technology in Education of the Catalan Ministry of Education. The same service provides schools with a quadrilingual dictionary in Catalan, Spanish, French and Aranese on CD- ROM.

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3.5. The Arts

Between two and nine books in Aranese have been published in each of the last few years. Most of them are school textbooks, children's books, collections of stories and novels. Literary competitions have been organized since 1990 by the Aran Valley Centre for Linguistic Standardization.

A few groups perform traditional music in Aranese, and one of them has made a recording. Little use is made of Aranese in pop and rock music.

There are no professional theatre companies which perform in Aranese, although some plays are staged by groups of amateurs and children. Apart from a very few Catalan productions, all the films advertised in cinemas are in Spanish.

The number of patronal festivals and other public celebrations in the valley is still quite considerable, and some festivals that were abandoned under the Francoist regime have been revived. Extensive use of Aranese is made at such events, some of which attract numerous spectators from French Gascony. The libraries of one of the major Catalonian savings banks possess quite a sizeable collection of publications about the valley.

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3.6. The business world

Knowledge of Aranese is apparently an advantage to applicants for certain public posts and for all jobs involving contacts with the public. Although advertising in Aranese has increased in recent years, the use of this language is still largely confined to messages from public bodies and certain special publicity campaigns. There are no television advertisements in Aranese. A very limited number of local farm products are labelled in Aranese, but the language is not used in instructions to consumers. Spanish is the dominant language in the commercial sector, especially in tourist areas.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

Almost all parents who speak Aranese still speak it to their children. However, recent surveys indicate that a significant percentage of young people today come from families in which at least one parent is a native Castilian speaker. In families where both parents speak Aranese, the language is passed on easily to the children, whereas in mixed families Aranese loses ground. These same studies reveal the predominance of Spanish in the school environment, both inside and outside the classroom. Fewer than one in four school pupils speaks Aranese with his or her classmates.

Although speaking in Aranese does not seem to have any important social connotations, it is none the less true that the use of the language is associated with certain long- established groups of people (farmers and pensioners), whereas Spanish is more often the normal means of communication in the sectors in which most of the incomers work (construction, administration, hotels and tourism) and among students too.

The findings of a survey conducted in 1984 revealed that attitudes were generally favourable towards knowledge of Aranese and its use in social life and in the media. As far as the use of Aranese within the school system was concerned, a more reserved attitude emerged, with command of Aranese (along with Catalan) being perceived as a "supplementary" accomplishment, whereas it was considered "fundamental" that children should learn Spanish.

The findings of this same survey indicated that the use of Aranese was far more common among older people than among the under-40s. On the other hand, the impact of Aranese teaching in schools was already discernible in the relatively high rates of systematic use of Aranese recorded among children under the age of ten compared to adolescents, almost 40% of whom habitually expressed themselves in Spanish. Children of non-Aranese origin rarely used Aranese, but, thanks to the teaching of Aranese in schools, all of them are able to speak it by the time they leave school.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

There are some exchanges with schools in French Gascony.

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4. Conclusion

Thanks to tourism, the Aran Valley is in a relatively privileged demographic and economic situation compared with other high mountain areas. Nevertheless, these very factors of development and demographic rejuvenation have exposed Aranese to constant contact with more widely spoken languages, particularly Spanish, to the extent that its preservation is proving difficult in a society which is becoming less and less rural. The small size of the linguistic community, the lack of familiarity with the written language and the presence of a third language, Catalan, which is also trying to consolidate its position in relation to Spanish, add further complications. Nevertheless, the measures taken by the Catalan Government, especially in the field of education, along with the recent acquisition by the Aran Valley of a degree of political autonomy, which has given Aranese the status of an official language, put the Aran Valley in an enviable position by comparison with other regions where Occitan is spoken.

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