The Use of Languages in 18th-Century Catalonia

March 1, 2017

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In 1749,  in the great Catalan cathedral city of Girona forty-three miles from the French border, Baldiri Reixac i Carbó (1703–1781) published an influential book that has gone into twenty editions. It was a visionary guide to the education of children and youths that displayed the influence of the Enlightenment, a French-led movement that largely bypassed the normal educational process in Spanish-ruled territories. Among many other things, the text deals with the right motives and means for studying languages. Reixac stressed that, at home and at school (where he urged instruction by “persuasion rather than fear”), pupils should be learning five languages. He gave a different reason for each:

  1. Their own language, because Catalan brings “a great ability to learn and understand other languages”—this despite the outlawing of official use of Catalan by the Bourbon monarchy’s decrees earlier in the century.
  2. Latin, because “it is used at all the universities and academies.”
  3. “Within the Kingdom of Spain,” Castilian is effective equipment for a salesman there.
  4. French,”because it is obvious that France now rules all the sciences and arts to perfection”—which showed his adherence to the ideas then being formlated for the Encyclopedie.
  5. And, finally, Italian, in order to “go to Rome” and “to recreate the spirit, when you are tired of other occupations.”

Thus a man of international vision and broad culture saw each language as bestowing its own characteristic gifts and having its own distinctive uses. And nowadays people who are doggedly monolingual are often deemed “educated” and commonly rule the fate of nations.

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