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How languages can live together without killing each other

Why Castilian didn't smother Galician

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It's not just about status

Of course, subjecting language interaction to a mathematical model can't tell the whole story. In their paper, the researchers note: "Firstly, the model does not consider possible alterations of the relative proportions of the linguistic groups due to immigration, emigration or differential birth and/or death rates.

"Secondly, partially related to this is the consideration that the relative status of the two languages may well vary in time."

Regarding this second point, we asked Pérez if Galician was given an artificial "boost" following the death of Franco, in that a renewed sense of Galician identity actively promoted the use of a language which had been supressed under the dictator's regime.

He said: "Yes, sure. Take into account that during Franco's regime only the use of Castilian was permitted; the other three languages of Spain (Galician, Catalan and Basque) were completely forbidden. Nowadays the situation is very different: Galician, Catalan and Basque are co-official with Castillian, there are TV channels, newspapers, etc in these languages."

While Basque has indeed enjoyed a renaissance, the researchers' mathematical model would probably have doomed it to die. Pérez concluded: "Basque is completely different, not only from Castilian, but from any other European language (English is far closer to Castilian than Basque is, for example). From my point of view, it is only the political support of Basque which has allowed its survival." ®

Bootnotes

Those of you with a mathematical bent might enjoy this video abstract of the team's findings, presented in mighty English:

* Galician is either a language in its own right, or a dialect of Portuguese, depending on your viewpoint. Suffice it to say, it has plenty in common with both Portuguese and Castilian.

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