Fines for “incorrect” language use

As we go into recession the governments of two mini-“nations”, one with a state, the other with considerable autonomy, both worse afflicted by the downturn than might reasonably have been expected 20 years ago, have, within days of one another, rediscovered vaguely Biblical and distinctly 1930s strategies to disguise their failures of economic management: blame the blasphemers, whose inability to use words as they should be used demeans and damages us all. So Slovakia’s Culture Ministry has proposed up to 5,000€ fines for journalists and others who use foreign words when suitable Slovak ones are available and who make spelling or grammatical errors. Anyone will be able to denounce language crimes to the ministry, which, journalists fear, may be less than impartial in prosecuting them.

In Catalonia, meanwhile, the head of the philological section of the Institute for Catalan Studies, the regional government’s equivalent for all the Spanish royal academies, has called for fines and firings for journalists who make “mistakes”. This, as wags have pointed out, would constitute a Berufsverbot for the current, linguistically challenged Catalan president. It would also take language policy one significant step beyond the current policy of heavy fines for commercial establishments which choose to use Spanish instead of Catalan in public, and the effective official prohibition on the use of Spanish in schools except as a “foreign” language. (Shops which advertise only in Russian, Arabic, Urdu, English… are curiously exempt.)

Calvet & Petheram, Language wars and linguistic politics:

Klaus Bochman, an East German linguist [pub 1985], has compared the language policies of the different Fascist states [Spain, Italy, Germany], and found four constant factors: a xenophobic purism at the level of the national language; an anti-dialectical centralism; a nationalist centralism directed against national minorities; and a linguistic colonialism or expansionism outside the country’s frontiers.

Catalan and Slovak language policy shares these traits. Calvet and Petheram believe that French language policy, which also does, is doomed to failure, but doubt that it is fascist. Whatever.

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  1. I didn´t follow the Slovak Language Law march over the last couple of years but I see that it has settled for good. The novelty is the use of € in place of SKK.

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