I have a lot of time for Xavi, who I see as a NO-nonsense communicator ENDANGERED LANGUAGES SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED AND HELPED TO SURVIVE, NOT PERSECUTED

Well, I’m spoilt for choice when it comes to content for this month’s column. Not only have I just returned from 18 days in Brazil, including a trip to the Amazon, which has given me plenty of material for cultural comparisons, but my chosen specialised subject of football (see Mastermind) has been all over the news this past month following Spanish Football Federation president Luis Rubiales’ very public gaff and kiss-gate. I can quite imagine him quoting a character from Spinal Tap: “What’s wrong with being sexy?”

However, rather than adding my own, rather predictable, grain of sand to the Rubiales debate, if we can call it that, other than to question why anyone would be surprised either at Rubiales’ initial behaviour, his subsequent reaction and the subsequent reaction of the men at the Spanish Football Federation, given what we already know about both Rubiales’ history and Spanish men of a certain generation and bent, I would like to focus on another aspect of the Rubiales affair that went relatively unnoticed. Namely, Barça head coach Xavi’s statement on it and the language issue that followed.

I have a lot of time for Xavi, who I see as a straight-talking, no-nonsense and forthright communicator, to unnecessarily use three synonyms together. And so it proved when he was asked about the Rubiales incident. He gave a clear answer in Catalan to the assembled press along the lines of “First of all, I give all my unconditional support to Jenni [Hermoso, the recipient of the now world-famous kiss] and the women’s football players for what they are going through at the moment. Secondly, I condemn the behaviour of the president of the Spanish Football Federation, which I find totally unacceptable. And finally, I’d like to express my sorrow and sadness that there is no talk of the women’s world cup, which I believe is a historical milestone… that this behaviour is talked about instead I find intolerable.” He then added: “I hope I’ve been clear. Now let’s talk about other issues. Thank you”, to which a Cadena Ser journalist responded: “Can you repeat what you just said in Spanish?”

I honestly have no idea what the etiquette for using different languages in press conferences is, but Xavi’s response is worth noting. “You translate it into Spanish, I’ve made a wonderful speech in Catalan, which is a wonderful language. Just translate it” (English translation my own).

So what can we learn from all this? I’ve argued before in this column that Catalans should avoid using Catalan as a means of excluding outsiders, which I have seen done and I hear non-Catalan residents complain about. But here I think that if we could follow Xavi’s pragmatic lead and get away from all the political wrangling that surrounds the use of language in this country, then we’d all be a lot better off. A language is an expression of a people’s identity, and endangered languages should be encouraged and helped to survive, not persecuted. So as Xavi said, just translate it yourself, Spanish journalists.


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