Catalan, a Conference Language?

 | Global business issues

Having become a language of instruction in Catalonia’s schools, Catalan is now consolidating its position in other fields, notably at international conferences held in Catalonia.  As a co-official language of Spain, it can also be used in the European institutions.  However, should it be included systematically at meetings in Barcelona?

A short history of Catalan

After being banned under Franco, Catalan was restored as an official language of Catalonia in 1979, when the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia placed it on an equal footing with Castilian Spanish, the official language of the whole of Spain. Further laws were passed in 1983 and 1998 which dealt with language standardisation. Since then, having been freed of the dictator’s ban, then promoted and taught in schools, Catalan has gradually spread to every facet of the political, social, cultural and economic life of the region. Anyone visiting Catalan, the vibrant capital of Barcelona, will realise that the language is spoken everywhere.

Catalan, a conference language on the private market

So what about Catalan at international meetings? Is it becoming the norm? Are there frequent requests for simultaneous interpretation into or out of Catalan?

Catalan has indeed become an important conference language throughout the region. It was originally introduced as a passive language (participants could speak Catalan and it was translated into the other languages), but it has slowly been adopted as an active language (with simultaneous interpretation into Catalan from the other languages of the meeting). Some international meetings are even held exclusively in Catalan and English, and Barcelona City Council (which previously worked with interpretation into either Catalan or Castilian Spanish), now requires its official meetings to be interpreted into Catalan. At the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, the winners’ press conferences were translated into at least four languages, including Catalan. However, it was the Universal Forum of Cultures Barcelona 2004 which marked the turning point in terms of its systematic use as a meeting language. The chief interpreter, Danielle Grée, Calliope Member for Spain, tells us that the Forum, with its 50 plus conferences held over five months, offered at least passive and often active Catalan throughout the resulting 4,700 interpreter/days.

In Andorra, the situation is different. Since Catalan is the sole official language of the Principality, all meetings provide for translation at least from Catalan into the other languages. Rosaura Bartumeu, Director of LEXIC and Calliope Member for Andorra, confirms that 99% of the international meetings she organises have Catalan as one of the conference languages.

Catalan in the European Institutions

In 2005, the European Commission accepted the passive use of Spain’s co-official languages (Basque, Galician and Catalan/Valencian) at EU meetings, providing that the request was made ahead of time and the cost was borne by Spain. In 2006, the European Parliament followed suit. Contrary to practice on the private market, interpretation into Catalan is never provided for, since it is not an official language of the EU. In 2015, only 8% of the meetings organised by the European Commission’s Directorate General for Interpretation, the largest consumer of interpretation services in the world with almost 100,000 interpreter/days per year, involved non-EU languages. Just four meetings of the Council of the European Union and six plenary meetings of the Committee of the Regions provided Catalan as a passive language that year. The market is therefore a relatively small one.

So should you plan for Catalan at your next meeting?

Now that the language has been standardised, and given the understandable pride the Catalans take in speaking their language, there is little doubt that interpretation from Catalan would be highly appreciated at any international meeting being held in Catalonia, especially if local dignitaries are there to make the welcome speeches. If, in addition, the meeting is covering a traditional sector, such as textiles or the paper industry, or if the research to be discussed is usually conducted locally in Catalan (medicine, chemical industry, etc.), the local speakers will prefer to speak in their usual working language. So, should you also be able to provide translation into Catalan that would definitely be a plus in the eyes of the local participants.

If you choose to provide Catalan at your next meeting in Barcelona, bear in mind that there are relatively few interpreters able to work into/from Catalan, and hardly any outside Catalonia. It is therefore advisable to book your interpreters well in advance. If you are planning a meeting with interpretation in Spain or Andorra, contact Danielle Grée, Calliope Member for Spain, or Rosaura Bartumeu, Calliope Member for Andorra. We can help you to find the right interpreters for your event and optimise your budget.

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