Separatist movements around the world represent nations’ pursuit of self-rule, secession, and independence. In that process, their goal is to separate themselves politically from larger nations that have control over them. The reasons vary, but can all be traced back to feelings of subjugation.
A condition that aggravates relationships between linked nations is a discrepancy in language; especially if one of the means of subjugation is the prohibition of a minority language. Let’s take a peek at the nature of these linguistic relationships in a few principal separatist movements from around the world today.
Catalonia is currently a province of Spain, whose only official language is Spanish. For Catalonians, this can be a bit of a blow, because their language is not Spanish, but Catalan.
Most people around the world aren’t aware of the Catalan language. And if they are, their first assumption is that it’s a dialect of Spanish, since Catalonia is located in Spain. But the reality is that Catalan is a romance language just like Spanish, Portuguese, French, and Italian.
Belgium is divided into the regions of Flanders and Wallonia, which are linguistically and culturally distinct from each other. The language spoken in Flanders is Flemish and in Wallonia, French.
Flemish, being a dialect of Dutch, is quite different from French. Additionally, you will find that the vast majority of political conservativism in Belgium concentrates among its Flemish citizens. From this movement stems the nationalism that begets the separatist movement in Flanders.
Along with Mandarin Chinese, Lhasa Tibetan (or Standard Tibetan) is the official language of Tibet (or Tibet Autonomous Region – TAR). It is typically spoken by the formally educated dwellers of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, and is one of three Tibetan dialects.
Mandarin and Lhasa Tibetan are both descended from the Sino-Tibetan language family, but are now two completely mutually unintelligible languages. Tibet fell into the hands of the People’s Republic of China in 1951, and has been vindicating their independence ever since.
Because of the current war between Palestine and Israel, which began when the UN founded Israel in 1948, both Arabic and Hebrew are spoken in the region. Arabic, historically, was the local language, but that changed with the artificial revival of the Hebrew language in the 20th century.
Arabic peoples in the Middle East have been working to obtain self-rule since the time they were subjects of the Ottoman Empire. In the case of Palestinians, that quest is not yet over.
Scotland entered a formal union with England in the 18th century, forming Great Britain and causing English to replace Scots as the local language. That said, the English spoken in Scotland has its own characteristics, causing it to be referred to as Scottish English.
Feelings of oppression from England have prompted Scotland to look to “home rule” since the 20th century. This phenomenon culminated in 2014 with a very close result in a referendum regarding whether Scotland should secede.
Languages as Symbols of Resistance
In many cases of separatist movements, the minority side deliberately adheres to their language, even if it isn’t as useful to learn, in the name of preserving their culture. For this reason, the work of international translators and interpreters for small languages is vital, as their work advances that endeavor.
Through document translation in science, legal justice, and commerce, the relevance of a language persists. Conference interpreting and website localization (for nuanced linguistic distinctions) are also impactful measures to increase international awareness a language.
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