Dr Joan Solà, a Great Linguist

(First published on HC on August 26th, 2011) Joan Solà Cortassa, one of the most eminent linguists in Catalan language, passed away on October 27th, 2010.

Professor of Catalan language and literature, awarded Creu de Sant Jordi (the highest distinction awarded by the government of Catalonia) and vice-president of Institut d’Estudis Catalans (our academy of language), he was the author of dozens of books and hundreds of newspaper articles on language and sociolinguistics while he devoted his life to studying in depth and teaching the Catalan language.

His disciples remember him listening to them, making them think on their own, but taking their opinions into consideration at the same time. Linguists, philologists, grammarians, school teachers, journalists, editors, language professionals from all areas, as well as anonymous men and women of of all ages mourned his death. During all these months there have been numerous, emotional tributes paid to him in all the country.

Nevertheless, Joan Solà not only was a great linguist and a great master, but also he was a great patriot. He never let anyone dismiss the Catalan language and reduce it to a simple note of folklore from extremists who claim to be one nation but, actually, are a region of the Spanish state. From Solà’s point of view, to accept the subordination of one language to another meant accepting the subordination of his nation to another nation. From his point of view, to accept the subordination of Catalonia to Spain meant a loss of dignity. At the end of his life, the firmness he had shown in the defense of its principles became strong indignation. In his opinion, the attacks on the Catalan language had to be stopped immediately, they should not last “a minute longer.”

On July 1st, 2009, the professor was invited to give a speech at the Parliament of Catalonia. The text that he read to the members of Parliament was called La Paraula (The Word) in which he made an exhaustive and also realist review about the state of the Catalan language, which, in Solà’s opinion, “is not healthy: it is not healthy either politically or socially or linguistically.”

It's hard not to feel emotional when transcribing the final part of this incredible speech:

Dr Joan Solà

“This country cannot and does not want to stand a minute longer of feeling itself mocked and subordinate to another. People of this country cannot and do not want to feel themselves inferior to anyone else. The language of this country and of most of its people, an ancient and powerful language that has seen translated into it all the best world literature, and that has contributed significantly to expand this literature, cannot and does not want to feel itself a degraded language, politically subordinate, and relentlessly attacked in a thousand ways by the authorities and the media, viscerally rejected by the rest of Spain. This language cannot and does not want to feel itself inferior to any other language a minute longer.”

Thanks to people like Joan Solà, countries and cultures survive. Languages and nations die when everybody ignores them and when we allow them to be forgotten. Fortunately, hundreds of thousands of Catalans are paying attention to Professor Solà's words and are determined on not letting Spain anihilate Catalonia. 

Marc Guarro
Language professional

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