23 April 2020
Category : Interview
“Spanish is that ‘big gold’ we left in Latin America that Pablo Neruda spoke of”
The Cervantes Institute is a prestigious institution that promotes the teaching, study and use of Spanish and also participates in Spanish Cooperation. On the occasion of the international day of the Spanish language, established by the UN on April 23, we interviewed Sonia Pérez Marco, the Institute's communication and press manager, who explains her main duties and the situation of the Spanish language today.Photograph of the facade of the Instituto Cervantes headquarters
The Cervantes Institute is a prestigious institution that promotes the teaching, study and use of Spanish and also participates in Spanish Cooperation. On the occasion of the international day of the Spanish language, established by the UN on April 23, we interviewed Sonia Pérez Marco, the Institute’s communication and press manager, who explains her main duties and the situation of the Spanish language today.
What is the Cervantes Institute?
The Cervantes Institute is the body created by the Spanish Government in 1991 to promote and spread the Spanish language and Hispanic cultures throughout the world. We now have 86 centres in 45 countries on five continents.
Why is Spanish Language Day celebrated and how does the Cervantes Institute commemorate it?
April 23 is International Book Day, a date also chosen to commemorate the death of Miguel de Cervantes, Shakespeare and Inca Garcilaso. It was created by UNESCO more than two decades ago, and in 2010 the UN also established it as Spanish Language Day, which is a happy coincidence.
As an institution that promotes culture in Spanish from all Spanish-speaking countries, it is a very important day that we have stretched out into a week. In our network of centres, we celebrate Cervantes Week around this day, with a large number of activities. This year, the title given to the week is “Freedom is a bookshop”, a verse from the latest Cervantes Award-winner, Joan Margarit. As we find ourselves in these exceptional circumstances, both at the headquarters in Madrid and in centres around the world, our activities and initiatives have had to be virtual, and we are using social networks as a platform. When face-to-face is not possible, we resort to virtual communications to reach everywhere. But the important thing is the panorama of great quality literature, art, science and, ultimately, culture in Spanish surrounding Book Day and Spanish Language Day.
What is the situation of the Spanish language in the world?
I would say effervescent. Almost 700 million people speak it worldwide, and more than 22 million study it. It is the second language of international communication after English, and the second in native speakers after Chinese. We have a lot to celebrate.
It is in the United States and the African continent where we find the most active sources of Spanish. In fact, it is estimated that by 2050, the US will be the second Spanish-speaking country in the world, behind Mexico. And Africa is a real discovery. 6.5% of people learning Spanish in the world are in Sub-Saharan Africa. We have therefore created a training programme for Spanish teachers in five countries –Benin, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Ivory Coast and Gabon– in collaboration with Casa África and the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).
Our language is considered prestigious there and is part of their educational systems. Football and soap operas have, of course, also played an invaluable role in spreading Spanish. Moreover, Asia continues to consider it a language of interest due to its economic potential, and there is growing demand for certifications. But it’s not all good news. We have to be able to consolidate it as a working language in international organisations, and this requires a great deal of commitment. Not to mention that Spanish must seriously consider how to conquer the world of science and technology, or a less promising future than we imagine awaits us. The power is there, now we have to channel it properly.
How important is the Spanish language in generating a link between citizens?
Spanish is the vehicular language of Spain, and it respectfully coexists and is enriched by the country’s other co-official languages, Basque, Catalan and Galician. At the Cervantes Institute, we have held meetings with the Etxepare Institute, the Ramón Llull Institute and the Consello de Cultura Galega, because we believe that the wealth languages bring citizens is a positive, and not a negative.
In our network of centres around the world, we programme activities around culture in these languages, and also offer classes when there are enough people interested. In the end, Spanish secures and serves as a cultural general for the entire country. All languages have the same dignity, though not all have had the same fortune, and in Spain we should be aware that this is the time for them to be luckier, without taking away their dignity. The Cervantes Institute certainly has nothing against it.
And among the institutions of Spanish-speaking countries?
If one thing is clear, it is that Spanish will be what America wants it to be. Spain only accounts for 8% of Spanish speakers worldwide. The rest are on the other side of the Atlantic, that territory of ‘La Mancha’ of which the writer Carlos Fuentes spoke. The fact of sharing the way we express the world leads us to consider ourselves a community with close ties. Twenty-one countries united by the same phrase: we speak Spanish . “Spanish is that “big gold” we left in Latin America that Pablo Neruda spoke of”
The two main world axes at the cultural and linguistic level are currently the Anglophone and the Hispanic. It depends on us to give the power of being millions of speakers worldwide its corresponding influence.
We are a very diverse region, a family where the commonalities outweigh the clashes. Every three years we hold the International Congress of the Spanish Language in one of the 21 Spanish-speaking countries; the last, the eighth, was in Argentina last year, and the next, in two years’ time, will be in Peru. These are high-level meetings, but popular at the same time. There is talk and there are arguments, there are great speeches but also intimate chats in small cultural centres. There is consensus and dissent. But what always remains is unity in diversity.
At FIIAPP we organise various international cooperation projects in Spanish-speaking countries… what do you think the fact of sharing a language brings to establishing alliances?
Well, alliances have little to do with speaking the same language, but rather with sharing the same goal. In this sense, the institutions of the Latin American and Spanish countries, as well as their governments, know very well that there are a series of horizons set by the SDGs that cannot be avoided, but are not easy to achieve. More education, the eradication of poverty, the fight against climate change, true gender equality, respect for democratic norms, etc. Sharing the same language helps us understand each other linguistically, but it does not guarantee that we are talking about the same thing.
However, it is true that a language is more than a meaning; it is a system of values, and brings closeness in cooperation and a very important perspective of unity in this era.
In this sense, last year we launched the CANOA project, which seeks cultural cooperation between sister institutions in Latin America. The founding partners are the Caro y Cuervo Institute, from Colombia; UNAM, from Mexico; the Inca Garcilaso Centre, from Peru, and the Cervantes Institute. It is a project that arouses special interest.
Where does the future of the Spanish language lie?
In pan-Hispanicism and science.
In terms of the former, through a conception of the language and of culture in Spanish as a bridge that unites all Spanish-speaking countries. We must feel ourselves to be, not owners, but participants in an Ibero-American community of clear Hispanic predominance. The fact that there is a common language among 21 countries is a great treasure.
Regarding the latter, the future of Spanish will not be understandable if it is not linked to the development of the field of science and technology. We need more science with Spanish DNA. And the most poetic thing of all, as the director of the Cervantes Institute, Luis García Montero, says, is money. The British Council was founded in 1934 and has a budget of more than 1.3 billion euros; the Cervantes Institute was created in 1991 and receives 60 million euros from public funds.
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