Multi-Lingual Legislatures

So far as I had known, the only multi-lingual deliberative body was the United Nations’ General Assembly. But it turns out that the Senate in Spain is a forum in which legislators desire to speak not only the primary language of the nation, Spanish, but also Catalan, Galician, Valencian, and Euskara (the language of the Basque), and the nation includes many speakers of Aragonese, Asturian and Leonese.

One suspects that in the areas near Portugal, Portuguese is also a commonly-spoken language, that English is spoken near Gibraltar, and that near the northern border there is a fair amount of French going on too. That’s eleven languages in a country smaller than Texas, five of which are spoken on the floor of the nation’s legislature. When The Wife and I visited Barcelona, we saw many more Catalan flags flying than Spanish, and most people spoke Catalan (sounded like Spanish with a lisp to me) and their eyes narrowed just a bit when I spoke Spanish. Yet somehow there does seem to be a common identity, even if many peoples’ primary identities are regional rather than national.

The BBC maintains that nearly all Spaniards speak Spanish as a first or second language, however; so the protest that there is a common language and therefore a common ability to communicate and discuss affairs of government is there. I suppose I can understand that spending €12,000 a day on translators who are not really necessary is a waste and people might get a little peeved about that. But really, is it so bad? All told the translators for the Spanish Senate probably cost something around a million Euro a year or so — and Spain’s money problems are much, much deeper than that.

Burt Likko

Pseudonymous Portlander. Homebrewer. Atheist. Recovering litigator. Recovering Republican. Recovering Catholic. Recovering divorcé. Recovering Former Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. House Likko's Words: Scite Verum. Colite Iusticia. Vivere Con Gaudium.


  1. Well, if bilingual deliberative bodies count, the Canadian Parliament – and the legislative assemblies of New Brunswick and Nunavut – deliberate in two languages. Didn't realize that the Spanish Senate also used Galician, Valencian, or Euskara though. The translators must have a fun time with that.

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