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Sociolingüística catalana

Sociolinguistic Investigation into the Use of Catalan in Service Stations,
by Jaume Farràs, Josep Lluís C. Bosch and Diego Torrente


2. Design and execution of fieldwork

The research took the act of filling up the tank as an action that thousands of people frequently perform. The difference in the way this routine action is carried out by the driver and the researcher/observer is that the latter sequentially divided the whole action into six different sections of communication and contact in the service area with the aim of noting more closely the language in which the range of messages are presented or transmitted.

This information was collated by means of a questionnaire on which observations made were noted down, and the language in which employees and/or cashiers addressed the interviewer at the moment of greeting. We used a random sample of 533 establishments from all fuel outlets, distributed according to province, comarca and the road network of the Principality by a system of routes. A margin of error of 3% and a confidence interval of 95% have been allowed for.

3. Language use in petrol stations, analysed by area of service station, territory and brand name

Spanish is the main language used in signs and verbal interaction in almost 40% of cases. Overall use of Catalan is around 25%. The bilingual use of Spanish/Catalan in such examples as autoservicio/autoservei (self-service), horario/horari (opening hours), servicios/serveis (toilets) and agua/aigua (water) makes up around 14% of signage. Resorting to ambiguity is extensively used in logos (10% of all cases) - Campsa, Petrocat, Enaco – as well as in product names -extradiesel, Eurosuper – as is any kind of pictogram (11%) used to prohibit smoking or the use of naked flame, filling up with the headlights on or with the motor running.

   Figure 1: Breakdown of language use by areas of use

breakdown of language use by areas of use

Source: Language in service stations in Catalonia. Sociolinguistic contribution. 2000

A quick glance at the results of each of the six categories reveals the scant use of Catalan in each of the service station areas shown. Signage in Spanish is predominant in the petrol pump sections, the till, the shop and the vending machines which are located at the exit. Companies resorted to linguistic ambiguity in signage at the entrance, in the same proportion as the pictograms used in the toilets category. Differences between the use of Catalan and Spanish in the different signage categories paint a picture of two groups or forms of sociolinguistic behaviour. On the one hand, there are between 5-10 percentage points of Spanish predominance in the categories of entrance, till and toilets, i.e. the areas making up the basis of any service station. On the other hand, the most dramatic differences in favour of Spanish –up to 20 percentage points- are found in the advertisements, posters and publicity in the shop and other sales-associated services (vending machines). Resorting to bilingualism just exceeds exclusive use of Spanish in the toilets category, where pictograms are predominant.

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