Logotip de la revista Noves SL





Sociolingüística catalana

Mother Language, Father Language, Nanny Language: Who Learns What from Whom in Catalonia, per Paul O'Donnell


2. Methodological concerns (6)

In the more than 120 hours of recorded interviews I have conducted in Catalunya and the Franja de Ponent, the question of daycare language and babysitter speech were tangential to my main concerns about mixed marriages. In only in case did I observe a retired grandfather playing a major role in raising a child (7). In most cases, the father was, as Corsetti (1996:266) would have it, "the weak link in passing on the language." The father was often absent, or the silent partner, in family interviews I conducted. 100% of my informants concurred that today’s senyora de fer feines is invariably not Catalan speaking. While most observers stated, and my own observation supports, that Castilian speakers dominate the housecleaning/childcare market, a third linguistic influence comes into play.

2a) Allophones, or speakers of neither Catalan nor Castilian, have entered the home in large enough numbers to appear regularly in my interviews. They are identified as either Filipinos, North Africans, or Latin Americans. As for the babysitter, s/he was either Catalan or Castilian speaking, depending on the area or neighborhood. Over seventy-five percent of informants answered that babysitters, mostly female, were often students, daughters of friends, or "strongly recommended" by friends.

3. Mothers and fathers

3a) The father, while remaining the "weak link" in the linguistic chain, had an unusual role in the "mixed" household. Even in Catalan-dominant homes, the "minority" Castilian-speaking father was often addressed, and conversations took place in front of him, in his native language. If a father insisted that a household be either "officially" dominant in one language or another, this demand held great weight.

3b) Nevertheless, more than one Castilian-speaking mother admitted that she spoke Catalan in the presence of her husband, but with her child, "para las cosas más íntimas, más espontáneas, le hablo en castellano" (‘for the most intimate and spontaneous things, I talk to him in Castilian.’). The best examples were bedtime rituals (reading stories, lullabies).

3c) Furthermore, if a child identified a parent, or other household visitors, with a given language, s/he subsequently only addressed that person in the "introductory language." "Now that he has heard you speaking to me in Castilian," one parent informed me, "he won’t speak to you in Catalan." Therefore, the language used by a bilingual couple during the first months after the child’s birth may determine household "role relations" for years, perhaps forever. My research showed that, especially in the presence of a Castilian-speaking father and a Catalan-speaking mother, the family may well switch to "the common language" in the father’s presence. Domestic peace, convenience, and ideology may all enter into this decision.

4. Special cases

"Pablo" feels the effect of mother language, father language, "nanny language" and school language. His mother is a native speaker of Catalan, his father of Castilian, but the parents most often speak Catalan when alone. "Nobody can explain my case, claimed Pablo, commenting on how infrequently he speaks Catalan.

4a) In fact, Pablo’s linguistic habits result from Catalan’s unusual position as a "sandwich language," in which the lower and upper classes tend to speak Castilian, while Catalan occupies the middle zone (8). Pablo comes from a relatively well-to-do family, attended an English-language private high school, had domestic help in his home, and the option of living in the United States with a sports scholarship. In Greater Barcelona, I interviewed a number of what I called the "international category." These individuals had lived abroad, studied in one of Barcelona’s foreign-language-based schools, or married foreigners. Usually, they came from middle- or upper-middle class families.

4b) Elsewhere in the Province of Barcelona, "Esther" had a cook/housekeeper, and a gardener, at her parents’ summer residence. Both were castellanoparlants. Like Pablo, she had studied at an English-language high school, then studied in the United States. Her linguistic situation, given the socioeconomic and educational background, is hardly surprising: Catalan may have held a distant third place, after Castilian and English, in her school. With Spain’s membership in the European Union (bringing "Eurobureaucrats" and legal workers from all over Europe to Catalonia), this "international faction" is destined to grow in size and importance.

2 de 4