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Metodologia sobre la recerca sociolingüística

The Use of Catalan at Service Stations in Catalonia. Methodological guidelines,
by Josep Lluís C. Bosch, Jaume Farràs and Diego Torrente


2.4. Relations between the Indicators of Catalan Use

If we observe and contrast the results of the descriptive tables, we can see that the three indicators of Catalan use are slightly interrelated. This relationship is strongest between oral Catalan use and its signage. This led us to the realisation that business activity (such as vending machines) is signposted in Spanish, whilst the use of Catalan can increase and does increase easily in less formal areas of the sector.

In another data relationship, before the creation of an index of impact of the use of Catalan on users, when we examined the relationship between the number of vehicles at a service station to be observed and the presence of signage in Catalan, we noticed that where there were more signs in Catalan, more vehicles were filling up.

Although it would be difficult to put this down to a causal relationship, it does force us to take a closer look at the possible effect of the impact of Catalan use in the environment in which it is produced, and to make the necessary analyses to discover why there is more dynamism and more public at stations that also have signs in Catalan. A more detailed analysis of this fact reveals that this situation of excellence in Catalan use is partly due to the fact that six service stations obtained very high levels of Catalan presence, contrasting with the significant number of stations that hardly used Catalan and did not attend any customers during the interview. This figure was around 14% of the sector.

3. A Few Final Thoughts

As with any type of research into complex life and daily social routine, sociolinguistic analysis requires tools if it is to observe, discover and systematise the facts or processes that the researcher is trying to get to know better – in this case, the fuel sector – from a sociolinguistic standpoint.

It is clear that the presence of Catalan was and continues to be deficient in the service station sector, diluted by pictograms, signs, terms and formulations that look to bilingualism when they cannot resort to linguistic ambiguity. Apart from the fairly heterogeneous structure of the sector, the linguistic deficits and the factors and causes of these deficits were not known at the beginning of the research.

The aims, methodology and applicability of this research are entirely in line with previous research on other financial and social sectors carried out by the Department for Language Policy of the Generalitat of Catalonia. As regards the global behaviour of the linguistic phenomenon, we needed to make further analyses and find out more about the fuel sector, and we had to do so not only by designing fieldwork that was meticulous in its observation and quantification, but which also took into consideration the idea that workers of the sector have of the linguistic use of their customers and the sector itself. Thus, it required useful tools of observation from a clearly ethnographical standpoint, capable of focusing on and systematising the vast amount of diverse communicative and informative messages in the range of areas of the routine we carry out when we visit a service station.

Clearly, Catalan is frequently absent from the static publicity of leading companies, In addition, a significant number of petrol pump manufacturers supply markets that do not end at the Ebro or the Pyrenees and indeed, there are many ways of designing a station. It is possible to increase the presence of Catalan in the sector as we point out in the conclusions of this report. Despite its complexity and heterogeneity, the linguistic behaviour of this sector is very routine in certain aspects. However, it still needs to relate to the user, whether directly or through the use of audio messages or the ubiquitous pictogram, despite the installation of self-service petrol stations or the newer-style pumps.

Now that we have observed and carried out interviews at almost half of the service stations in Catalonia and that the results have been analysed and interpreted with a considerable volume of variables, we can say that the following factors help to explain the absence/presence of Catalan at service stations: ownership and/or names used, brand; type of establishment (traditional services area, co-operative, shopping centre, small business, etc) and the type of road on which the station is located. The ownership or operation (recently-installed foreign companies), in addition to the years it has been in operation – whether or not it has been reformed – and location represent a large section of the written and spoken linguistic behaviour of the area, in its natural environment.

The aim of creating 3 indexes that draw together the individualised results of a number of variables, in the area of Catalan use in signage, in written documentation and in more informal, spoken relationships for the third index, is to create a tool that will allow us to monitor any type of activity or measure aimed at promoting Catalan in this sector, and that will help to evaluate processes of social, financial and linguistic change generated by new dynamics of population, work, tourism, market forms and of how and with what means we collectively meet transport needs in the future.

The importance of creating and using a synthetic index with data from 22 indicators, will allow us to compare results in the future even if new observation indicators are included and/or others are eliminated as they become obsolete. The value of a single indicator has little effect on the final result of the index. This allows them to be permanently updated, in case some become obsolete. Soon, we will no longer be concerned about whether pesetas is written in Spanish or Catalan. – the Euro symbol will expand throughout its area of influence - in the same way that canopy pillars are now being decorated with a new pictogram recommending users not to use their mobile telephone on the premises for safety reasons.

Given the minority presence of Catalan in the global total of messages and communication in the sector (25% in Catalan, 39% in Spanish, 14% resort to bilingualism and 11% and 10%, respectively, to pictographic messages or in terms that are, at the very least, ambiguous), we consider that any measure to increase the presence of Catalan and its oral, written or audio use is to be praised, something to defend and promote, at the very least, within the parameters of current legislation on language policy.

Josep Lluís C. Bosch
Jaume Farràs
Diego Torrente
CUSC-UB Centre Universitari de Sociolingüística i Comunicació - Universitat de Barcelona

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