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Sociolingüística catalana
Winter 2002

Linguistic skills and language use in the Balearic Islands. A review of the studies carried out by institutions and other organisations, by Joan-Albert Villaverde i Vidal

This article reviews several studies on the subject of linguistic skills and language use in the Balearic Islands carried out by public institutions from the second half of the eighties onwards. We also refer to several studies carried out by universities as well as to work currently in progress. Detailed references for these studies can be found in the technical records in the appendix and in the bibliography.

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1. Introduction

2. Demographic trends in the Balearic Islands

3. Population censuses and data from municipal records

4. Surveys made throughout the Balearic Islands
4.1 The surveys carried out by the CIS

4.2 The sociolinguistic survey of the Catalan-speaking countries
4.3 The Tercera encuesta básica [Third basic survey]

5. Surveys with a smaller scope
5.1 Sociolinguistic survey of the population of Majorca
5.2 Surveys on young people
5.2.1 La llengua dels joves [The language of young people]
5.2.2 Estudi sociolňgic sobre els joves de les Illes Balears [Sociological study of young people in the Balearic Islands]
5.2.3 Joves Balears [Young people of the Balearic Islands]
5.2.4 Usos i representacions socials del catalŕ a les Balears [Usage and social representations of Catalan in the Balearic Islands]
5.2.5 Knowledge of Catalan among people of school age in the Balearic Islands

6. Work in progress

7. Appendix

8. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Most of the studies reviewed are quantitative studies based on closed question questionnaires through which the interviewees provide information about their linguistic skills and their use of languages in different domains. This type of study presents several problems that cannot be ignored. It should be stressed that thanks to these techniques we obtain more information on users’ perception of their own linguistic skills and habits of use than reliable data about actual linguistic knowledge and use. Furthermore, although these works share a common methodology and set of objectives, they only very occasionally manage to fully coincide in the criteria employed (for example, the items of the questionnaires or the treatment of variables such as the first language of those interviewed, etc.). This is why the results of the different studies are not fully comparable.

On the other hand, the authors often have to face problems when establishing truly representative samples of the whole of the populations in question given the legal impossibility of obtaining access to population censuses, they have to rely on electoral censuses that do not include people under the age of eighteen -or immigrants who do not have the vote- that is, two highly relevant groups in the demolinguistic environment.

Nevertheless, these studies are interesting, insofar as they give a description of the sociolinguistic situation. If the data provided are not mutually contradictory and the researcher takes into account the above-mentioned methodological problems, such studies are a useful source of information that allows us to observe general trends.

2. Demographic evolution of the Balearic Islands

In order to set in context the information given in the following pages we must take into account the demographic trends of the Balearic Islands over the past 15 years, which is characterized by a strong and still ongoing increase in the presence of people born outside Catalan-speaking regions. Table 0 and graph 1 show this trend. We have moreover to bear in mind that a part of the locally born population are children of first generation immigrants and in many cases reproduce the linguistic behaviour of their parents.

Table 0. Evolution of the population of the Balearic Islands 1986-2001
(absolute figures). Source: IBAE/INE

Born in the Balearic Islands Born in Catalan-speaking regions Born in the rest of Spain Born abroad Origin unknown Total


515,207 140,568 23,848 342 679,965
1991 494,866 527,586 150,480 31,072   709,138
1996 515,030 551,136 162,992 46,251   760,379
1998 530,974 569,992 172,518 53,973   796,483
2001 545,739 590,441 196,253 91,933   878,627


Graph 1. Evolution of the proportion of autochtonous
and alloctons in the Balearic Islands

Graph 1. Evolution of the proportion of autochtonous and alloctons in the Balearic Islands

Source: IBAE/INE

3. Population censuses and the data of municipal registers

The inclusion of questions related to linguistic knowledge in population censuses and municipal registers would have provided highly relevant information updated every 5 years about the linguistic skills of the residents of the Balearic Islands. Unfortunately, up to now the only reliable data available are those of the 1986 update of the municipal register. The data gathered by the 1991 census show considerable skewing (mainly those refering to speaking ability) due to the use of the term Catalan in the question (this caused that many people replied negatively as they did not identify their language with that name) (1). There was no question about languages in the 1996 update of the municipal register. Finally, this question was introduced once again in the 2001 census but framed in a different way compared to 1986 and 1991 (see further details below).

Both the municipal register and the census provide information about the four linguistic abilities: understanding, speaking, reading and writing. Graphs 2 and 3 show the data from the 1986 municipal register and the 1991 census (2). The first states distribution according to geographical origin of the interviewees; the second states distribution in the different islands. (Discrepancies in adding up to 100% are due to people for whom there is no available answer).


Graph 2. Linguistic competence according to the place
of birth (%). Evolution 1986-1991

Graph 2


Graph 3. Linguistic competence according to the place
of residence (%). Evolution 1986-1991

Graph 3


4. Surveys made throughout the Balearic Islands

4.1 The surveys of the CIS

We have at our disposal three surveys of the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (CIS) providing information about linguistic skills and language use in the Balearic Islands, i.e. surveys #2052, 2228 and 2300. The first and the last survey used the same questionnaire so that the data are comparable. In the case of the second, both the questionnaire and the sample were reduced.

Let us look first at study 2228, carried out in 1996. It gives information about linguistic skills, the mother tongue of the interviewees and language use in several domains, as well as gathering the opinion of the informants towards the language and its social extension. According to the survey, Catalan is the mother tongue of 58.2% of the interviewees; 37% have Spanish as mother tongue; 3% claim to be bilingual (Catalan and Spanish as mother tongues), while 1.4% have another mother tongue. As for knowledge of Catalan, 91% understand it and 62,3% speak it fluently.

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