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SociolingŘÝstica catalana

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


5.1. Sociolinguistic survey of the population of Majorca

According to this survey commissioned in 1986 by the Consell Insular de Mallorca (Council of Majorca) and undertaken by the University of the Balearic Islands, 74,71% of the interviewees spoke Catalan. Among those born in Catalan-speaking territories (75.19% of whole the population), 93.29% spoke Catalan; among those born outside Catalan-speaking territories (24.88%), 18.39% spoke it.

Individuals were assigned to linguistic groups according the language used to reply to the questionnaire, even though it was recognised that a part of the interviewees who spoke Catalan did not have it as first language. This is shown in the table below on the intergenerational transmission of the language. Without this, it is difficult to explain the difference of 14 percent between the language of the interviewee and the language spoken with their children.

Table 9. Intergenerational transmission of the language


Language of the parents of the interviewee

Language parents ╗ interviewee

L1 interviewee (language used in replies)

Language interviewee ╗ children






Catalan and Spanish










5.2. Surveys on young speakers

The importance of young people for the future evolution of our linguistic community has led many organisations and researchers to carry out sociolinguistic studies on this sector of population. In this section we will refer to five of these studies which used different methodologies and had different scopes.

5.2.1 La llengua dels joves [The language of young people]

It is a monograph showing the results of a survey made among pupils in Majorcan secondary education in 1991 (MeliÓ 1997). The author provides information on linguistic knowledge, attitudes and representations. The survey indicates that almost 100% of the young interviewees are fluent in Catalan in each of the four language skills. Nonetheless, there is a decrease of the group of individuals who have Catalan as first language compared to the number of individuals who have Catalan as first language in their parents’ generation (see table 10a). This is mainly due to mixed couples, where the Catalan-speaking member often does not transmit the language to the children. When both parents are of local origin, the rate of intergenerational transmission is high, mainly in small towns or villages, where it reaches almost 100%  (see table 10b). However, if we look at children of mixed marriages (24.6% of the whole), we observe a noticeable breakdown in the transmission of the language. This phenomenon is especially evident in Palma, where we find more than 70% of the children from mixed marriages (see table 10c), and among whom only 13.4% have Catalan as first language.

The author concludes that two factors have a strong influence upon the knowledge, use and attitudes of the interviewees: on the one hand, the geographic and linguistic origin of student’s families and the place of residence on the other. Those pupils living in small towns or villages have a less Spanish-minded attitude than those living in Palma. As for the use outside the family circle, those pupils living in small towns or villages with one or two immigrant parents give answers more favourable towards Catalan than those pupils living in Palma with none or only one immigrant parent.

Table 10a. Intergenerational transmission of language.
General figures

(speakers of other languages are not included)

  Language father Language father ╗ pupil Language mother Language mother ╗ pupil Language father -mother L1 pupil
Catalan 60,1% 52% 59,9% 52,6% 52,5% 51,70%
Catalan and Spanish 0,2% 2,2% 0,1% 2,2% 2,8% 4,10%
Spanish 36,3% 42% 36,8% 41,7% 41% 42,20%

Table 10b. Intergenerational transmission of language.
Children of indigenous couples (55%)

(speakers of other languages are not included

    Language father Language father ╗ pupil Language mother Language mother ╗ pupil Language father -mother L1 pupil
Catalan Small towns 96,9% 96,8% 97,7% 96,9% 97,6% 95,8%
Palma 87,9% 72,3% 82,1% 71,4% 80,8% 69%
Catalan and Spanish 0% 2% 0,2% 2,2% 1,4% 1,8%
Spanish 7,5% 12% 9,6% 13% 8,8% 15,1%

Table 10c. Intergenerational transmission of language Children of mixed couples (24.6%)
(speakers of other languages are not included

    Language father Language father ╗ pupil Language mother Language mother ╗ pupil Language father -mother L1 pupil
Catalan Small towns 43,3% 47,5% 56,7% 55,2% 37,9% 52,5%
Palma 41% 38,9% 19,6% 20,6% 12,1 13,4%
Catalan and Spanish 0% 0% 4% 4,4% 8 11,6%
Spanish 55,3% 68,6% 50,4% 63,4% 71,4% 63,8%

5.2.2 Estudi sociol˛gic sobre els joves de les Illes Balears [Sociological study of the younger generation in the Balearic Islands]

In 1997, the Directorate General for Youth and Family of the Ministry of the Presidency (Balearic Islands Government) commissioned the University of the Balearic Islands (UIB) to undertake a study of young people in the Isles. 9 of the 108 questions of the questionnaire referred to language. In charge of that part of the study was Jordi Vallespir, professor at the UIB. Detailed information is given by age groups (15-19, 20-24, 25-29) and place of residence. 55.7% of the interviewees have Catalan as first language, while for 44.3% the first language is Spanish. 73.1% of the whole speak Catalan more or less fluently. The distribution according to place of residence is as follows: in Palma 62.75% can speak Catalan; in Majorca (except Palma), 75.63%; in Eivissa, 75.55%, and in Minorca, 82.35%. Among those who can speak Catalan, 49.03% claim they express themselves better in this language, 24.31% both in Catalan and Spanish, while 26.65% claim to feel more comfortable speaking in Spanish.

Table 11 shows some linguistic uses in different situations. The percentages were calculated for those interviewees who can speak Catalan. By adding together the percentage of those using Catalan and those alternating Catalan and Spanish, the highest frequencies of use are to be found within the family (74.56%), with friends (74.97%), in shops (70.80%) and with schoolmates (63.37%).

Table 11. Linguistic uses in diferent situations

  Catalan Catalan or Spanish Spanish
Language used to address unknown people 34,07% 16,88% 49,03%
Language used within the family 68,36% 6,20% 25,43%
Language used with friends 51,88% 23,09% 25,02%
Language used with schoolmates 42,42% 20,95% 36,62%
Language used at work 39,47% 17,70% 42,82%
Language used to take school notes 31,84% 13,53% 54,62%
Language used to write essays examination answers 31,53% 17,29% 51,16%
Language used in shops 41,81% 28,99% 29,19%

5.2.3 Joves Balears [Young Balearic people]

The survey Joves Balears (Elzo et al. 2002), was commissioned by the Foundation "SA NOSTRA" and studied the younger generation of the Islands,  ranging from 15 up to 24. It is a general study which deals with other aspects in addition to the linguistic situation. According to the survey, 42% of young people speak Catalan at home, 49% speak Spanish and 8% both languages. Table 12 shows the percentage distribution by place of residence. The authors point out that the vast majority of those speaking Spanish at home understand Catalan and many could speak it. (5)

Table 12. Language spoken at home

  Majorca Minorca Eivissa Formentera Whole the Balearic Islands
Catalan 40% 64% 36% 29% 42%
Catalan and Spanish 7% 9% 11% 14% 8%
Spanish 51% 26% 48% 57% 49%

Catalan, on this evidence, is used by the upper middle class while Spanish is used by the lower middle class and working class, especially by the latter. Regarding the social situation of the languages, 76% fully or largely agree that the necessary conditions should be provided for those wanting to live their lives in Catalan. The majority do not want either Spanish or Catalan to be imposed as the only official language of the Balearic Islands and to relegate the other language to private use. It seems that young people and those living in Minorca are the most favourably disposed to Catalan. Older people and people living in Majorca are broadly speaking more favourable to Spanish.

5.2.4 Usos i representacions socials del catalÓ a les Balears [Usage and social representation of Catalan in the Balearic Islands]

A survey of young people commissioned by the Directorate General of Language Policy of the Balearic Government and carried out by Ernest Querol. The author proposes a new theoretical model to be used in the study of language use (dependent variable) based upon three independent variables: the representation of languages, the social network and the reference group. He provides descriptive results (about linguistic skills, language transmission, etc.) and explanatory results based on correlations, discriminate analysis, multiple regression analysis and graphic induction techniques, which allow us to predict the value of a variable according to other variables. Parallel to MeliÓ (1997), he observes that almost all individuals are competent in Catalan and almost all Catalan-speaking couples transmit the language to their children; in contrast only 46% of mixed couples transmit Catalan to their children.

Girls have higher scores in Spanish, especially regarding the representation of language, the social network and the level of use. There are also differences according to the social class: the upper middle and middle classes emerge as more favourable to the use of Catalan; the low-middle class is more favourable to the use of Spanish. On the other hand, it seems that the linguistic orientation of schools and other centres of education has an influence on all the variables taken into consideration: representation of languages, social networks and level of use. It is obvious that pupils attending schools more oriented to Catalan show higher scores than those studying in more Spanish-oriented schools. It has also been found that pupils attending schools in theory with a balanced orientation are more favourable to Spanish. The differences according to the ownership of schools are not much relevant, even though the pupils of public schools have a higher representation and use of Catalan while those of state schools have a higher Spanish social network.

The variables are influenced by the geographical location of the schools. Scores more favourable to Catalan are to be found in schools located in city centres or in the countryside, while scores more favourable to Spanish are in coastal urban environments and in the outskirts of Palma.

The author concludes there is a positive correlation between the representation of each language and the social network of that language, and between these two variables and the use of languages. The representation of each linguistic group towards its own language is higher than that of the other language in contact. That is, the use of Catalan has a very high positive correlation with the representation and social network of Catalan, and an equally high negative correlation with the representation and the social network of Spanish. On the other hand, the interaction between the social network and the representations of languages is influenced by the social group of reference, which determines the perception of the linguistic groups and the willingness for convergence or divergence towards one's own group.

Finally, according to the multiple regression analysis applied, the main variable in the prediction of use of Catalan is the representation of Spanish, followed by the Catalan social network and the group of reference.

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