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Sociolingüística internacional
Autumn 2002

School language and demosociolinguistic context in francophone children and teenagers in Canada outside of Quebec: a warning for the Catalan situation,
by Albert Bastardas i Boada

"When we are together, we speak French, don't we?" (A girl, in English, to her French-speaking friend answering a questionnaire on use of French) (1)


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1. Background and justification

2. Results
2.1. The demographic and sociolinguistic situation of French-speakers in Western Canada
2.2. Fundamental variables
2.3. Causes of the sociolinguistic evolution

3. Comparisons with Catalonia

4. References

1. Background and justification (2)

One of the most problematic issues of Catalan sociolinguistic situation is that of the real effects of school language policy on the immigrant origin population, particularly those of second - or even third - generation Spanish-speaking families from other parts of the Iberian Peninsula. Generally, public education uses the 'language conjunction' system, which, for pupils with L1 other than Catalan, is based on ‘immersion’ methodology (early exposure of a child to a language other than that of the family). The psycholinguistic and pedagogical aspects of this system have been studied and theorized upon, but its sociolinguistic aspect has been considered to a much lesser extent. Several studies (see for example Vila i Moreno, 1996), reveal consistently serious indicators suggesting that the expected increased use of Catalan as a habitual language in relationships between pupils, actually occurs very little in informal linguistic contexts. When this increase occurs, it does so in sociolinguistic and demographic contexts that are already very favourable to Catalan. In situations with equal numbers of individuals with L1 Catalan and L1 Spanish, or where the latter prevail, everyday non-formal use of the historical language of Catalonia is somewhat low; Spanish tends to be used in the vast majority of intergroup relationships, despite the fact that Catalan is the predominant institutional and vehicular language.

We therefore need to make adequate hypotheses about the dynamics of the situation, in order to correct the factors causing this lack of progress in Catalan and enabling the continued application of the intergroup norm favouring the use of Spanish also among new generations. In addition to research that may be carried out on-site in Catalonia, we need to seek out other perspectives to compare the situation adequately, and to discover the hidden factors and phenomena influencing the Catalan situation that may only be visible when approached from a broader angle linked to other cases, where they can appear more clearly.

The Catalan situation combines the influence of current educational factors with those of a sociolinguistic and demographic nature and with the legacy of an unfavourable past political and linguistic situation. The normal exerted influence of the education system is affected by the diverse origin of the individuals forming class-groups and, among other aspects, by the inherited social norm dictating that individuals with Catalan L1 should change to the language of those with Spanish L1 during interaction, not the other way around. As we said above, this situation results in a low use of Catalan in informal conversation at schools in Catalonia, even by native individuals, who quickly adapt to the social use of Spanish. Despite the general Catalan standardization and diffusion process in place since the end of the Franco dictatorship, the intergroup use of Spanish language may have still become generally predominant in this generation.

It is not an easy task to find other sociolinguistic situations bearing similarities to Catalan case, which includes at the same time daily group contact, important demographic and sociolinguistic aspects, school language policy, and a context of full or partial language officialization. One potentially interesting situation for theory and practice is that of the Francophone population of Canada outside of Quebec. Although Francophone Canadians outside of Quebec are protected under a federal, official language framework, they often find themselves in a minority situation due to the demolinguistic numbers of English-speakers; these latter generally form the bulk of the population in Canadian provinces outside of Quebec. However, despite their demolinguistic minority, the vast majority of these French-speakers manage their own schools and receive federal language protection; this is used to maintain and develop school networks in French in an attempt to maintain their code in these minority situations and ensure its future reproduction (see Martel, 1995).

2. Results

2.1. The demographic and sociolinguistic situation of French-speakers in Western Canada

As revealed in earlier research (see Bastardas, 1999a), the Francophone population of the Canadian provinces of British Colombia and Alberta is a clear demographic and sociolinguistic minority, since its members account for less than 5% of the inhabitants of both provinces. However, French is co-official with English across federal Canada. This allows for radio and television broadcasting in French throughout Canada, commercial labelling in both languages, being addressed in French by the federal government –although not in all branches – and, most importantly, self-management of schools. This is to say that Francophone communities can currently control their schools, govern them, and – within general limits – schedule their specific aims and teaching.

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