Differences in initial individual
competence can explain to a large extent why English is used for interpersonal colloquial
functions. When the class-group is formed, the language that best permits communication
between individuals is English, rather than French. The latter is underdeveloped for many,
particularly in terms of expression, whereas English is generally the first language of
pupils of mixed origin. Moreover, individuals with L1 French have a sufficient command of
English because they are exposed to it in their sociolinguistic context. Even in
communities that were predominantly French-speaking (Saint-Paul, in Alberta, for example)
subsequent population shifts have led to frequent contact with non-Francophone
individuals. Early exposure to English, therefore, may also occur on an interpersonal
level and not merely through the media or signage.
towards English at the point when the class-group is formed makes this the language
usually chosen by this 'microsociety' of pupils for their general relationships with each
other. However, individuals from families that only speak French may prefer to speak with
one another in French, particularly if others present at least understand the code, since
they have a command of this language. Nevertheless, the general language of non-formal
school life tends to be English rather than French.
individuals with L1 English will improve their command of French and most probably become
capable of expressing themselves in this language with a certain degree of comfort.
However, their French will never compare to their fluency and spontaneity in English.
Thus, if they have a choice, they will generally choose English rather than French for
interpersonal communication. This is sustained by the emphasis placed by the education
system on writing and grammar, rather than on expression, enjoyment and leisure functions
which correspond to interpersonal relationships, particularly at these ages.
to conserve initial language choices accounts for the rest. Once an individual has decided
to use English to communicate with an interlocutor, that language will tend to be used
from this point onwards, unless the promotion of ethnic awareness leads to a rethinking of
established language choices. Throughout their school-life, and afterwards in other social
areas, these individuals of Francophone and/or mixed origin will tend to speak English
instead of French, despite perhaps expressing sympathy for their origins and for the
maintenance and promotion of French.
3. Comparisons with Catalonia
Many of the
comments we have made about Canada can also be applied to the situation in certain areas
of Catalonia. Except for cases in which the majority of the school population has L1
Catalan and, hence, usually use this language in class-group relationships, we very often
find mixed groups individuals with L1 Catalan and L1 Spanish. In these cases,
although Catalan is the habitual vehicular language of education, Spanish rather than
Catalan is more commonly used for informal, interpersonal communication. It is used by L1
Spanish individuals when talking amongst themselves and by L1 Catalan individuals when
addressing their L1 Spanish classmates. In groups with more L1 Spanish individuals or
where a large proportion are children from mixed marriages, we even find L1 Catalan
individuals using Spanish with each other, because they adapt their language choices to
those that predominate in the school microsociety of which they form part.
believe that the Catalan situation could also be affected by the factors mentioned above
in the Canadian situation. Initial command of language is unequal even at nursery school
level, since many L1 Catalan individuals will have been exposed to Spanish even
through the language uses of their own parents to a much greater degree than L1
Spanish individuals will have been exposed to Catalan, given that many immigrant parents
are not generally bilingual speakers. Even today, many individuals in Catalonia generally
have a higher level of exposure to Spanish than Catalan. Moreover, whereas much of the
native population lives alongside Spanish-speaking individuals, fewer members of the
alloctonous population live in everyday contact with Catalan-speakers due to their
residential distribution whereby a large number of these individuals were concentrated in
quasi-segregated and often self-sufficient areas. In addition to this, exposure to
audio-visual mass media, labelling, advertising, administrative forms and documents of
many businesses, etc. (still predominantly Spanish) reveal that this context facilitates
Spanish more than it does Catalan, particularly for the majority of the population with L1
Spanish concentrated in metropolitan areas.
asymmetry, in addition to the possible continued influence of the adult norm of
immediately switching to Spanish when communicating with a
non-Catalan-speaking individual, could best explain the apparent 'mystery' of
the predominance of Spanish over Catalan in relations between boys and girls from
different linguistic groups. As in the Canadian case, the tendency to conserve initial
language choices favours the subsequent use of Spanish, even where L1 Spanish individuals
have a good communicative command of Catalan, unless the L1 Spanish individual indicates
to their L1 Catalan interlocutor that they would like to be spoken to in Catalan and the
L1 Catalan interlocutor agrees to change his or her language choice.
residential concentration (and subsequent quasi-segregation) of many L1 Spanish
individuals in Catalonia is characteristic of the Catalan situation. The demolinguistic
composition of schools in Catalan metropolitan areas logically reproduces that of society
in general, and that of the neighbourhood or area in particular. Therefore, this
demolinguistic distribution produces a situation whereby a high number of schools have a
clear majority or all pupils with L1 Spanish and very scarce or no personal contact with
Catalan-speakers, except for teachers.