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Spring 2003

The situation of Valencian as reported in non-institutional sociolinguistic research (1998-2002), by Josep J. Conill

This article presents one of the most important non-institutional pieces of research carried out in the last decade on aspects of the situation of Catalan in the Valencian Country (where the language is known as Valencian), looking especially at aspects relating to the sociolinguistic trends and characteristics of the large urban areas —the city of Valencia and Alacant (Alicante)— where intergenerational transmission has come to a halt or is currently precarious in the extreme. By way of contrast, we shall also be looking at two other pieces of work: one on the county of Marina, which has remained faithful to the language, and the other on the population of the Valencian Country as a whole. The overall view thus obtained enables us to form some brief observations concerning the process of accelerating linguistic minoritisation (shift to minority status) in which Valencian society is immersed, and from there going on to focus on the relative lack of non institutional sociolinguistic research, resulting fundamentally from the language's diminished prospects.


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1. Introduction

2. Description of the research projects reviewed here
2.1 Interruption of intergenerational transmission: the case of the city of Alacant
2.2 Language shift at an advanced stage: the city of Valencia and its metropolitan area
2.2.1 Attitudes towards the varieties in litigation
2.2.2 The figures
2.2.3 Intergenerational transmission, a debated question
2.3 Precarious maintenance: the county of Marina
2.4 An overall X-ray picture of the state of the language in the Valencian Country

3. Final observations

4. Bibliography

1. Introduction

The careful, scholarly work of many Valencian sociolinguists contrasts with the flag-waving tone of the Valencian Country's Autonomous regional government, eager to show the population's increased ability to read and write their own language, as irrefutable proof of the success of the official language policy that has been implemented. What the Valencian sociolinguists have been doing —often with sparse resources— has been to carry out a series of empirical studies with suitable critical rigour and independent criteria. In the present article we shall be reviewing some of this research briefly, looking at work done over the half decade 1998-2002, as a basis for venturing a reliable diagnosis of the state of (Valencian) Catalan that seriously challenges the official view and once more brings to the fore the dilemma between language loyalty and castilianisation (shift to Spanish) so lucidly captured by Luís V. Aracil (1966) nearly four decades ago.

2. Description of the research reviewed here

2.1. Interruption of intergenerational transmission: the case of the city of Alacant

For some time now, Brauli Montoya has been the most active investigator of the process of language shift in the city of Alacant. The book Alacant: la llengua interrompuda (Alacant, the interrupted language, Montoya, 1996), constitutes his most significant contribution on the subject —complemented by a subsequent study (Montoya, 2000) which looks at linguistic aspects of the shift. This is fieldwork carried out between April 1993 and August 1994, with a sample of 88 informants, representing 0.42% of the total universe under study, the latter consisting of 20,856 inhabitants of Alacant over 30 and considered to be "natural speakers" of Valencian —having acquired it at home, or from their neighbourhood. This sample was broken down by sex, age, language of the childhood home, area where socialised and social status. The data was collected using quantitative means (open and close questionnaires) as well as qualitative ones (interview), by the study carried out by Ernest Querol (1990) in Ports county.

The life histories reconstructed by the writer enable us to determine the onset of the interruption of intergenerational language transmission (transmission of Valencian from one generation to the next) among the well-off neighbourhoods in the centre of the modern city during the period 1865-1917. Subsequently, between 1910 and 1970, the process spread to the old quarter of the city and the non-central urban districts, and finally between 1955 and 1980, reached the rural periphery.

The results of the questionnaire indicate a virtual absence of Alacant-born subjects under the age of 50 who learned Catalan within the family. On the other hand, those who have Catalan as their first language constitute less than one half of their group, such that they form 3.6% of the total speech community of the city (9,263 of the inhabitants, in absolute numbers). Transmission, then, is solely in the hands of the schools, and this is totally inadequate.

2.2 Language shift at an advanced stage: the city of Valencia and its metropolitan area

No one would dispute the importance of the city of Valencia in relation to the overall Valencian territory, given the city's demographic weight, geographic situation, political importance, etc. This state of affairs is not unconnected with the interest and curiosity which its sociolinguistic dynamics have aroused among scholars. The best proof we have of this is the proliferation of monographs which focus on different facets of linguistic contact at Cap i Casal (city of Valencia), three of which we have selected as being of especial interest.

2.2.1 Attitudes towards the varieties in litigation

Attitudes of speakers towards varieties in praesentia have been the object of study by José R. Gómez Molina in his book Actitudes lingüísticas en una comunidad bilingüe y multilectal: área metropolitana de València (1998) (Language attitudes in a bilingual community: the metropolitan area of Valencia), based on empirical research carried out in 1996-1997 with a sample of 234 consultants aged over 18 (reliable to 95%), selected according to the variables sex, age, socio-cultural level, mother tongue and usual language, place of origin and place of residence. These were asked to classify four speech modes recorded from bilingual speakers: standard Spanish (SS), Standard Valencian (SV), non-standard Valencian, or Apitxat (NSV) and lastly non standard Spanish of the Horta district (NSP).

Data collection was carried out via two procedures: an indirect technique, being an adaptation of Lambert's matched guise technique with the application of scales using semantic differential, and a direct technique, consisting of a questionnaire with both open and closed questions, referring to the two languages in contact (Valencian/Spanish).

The result of the study show there is a favourable attitude toward linguistic normalisation among the speakers of the area, due to the social categorisation of SV and the corresponding reduction suffered by SS, which nonetheless retains a clearly predominant position, derived from its greater commonality.

The improved status of SV has to do both with instrumental and integrative (social) values. With regard to the latter, the considerable relational or social aspects accorded NSV should be mentioned. Correlations between the two varieties indicate that we do not have to do with a diglossic situation here, so much as contextual variation, which in fact arises out of the deficient sociolinguistic consciousness of the speakers and the low level of competence in SV (Gómez Molina, 2002). At the same time, the SS (Standard Spanish) variety surpasses both NSV and SV in instrumental value and, among a segment of young people, also in its integrative value —that is to say, as a symbol of Valencian identity, very much disassociated with the use of Valencian (64.1%).

The sociolinguistic variables which best capture social characterisation of use are, in descending order, socio-cultural level, sex, age, usual language and place of residence. The mother tongue variable, in contrast, does not emerge as significant. The most interesting inferences that can be made are:

1) High sociocultural score, with very homogenous evaluatory criteria, favours use of SV and the integrative value is stressed; a mid-level sociocultural score favours SS, NSV and SV, while considering NSS as stereotyped; a low sociocultural score, lastly, favours NSV, followed by SS.

2) Men favour NSV, followed by SS and VS, while women, with more heterogeneous criteria, value SS in first place, followed by SV and VNS. Significantly, a sector of the women rates SV as "Catalanist" (i.e. promoting Catalonia to the detriment of Valencia), in opposition to the "Valencianism" of NSV.

3) SV is higher rated amongst young people than amongst those over 55, who also refer to anti-Valencian associations .

To that we have to add greater active tolerance of Spanish (91.4%) than of Valencian (72.2%), little social pressure in favour of linguistic acculturalisation —only 4.7% of Spanish speakers in the sample have become bilingual— and the fact that young people, when they acquire Valencian and become bilingual, continue to be monocultural in Spanish. The overall picture we derive is that SS (Standard Spanish) continues to be the predominant language by a wide margin in intergroup communication.

2.2.2 The figures

As its title suggests, El futur de la llengua entre els joves de València (The future of the language among the young people of Valencia) (1998) by Ferran Colom, sets out to analyse the situation of Catalan among students in the city, both in terms of knowledge of the language and of behaviour and attitudes, by means of a questionnaire —inspired by the model used by Erill et al (1992)— which he administered at the beginning of 1996 to a sample of 877 third-year BUP students and first-year FP students (second grade) drawn from 29 schools and educational centres chosen to be representative.

Among the main conclusions that the author arrives at, are:

1) The origin and the geographic and linguistic make-up of the family determine the linguistic level and competence of the students in the sample. The highest level of competence was found among the children of "autochthonous" families (families of Valencian extraction) with Catalan as mother tongue (11%). Some 14% of the students could not speak the language, and the school system is far and away the setting where the subjects in the sample (50%) most came into contact with the language, absent as it is from their daily lives.

2) The outlook is still bleaker when we look at spontaneous and habitual use, reported by 5%, which in itself confirms the thorough nativisation of Spanish among young people. If we restrict ourselves to use in the family, the figure increases to 10%, with a further 10% who use the two languages without distinction (!). Despite that, a certain stabilisation or botoming out of intergenerational transmission seems detectable, around a minimum figure, since of the 22% of the parents who use Catalan among themselves, 21% also do so with their children, but this use is not always habitual.

3) As in the case of Alacant, it was found that in Valencia too, place of residence was a determining factor. Attitudes favourable to Catalan and its use outside the familiar increases moving away from the centre of the city. Conversely, in the historic central districts of the city and the Pla del Real, inhabited mostly by couples of local extraction, and with a high socioeconomic and educational level, there is below average use of Valencian and clear attitudes of rejection.

2.2.3 Intergenerational transmission: a debated question

In a recent article, entitled "La transmission intergénérationnelle du valencien et son usage comme langue seconde" (2002) in the journal Langage et sociéte, founded by Malagan Pierre Achard, Raquel Casesnoves Ferrer contrasts the sociolinguistic situation of Valencia with that of the rest of the Valencian Country.

If we take into account the figures from the 1986 and 1991 censuses —and in the case of the city of Valencia, the Municipal Census of Inhabitants of 1996— as well as a survey carried out by Casesnoves over the academic year 1997-1998 among 167 secondary pupils in three schools in Valencia, selected on the basis of social class, percentage of newcomers from other points of the Spanish state, whether public or private, linguistic competence of the neighbourhood and the existence (or otherwise) of Catalan on the timetable. To complete the survey there were a series of semi-directed interviews with representative subjects..

The results obtained allow us to sketch in certain observations of the situation of Catalan in the city:

1) Not detected at all are the positive tendencies evinced by the official studies on levels throughout the country. According to these studies, we have on the one hand an increase in the ability to read and write the language (especially in young people aged between 15 and 19), resulting from the introduction the teaching of Catalan (Valencian) in the schools; on the other, with regard to evolution and growth in the family setting, they revealed an increase in the number of people who always or generally used Catalan. Expressed in percentages, this was 40.9% in 1989, increasing to 44.3% in 1995, which suggests a change of 3.4% in favour of Catalan, confirmed by a decrease of 2.0% observed for Spanish over the same period..

In contrast, in the city of Valencia a decrease in use was observed —in no instance reaching more than 15%— in the family setting. The fact is especially serious, since being taught in Catalan in school seems to be a necessary, but not sufficient, condition for it to be used subsequently in other settings. Indeed, Catalan is not the predominant language of the young people in even 10% of cases..

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