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The sociolinguistic situation in Andorra: results of different studies, by Jaume Farràs


97% of those interviewed said that Catalan was the official language of Andorra and 81% were of the opinion that those normally resident in Andorra should be able to speak it. 41% said they intended to live in Andorra in the future, while 12% stated they did not. A majority of those asked, however, stated they were not sure, and that "it depended".

A larger percentage of students learned to speak Spanish first (35%), read it first (34%) or write it first (23%) rather than Catalan, a smaller percentage learned to speak Catalan first (21.9%) read it first (21%) or write it first (20%). As regards French, the proportion speaking it first was some 4%. This figure increases when it comes to reading and writing to around 14-15%, which would indicate that, in the Andorran setting, this is a language learned basically at school, not in the family.

The close and permanent heterolinguistic contact explains the existence of a third of students in favour of the use of two or more languages at the same time. This would suggest that they do not experience serious linguistic difficulties when reading school books or reading during leisure time, going to the theatre, watching films or listening to records. Close to 30-40% prefer to do these things in Spanish compared to 15-20% on average who opt for Catalan. French has even fewer adepts.

In the replies to other questions they indicate that the level of comprehension of Spanish (94%), speaking it (87%), writing it (76%) and reading it (87%) is in every case superior to the level for the same skills in Catalan (90%, 77%, 61% and 79% respectively and not surprisingly in French only comprehension and reading reached 40% at the maximum level of competence. With this self-assessment of linguistic skills and abilities it is also understandable that 47% of the interviewees prefer to do their exams in Spanish rather than Catalan, whereas only 28% would prefer Catalan for this. However, the open questions were answered in that language in 93.5% of cases.

Fearfulness or linguistic insecurity regarding knowledge of Catalan is once again to be seen in the three languages that they find most useful in their daily lives in Andorra. Almost two thirds put Catalan first compared to 30% who put Spanish first.

In the family setting, around 80% of situations could be handled in Catalan or Spanish, so to speak in an even-handed way. Another forty or so different social situations in the street or at school among friends would be more likely to be done in Spanish, except where the interlocutor's language would be a decisive factor tipping the balance in favour of Catalan: Catalan-speaking teachers, teachers of Catalan, Catalan-speaking neighbours, colleagues, etc. The questionnaire also had some questions on the sources of information of these students, looking at their habits of cultural consumption, the newspapers and magazines read, radio land television tuned into, and the frequency with which this was done, and in what language.

Some other questions sought to uncover prejudices students had about the good or bad manners associated with monolingual use of either Catalan or Spanish. We wanted to find out their opinion about the right way to act in a meeting where there were participants who had little knowledge of Catalan. Changing to French or Spanish under such circumstances was thought necessary by only one out of five interviewees. This reply contrasted –we thought- with the most usual and interiorised (automatic) behaviour patterns of a large section of the Catalan-speaking community (including those who spoke Catalan as their first language).

The opinion that Catalan will predominate in the future in Andorra is widely held (70% of cases), as does the notion that those who know Catalan have greater job opportunities (82%). However, only one out of four students thought that Catalan should be the only language, the language used monolingually for primary and secondary school classes. Half thought that everyone in Andorra should speak it. How easily they leave this for the future to take care of! Meanwhile, more than half preferred to see films in Spanish rather than Catalan or French.

54% of the interviewees declared they felt themselves to be Andorrans above all else, around 18% said Spanish, 13,5% affirmed their Catalanness, and less than 3% of students said they felt French more than anything else. These figures need to be clearly borne in mind, along with other socio-demographic variables when analysing and interpreting all the data in depth.

In the course of the qualitative research, we found that, overall, the young people interviewed expressed a certain uneasiness due to uncertainty over how and when the legal and social recognition of Andorra could be achieved. We noted, too, a certain compartmentalisation of the different socio-cultural groups that there were, perhaps as a result of the dearth of mechanisms that would combine interests and the perceived lack of shared social spacess. Only a progressive and comfortable process of integration of the flood of immigrants together with the creation of shared spaces where Catalan could be used with complete naturalness, and the acquisition of shared symbols, will be able to reduce the distances perceived by the interviewees. There are still not enough of such spaces and integrating elements for all inhabitants, and it should not be forgotten that any measure promoting linguistic Andorranisation will need to be accompanied by other social and cultural support. It has been worth the while giving this brief outline, not least for all those who answered the questionnaire, and said that they would like to know the final results we obtained.

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Jaume Farràs
Universitat de Barcelona

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