Logotip de la revista Noves SL





Winter 2005

Language and economy. Market for symbolic exchange and consumption of linguistic products in Euskera, by Benjamín Tejerina

The object of this article is to analyse the relationship between economic factors and language in the case of Euskera (Basque) and the changes that have occurred in its market value in the light of the recently implemented recuperation of the language. The idea that I want to explore is that Euskera has recovered vigour in recent years thanks to public intervention and social support for its promotion in a linguistic market dominated by two big international languages, French and Spanish but still not in a position to do without the official support nor the demand for fostering and protection of Euskera from broad sectors of society.

Versión per imprimir.  Llengua i economia. Mercat d'intercanvis simbòlics i consum de productes lingüístics en basc, per Benjamín Tejerina PDF printing version (74 KB)



1. Introduction

2. Language, institution and market of linguistic exchanges

3. The origin of the recent recovery of Euskera

4. Intervention and planning in the 80s and 90s

5. Market, value, production and consumption of the language

6. Intervention and the market for Euskera

7. Bibliography


1. Introduction

When I consider the relationship between language and economy, I never cease to be surprised to see how few studies exist, and to note the lack of systematic research into language choice, identity and market. Why should this be so? In my opinion, there are several reasons. In the first place, because the polemical relationship between language, identity and politics has dominated (or, monopolised, I would say) the thinking of scientists and investigators; in second place, because once a linguistic market is in place, through the imposition of a legitimate language by the nation-state, this fact becomes a given, relegating the original symbolic violence to oblivion and intervening in its favour by preaching the need ostensibly to further linguistic exchange and communication and, in third place there is the fact that minority languages are in a state of economic dependence to such an extent that we are impeded from thinking of most of them in terms of linguistic markets not needing public intervention to sustain them.

Nowadays, there are increasing indications of the autonomy of a linguistic market that has grown up around Euskera. I shall present the results of this initial exploration, discussing the origin of this revitalisation of the Basque language;  secondly I shall look at the language engineering and planning of the 80s and 90s. And in third place I shall be looking at Euskera and its market, in terms of linguistic practice in the world of production and work, and the market specifically for Euskera, that is, the products of the linguistic and cultural industry associated with Euskera/Basque.

2. Language, institution and market of linguistic exchanges

Language as an institution is a process of economy of content (the obviating or simplification of complexity). When Berger and Luckmann explain the origins of institutionalisation by referring to the habituation (converting action into habit) that underpins all human activity, they remind us that “every act that is frequently repeated, creates a pattern that can then be repeated with economy of effort and which is, ipso facto, learned as a pattern by the one who carries it out” (Berger and Luckmann, 1979:74). These processes of habituation retain their meaningfulness for the individual but with a great saving in spending and investment; “habituation offers the great psychological advantage of restricting the options. While there might in theory be one hundred different ways of building a canoe with paddles, habituation will restrict these to a single way, which frees the individual from the burden of ‘all these decisions’, providing psychological relief based on the structure of Mankind's non-directed instincts. Habituation provides the route and the specialisation in the activity that is lacking from Man's biological equipment. This in turn alleviates the accumulation of tensions arising from non-directed impulses. A stable backdrop against which human activity can go forward with in most cases a minimal margin of decisions, frees energy for the more significant decisions that may be required in certain circumstances (…). In accordance with the meaning that man endows his activities, habituation makes it unnecessary to define every situation anew, step by step” (Berger and Luckmann, 1979:75).

Language is the fruit of this habituation, and it becomes institutionalised when there appears a reciprocal typing or classification of actions that become habitualised, and this reciprocal typing of actions gets constructed in the course of a shared history. This dimension is important in the study of language, given that the extension and distribution of these typologies will be very variable within a society, and, in the case of multilingual speakers, may lead to linguistic preferences based on the knowledge, communicative skill and ease of expression in a particular linguistic code.(1) This constitutes the first or primary relationship between language and economy.

There is a second relationship between economy and language that can be discerned, and this has more to do with the political economy of the language. That is, with the principles informing the regulation of the language market. It is this that Bourdieu refers to when he affirms that the official language came into being linked with the State -both in its genesis and in terms of its social uses. The state language becomes the theoretical norm by which all other linguistic practices are objectively measured. It is during the constitution of the State that the conditions for the creation of a unified linguistic market are created, dominated by the official language: obligatory on official occasions, and in official places (schools, public administration, political institutions, etc.), and it is in this way that the state language becomes, as we have said, the theoretical norm by which all linguistic practices are objectively measured. It is assumed that no one is ignorant of linguistic law, which has its body of legal experts, its grammars, and its agents of control. The latter are the school teachers, invested with a special power: that of universally scrutinising and applying the legal sanction of the school diploma to the linguistic results of the speaker-subjects under their aegis” (Bourdieu, 1999:19-20).

For one particular form of expression among others (in the case of bilingual societies one particular language) to impose itself as the only legitimate one, the market has to become unified. Political institutions (political intervention) generate the integration of individual speakers into the same linguistic community by means of the imposition of the universal recognition of the dominant language.

It is political intervention (political economy of the language) that constitutes a unified linguistic market, and in the case of multilingualism a linguistic hierarchy. Political intervention contributes to “the fabrication of the language that the linguists accept as a natural datum /"given" without imputing to it all responsibility for the generalisation of use of the dominant language and cultural production and circulation” (Bourdieu, 1999: 24).

The school system (military in some instances) has the task of extending knowledge of and guaranteeing recognition of legitimate language or languages. “The school system has been delegated the authority necessary to be able to act universally to inculcate matters of language to lasting effect, and tends to provide the duration and intensity of this action to the inherited cultural capital. As a result, the social mechanisms of cultural transmission tend to insure the reproduction of the structural difference between the (very uneven) distribution of knowledge of the legitimate language and the much more uniform distribution of the recognition of this language, constituting in this way one of the determining factors of dynamics of the field of language, and thus of changes in the language” (Bourdieu, 1999: 36).

I would accept what Bourdieu says here in its entirety, but add that his vision does not exhaust the possibilities for the study of language change. He focuses on the relationships of dominance between languages (official-not official, dominant-not dominant) but what interests me, at this moment, is to indicate that dominated languages have their own dynamic, even from a position or place of subordination. This is the third meaning that can be read into the relations between economy and language, having to do with the economic policy of linguistic exchanges, that is, with the practices of the actors in the marketplace of linguistic exchange. On occasions, it is the very realisation, the raising of awareness, of a situation of subordination in which a language finds itself which sparks off the processes of reversal and linguistic change. We will be looking in some detail at how all these elements have functioned in the case of Euskera.(2)

3. The origin of the recent recovery of Euskera

Elsewhere I have entertained the hypothesis that it is the traumatic realisation of the impending loss of the language as a medium of communication (at the height of the Spanish post-war period, in the 50s) that brought about re-appreciation of the value of the language as a symbol of collective identity which drove many people to learn Euskera and others to use it more, despite the political limitations imposed on its learning and use (Tejerina, 1992).

This process was not connected with economic issues and came about in a context of lack of a true linguistic market, since the public scene is dominated by the promotion of the official language and the denial of the other non-official languages. Indeed, this happened in a context of hardship and economic want of all kinds, making the teaching and dissemination more difficult. Notwithstanding, in the 60s and above all in the 70s there was a recovery which was observable in connection with three factors: a) the setting up of the ikastolas (Basque-medium schools), b) classes for adults (adult literacy classes), and c) the publication of books in the language (cultural production).

Euskera in the Basque Country had been losing ground as a medium of communication (communicative function) (3) for quite a few decades, ceding territory before the advance of other languages, with the percentage of speakers of Basque out of the total population steadily dropping, disappearing or decreasing its use in particular social settings, etc. The features presented by that language situation allow us to put forward a hypothe­sis: the Basque language had been undergoing a steady decrease in its communicative function. Then, during the Franco regime (1939-1975) the language was subjected to repression and political pressure which only accentuated the decrease in its communicative function. This political pressure made individuals more aware of the loss of the language. If loss of the language is experienced in a traumatic way, this will result in a raising of awareness of the loss of the language's communicative function. Raising of awareness of this loss, on the one hand, will bring about a growth in the participative function (affective attachment to the language as a symbol of belonging to the group) through social mechanisms which constitute the group's structure of plausibility: family, friends, associations, etc. This is where the symbolic role of the language is an important element making up collective the group's collective identity. On the other hand, the communicative function of the language will decrease less as a consequence of the influx of participatory function will act at two levels: raised awareness of language loss may firstly move those individuals who know the language to use the language more, and secondly increase motivation to learn the language on the part of those who do not know it . It could also happen, especially among those that do not find loss of the language traumatic, that they progressi­vely reduce or cease its utilisation, either because they are not aware of the process of loss or, if they are conscious of it, because they do not find the language shift upsetting, or because they find personal motives or social conditions favouring the use of the other language and the relinquishing of one's own.

Three social manifestations emerged as the most important in the raising of awareness of the language's loss of communicative function and of the need to recover this which occurred during Franco's time. These were: the setting up of the ikastolas (Basque-medium schools), the adult literacy classes and Euskera classes for adults, and the increase in the number of publications in the Basque language. Other important developments were the linguistic unification of Euskera and the renewed dynamism of the scientific and cultural institutions that had entered into a prolonged state of lethargy after the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). Let us focus on the first group of manifestations.

The most important of these, having the greatest symbolic force in the recovery of the language was the emergence of the ikastola as a scholastic institution with the mission of educating and socialising the rising generation in Euskera. The Euskera language had not been granted admittance to the educative system and, on occasions, the edu­cational system had become a powerful instrument in the repression of the language's use both in the school and in the social sphere. However, the introduction of Basque into the school setting had received some support ever since the beginning of the twentieth century. The first bilingual school of which we have information dates from 1903, but it was from 1957 onwards when the first ikas­tola of the post-war period was opened, that the popular movement in favour of the culture really got underway. The primary objective here was the foundation of ikastolas for the teaching of Basque outside the state schools and private schools.(4)

Between 1960 and 1975, 160 ikastolas were opened. The period between 1969 and 1972 was the most dynamic of all in this respect. Apart from the number of ikastolas that have appeared up and down the Basque Country with an intense concentration in  guipuzkoa and Biskay (Bizkaya) provinces, the fact is that their very existence took on a three-fold social meaning: a) as a symbolic reference point for a culture that was going through moments of identity crisis, b) as a cultural codification of collective cultural identity, and c) as a mythical redoubt for Basque identity in a situation of repression.

Euskera had been maintained as a language in daily use in the family, in certain areas of population, and in certain church settings. Fostered by these two social ambits, the family and the church, and marginalized by the school system and official politics, Euskera transmitted a particular codification of Basque cultural identity, that is to say, the Euskaldun culture (to use the Basque term) and the collective identity that sank its roots into that culture. Which does not mean that Euskera did not have great meaning, as a medium of cultural codification, in social relationships and in the political order.

During Franco's regime a whole series of factors were brought to bear that had as their most immediate consequence the erosion of the Euskaldun cultural reference; and, at the same time, "the rural culture, progressively dominated and dismissed as retrograde or as a hang-over from the past, was to suffer its corresponding identity crisis. These factors were the repression suffered by Euskera in the schools, the questioning of Euskaldun culture that bourgeois pragmatism in itself represented, the process of structural alteration produced by industrialisation, urbanisation and the influx of migrants, and the increased cultural, administrative and political pressure from the Central (that is, Spanish) State".

1 de 4