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


The sign value, lastly, has to do with the evaluations that are made in terms of social prestige. As Bourdieu puts it “the social uses of the language owe their social value, as such, to the fact that these uses tend to be organised in systems of differences that reproduce, in the symbolic order, the differential separations the system of social differences. To speak is to appropriate for oneself one or other of the expressive styles constituted in and by use – and characterised objectively by its position in a hierarchy of styles that express the hierarchy of the corresponding groups. These styles, classified by and classifying differences, leave their mark in those who avail themselves of them. And spontaneous stylistics, endowed with a practical sense of the equivalences between both orders of differences, express social differences by means of the sets of stylistic indicators” (Bourdieu, 1999: 28).

The term social prestige refers to the two aspects which in reality are closely related: the attitudes held about the language of a group which function as a reference point, and recognition of the social power of the said group. Social power that can vary so much both in historical terms and in different social contexts within a given historical period. Fishman apparently alludes to this when, speaking of prestige, he maintains that “this is not about the mythically invariable prestige of a language or language variety, but rather the highly variable fate or fortunes of their speakers. The triumph of English, Spanish or Portuguese in the New World constitute a triumph of physical powerfulness, economic control and ideological power. None of these factors is in itself linguistic, but the languages that happen to be associated with such forces and powerful developments may entail a series of advantages for their speakers that are much greater than those enjoyed by others who do not speak these languages” (Fishman, 1982: 162)

In our societies the exchange values conditions both the use value and the sign value, and the exchange value is determined in the market of economic exchanges, of which linguistic and cultural exchanges form a part. By that I do not wish to state that the exchange value eliminates the other sources of value, far from it. The question I am addressing is to what extent language can maintain autonomy with respect to decisions made about it, in this case economic ones. That is to say, to what extent the economic field, language as an economic value, is a priveleged field for observing the dynamic process of longterm linguistic change.

I'm not sure that we can say that the power of a language as an economic resource depends on the power depends on the economic power and influence of its community of speakers. What is true, however, is that the economic value of a language is determined by the market of language exchanges. This market is not free -it never was- since it is a market subject to intervention. The market comprises language exchanges in which we find values of use, of change, of sign, and of symbolic power, the last-mentioned being the only ones to avoid market evaluation.

One way of evaluating the state of a language in market terms is to consider the number and nature of linguistic exchanges, and thus the language as a resource, vis-à-vis the linguistic exchanges that are realised in other languages in the case of multilingual situations.

I can think of at least two ambits in which it is possible and important to measure presence: a) language usage at the time of production; b) the products of the linguistico-cultural industry and language usage linked to consumption.

6. Intervention and the market for Euskera (10)

a) Language usage at the time of production

In relation to the situation in terms of the use of Euskera we will look at three settings or domains: the family, the immediate community and formal settings. (11)

Frequency of use of Euskera in the intimacy of the family setting ranges between 48% of those that state that they use Basque always or almost always at home, and the 74% that use it to speak to their children. The other situations that interviewees were asked about obtained the following percentages: 48% used Euskera to speak to their grandparents, 51% used it with their spouses or partners, 53% used it with their father, 56% with their mother and 59% with their brothers and sisters. Three out of ten of interviews claimed to communicate with other family members preferably in Spanish.

The use of Basque at the workplace, among friends and close community follows the same patterns as in the case of the family, although at a lower level. The Euskalduns (Basque-speakers) speak Euskera always or almost always with friends in 50% of situations, 45% with workmates or colleagues, 46% with superiors, 48% with trades people and 78% at the market.

Turning to usage in the most frequent spaces or situations such as visits to the bank, to the doctor, or to the local council, here too Basque speakers use Euskera in the majority of cases, with the exception of talking to the doctor. Three out of four Euskalduns speak to the priest in Euskera, one out of two when when they go to the bank or savings bank, 59% when in the town hall local government offices, 85% with their children's teachers and only one in three when they go to a clinic or health centre.

The internal diversity of the Euskalduns in terms of their control of Euskera has a great impact on greater or lesser use in practice of Euskera or Spanish. Bilinguals with greater command of Euskera speak in this language most of the time: nine out of ten times with friends, eight out of ten with trades people, more than nine times out of ten at the market (traditional market hall) and somewhat less, seven out of ten times, at work and with superiors.

When we ask balanced bilinguals about their language usage they report using Euskera somewhat less frequently: 50% with friends, 46% with trades people, 45% at work, 48% with superiors (bosses) 81% at the market. In these cases they make use of Euskera more frequently than they do Spanish. This tendency is reversed in situations in which Spanish-dominant bilinguals participate. Only in the market do they use Euskera more than Spanish, at a rate of 60%, and they speak Spanish with friends in 57% of cases, 63% with trades people, 52% at work and 59% with superiors.

The density of Euskalduns (Euskera speakers) on the ground plays a very important part in the utilisation of the language. In areas where more than 80% speak Euskera, the language used is, according to those interviewed, Euskera. However the frequency descends to the point of being replaced by Spanish, depending on the area. The occurrence of Euskera is the norm in eight out of ten encounters in areas with more than 80% of Euskalduns, dropping to 55% in the areas with 45-80% Basque speakers, 40% in areas with between 20% and 45% of bilinguals and 15% where there are less than 20% speakers of Euskera. In this last case, those interviewed claimed to use Spanish in six out of ten instances.

The same situation obtains in linguistic exchanges in shops where there is 86% use of Euskera where there is almost social bilingualism to 90% use of Spanish where bilinguals are very thin on the ground. In areas with more than 45% bilinguals Euskera tends to predominate over Spanish when working, in conversations with colleagues and superiors (64% and 59% respectively). In remaining areas, however, Spanish tends to predominate (at 56% and 71% respectively). The only public space where Euskera predominates over Spanish being the market (covered produce market) in areas with more than 20% of bilinguals: 96%, 87% and 67% depending on the areas with more or less density of Basque speakers and a very respectable presence, at 45%, in the areas with less than 20% bilinguals.

Age is the other relevant factor when setting out to explain the extent to which Euskera is utilised. Among those interviewed, speakers over 65 were most likely to use Basque, with those claiming to always or to preferably speak in Basque descending in frequency as one moves down the age range. Those aged between 16 and 24 reported the lowest rates of utilisation among friends (68% did so among those over 65 dropping to 38% among those aged under 24 years), in the shops (58% to 37%), with workmates or colleagues and with superiors, and at the market (86% versus 67%). In general, basing ourselves on the statements made by interviewees, it can be said that in the process of production, Basque does not enjoy the same importance as it now does in other domains such as the school, or public administration (utilities and local government). Only a minority are interested, although this has changed considerably in the last twenty years. While the world of work is the natural continuation, so to speak, of what has been achieved in the schools, the presence of the Euskera in the production process is minimal.

In recent years Basque Language Plans have begun to be introduced at company level, to give the language greater standing and increased presence in the production process; however, Basque is making progress in this respect mainly in terms of oral use. A certain number of projects that have begun to function, such as the EMUN cooperative, belonging to the Mondragón Corporación Cooperativa (MCC), are, hopefully, showing the way for the future. (12)

The process of introduction of Euskera into companies and organisations is not a priority area of concern for the employers' associations, and there is no virtually demand for such services from the employer. At all events there is a great difference in this respect from one geographical area, since in many companies and organisations Euskera is clearly present in the daily activity depending on the extent to which the workers in question may have deep roots in the social environment. As one of those interviewed by us stated, to promote Euskera in the face of globalisation –and the attendant linguistic and cultural homogenisation- could be a form of inserting oneself into that process: “In this increasingly globalised world, loving and promoting what is small is the way to be bigger, to still be there. We know what is happening throughout the world, but we want to be still be there”.

b) The products of the linguistico-cultural industry and their consumption

The constant expansion of production in the language industry as a result of unrelenting growth in the demand has brought about a gradual professionalisation of the tasks (adoption of the tasks by professionals) related to ethno-linguistic activism. Activities having to do with language transmission, and those which arise out of it, demand a permanent investment of time and effort providing preparation for those who work in this area. The latter means production of teaching materials, complementary activities such as theatre, literature, leisure and pastimes, etc. Many of the local civic associations which have begun to appear in recent years publish their own magazines, have their own radio stations and, in some cases, their own television channels. The increasingly qualified and professional nature of such persons is one of the characteristic features of this phenomenon.

What we have here is a constant increase in the number of people and the volume of resources devoted to the cultural audiovisual production and modernisation of the language, constituting what is in effect a new language industry. Naturally, not all those who are operative in this industry form part of the movement and in the same way not all activists in this cause are inexorably driven to devote themselves professionally to such activities. Relationships are undoubtedly more complex than this, but at the same time it cannot be denied that there are an increasing number of communication channels and exchanges between social mobilisation and the so-called language industry. This makes for a smoother transition to higher level of professionalisation. This above all if we bear in mind that the potential profits here constitute substantial individual and collective incentives reducing possible costs.

Some facts and fingures indicating the importance of production in the language that have begun appearing in interviews carried out, are:

a) Somewhat more than 50% of the output of publishing houses in the Basque Autonomous Community in Euskera. In recent years, more than 1,200 titles per year if we include both new books and republications;

b) A slow growth in the use of Euskera in the press, with one daily newspaper, Berria (13) ["News"], one or two weeklies such as Zabalik ["Open"], and a large number of magazines that come out at varying intervals, partly or entirely in Euskera;

c) An increase in the use of Euskera in the radio networks (free radio, not in commercial radio), and in connection with children's programmes. This in addition to the presence of Euskera in the public radio and television run by the Basque Government;

d) Increasing presence of Euskera in the dubbing of movies, videos and the audiovisual world in general, including children's games and computer games.

Despite the evident growth in this language market in recent years there is a great lack of knowledge (14) of its nature and requirements, of how to proceed to structure it to give it identity, and to seek to guarantee its sustained presence and continuation in the future.

From a strictly economic point of view, this language industry involves hundreds of jobs, and thousands of cultural products that will come back to Basque society not only in terms of language reproduction, but in investments, taxes and duties contributing to economic reproduction.

Recently a new ambit has come into being, which one author or another has defined as the Web Economy, oriented as it is to the Internet and the digital media. This medium involves two different types of language technology: a) technology which facilitates communication and general transactions; b) that which has a directly linguistic function (relating to comprehension, writing, translation, summary, etc.). (15)

The fundamental components of this field are: morphological dictionaries, thesauri, syntactic dictionaries, encyclopaedic dictionaries, multilingual dictionaries, terminological data banks, desambiguators, spelling correctors, grammar correctors, style correctors, correction of errors in the input, indexers, document summarisers, text-speech/ speech-text converters, translators, operative systems, text processors, assisted translation systems, search engines, ebusiness, education and training at a distance ("open university"), teaching of the language as a foreign language, intelligent agents, editing platforms, terminological assistants, information administer/analysers. In addition to all we have just mentioned there are the activities that derive from or depend on the information: tourism, trade, and also the rights to use a whole range of products (copyright). I will leave the reader to work out what this comprehensive ambit of activities could mean to a language community, especially bearing in mind that not being present in the world of language technologies on the web means not just missing out on a business but "to be forced to pay to use them to sell many of our products” (16) (Millán, 2000/2001). This line of argument can be applied to linguistic products, certainly, but even more so to the non-linguistic ones. We should not lose sight of the fact that this is only just the beginning.

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