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Sociolinguistic characterisation of young people in Catalonia: some factors that explain linguistic uses, by Anna Torrijos(1)


On the one hand, young people with Spanish as their family language (exclusively or mainly), with an elementary or medium level of studies, residing in Barcelona or the metropolitan area are those most likely to have Spanish as their habitual language (exclusively or mainly). It is also important to point out that young people who are not members of associations or only members of one also have this tendency. It should be pointed out that the likelihood of having Spanish as habitual language and Spanish as family language is very high (see table). This means that speaking Spanish with the family has a greater influence on the habitual language Spanish category than in other cases (family language Catalan or bilingual). Therefore, for young people who come from Spanish-speaking families the change from family language Spanish to habitual language Catalan is more difficult.

Parameters of the relationship p1311rec and p1312rec

Habitual language

  P1312rec Family language

1.- Catalan

2.- Catalan and Spanish

3.- Spanish

1.- Catalan







2.- Catalan and Spanish







3.- Spanish







*Exponential of the parameter. Significant parameters have been shaded in.

Young people who belong to the categories of Catalan (exclusively or mainly) as their family language, higher levels of study or currently studying, resident in the rest of Catalonia and with a higher level of membership of associations are more likely to use Catalan (exclusively or mainly).

Young people who habitually use both languages are notable as having as their family language both languages or just Catalan, higher studies or currently studying, residing in Barcelona city or the rest of Catalunya and belonging to fewer associations than Catalan speakers.

Therefore, their family language is in some way the same as their habitual language. In this point, we should take into account that it is data taken from a survey and, therefore, declared data. Many evaluations in research and studies have been done on the data of the survey, in contrast to data extracted through observation. In this sense, there is some knowledge about the reliability of the data of the survey. It is important to mention that the perceptions of the people interviewed on their behaviour and uses are present in their responses. In addition, the language used with the family is included within the habitually used language, in other words, those interviewed answer about their habitual language uses taking into account that their family language use is also a habitual use. However, linguistic uses in various areas are a partial vision of overall linguistic uses and are linked to uses by context; for example, at work or at secondary school, Catalan is used much more because it is an area in which linguistic planning in Catalan is more regulated and present.

In this analysis, the influence of the level of studies of the parents and the young people on their linguistic uses is notable. If this variable is shown as a reflection of the cultural level of the families, it can be affirmed that Catalan is still linked to the values of prestige and a high cultural level.

5. The qualitative analysis: the discussion groups

Briefly, the dynamics of the group consisted of a presentation, preliminary questions on the everyday life of the participants followed by, through spontaneous conversation about free time activities and music, the participants developing the debate about language. In almost the four dynamics it was the language of the music that participants listen to that helped to direct the debate. From here on, they dealt above all with the subject of linguistics uses and behaviours and linguistic attitudes of the three linguistic groups. The following step was to speak about the image of the languages and the “Dóna corda al català” campaign of the Secretariat for Linguistic Policy.

In view of the objectives of this study, the analysis was mainly focused on the points that referred to linguistics uses, language and consumption in leisure time and free time, linguistic behaviour (rules of use) and linguistic attitudes.(14)

Linguistic uses

In the first place, with regard to the linguistic uses of young Catalan people, it should be mentioned that, according to the analysis of the discussion groups, they are defined by the language that they feel to be theirs, the language spoken with their family and the decision on whether to maintain or change language.

G1 (aged 15 to 17, Catalan speakers, bilingual speakers and Spanish speakers)
but it also depends, people who speak Catalan as well, it's because their parents are Catalan or one of their parents, and I for example am not, I believe that it's this, how they were brought up when they were little. (...) And I’ve been doing school in Catalan since I was little and I still speak Spanish. (...) But later at home… I come out of school, and I speak Spanish

Usually, the family language is linked to the geographical origin of the parents. However, there are cases in which this is not so. It is considered more common that parents of Spanish origin should speak Catalan with their children, but it is seen to be socially "strange" that parents of Catalan origin should speak Spanish to their children.

G4 (aged 23 to 29 bilingual speakers and Spanish speakers)
For me it depends, I have always studied in Catalan, I have studied here, in Catalan, and the family, well it depends, I've got a lot of family that speak Catalan and my parents are from here, they are both Catalan. (...) Yes, I know it's odd because my grandparents were Catalan, but well, they speak Spanish, they only speak Catalan to the animals

Also, the language spoken with one's couple and one's friends are usually the languages that one considers to be one's own as they also make up part of the linguistic environment of the person. However, in this area they start to be processes of interaction between the two languages. It is here that diverse linguistic behaviours occur of adapting to the language of the other or of negotiation between the members.

G3 (aged 23 to 29, Catalan speakers and bilingual speakers)
Everything depends on when you meet a person how you start speaking to them, if you start in Catalan you will then always speak Catalan to them, if you start in Spanish... Unless there is a moment when you say that you would prefer to speak in... This happened with me and my girlfriend, I spoke to her in Spanish and I said: you can talk to me in Catalan, and from then on we always spoken in Catalan

Therefore both in young people of the Catalan group as well as young people of the Spanish group, they have friends who speak the other language and therefore there can be a change of use of their own language. Young bilingual speakers, many Catalan speakers and some Spanish speakers adapt to the language of their interlocutor with regard to friendship.

G1 (aged 15 to 17, Catalan speakers, bilingual speakers and Spanish speakers)
It depends on the people in the group, because there might be one person in the group who speaks Spanish and therefore if you move in..., well, the conversations that you have with the group will be in Spanish so that this person can.… In other words, you'll be used to speaking in Spanish and therefore if you're in a group you'll speak to him in Spanish, with everyone, with all the members so that he can understand, even though he understands Catalan, it's a bit like that...

Outside family use and use with friends, in the discussion groups other areas in which linguistic uses are present arose spontaneously: situations in which one acts as a consumer or user. In this case, the language of use depends on the area about which we are talking and is defined according to the social knowledge about the language that is usually spoken in each area. The restaurant area was mentioned as one of the areas in which people usually speak in Spanish and banks as one of the areas in which they usually speak in Catalan.

Language and consumption in leisure time and free time

On the other hand, the language of cultural or free time consumption takes on special importance in the debates -above all with regard to musical and television consumption- and has some very specific characteristics.

With regard to music, we should point out the fact that the Catalan linguistic group feels identified with music sung in Catalan and the Spanish linguistic group does not. In the first case, young Catalan speakers like it because it represents a music that is close to them. Contrarily, in the second case there is rejection because it is removed from their identity and belongs to a nationalist identity that they do not share. However, all young people can like music sung in Spanish as they do not see political options and preferences but simply a kind of music that they can like or not.

G1 (aged 15 to 17, Catalan speakers, bilingual speakers and Spanish speakers)
- But it's for the people, it depends on the people, it depends on how you take it, because for me a song in Catalan could mean many things, and another person will listen to it and say yuk!

G2 (aged 18 to 22, bilingual speakers and Spanish speakers)
- It's because it's in Catalan I'd say, I don't know. Hardly anybody likes music in Catalan and there are very few people compared to the music in Spanish.

All young people like music in English more than in any other foreign language. For some, the reason is fashion and being used to hearing this kind of music, as it is that which is promoted at a world level nowadays. Along the same lines, we should point out the fact that the linguistic uses for music, television and the cinema are linked to customs and uses that have historically occurred in these areas from each linguistic group.

G3 (aged 23 to 29, Catalan speakers and bilingual speakers)
it's not that it's any better or worse, it's just that it's more promoted, the language is more familiar to us, everyone has studied English at school, we understand the odd phrase and it is more accessible to us, we prefer how it sound

G1 (aged 15 to 17, Catalan speakers, bilingual speakers and Spanish speakers)
Because you're used to each actor having his voice dubbed and therefore you're used to that dubber and you relate to him or her directly. That happened to me with Songoku which I saw in Catalan and when they put it on in Spanish I couldn't bear it

Rules of linguístic use

Throughout the dynamics, one of the fundamental questions that appeared in the conversation in all the groups was shown: the trend to linguistic convergence. This is how most linguistic groups converge into the language of the Moderator whether or not it is their own language. This happens in a marked way in the groups of Catalan speakers and bilingual speakers when the moderator speaks in Spanish. In groups consisting of Spanish speakers they mainly keep to Spanish when the moderator speaks to them in Catalan but also, in some cases, they respond to the questions by speaking in Catalan.

Once again, in these discussion groups the basic rule of linguistic convergence appeared that has been found in many of the studies. According to Boix (1993), commonsense and psychological research suggest that a means that individuals have to achieve a more favourable attitude from others is that of making themselves more similar to them; the adaptation is, therefore, a reflection from the individuals to be socially approved. Adaptation or linguistic convergence is therefore a means that young people use to get closer to their interlocutor to thus look for their complicity.

G3 (aged 23 to 29, Catalan speakers and bilingual speakers)
- or if when you'd arrive you hadn't spoken a lot may be someone would have heard another language but as you've started and you've made your entire speech in Spanish.

Linguistic convergence to Spanish is something that is taken for granted that forms part of the unwritten social regulations that are considered to contribute towards the good understanding of people in a society. This regulation is supported by attitudes of respect and politeness that are understood to be fundamental for harmoniously living in society. Therefore, it is a behaviour that is very difficult to contradict or change.

G3 (aged 23 to 29, Catalan speakers and bilingual speakers)
because I consider that when I am spoken to in Spanish if I answer in Catalan for me it's like an argument.

G3 (aged 23 to 29, Catalan speakers and bilingual speakers)
- Sometimes I do it out of respect, because the person who starts the conversation, it’s not that they have the right, but I suppose that they started in the language that they speak best and if this is a problem for me I would ask them to change language but if not, if I really had a difficulty yes I would ask but as more or less ...

Bilingual speakers are the ones who mainly adopted this behaviour, followed by young people from the Catalan linguistic group and finally, young people from the Spanish linguistic group. In this sense, the data of the EULC 2003 that shows how the majority of young people who start a conversation in Catalan change to Spanish when the interlocutor answers them in Spanish (73%) is confirmed; while the majority of young people who start a conversation in Spanish and are answered in Catalan continue speaking in Spanish (82.7%).

Table 3. Attitude of the population aged 15 to 29 in the case of a change of language in a conversation (%)*


When they speak in Catalan
and are answered in Spanish

When they speak in Spanish and answered
in Catalan

Continue speaking in Catalan



Continue the conversation in Spanish



Ask if they can speak in Catalan/Spanish



They never address anyone in Catalan/Spanish



Other situations



*Only includes the population who say they know how to speak Catalan.
Source: Statistics of linguistic uses in Catalonia 2003.

This frequency, among other things, relates to the degree of linguistic competence as young bilingual people find it easy to express themselves in both languages and although young people of the Catalan linguistic group have a high degree of competence in Spanish, in some cases they say they do not find it as easy to express themselves as in Catalan. Overall, the young people of the Spanish linguistic group have learned Catalan at school and for them it is a language that they know well. However, some of them find it quite difficult to express themselves in Catalan because it is a language they have learned academically but not used in everyday life.




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