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Winter 2009

From monolingual family background to bilingual identification: the case of pre-adolescents in Mataró and the Aragonese border area(1) by Vanessa Bretxa, Llorenç Comajoan and Natxo Sorolla


This article presents data on the relationship between the language used by the pre-adolescent population of Mataró and the Aragonese border area with their parents and their language of identity. In particular, it looks into the way in which different socio-linguistic variables affect this relationship so as to create two linguistic sub-groups: one group which has a mono-lingual Spanish-speaking family background, and identifies with this language, and the other which, despite also having a monolingual family background, exhibits bilingual identification. Various socio-linguistic variables (oral competence, social networking, attitudes, confidence and the language used with siblings) are analysed, with a view to predicting membership of one group or the other. The results show that social networks among peers are the variable giving the best indication of individuals' language of identity.

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1. Introduction
2. Language of identity and language used with parents
2.1. Language and identity
2.2. Language and identity in Catalonia
3. Methodology of the study
4. Results
4.1. Language used with parents and language of identity
4.2. Descriptive analysis
4.2.1. Oral competence in Catalan
4.2.2. Social networks
4.2.3. Attitudes to Catalan
4.2.4. Linguistic confidence in Catalan
4.2.5. Language used with siblings
4.3. Multivariable analysis: discriminant analysis
5. Discussion and conclusions
6. References

1. Introduction

This paper studies the relationship between the language spoken by pre-adolescents in the family setting (language spoken with parents) and the language they identify as their own (language of identity). In particular it presents data regarding the pupils in the sixth year of primary education (aged 11 to 12) at schools in Mataró and the Aragonese border area and investigates the way in which different socio-linguistic variables can help to explain the language with which these young respondents identify. The study takes the following observation as its starting point: there are a number of boys and girls who speak to their parents in Spanish (the family background is monolingual) but who do not necessarily identify exclusively with this language (bilingual identification). The article therefore examines variables which might explain this change. In particular, data is provided on oral competence in Catalan, the languages used in the respondents' social networks, attitudes to language, the language used with brothers and sisters and language confidence. The descriptive data for each of these variables provides an overall view in which certain differences can be seen between the socio-linguistic backgrounds of Mataró and the Aragonese border area (for example, the level of competence in Catalan is higher in Mataró than in the Aragonese border area). On the other hand, there are certain similarities in the two areas (for example, the widespread use of Spanish in the pupils' social networks). By means of the statistical technique of discriminant analysis, we determine which of the variables studied (oral competence, social networks, attitudes, confidence and the language used with siblings) allow the best prediction of the language of identity. The results of the study show that the social networks of sixth year primary pupils are the variable which allows us to determine the language of identity most reliably.

2. Language of identity and language used with parents

Explaining the way in which multilingual individuals come to use their different languages, and the different levels of competence they have in them, is a complex task, because a multitude of factors intervene in the explanation of language use in plurilingual contexts. Different theoretical models have attempted to make these factors explicit, particularly for those cases in which one of the language varieties in the socio-linguistic environment is weaker. For example, in the classic framework of the reversibility of language change, Fishman (1991, 2001) emphasised the role of the family and language transmission in the family as major factors in saving a threatened language (see Boix and Vila, 1998; Comajoan, 2005). Other theoretical frameworks – more psychological than social – centre on situational and personal factors (for example the Willingness to Communicate concept of MacIntyre et al. 1998). In this paper we study some of the variables of both theoretical frameworks when explaining certain discrepancies in the language used by the family and the language of identity among pre-adolescents in Mataró and the Aragonese border area in 2007.

2.1. Language and identity

The language an individual speaks and his/her identity are inseparable (Tabouret-Keller, 1997, p. 315). (2) This inseparability makes the study of the relationship between language and identity particularly complex. On the one hand, as Tabouret-Keller says, identities are not homogeneous since "At any given time a person’s identity is a heterogeneous set made up of all the names or identities, given to and taken up by her" (p. 316). On the other hand, because of the heterogeneous nature of identities, it is also possible to (re)negotiate them (Pavlenko & Blackledge, 2004).

Tabouret-Keller gives two reasons to explain the close relationship between language and identity. The first, which is psychological, is motivated by the individual's identification with the use of language through their relationship with their parents, or by one individual's imitation of another's behaviour. The second is related to the explicit and implicit legal factors governing the use and knowledge of languages in specific contexts. (3)

In this paper the psychological relationship is studied from data on the language with which individuals identify and the language used in the family context (language used with parents). Obtaining data on these two variables by means of a written socio-linguistic questionnaire, as was done for this study, is necessarily a problem, as it does not allow us to observe the way in which individuals express the dynamic aspect of their identity. However, the fact that various combinations of languages were available for the possible answers means that this dynamic aspect was allowed for to some extent (see section on methodology).

This study considers two other variables which are psychological in nature and closely related to the psychological dimension of the language of identity: attitudes to language and language confidence. Attitudes are "a disposition to react favourably or unfavourably to a class of objects" (Garrett et al., 2003, p.3); in the case with which we are concerned the "objects" are languages. As Garret et al. point out, attitudes are structured in three parts: they have a cognitive component (beliefs about languages), an affective component (feelings and emotions regarding languages), and a behavioural component (a predisposition to act in a certain way) (Lasagabaster, 2003).


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