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Home, school and playground: linguistic usages when lessons are over. Summary and analysis of the socio-demographic and study at secondary schools in Catalonia, by Natxo Sorolla


If we compare this broad data obtained from the socio-linguistic studies carried out with the adult population of Catalonia (Torres 2005, EULC 2003), we see that the number of initial speakers of both Catalan and Spanish outlines a certain continuity between the youngest groups in the Statistics on linguistic usages in Catalonia 2003 (EULC 2003) and the secondary school results (CSASE 2008). In the EULC, the greatest proportion of initial Catalan-speakers is found in the oldest generations (see Graph 2) – those born before the 1920s – where it exceeds two-thirds of the cohort (age group). The presence of Catalan reduces generation after generation, something which is closely linked to migration within Spain. Catalan-speakers born after the mid-1930s are the first cohorts to form smaller groups than initial Spanish-speakers. And a historic minimum of initial Catalan-speakers is reached among those born at the beginning of the '70s, at 32.3%, accompanied by a historic maximum of initial Spanish-speakers at 61.3 %. But the generations born in the '70s and '80s see the presence of Catalan as initial language growing once again, and around 15 cohorts recover similar proportions to the groups born during the 1930s and '40s. This growth of Catalan cohort after cohort brings the number of initial Catalan-speakers near to the figure for Spanish-speakers, but without catching them up in the generation born from 1984-88, the youngest studied in the EULC 2003.(3) The secondary school study detects that, in the generation born at the beginning of the '90s, the number of initial Catalan-speakers does not exceed Spanish-speakers. But the distance between them (3 percentage points) is not statistically significant. This would confirm the tendency for the proportions to move together, with a clear increasing trend for Catalan and a decreasing trend for Spanish.

By contrast, the secondary school study detects an increase in speakers who state that their initial language is both Catalan and Spanish (14.1%). This growth, which is comparatively very considerable, is not entirely surprising. In the adult population study (EULC 2003) this growth is only suspected as a trend, as until the cohorts born during the '70s the number of initial speakers of both languages did not reach 4%. In addition, although in the most recent age groups (those born during the '80s) this percentage might outline an increasing trend, it does so in a rather unclear way. So, the secondary school study would indicate that this increase, beginning in the form of a trend in the '70s, has been significantly consolidated among the generations born at the beginning of the '90s, where the number of initial speakers of both languages would be growing noticeably.

Graph 2 – Do you remember which language you first spoke at home when you were little? according to the age of the person surveyed. Statistics on language usages in Catalonia, 2003

If we include other variables in the analysis, it is possible to profile in a little more detail the characteristics of the group of secondary school students whose initial language is Catalan. On one hand, we should highlight, as might be expected, the presence of initial Catalan-speakers among pupils born in Catalonia, as well as among those studying at private schools, those who have parents with university education, those with a mother working full-time outside the home, or those from medium-sized towns (between 10,000 and 100,000 inhabitants) or small ones (less than 10,000 inhabitants).

Comparing their initial language (“Do you remember which language you spoke at home when you were little?”) with the identification language (“What is your language?”), we see that the number of answers with the two languages combined increases (27.5%). By contrast, Spanish as identification language (33.6%) is 9.3 percentage points below the percentage of initial Spanish-speakers (42.9 %). In the case of Catalan, the reduction is much smaller, with 36.5% of pupils identifying with this language. The factors which most influence this difference between the initial language and the identification language in favour of those who identify with both languages at the same time, or even those who identify only or above all with Catalan, are the type of school and the size of the town, with public schools and smaller towns showing the biggest increases in Catalan as identification language.

2.4. Family language

We detect that Catalan has a certain capacity for attraction, in comparing the language that mothers and fathers speak with one another and the initial language declared by the pupils. This happens because a noticeable group of pupils – 7.5% of those surveyed – state that Catalan is their initial language even though their parents do not speak it with one another. This positive flow towards Catalan from other languages and combinations does not go unnoticed as a positive indicator on the inter-generational transmission of Catalan in the population cohorts born at the beginning of the '90s.

Family language usages, meanwhile, show notable complexity, above all because of the interpretation of the concept of initial language in the population of young people. Although a broad correlation can be detected in the adult population between the language spoken with parents and the initial language, younger generations show some changes that do not go unnoticed. It has been shown that there are important differences between the language pupils speak with their parents and the language they state was the first they spoke at home when they were small (initial language). The two variables do not always correlate as much as might be predicted. 34.4% of pupils speak Catalan with both parents, 5.5 points less than the 39.9% of initial Catalan-speakers. Meanwhile, in the Spanish-speaking group, no significant difference is detected between the language spoken with parents (44.6%) and the initial language (42.9%).

Comparing the language spoken between the parents when the pupil was small and the language the pupil currently speaks with the parents, we see that there is a greater tendency of Catalan-speaking parents to transmit their own language than there is for Spanish-speaking couples. See Table 1. The great majority of children of couples who spoke Catalan between one another when they were little speak Catalan with their parents (90.6%). These couples have transmitted Catalan, and only 1.2% speak only or above all Spanish. Spanish is at the opposite pole, with a much lower maintenance rate. A notably lower quantity – 75.5% of the children of couples who spoke Spanish with one another – currently speak to their parents only or above all in Spanish. And, among those who do not, the percentage of those speaking only Catalan is as high as 4.9%. Among those who state that their parents speak equally Catalan and in Spanish, the majority move towards Catalan: 50.5% currently speak to their parents only or above all in Catalan, while the number of those who only or above all speak to them in Spanish stand at 18.8%.

In the light of the above data it can be understood that, in Catalan-speaking parents, the transmission of the language is interrupted in 9.4% of cases, while for Spanish-speaking parents the percentage is 24.5%. The difference – 15.1 points in favour of Catalan – is a statistic to be borne in mind.


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