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Winter 2009

Young people's language in Barcelona and its representation in the mass media, by Katharina Wieland


"[…], the above-mentioned mass media (press, comics, radio, etc.) in its dual method of spoken and written communication, has a special language in common in which colloquial twists and substandard voices predominate […]. Young people's everyday speech also shares these characteristics. […] To talk about the characteristics of their languages [those of young people] we basically need to reflect on the cultural consumption of young people and their leisure-time practices." (Rodríguez González 2002b:23)

Cultural phenomena and, above all, the culture of the mass media are reflected in linguistic behaviour. This is particularly valid with regards to the linguistic behaviour of young people as the mass media is an excellent "multiplier" of the dissemination of expressions that are typical of young people's language. However, it cannot be claimed that the mass media adopts, by norm, general expressions of young people's language and that, in this way, it essentially contributes to its dissemination among young people and also its adoption into standard language. It is interesting to see in which contexts young people's expressions appear in the mass media and whether these expressions can be really considered to be typical of young people's language. The study “Jugendsprache in Barcelona” ("Young people's language in Barcelona", Wieland 2008), presented summarised here in English , is based on these aspects. The study looks at the way in which different adolescents in Barcelona speak and contrasts it with the language used in young people's favourite Catalan television programmes and journalistic texts aimed at youths.

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  in English    



1. Introduction
2. The use adolescents make of language
3. Young people's language – Young people's culture
4. The mass media and young people's language
5. The Corpus
6. Summary of the results
7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Thanks to the success of "linguistic standardisation", most Catalan adolescents have Catalan language skills that range from basic to very good. This means that at least part of these adolescents choose Catalan as their intragroup and intergroup language. Obviously, there are often divergences and a slightly different composition of the group of adolescents can be decisive when choosing the language. Therefore, the question this study looks into is not about when and if the young people of Barcelona use Catalan as their intragroup communication language, but about how these young people speak, whether they do so in Catalan , and what the relationship is that they have with the young people's language as disseminated by the mass media.(1)

However, in the first place we should make some observations about the linguistic skills of young people analysed and the use they make of language.

2. The use adolescents make of language

There is no doubt that the area in which the linguistic policy applied to date in Catalonia has obtained best results is in the group that includes infants and adolescents, as this youngest section of the population comes into daily contact with Catalan at school and in the mass media and is the sector that moves with greater or fewer skills in the use of the language. The analysis of the statistical data corresponding to the informants of this study also shows a very positive situation of the Catalan language, although it should be taken into account that young people were chosen precisely because of their high use of Catalan. 58.3% of 144 adolescents questioned, aged between 13 and 19, stated that they speak Catalan with their parents and 18.7% speak Catalan with one of their parents and Spanish with the other or mix both languages. With regards to communication with siblings, the data obtained is similar. When they were asked about the use of language when speaking with their friends, 66.7% of adolescents declared that they preferred to use or almost exclusively used Catalan. As far as the linguistic confidence of young people is concerned, Catalan, at 49.3%, comes out a lot worse than one would imagine taking into account the use of the language with family and friends. Nevertheless, 33.3% of young people state that they can express themselves just as well in both languages. As far as the choice of language and the use of both languages in everyday life is concerned, the adolescent informants of the corpus adopted a relatively pragmatic and non-dogmatic attitude. Most of them consider themselves to be bilingual and feel at ease with both languages.

3. Young people's language – Young people's culture

Overall, young people's culture and the "subcultures" associated to it are considered to be the main features responsible for young people's language:

“In a far-reaching sense, young people’s cultures refer to the way in which the social experiences of young people are expressed collectively by means of the construction of different lifestyles, mainly found in free time or in gaps in their institutional life. In a more restricted sense, they define the appearance of young people's micro-societies, with significant degrees of autonomy with regard to adult institutions, which have specific spaces and times and which are historically shaped on the Western countries after the Second World War, coinciding with significant processes of social change in the economic, educational, employment and ideological terrain.” (Feixa 1998:84)

The concept of young people's culture may seem too broad to define some aspects of the way in which adolescents live. In this sense, we should therefore talk about more or less visible lifestyles or ways of living which adolescents adopt. We refer, for example, to the preference for certain television programmes, certain ways of dressing and certain linguistic expressions that could be characteristics of one or several groups of youths, but that should not necessarily be compared to a "subculture".

Therefore, before talking to the informants of this piece of work (144 adolescents) and recording conversations, note was taken of their lifestyles, especially the way in which they use audiovisual and digital mass media (cf. Wieland 2006 a and b), by means of a questionnaire. In addition to asking statistical questions regarding age, place of residence, mother tongue and bilingualism, above all we tried to discover the young people's behaviour in their free time. The results were mainly used to choose later themes of conversation, but also to select the characteristic, favourite electronic and audiovisual mass media of the adolescents, in particular television programmes and to thus be able to contrast the "young people's language" used in these programmes with the authentic material from the conversations.

Based on the results of the questionnaire, the behaviour of these adolescents in their free time can be represented for the corpus as follows:




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