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


The material for the corpus of oral communication in the mass media comes mainly from television programmes on the channels TV3 (Una altra cosa, Jetlag, El cor de la ciutat), Canal33 (manga and cartoon series, Super 3) and Flaix TV, recorded between 20th of March and 10th of April 2003. In addition, the corpus of 10 chapters of the series Plats bruts from 2001 was included as when collecting data in the questionnaires, many adolescents mentioned this series.

6. Summary of the results

Adolescents’ way of speaking represented in the corpus is found in a field of tension. The poles of this field are, on the one hand the Catalan language and culture and, on the other hand, the forms of urban expression of young people’s culture and an urban setting with a more Hispanic influence than any other region in the country. Therefore, it is not surprising that despite the fact that the present corpus is relatively small, a tendency can be defined: adolescents use more phenomena of Spanish greetings in the daily use of the language than programmes of the mass media aimed at them.(4)

In the television programmes recorded, one finds an attempt to approximate to the phenomena of the youth culture. However the absence of some usual phenomena in young people's language, such as the use of the discourse markers "vale" (ok) or "bueno" (right) is noticeable. These markers appear very rarely in mass media language or are used expressively as style resources; on the other hand, the use of markers is one of the most characteristic features in the way in which the young informants speak. The mass media have a conflict with regard to the use of pragmatic markers. As many authors, as well as standardised grammar books, consider lexemes such as "bueno" to be not just Spanish interference, but also -with negative connotations- errors that should be avoided, the linguistic services of the television channels are obliged not to use them if they wish to maintain their status of "language guarantors" (cf. Bassols et al. 1997).

The use of Spanish interference shows that the mass media unconsciously distances itself from young people's language. It avoids certain features, not because they are typical of young people's language, as in the programmes chosen for this work the proximity to young people's language represents a positive factor and one that contributes to the success of the programme, but because they do not adhere to the linguistic standard. However, the valuation that the linguists of the channels consulted make of their own programmes for young people with regards to their proximity to young people's language is, in some areas, far removed from reality. This occurs above all when the features of young people's language coincide with "authentic" or alleged Spanish interference. They are avoided by appealing to linguistic purity (cf. Salvanyà 2003:28). Even in programmes that are based on spontaneous, unplanned language, such as Una altra cosa, relatively few phenomena of young people's language appear and also fewer language greeting phenomena than is often assumed.

The careless use that adolescents make of language is often considered to be a "decadence of the language" and, when compared to the standard, it is valued in a negative way. If we refer in particular to the standards for written language, it is clear that divergences will appear. And inversely, adolescents also unconsciously move away from the young people's language of the mass media.

In the examples given, the conflict between the standards and the individual creation of a language and between Spanish and Catalan is evident. For young people, when they communicate with each other, this conflict is relatively unimportant. They use the features that diverged from the standard in a natural way and do not pay much attention to Spanish borrowing. The way in which the young Catalan informants speak is found in a field of tension between the ongoing desire to break the rules and the need to use these rules to make communication more fluent. Nevertheless bilingualism is an interesting component. The fact that young people break the linguistic standards by borrowing Spanish features does not prevent communication, even though the presence of these features in the Catalan may be very heavy. Intelligibility by all the bilingual participants of the conversation -the informants of the corpus- is guaranteed at all times. Therefore, adolescents have a communicative freedom that means that, in the purely linguistic area -and not in the political or cultural area-the above-mentioned field of tension is for them a source for extending their linguistic possibilities.

However, because of this, the mass media aimed at young people faces real and, in part, problematic tensions: as we have explained, they feel committed both to the public and to taking care of the language. Now, more than ever, they are facing the task of finding a linguistic form of expression that satisfies various demands: on the one hand, it must obey the principles of linguistic policy but, on the other hand, it must reflect the use that adolescent speakers make of the language. Essential aspects for a "normal" survival of Catalan are not just the influence and the unarguably important effects that the mass media has on young people with regards to taking care of the language in the areas marked by the forms of informal speech. Guiding the mass media to the linguistic transformations that occur specifically in these areas is just as important. We need to try and find a standard for young people's language, particularly spoken and -as a next step-for general language, that respects the linguistic reality of the young people -and therefore of the adults they will later be-and that is accepted as a source of linguistic innovation and creativity.

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Katharina Wieland
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin




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