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Media and regional languages in Spain

February 12, 2009

I’ve been doing a bit of informal TV viewing and radio listening via the internet of regional stations across Spain (Catalonia, Valencia, Murcia, Basque Country and Galicia) and on first inspection the influence of standard (Prado del Rey) radio/TV Spanish is greater than I had anticipated. I suspect there is more political autonomy than linguistic autonomy in many of these regions, but again this is all sheer speculation on my part. (Bibliographic references would be greatly appreciated).

Resisting a mighty lingua franca like Spanish (or English in the British Isles) strikes me as very much an uphill struggle even in regions such as Catalonia with a strong regional language where there is a great deal of political will to strengthen that language. After all, do parents in those regions want their children to acquire fluency in Spanish? Most of them probably do, whatever their political ideals.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. February 13, 2009 7:12 pm

    The suggestion that parents in Spain’s autonomous regions probably want their children to become fluent in Castellano (and therefore bilingual) is likely correct in many cases. However, having just completed my doctoral fieldwork in northern Catalonia, I found some conflicting instances. In some more staunchly Catalan areas, the highly self-conscious, nationalist fervour which works its way into public policy has precluded the development of balanced bilingualism in favour of Catalan, even where this is demographically counterintuitive (large populations of non-Catalan speakers present). One result is, of course, an impoverished command of Castellano among young people.

    I’ll be exploring in more detail in my doctoral thesis how the Internet and other forms of media might mitigate or exacerbate this linguistic situation. It’s definitely a subject that deserves further attention and I’d be interested in hearing your findings from a media perspective, especially with regard to web content. When I get around to writing up (!) that portion of my thesis, I’m sure I’ll blog about this subject in more detail.


  2. February 13, 2009 10:52 pm

    Many thanks for your comment. This sounds like a great project, Fran. What exactly is the research question you’re looking at?

    My own ‘culture at a distance’ (Mead, Bateson, etc) impression – but I’m keen to know what you and other regional specialists make of this – is that despite decades of political autonomy and ‘affirmative action’ in support of the Catalan language (education, media, civil service, etc) Spanish is still a formidable force and influence in the region and on the Catalan language. My evidence is purely anecdotal, from talking once in a blue moon with Catalans, tuning into Catalan TV and radio, occasionally reading in Catalan. I would hazard that this is because Catalonia is still very much within Spain’s sphere of cultural influence (and not, say, France’s), or to put it more bluntly, it is still an integral (if reluctant) part of Spain.

    I think it was Deutsch who said that all Swiss people speak the same language, i.e. the worldview and habitus of a French-speaking Swiss and that of a German-speaking Swiss are much closer to one another than to that of a French or German national.

    My working hypothesis is that most social institutions (in the Giddensian sense of clusters of sedimented practices) in the modern era are tethered to sovereign states (UK, France, Germany, Brazil, etc.). The more sovereign a state remains down the generations, the more it will become culturally distinctive from neighouring states. But culture tends to lag behind power. Should Catalonia become independent its cultural engineers would need to be patient as extricating its cultural practices (linguistic, culinary, sporting, etc.) from those of the rest of Spain would take generations.

    Finally, can there really be ‘balanced bilingualism’ when the relationship between Spanish and the other languages of Spain is so profoundly asymmetrical?

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