Language attitudes toward Catalan, Spanish, and English: relationship between language attitude, competence, and immigrant status

Eva Gomàriz, Llorenç Comajoan

Universitat de Barcelona, Universitat de Vic


Language attitude in sociolinguistic research has become a widely studied topic for several reasons (Baker, 1992; Oskamp, 1991): Attitude can be an indicator of thoughts and beliefs about language within a community, it is a concept that has been widely studied in social psychology (it has some psychological validity), attitude can become the cause of some behavior of the individual (e.g., language use), and it is an interdisciplinary concept.

In sociolinguistic environments with two or more languages, the study of language attitudes becomes even more important because attitude towards a language may explain certain behaviors such as language choice and use. In the case of Catalonia, the recent arrival of immigrants adds a new dimension to the sociolinguistic and attitudinal outlook of Catalan society. Thus, recent studies (Huguet & Janés, 2005) have argued that immigrant youths in secondary schools in Catalonia show mostly favorable attitudes toward Catalan and Spanish, but there is a pattern depending on the immigrants’ origin (less favorable attitudes toward Catalan by Latin American youths).

Taking previous research and recent demographic changes in Catalonia (increase of immigrant children in schools), the present study examines language attitude toward Catalan, Spanish, and English and their relationship to language competence (in Catalan, Spanish, and English) and immigrant status (immigrant, nonimmigrant to Catalonia). More specifically, the study addresses the two following questions:

1) What are the language attitudes toward Catalan, Spanish, and English of 12-year-old schoolchildren?

2) What is the relationship between language attitudes, language use, and immigrant status?

The data for this study come from a sociolinguistic survey that was distributed among all students in sixth-grade in nine schools in Vic (Catalonia). A total of 342 students answered the survey. The attitude and language competence data come from items with graded answers (Likert-scales and yes-no answers) used in previous studies (e.g., Hughet & Janés, 2005).

Out of the 342 participants in the study, 83.6% were born in Catalonia, 1,4% were born outside Catalonia but in Spain, and 14,8% were born outside Spain (6,1% from Morocco; 6,4% from Latin American; and 2,3% from elsewhere).

The data regarding language competence show that competence in Catalan is higher than in Spanish (76,9% declare they speak Catalan very well, cf. 38,6% for Spanish and 3,8% for English).

Regarding language attitudes, the results show that most participants have a favorable attitude toward Catalan and Spanish and a neutral attitude toward English. Statistical tests show that there are significant differences for attitude toward Catalan and English, but not Spanish. Finally, a correlation analysis shows that language competence and attitude are correlated in general but in different patterns in the three languages.

In the last section of the paper we discuss these results focusing on issues related to language attitude and age, educational policy, and research methodology.

Session: Paper session
Attitude 3
Friday, April 4, 2008, 15:45-17:15
room: 09