Ideologies on bilingualism in a rural school managing diversity: "it is very enriching, but it doesn't help the persistence of Catalan”

Maria Sabate Dalmau

Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, Spain


This paper analyses ideologies on bilingualism by the Catalan educational agents of the only rural school located in a Catalan-speaking town which is undergoing a series of social changes linked to the new economy (Pujolar 2007). I also examine circulating models of categorisation and newer processes of othering along Catalan-non Catalan (Barthian 1969) ethnic lines. Finally, I analyse why educators invest in a Catalan monolingual monocultural space, and attempt to describe the institutional treatment of bilingualism and the teachers’ management of diversity.

This semi-rural town has 1,400 inhabitants and it is navigating between twenty-first century globalisation processes - (im)migration flows, demise of industry, intensification of nationalist feelings (Giddens 2001)- and fourteen-century ancestral homes as well as strong ties of kinship. The school under study has 13 teachers and 105 students: a majority of Catalans, 3 students from Armenia, 2 from Morocco, 2 from Latin-America, and some newly arrived Spanish-speakers from urban Barcelona. It is using a provisional accommodation block due to the increase of registrations, although the average of children per class is 12. The school cannot request a welcoming class yet. The director of the only kindergarten, with 18 students, will also need a new classroom for 41 kids by 2008.

The data includes ethnographic material from these two discursive spaces (students’ compositions, webpages, legal documents) and six interviews conducted with the directors, the students, and representative members of the community who have links to the school.

There are three main findings. Firstly, bilingualism is never mentioned, and students’ linguistic knowledge is viewed as a matter of two parallel monolingualisms (Heller 1999). Secondly, linguistic practices are front-staged (Goffman 1959) as Catalan, which figures as the legitimate language of the school (Bourdieu 1991). Instances of language contact or hybridity are hidden and presented as temporary. Finally, the treatment of Spanish is carried out by using discourses on the virtues of elite multiculturalism, and it is taught as an L2. Teachers also employ notions of bilingualism-as-cultural-deficit (Jaffe 2007).

Some of these ideologies stem from the fact that they defend a Catalan space where the linguistic market was secured as Catalan and has now more Spanish in circulation. Schooling in Catalan is experienced as the achievement of the anti-francoist Catalan nation-building project which a minority language cannot risk losing. Besides, these informants show discomfort with co-officiality, which, for them, presents Spanish as the official in Catalonia, and Catalan as the natural language (Woolard 2003, Atkinson 2000). Teachers conduct militancy against linguistic convergence to Spanish (Boix 1993) by Catalan students, and against the ‘post-post-Franco hangover’ - diminished interest in the defence of Catalan (Woolard 2006).

Despite their efforts to conduct civic nationalism (Keating 1997), a non-Catalan-speaking other seems to be in the making in ways that go hand in hand with globalisation processes. Catalan/non-Catalan polarisation seems to be perpetuated, and inequality is reproduced (Heller & Martin-Jones 2001). A twenty-first-century (im)migration wave and complex struggles for local resources have become the grounds from which the use of Catalan and Spanish is (re)-set in motion both for boundary-making and -maintaining.

Session: Paper session
Globalization 2
Thursday, April 3, 2008, 10:30-12:00
room: 03