New speakers as agents of sociolinguistic transformation in Catalonia

EquiLing-Cat aim is to work together with new speakers of Catalan and Spanish to understand and overcome inequalities associated with multilingualism or linguistic difference. Social inequalities are partly derived from processes of a symbolic or material nature. The symbolic ones derive from the social categories that people construct on the basis of how others speak, look like or behave (e.g. skin color, gender, religion, etc.); and these categories are mobilized to include or exclude others in social relationships. Material inequalities derive from differences in education, employment or place of residence that impact on the resources and relationships people can have access to. These two dynamics of inequality are interconnected, mutually reinforcing each other in complex ways.

Following the design of the EquiLing coordinated project, we apply its three objectives to three specific situations in Catalonia where new speakers encounter linguistic barriers to practice Catalan or learn Spanish. The first is the initiative called linguistic volunteering, in which people offer Catalan learners opportunities to speak and practice the language. The second is a cultural association where some newcomers seek to meet local people and practice Catalan. The third affects immigrants who need to pass the official DELE Spanish exam to obtain nationality. The three conceptual axes of EquiLing will be addressed: (A) The unequal linguistic distribution (difficulties in accessing Catalan and Spanish), (B) the unequal recognition (treating new speakers as second-rate speakers) and (C) inequality of participation (social and economic restrictions derived from A and B).

EquiLing has important continuities with our two previous National Plan projects (NEOPHON and NEOPHON2) and with the COST network (Action IS1306 on New Speakers in a Multilingual Europe). In these we produced innovative theoretical proposals by bringing together researchers of minority languages and sociolinguists focused on migration issues throughout Europe. We have theoretically developed the notion of the speaker and we have studied the processes of linguistic agency, subjectivity and citizenship. Up to now, we focused on collecting ethnographic data without actively or purposely intervening in the behavior of the participants. We observed, for example, how new speakers, in Catalonia and in general, faced complex prejudices and barriers. Many Catalan speakers refuse to speak Catalan with people they see as strangers. In this new project we take a new step and (following the second objective) we want to become allies of the new speakers by jointly designing actions and initiatives to overcome social barriers with a linguistic component, and by involving them as much as possible in the analysis and conceptual development of the problem researched. This will allow us to feed our theoretical framework on linguistic inequalities by provoking, or helping to create, situations in which inequalities manifest themselves, while selecting contextually appropriate and respectful strategies. This active/participatory design will allow us to work on the third objective: to identify the best transformation strategies with sensitivity for those experiencing the situations and their circumstances, and thus develop relevant techniques and resources to promote a critical sociolinguistic awareness and more egalitarian societies.

We study the inequalities associated with multilingualism in Catalonia which impact on new speakers of both Catalan and Spanish with the aim of understanding and overcoming the barriers that they encounter to learn and practice both languages. We have three study sites: language volunteering, a cultural association and the DELE exams to obtain Spanish citizenship.

Reference number: Proyecto I+D, ref. PID2019-105676RB-C43/AEI/10.13039/501100011033