Spanish-Valencian contact in Elche: Language use and attitudes
Martinez Ibarra, Francisco
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The purpose of this investigation is to study language use and attitudes in Elche, a multilingual community in which two languages are used regularly: Spanish and the western variety of Catalan (Valencian). The selection of Elche was made primarily because of its location in the southern region of the Autonomous Community of Valencia, as well as because of the historical and socio-political implications of the linguistic contact in the region. I examine the issue of language use and attitudes in relation to a number of variables of traditional sociolinguistic studies such as age, gender, family place of origin, and the neighborhood of residence. Among others, questions such as the following are raised: what are the age groups that seem to represent positive/negative attitudes towards the use of Valencian? Are there any specific neighborhoods in which certain attitudes may be concentrated? In order to accomplish this task, I made extensive use of ethnographic techniques and I provided a community profile of Elche. After a first phase of observation and field note taking, I conducted personal interviews, and I designed and distributed a written questionnaire. 14 interviews were conducted and 188 questionnaires were collected for the study. For the selection of the interviewees and questionnaire recipients I focused on who's who in the community (Wölck 1976, 2004) rather than on fulfilling specific characteristic quotas. Results confirm the indisputable dominance of Spanish in all contexts of interaction, public and private. For this reason, my attention mainly focuses on the use of Valencian, although attention is also paid to Spanish in specific issues such as the importance of language to the identity of Elche. Overall, the use of Valencian appears to be limited to private contexts of interaction such as the home, the local neighborhood (only in certain areas such as Pont Nou, El Pla, and the city center), and the workplace. The lack of instrumental value, political relation with Catalonia, and the fact that Valencian is often perceived as an imposition seem to be the most recurrent arguments not to favor the use of Valencian in Elche. The greatest levels of usage of Valencian are mainly displayed by older generations (60+), women, participants whose parents were born in Elche, participants whose mother was born in Elche, and participants who live in the areas of PontNou/ElPla. From a preservationist standpoint, if we are to promote the public use of Valencian, we would need to provide citizens in Elche with economic, social, and cultural incentives, such as increasing its symbolic value. This might help associate Valencian with progress and the future, presenting the language as appealing to younger generations and immigrants in the city, and strengthening the presence of Valencian in public, everyday situations.