Politics, Language Policy, and Agency: A Case Study from Catalan-Speaking Spain

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Presented at: Politics of Teaching and Learning Languages

The role of Catalan in Catalan-speaking regions in Spain has been tightly tied to politics since its use was prohibited in public education and most realms of public life during the rule of Francisco Franco (1939-1975). In the post-Franco era, Catalan regained status and was re-introduced as a medium of instruction in public schools. As the “Catalanization” of education grew in the 1980s and 1990s, so did tension over the appropriate role of Spanish versus Catalan. This debate continues today, and in some areas, a trilingual model of education (with English as the third language) has recently been proposed. Ideological issues impacting language use in schools remain controversial, especially as the independence movement in Catalonia gains momentum. 

This paper presents an in-depth case study that analyzed data on the development and implementation of a school language policy at an International Baccalaureate (IB) school in a Catalan-speaking region in Spain. In this region, Spanish (national majority language) and Catalan (regional minority language) have co-official status, per the Spanish Constitution. The school’s language policy aims to protect and promote Catalan, meanwhile endorsing multilingualism and the values of the IBO, and maintaining adherence to regional policies governing education.

Findings indicate that, while the school has a certain degree of autonomy over development and implementation of its language policy, the local and historical social, political, and ideological context retains significant sway over the adoption and practical use and role of Catalan beyond schooling.  Results from analysis of the case study, framed within Corson’s (1999) approach to understanding language policy in schools, further also illustrate the interaction between macro-level national governmental rules, the influence of the regional education authority, oversight of the IBO, and the agency exercised by actors in the school interpreting and implementing micro policymaking at the classroom level and elsewhere.

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