Catalan in the Balearic Islands (Spain)
Institut de Sociolingüística Catalana
Versió catalana
Version française
Catalan in the Balearic Islands (Spain)
  1. Introduction
  2. The language in the country
    1. General information on the language community
    2. Geographical and language background
    3. General history and history of the language
    4. Legal status and official policies
  3. The use of the language in various fields
    1. Education
    2. Judicial Authorities
    3. Public Authorities and services
    4. Mass media and Information technology
    5. The Arts
    6. The business world
    7. Family and social use of the language
    8. Transnational exchanges
  4. Conclusion

1. Introduction

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2. The language in the country

2.1. General information on the language community

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2.2. Geographical and language background

The Balearic Islands are composed of two archipelagos in the eastern Mediterranean: the Balearics (main islands: Majorca and Menorca) and the Pitiuses (Eivissa - Ibiza in Spanish - Formentera and Cabrera). Their total area is close on 5 000 km, Majorca accounting for 70%. The capital is Palma de Majorca. At the last census (1991), the Balearic Islands had a total population of 739and a density of 143 inhabitants/km. The population is, however, higher because of the number of tourists, second homes, seasonal workers, etc.

Between 1960 and 1981 the boom in tourism, construction and the service sector led to substantial immigration and brought down the average age of the population. This demographic growth was distributed unequally between the islands: it was substantial and early in Majorca, later but extremely rapid in Ibiza and later and slower in Menorca. The main gains took place along the coast. Since 1980 the situation has levelled off and the population is tending to become older.

In 1991, 31% of the inhabitants of the Balearic Islands were born elsewhere. They came largely from the Spanish-speaking areas of Spain and officially registered foreigners accounted for only 2.3%. In terms of language, the impact of immigration has been greater in Palma, Ibiza and in the main tourist areas, where immigration rates were in some cases as high as 40%. Numbers of non-natives in Menorca are not as high.

A growing percentage of the inhabitants of the Balearic Islands lives in towns of over 50inhabitants (41.9%) or in towns with between 10and 50inhabitants (34.3%). The proportion of the population for which Palma accounts is continuing to increase. The rural population accounts for no more than 1% of the total.

Over the last 20-30 years, economic activity has become increasingly concentrated in the service sector (in particular in fields connected with tourism) which now provides employment for close on 70% of the population (1991 figures). Agriculture has declined in importance (4.6% of the active population). While industry (16.9%) has expanded in absolute terms, its relative weight has declined as its main products are also intended for tourists (foodstuffs, leather, jewellery, etc.). The intensive exploitation of the coast has led to substantial differences between coastal and interior Communes. The Balearic Islands are among the most prosperous regions of Spain with a GDP per inhabitant and a disposable income per inhabitant which are well above Spanish means (+37.2% and +19.4% respectively in 1991).

According to the last census (1991), levels of knowledge of Catalan (for the population aged 6 and over) are as follows: comprehension 88.6%, speaking ability 66.7%, reading ability 55% and writing ability 25.9%.

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2.3. General history and history of the language

After three centuries of Muslim occupation, the Balearic Islands were conquered by the Crown of Catalonia and Aragon in the 13th century and populated by Catalans and Catalan-speaking Valencians. The philosophical works written in Catalan in the 13th century by the Majorcan Ramon Llull and the use of Catalan in the Royal Chancery of Majorca helped to develop standard Catalan. Castilian Spanish was not widely known in the islands prior to the union of the crowns of Catalonia-Aragon and Castile in the 15th century. Catalan was the official language of Menorca during the period of British domination (18th century), whereas in the other islands the Bourbon monarchy imposed the use of Castilian Spanish for administration and education and it was adopted by the ruling classes. The islands became a single province during the administrative division of Spain (1833). The Balearic Islands, like Catalonia, went through a language and literary Renaissance in the 19th century which gave rise to several major writers. Balearic philologists took part in the scientific work which led to the standardisation of Catalan at the beginning of the 20th century. A gigantic Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear, started at that time, was completed only in the 1960s. Plans to give the Balearic Islands an Autonomous Statute, prepared before the Civil War, were never adopted. Despite the official imposition of Spanish by the dictatorship, Catalan remained the only language of social communication up to the advent of tourism in the 1950s and the arrival of large numbers of Spanish-speaking immigrants who transformed the economic and demographic fabric. The Inter-Island General Council, established in 1978, was replaced in 1983 by the current autonomous government which has been dominated since its establishment by the Spanish right-wing party Alianza Popular (renamed Partido Popular) which was, paradoxically, the only party to vote against political autonomy.

The Catalan spoken in the Balearic Islands is very close to the Catalan of Catalonia, because of the large number of Catalans among initial settlers. The standards laid down by the Institut d'Estudis Catalans at the beginning of the 20th century, which took account of Balearic variants, were accepted without problem. The low level of knowledge of the written language, the prolonged absence of Catalan from official and public use (except in Menorca) and familiarity with the language of the State, have given rise to many Castilianisms and bilingual practices. The inhabitants of the various islands normally call the language that they speak "Mallorqui", "Minorqui" and "Eivissenc", but this does not in most cases mean that people are unwilling to come under the umbrella of a common Catalan language. Various euphemisms have also been invented by the authorities to solve this problem: language of the Balearics, language of the islands, "our language", etc. The Autonomous Statute establishes a precedent by granting official status to "the Catalan language, the language of the Balearic Islands". The term Catalan is nowadays increasingly accepted, partly as a result of familiarity with the other variants brought about by the media.

Since the 1970s, many campaigns have been run by various groups and associations to promote the use of Catalan in the media, imports of Catalan and Valencian media, teaching of Catalan and in Catalan or even to increase the language awareness of the public in general and young people in particular.

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2.4. Legal status and official policies

The Balearic Islands obtained the status of an Autonomous Community within Spain in 1983. Each of the main islands is governed by a Consell Insular. Under the administrative division of the State they form a single province (Palma).

Under the Autonomous Statute for the Balearic Islands (1983), Catalan is "the language of the Balearic Islands", has the status of official language, together with Spanish, and can be learnt and used by everyone. The Autonomous Community has exclusive powers in various areas, including the arts, research and Catalan teaching. Language standardisation is becoming one of the regional authorities' objectives. "Island Catalan usages" are studied and protected "without prejudice to the unity of the language".

The Language Standardisation Law of the Balearic Islands (1986) sets out many measures to promote Catalan. Under this Law, the Autonomous Community can and must make it possible to exercise language rights; it also differentiates between the official status of Catalan (based on a geographical criterion "in order to maintain the primacy of each language in its historic territory") and the official status of Spanish (which is individual "in order to protect the language rights of citizens, even if their language is not that of the territory"). The importance of standardised Catalan is stressed "as an essential component of the national identity of the people of the Balearic Islands". The general objectives of the law are to work towards the increased and normal use of the Catalan language in official fields and for administrative purposes, to ensure the knowledge and use of Catalan as a teaching medium in education, to promote the use of Catalan in all the media and to step up social awareness of the importance of the knowledge and use of Catalan. Its various articles deal with the following subjects: the right to know and use Catalan, recourse to the courts to protect language rights, the place of Catalan in the administration, the judicial system, education, the media, advertising and social and cultural life, placenames and signposting, language training and recruitment criteria for public servants, the promotion of language and culture, the planning and coordination of language standardisation, the conduct of socio-linguistic research, the responsibilities of the University of the Balearic Islands as regards language regulation, etc. This basic legislation is supplemented by various decrees and orders enacted by the regional government, the island councils and communes.

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3. The use of the language in various fields

3.1. Education

Education in the Balearic Islands is the responsibility of central government, although the teaching of Catalan and language standardisation in general are the responsibility, under the Autonomous Statute, of the Balearic government. The introduction of Catalan into the education system therefore requires cooperation between both these governments. The education provisions of the Language Standardisation Law (1986) are as follows: Catalan is the official language of all levels of education, pupils are entitled to be taught in their own language, Catalan language and literature is a compulsory subject at all levels of non-university education and is taught for the same number of hours as Spanish language and literature, pupils must be able to use both official languages normally and correctly by the end of compulsory education, the autonomous government must provide the resources needed to ensure that Catalan is used as a teaching medium and for the language training of teachers, Catalan is a compulsory subject in adult education, university lecturers and students are entitled to use the language of their choice and the Balearic government is responsible for devising teaching materials for teaching of and in Catalan.

These provisions, which have been supplemented by various decrees, have been achieved as regards the compulsory teaching of Catalan. In contrast, the introduction of Catalan as a teaching medium has, according to our sources, always been the result of initiatives by teachers and/or parents rather than the public authorities. Parents who want their children to be taught in Catalan have to follow a particularly complicated procedure and Catalan can be used only if pupils have been taught in this language at the previous levels of education. In 1990-91, classes were taught entirely or partly in Catalan in 147 of the 555 schools and 25pupils, i.e. 17.2% of the total, were taught at least partly in Catalan. The use of Catalan in private schools is much less widespread than in public-sector schools and the islands of Majorca and in particular Ibiza are some way behind Menorca.

In 1990-91, some 14% of pupils in nursery schools were taught entirely or partly in Catalan (only 1.5% in private schools), whereas Catalan was taught in approximately 50% of schools. A smaller number of schools offer a Catalan immersion programme. Our sources deplore the lack of official control at the pre-school level which is not part of compulsory education. The shortcomings to which this leads have serious consequences, as the fact that pupils have not started their education in Catalan creates administrative problems if they wish to continue their education in Catalan.

In primary and lower secondary education (6-14), Catalan is taught as a compulsory subject in all schools. In 1990-91, teaching was entirely or partly in Catalan in 48.1% of public-sector schools but only in 5.8% of private schools.

In upper secondary education and vocational training, Catalan is a compulsory subject in all schools. According to our sources, some 60% of pupils were taught at least partly in Catalan.

In higher education, some 50% of courses at the University of the Balearic Islands are taught in Catalan, but there are substantial discrepancies between different departments and faculties. Catalan is also used widely by the university authorities. Catalan may be studied as a subject.

Catalan is a compulsory subject in adult education. Some 75% of students receive at least some courses in Catalan. A large number of Catalan courses are available for the public and for public servants. The number of students registered in the 1990-91 academic year is put at 6000.

At the teacher training college, first-year students attend Catalan classes. Since 1985-86, a refresher training programme for working teachers has been offered jointly by the central and regional governments and by the University of the Balearic Islands. Some 2100 teachers registered for this course in 1991-92. Annual meetings are also organised by the teachers of schools in which teaching is entirely in Catalan.

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3.2. Judicial authorities

The Language Standardisation Law states that Catalan is legally admissible, without delay or discrimination and without the need for translation. Under this Law, citizens are entitled to address the bodies of the judicial system in Catalan; Catalan proceedings, documents, etc., are valid before the courts of the Balearics, and certificates issued by the public registries (of property, etc.) must be drawn up in the official language requested by the applicant. Unlike the other Autonomous Communities, however, Balearic legislation makes no provision for a knowledge of Catalan to be taken into account when recruiting officers of the judicial system.

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3.3. Public authorities and services

All our sources have a negative view of State policy towards the Catalan language and consider that State-run organisations make predominant use of Spanish and that the State is doing nothing, in contrast to the terms of its own legislation, to ensure that its officers acquire a mastery of Catalan. According to these sources, the language is at best tolerated (documents in Catalan, for instance, are accepted), but no measures have been taken to promote its use. The fact that, under Spanish legislation, a knowledge of Spanish is compulsory and a knowledge of Catalan is a simple entitlement, is seen as a major obstacle. The complete lack of Catalan from certain circles, such as the armed forces, and the action initiated by central government against various articles of the Language Standardisation Law, are also noted.

Although regional authority policy receives a slightly more positive evaluation, measures taken by the Balearic government to promote Catalan are very limited. While Catalan is widely used in debates in the Balearic Parliament, other aspects of the Language Standardisation Law are far from being respected by most of the regional ministries and a knowledge of Catalan is only rarely required for the appointment of public servants.

The use of Catalan at municipal level varies substantially from one commune to another, and communes in which the Partido Popular has a majority are much more opposed to the use of Catalan. In many cases, the extent to which Catalan is used is well below the terms of the special regulations that have been enacted. We are informed, however, that the situation is better than at the higher administrative levels, as Catalan is recognised and in certain cases supported by municipalities. Catalan is often used in municipal council debates. The town hall of Palma and the Island Council of Menorca are the only institutions which have established language services of any size.

In public services, the extent to which the two official languages are used varies substantially from one service to another, some using Spanish exclusively in written communications, and others operating bilingually. The oral use of Catalan is somewhat more extensive.

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3.4. Mass media and information technology

All Balearic Island newspapers are published in Spanish (except one in English). Catalan never accounts for more than 10% of the content of these newspapers and is limited to specific columns (articles by external correspondents on culture or the rural world, letters to the editor, death notices) and some occasional weekly supplements, the largest of which are published by the Gran Enciclopèdia de Mallorca (60,000 copies each). Newspapers in Catalan published in Catalonia are available from some kiosks.

Some periodicals published in the Balearics are entirely in Catalan: Lluc (quarterly, culture), El Mirall (monthly, culture), La Nau Mediterrània (weekly, general information), La Veu d'Eivissa i Formentera, Migjorn and Ponent. Distribution is chiefly by subscription. The situation of these publications is often precarious. Print-runs range from a few hundred to 2,000. The general information magazine, El Temps, published in Valencia, is also of some importance. Several periodicals are also published partly in Catalan. These periodicals receive some assistance from the Balearic government, in some cases in the form of institutional advertising. The Associació della Prensa Forana de Mallorca, set up in 1980, has 40 publications with an overall circulation of 30copies.

Since the abolition in 1991 of the only Radio Nacional de España station which broadcast entirely in Catalan, there have been no such stations. Some local radio stations, such as Ràdio Jove (connected to the Directorate General for Youth of the Balearic government), broadcast programmes in Catalan for a few hours a day to a fairly small audience. Two RNE stations and some private stations broadcast partly in Catalan. Relays also make it possible to receive some Catalonian stations, principally those of the Catalan government.

Televisión Española broadcasts some programmes in Catalan (local news, reports, etc.) for the Balearic Islands during off-peak hours. The poor quality of these programmes, whose transmission prevented the local population from seeing other more popular programmes in Spanish, has led to some controversy. Local television stations (one of which, in Majorca, has acquired some stature) also broadcast programmes in Catalan for a few hours a week. All the Spanish commercial channels broadcast entirely in Spanish. One of these makes programmes especially for the Balearics, but in Spanish. As a result of the installation of relays by the Voltor association (and despite the initial opposition of the authorities which had awarded the same frequencies to commercial channels), Balearic residents can receive the two public Catalan channels and the Valencian government channel.

A Radio and Television Company of the Balearic Islands has been set up by the Balearic government, in keeping with the Language Standardisation Law, but no transmitter has been erected. The Balearic government has subsidised the Voltor association (see above) and has supported the language standardisation of the various modes of communication. The government has opposed, however, the establishment of a Catalan language commercial radio station and all the radio licences awarded have been for Spanish broadcasters.

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3.5. The Arts

Around 150 books are produced annually in Catalan in the Balearic Islands. In most cases these are school books, children's books, works of poetry, novels and short stories. Encyclopedias have also been published. The regional government awards subsidies in this area, often by purchasing a certain number of copies. Literary prizes are awarded by the town hall of Palma and by a savings bank.

There is a fairly large amount of music in Catalan. Many groups and performers have made recordings whose sales (with some exceptions) have not been very high. Catalan is used widely in traditional music and in the repertoires of choirs. Catalan is also used, but to a lesser degree, in the pop and rock world. The regional government awards subsidies for Catalan recordings.

Several professional troupes and some fifty or so amateur troups perform theatrical works in Catalan. These troups receive some subsidies from communes and the regional government which has established a theatrical performance circuit.

Some films have been made in the Balearic Islands but almost all the films shown in cinemas are in Spanish. Because of the lack of coordination between the Balearic government and the other Catalan communities, the Balearic public even sees Spanish versions of films made or dubbed in Catalan in Catalonia. The Balearic Ministry of Culture awards some subsidies for audiovisual output in Catalan.

Several cultural events are held in Catalan in the Balearic Islands (the Catalan book week, the award of literary prizes, poetry recitals, festivals of popular music) as well as a large number of traditional local festivals. The use of Catalan as the language medium for these events represents substantial progress.

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3.6. The business world

A knowledge of Catalan is required only for some posts in the public service and for posts entailing contact with the public. Catalan speakers (especially teachers, traders and doctors), however, use their language relatively frequently at work, for at least part of the time.

Most advertising is in Spanish, except publicity for cultural events, some institutional advertising and in some cases advertisements for banks and craft products. Even advertising by the regional authorities, in contrast to the terms of its own legislation, is often in Spanish. Trade names are almost always in Spanish, in particular in Palma and the tourist resorts, despite the few subsidies that the regional government awards to enterprises that adopt Catalan trade names. Only some products of local origin, principally in the foodstuffs sector, are labelled or contain instructions for use in Catalan.

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3.7. Family and social use of the language

Catalan speakers use their language much more widely than Spanish for all activities except writing. It is also but only just in a majority position among the population as a whole except (very slightly) in situations involving frequent contact with strangers and obviously in the case of writing.

There is a clear preference for Spanish in activities requiring a knowledge of the written language. This preference, and others, are shaped by levels of language proficiency (even people who can understand, speak or read Catalan may find it more difficult to use Catalan than Spanish) and by the real presence of both languages in some situations or circles (television, authorities, public events, etc.).

Overall, speakers consider that the language will develop if it receives the support of the government, although some people are not very optimistic about future prospects.

As regards the use of the language by young people, the general opinion is that young people are better at the language than their elders but use it less.

Social, family and professional relationships have a key role to play in making Spanish speakers learn Catalan. Just under one out of four people (undoubtedly the youngest) have learnt Catalan at school (it is only in recent times that this has been possible). In the case of Catalan speakers, however, schools have had a massive Castilianising influence.

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3.8. Transnational exchanges

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4. Conclusion

Overall, the Balearic authorities need to respect the legal provisions in force, as action by civil organisations is not enough to prevent Catalan from being replaced by Spanish. A key factor in this context is the promotion by the public authorities of communication and exchange initiatives between the whole of the area of the three EU Member States in which Catalan is spoken and between all sectors of society.

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