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Multilingual interaction and minority languages: Proficiency and
language practices in education and society
Durk Gorter University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU – IKERBASQUE
[email protected]
In this plenary speech I examine multilingual interaction in a number of European regions in
which minority languages are being revitalized. Education is a crucial variable, but the wider
society is equally significant. The context of revitalization is no longer bilingual but
increasingly multilingual. I draw on the results of a long-running project on the ‘Added value
of multilingualism and diversity in educational contexts’ among secondary school students,
and show that there are interesting differences and similarities between the minority
language (Basque or Frisian), the majority language (Spanish or Dutch) and English. The focus
on multilingualism is applied inside and outside the school. The discussion demonstrates the
complexity of everyday multilingual practices and the outcomes have implications for the gap
between education and society and for further research into the linkages between language
proficiency and actual language practices.
1. Introduction
Activities to protect and promote minority languages are common throughout Europe and
beyond. Theories of language revitalization point to education as a crucial variable, and
international legal instruments recognize the right to teach minority languages at school.
However, early efforts to secure the survival of minority languages showed that revitalization
cannot be achieved by schools alone; society at large is at least as significant. The relationship
between education and society is important at a time when both are rapidly changing.
Revitalization processes no longer take place in a bilingual context with one minority and
one dominant language, but increasingly in a multilingual context in which international and
immigrant languages are also present.
In this plenary paper I want to examine the interaction between three or more languages
in a number of European regions in which minority languages are already experiencing
revitalization. The paper is based on my experience of over 30 years of research into the
Frisian language in the Netherlands (Gorter 1987, 2001, 2008a), in addition to several years of
comparative work on minority languages across the European Union (Sikma & Gorter 1990;
Revised version of a plenary address given at the International Conference on Bilingual and Multilingual Interaction,
Bangor, Wales, 30 March–1 April 2012
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 83
Extra & Gorter 2001, 2008). More recently I have had first-hand experience of investigating
the Basque language in education (Cenoz & Gorter 2011). For my discussion I will draw on
the results of the long-running project on the ‘Added value of multilingualism and diversity
in educational contexts’, in which the teaching of languages in the Basque Autonomous
Community in Spain is compared to that in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands
(Arocena et al. 2010).
For the purpose of this discussion I will think of a language as lying at the intersection
of two axes. On the first axis is the relationship between language proficiency and language
practices. The extent to which a speaker ‘knows’ a language is considered to be important
in language learning. The work of language teachers consists for the most part in trying to
improve the proficiency of their students. Teachers of other subjects also contribute to this
goal, even if they do not focus on teaching the language per se in the course of, for example,
mathematics, history or music lessons. Of course, language learning continues outside the
classroom, mainly through language use, so how the different languages are used has great
significance. Language practices comprise the routine selections that speakers make from
their linguistic repertoire (Spolsky 2004: 5), which includes all types of linguistic behaviour
by individuals in a multilingual context. Pennycook (2010: 2) claims that ‘language practices
... are a central part of daily social organization’. So what speakers do with their languages,
how they choose and use them in different contexts, is extremely important.
The second axis represents the relationship between education and society, especially how
languages are taught and used in the school setting. Important issues include the selection
of languages to be taught or the amount of time to be dedicated to each one. Additional
considerations include the aims of language teaching and more complex questions such
as how languages are taught, what teaching strategies are used, how the school tries to
improve the level of proficiency in each of the languages and the desired outcomes in terms of
proficiency. The language usage patterns of teachers and students can be examined under this
heading, but it is also important to investigate language use in wider society, asking questions
about the development of languages in a specific community of speakers, how speakers use
the languages in their repertoire, how languages interact with each other and how different
groups of speakers use languages.
I also want to consider the relationships between these two axes. Both in schools and in
society at large it is interesting to see what actually happens to the languages. How proficient
are the speakers – teachers and students – in their languages? What do they routinely do in
school with the languages in their repertoire, and what goes on outside the school?
It is not easy to define a ‘minority language’. The definition in the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe (1992) is frequently quoted in
the literature (e.g. Dunbar 2001: 91; Extra & Gorter 2001: 19; Hult 2004: 192; Darquennes
2011: 549; Nic Craith 2012: 377). The Charter refers to ‘languages that are traditionally used
within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state who form a group numerically
smaller than the rest of the state’s population and [are] different from the official language(s)
of that state’.
Although this definition is widely used, it is not undisputed, because Article 1a of the
Charter explicitly excludes ‘dialects of the official language(s) of the State or the languages
of migrants’, and such varieties would be described by some as minority languages. The
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8 4 PLENARY SPEECHES
definition contains the word ‘state’ no less than four times, which demonstrates the power
of the state authorities to give official recognition to a minority language on its territory (or
to deny such recognition). Thus it is not the speakers of a minority language, or activists
or language experts, but the state that has the power to determine the status of a minority
language, including whether it officially exists at all.
Minority language speakers are multilingual by nature, or by necessity, from a young age. It
is often believed that multilingual communities were once monolingual, a misconception also
applied to countries as a whole, but in reality regions such as the Basque Country, Friesland
or Wales have been bilingual or multilingual at least to some degree for several hundred
years.
In this plenary paper I will be looking from a multilingual perspective at these two
axes: language practices and proficiency on the one hand and education and society on
the other. My emphasis is on European minority languages, in particular Basque and
Frisian.
2. Theoretical approach
Work on bilingualism and multilingualism has been inspired in many ways by research
in Wales. One of the most creative concepts of recent years is probably TRANSLANGUAGING
(‘trawsieithu’ in Welsh): a skill that aids the development of bilingualism. Baker (2001) attributes
its origins to Cen Williams, for whom it means (2002: 2) ‘(i) receiving information in one
language and (ii) using or applying it in the other language’. It is a skill that bilingual
Welsh-English children already use in everyday life, but one that should also be developed
systematically at school, because it reinforces not only the two languages, but the relationship
between them. Translanguaging, in its original formulation, is a teaching method in which,
for example, the listening, singing or reading taking place during a lesson is in one language
(Welsh), and further work, such as discussion or writing a summary, is in the other (English).
Baker (2007: 2–3) examines the potential advantages of using translanguaging in the
classroom to enable the student to develop into a balanced and confident bilingual person.
Baker suggests that bilingualism offers communication, cultural, curriculum, cognitive,
character and cash advantages. Garcia (2009: 45), in her book on bilingual education in
the twenty-first century, broadens the scope of translanguaging to all ‘multiple discursive
practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds’.
She further asserts that ‘despite curricular arrangements that separate languages, the most
prevalent bilingual practice in the bilingual education classrooms is that of translanguaging’
(Garcia 2009: 304). In the Welsh context and for Garcia in the US, translanguaging applies
to two languages, but Canagarajah (2011) uses the term for ‘the general communicative
competence of multilinguals’. For Li Wei (2011) the concept of translanguaging has a
different source because it builds on the notion of ‘languaging’ in psycholinguistics, and
the term also links to Becker’s (1988) attempt to move away from language as a noun to
language as a verb. Li Wei (2011: 1223) applies translanguaging to multilinguals in its widest
sense, since it includes ‘any going between different linguistic structures, including different
modalities’.
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 85
2.1 Focus on multilingualism
The ideas of Williams, Baker, Garcia, Canagarajah, Li Wei and others were an inspiration
for the studies of multilingualism I have undertaken with my colleague Jasone Cenoz. We
have called our approach ‘Focus on Multilingualism’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011). In this plenary
speech I want to apply our ideas to a comparison of Basque and Frisian and other European
minority languages. We propose to look at all the languages of a multilingual speaker at
once. In the traditional approach, based on a ‘monolingual mindset’ (Clyne 2005: xi), the
competence of a multilingual person in one language is compared to that of a native speaker.
In contrast, we believe that ‘if multilinguals have some special characteristics when learning
and using languages, monolingual native speakers of each of the languages they speak cannot
be the appropriate reference’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011: 367).
Cenoz and I want instead to focus on the whole repertoire of languages and take into
consideration the relationships between them. Multilingual speakers learn and use their
languages while participating in language practices that are shaped by the social context.
They make use of all their linguistic resources and navigate between their languages in
interaction (see also Kramsch 2006). This perspective can be applied to research into the
acquisition of languages as well as to the classroom in multilingual education. Our approach
also implies that ‘the goal in multilingual education should be to behave as a competent
multilingual speaker’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011: 367) and the school should adopt a ‘flexible
bilingual pedagogy’ (Creese & Blackledge 2010: 112).
We distinguish three dimensions in the focus on multilingualism: (1) the whole linguistic
repertoire, (2) the multilingual speakers and (3) the wider social context. Each of these
dimensions can be explained further.
2.1.1 The whole linguistic repertoire
Our focus on multilingualism makes us look again at the concept of REPERTOIRE: ‘the totality of
linguistic resources available to members of particular communities’ (Gumperz 1986: 21–22).
I prefer the view put forward by Blommaert & Backus (2011), for whom repertoire is based
in someone’s biography and comprises the individual’s current language resources, their
actual skills and competences. They distinguish four broad categories of competence (2011:
16), which can be read as a sliding scale of language knowledge. ‘Maximum’ competence is
comprehensive and refers usually to the mother tongue and to school learning and covers
the whole range of language skills. It is clear, however, that there is no absolute maximum
because the perfect knowledge of the ideal hearer-speaker does not exist in reality. The
second category is ‘partial’ competence which concerns specialized language, registers and
genres and also touches on the whole range of language skills, with some limitations. The
third category is ‘minimal’ competence, which depends on the kind of encounters a speaker
experiences, and may be merely temporary knowledge, such as learning the odd word when
visiting a country. The fourth category is competence at the level of ‘recognizing’. This is
the ability to identify a word or text as belonging to another language, such as recognizing
a different script such as Chinese or Greek. Just as there is no absolute maximum, there is
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8 6 PLENARY SPEECHES
no minimum language knowledge. The repertoire of a multilingual speaker comprises his
knowledge of all languages taken together. This way of conceptualizing the idea of repertoire
fits with our focus on multilingualism because we also want to take into consideration all the
languages in the speaker’s repertoire, ranging from the language maximally known, to the
languages in which a speaker develops partial or minimal competence or can only recognize a
language, even if we are aware that ‘languages’ are constructed entities (Makoni & Pennycook
2007).
2.2.2 Multilingual speakers
The second dimension of our focus on multilingualism is that of ‘multilingual speakers’. How
do we characterize them? Multilingual speakers are not different monolingual people when
they use each of their two, three or four languages at different times or on different occasions.
They can be characterized as ‘speakers who use their resources when communicating with
monolingual and multilingual interlocutors’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011: 367). Cook (1992, 2003)
and Grosjean (1985, 2008) proposed some time ago that multilingual speakers have different
characteristics from monolingual speakers because they have more than one language in
their repertoire. Cook (1992) suggested the concept of ‘multicompetence’ to denote a unique
form of language competence that cannot be compared to that of monolinguals. Similarly,
Grosjean (2010: 75) states that the ‘bilingual is not the sum of two (or more) complete or
incomplete monolinguals’. He uses an analogy from athletics, in which the high hurdler
blends the competences of a high jumper and a sprinter, but it is unfair to compare one type
of athlete to the other. A multilingual speaker uses different languages for different purposes,
sometimes using one language at a time, and at others mixing languages. The competence
of multilingual speakers is fluid, not fixed: difficult to measure, but real (Cenoz, Arocena &
Gorter in press).
It is interesting to note that speakers of European minority languages, such as Basque,
Frisian, Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Breton and Catalan, share certain characteristics that
distinguish them from speakers of majority languages, especially the fact that they all become
fluent bilingual speakers. Without exception they speak at least two languages, often three or
more. For them, being a multilingual speaker is nothing special, it is what they know themselves
to be from an early age. Monolingual majority language speakers, in contrast, find only
one language in their surroundings and grow up using that language, their ‘mother tongue’.
Minority language children cannot avoid becoming proficient in their mother tongue, but also
become proficient in the dominant social language. Young minority language speakers may
not be aware of concepts such as ‘minority language’, ‘dominant language’ or ‘international
language’, but as speakers they soon become aware of the social inequalities of the languages
they speak; they pay attention to the significance of language choice and to the role of
languages in social relationships.
2.2.3 The wider social context
Today, regions where minority languages are spoken, such as Wales, the Basque Country or
Friesland, can no longer be thought of as closed, traditional societies. They are part of an
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 87
interconnected world, in which the local and the global merge to become the GLOCAL in a
networked society (Castells 2000; Wellman 2002) in which people are increasingly ‘always
on’ (Baron 2008).
Theories and models about revitalization or about loss and maintenance of minority
languages are often based on a vision of a society in which only two languages play a role, one
being the minority language, such as Basque, Breton, Catalan, Frisian, Irish, Scottish Gaelic
or Welsh, and the other the dominant language, such as Spanish, French, Dutch or English.
The origins of this vision are based on concepts like DIGLOSSIA (Ferguson 1959; Fishman 1967)
which take account of only two languages. At the time of these early contributions it was
useful to apply a schematic representation of two languages to such societies. However, over
the last decades societies have changed, becoming ever more linguistically diverse, so there
are several reasons why we can no longer simply talk of ‘bilingual societies’. First of all, there
is the unprecedented spread and penetration of English, the global language. English can be
encountered in the public space of almost any city or town in Europe. English is followed
at some distance by a limited number of widely used languages such as French, German,
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Chinese. The associated language
institutes, such as the Alliance Fran¸caise for French or the Goethe Institut for German, actively
promote their languages and cultures to learners in numerous countries across the world,
and in part explain their spread. This limited set of languages also appears in many less
expected places, such as an option for the operating language of an electronic device in the
home, its instruction booklet and guarantee document. Sometimes three or four languages
are offered for such a purpose, but on occasions more than twelve can be found. Words from
these languages might also be used for the name of an exotic restaurant, a type of food, on
a label inside a piece of clothing, or the name of a distant location, habit or product, which
reaches us through the daily flow of news from every corner of the world. Today, in Europe,
people are confronted with these ‘foreign’ languages almost every day, even if only fleetingly.
Thirty years ago, let alone 60 years ago, in our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, people
only rarely came across Japanese, Korean or most of the members of this set of ‘international’
languages.
Another factor in increased linguistic diversity is, of course, the spread of numerous
‘migrant’ (or community or heritage) languages. Speakers of Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, as
well as those from European Union countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and many
others have migrated to countries all over Europe. When we walk down a shopping street
in a European city, we might overhear any of these languages and others, spoken by tourists
or other visitors. The number of different languages encountered on public signs in a city is
sometimes a surprise for the researcher. Barni (2006: 11) found traces of 24 varieties in the
linguistic landscape of one neighbourhood in Rome, a predominantly monolingual Italian
city. London, where Baker & Eversley (2000) estimated that school children speak over 300
different home languages, has been used to demonstrate the extensive linguistic diversity of
modern urban settings (Salverda 2002).
In many cases a monolingual mindset (Clyne 2005) lies behind ideas that go against
bilingualism; a similar way of thinking occurs among authors on minority languages when
they think in terms of two languages only – the majority and the minority language – ignoring
other languages. This way of thinking is common and, following Clyne, I want to label it
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8 8 PLENARY SPEECHES
a ‘bilingual mindset’. Instead, we need improved models to represent complex multilingual
societies in which major and minor languages are present.
Policies to promote minority languages are in operation throughout Europe and elsewhere.
For example, many studies and governmental reports mention the importance of teaching the
minority language at school (Oakes 2001; Coluzzi 2007; Kaplan & Baldauf 2007; Council of
Europe 2010; Henn-Reinke 2012). Education is seen as a crucial variable for the revitalization
of minority languages: Fishman (1991, 2001), in his influential multi-stage model of the
GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale), emphasizes the importance of language
acquisition, learning and education. But he also warned that a ‘narrow education framework
within which language maintenance retrieval and revival activities have been grounded is
doomed to failure’ (Fishman 2001: 417).
Several international legal agreements contain provisions for teaching minority languages.
An example is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, mentioned earlier,
which states in its Explanatory Report (Council of Europe 2010: 43) that ‘A crucial factor
in the maintenance and preservation of regional or minority languages is the place they
are given in the education system’. Only a few minority language groups control their own
fully-fledged school system, or have relatively strong provisions at different levels of education.
From our comparative studies of autochthonous minority languages in the European Union
(Sikma & Gorter 1990; Gorter 2008a) we concluded that the position in education of most
minority languages covered by the Charter can at best be characterized as weak or very weak.
It is clear that in areas where a minority language is spoken, the majority language often
dominates the educational system. The school as a state institution sees to it that the children
become proficient in the majority language, so they may even learn to prefer that language
over the minority language. Nelde, Strubell & Williams (1996: 6) noted that education as social
agency may contribute more to endangerment than to revival. In a comparative perspective
on European minority languages, the Basque language group comes out as relatively strong
and the Frisian language group occupies an intermediate position (Nelde, Strubell & Williams
1996: 65). We apply our focus on multilingualism to the comparison of Basque and Frisian
in a research project, to which we turn next.
3. A comparative research project
For the discussion I will draw on the results of the project entitled ‘Added value of
multilingualism and diversity in educational contexts’, which has run for several years, and
in which the teaching of languages in the Basque Autonomous Community in Spain is
compared to what happens in schools in the Province of Friesland in the Netherlands. The
project is carried out in collaboration between the Faculty of Education of the University
of the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, the Basque Autonomous Community in ´
Spain and the Mercator Research Centre of the Fryske Akademy in the province of Friesland
in the Netherlands. The basic aim of the project is to compare the position of the languages
in education in both regions, with a focus on the minority languages Basque and Frisian, but
in both regions also looking at the majority languages Spanish and Dutch, as well as English
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 89
and other languages (such as immigrant languages). This can feel like trying to compare
apples and oranges: the situations are very different.
A multi-method approach was used, including questionnaires, classroom observations,
student essays, language diaries and photographs, to collect quantitative and qualitative data
on such matters as language proficiency, language use and attitudes, in a sample of secondary
school students aged from 14 to 16, as well as among their teachers. A number of research
reports were produced for the Basque government and are available online (Arocena et al.
2010; Douwes, Hanenburg & Lotti 2010; Bangma, Van der Meer & Riemersma 2011; De
Vries & Arocena 2011).
We also collected data about the advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism, as
seen by different groups of university students in both regions. To complement this plenary,
I will use the outcomes of this sub-project to illustrate the next generation’s awareness of
the importance of multilingualism. The advantages they mentioned include ‘to understand
cultures around the world’; ‘to communicate with other people’; ‘possibilities for travel’; ‘more
job opportunities’; ‘access to more information’; ‘making it easier to learn other languages’.
The disadvantages mentioned include ‘knowing a word only in one language and borrowing
it, polluting the language with that word’; ‘you might reject your native language (Basque
in my case) if you learn another one that is more useful’ and even ‘I cannot think of any
disadvantages’.
These examples summarize the arguments in favour of and against multilingualism. They
are in line with the advantages of bilingualism cited in Baker (2007), mentioned above.
I now move on to some background information on multilingual education, to provide
a context for the findings I present later about language use by secondary school
students.
3.1 Multilingual education in the Basque Country
One of the most significant developments affecting a European minority language has taken
place in the Basque Autonomous Community in the north of Spain, where the main language
of instruction in the education system has changed from Spanish (and only Spanish) to
predominantly Basque. After the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, during the period of
transition to democracy, the educational authorities of the Basque Autonomous Community
developed three linguistic models: Model A, in which all teaching is through Spanish, and
Basque is taught for about three hours per week; Model B, in which all subjects are taught
through both languages for more or less equal amounts of time; and Model D, in which all
lessons are in Basque, except when Spanish and English are being taught as subjects. Outside
the Basque Autonomous Community itself, that is, in the other parts of the Basque Country –
the historical province of Navarre in Spain and the area known as Iparralde in the south
of France – advances in teaching the minority language have been much weaker (see also
Zalbide & Cenoz 2008; Cenoz 2009).
Over the past 30 years the position of Basque in education has undergone a drastic and
far-reaching change. In the early 1980s Model B and Model D together were offered to
less than 25% of all students, the remainder being educated under the Spanish Model A.
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9 0 PLENARY SPEECHES
However, the regional government generously supports and facilitates the teaching of Basque,
and parents are free to choose the model they want for their child. These factors have lead
to a gradual change in favour of Model D, which now accounts on average for 69% of all
students in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools. In the year 2011–2012, 73.6% of
young children entering the school system register in Model D and only 3.9% in Model A
(Eustat 2012).
In the school timetables the languages are allocated to different slots and are taught
separately. For example, in the timetable of the third year of a secondary Model D school
there are 20 lessons in Basque (including four hours in which the language is taught as a
subject), three hours for teaching Spanish as a subject and six hours for teaching English,
half of them devoted to English as a subject and the other half to teaching social science.
Because most secondary schools offer one subject through the medium of English, students
are exposed to more hours at school in English than in Spanish.
Of course these numbers relate only to the school day, an important but relatively small
proportion of the students’ total waking hours. A student may be awake from 7.30 until 23.30:
a total of 112 waking hours per week. Of those hours, 27.5 hours are spent in school, including
breaks: in other words, only one quarter of a student’s waking hours. In a multilingual society
this has consequences for language exposure and language use. To get an idea of what this
means we have to take into account where the student lives, because the socio-geographic
distribution of the Basque language over the territory is unequal. There is no census data,
but every five years since 1991 the Basque government has commissioned a major language
survey. The most recent full report available relates to 2006 (Gobierno Vasco 2008), although
some provisional figures for 2011 have been released (Viceconsejer´ıa de Pol´ıtica Lingu¨´ıstica
2012), which show a gradual increase in the number of speakers. For example, in 1991,
24.1% could speak Basque, while the figure for 2011 is 32.0%; an outcome which points
to the influence of education. This is confirmed by the differences between the age cohorts:
among the 16–24 year olds 60% can speak Basque, while for those over 60 the number is
only about 25%.
In the language surveys four different sociolinguistic zones are distinguished in terms of the
proportion speaking Basque: (1) less than 20%, (2) 20–50%, (3) 50–80% and (4) over 80%.
The areas of lower density are mainly in the southern half of the autonomous community
and in the urban areas of Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastian. This implies that patterns of
multilingualism are different, and depend on the social context. A student in a predominantly
Basque-speaking environment (over 80%) naturally has more exposure to Basque than one
in a predominantly Spanish-speaking environment (less than 20%). The intermediate mixed
environments are the most common, but Spanish dominates everywhere through such media
as television, newspapers and the internet.
3.2 Language use inside the school
Based on the data from the interviews and classroom observations I now turn to the schools
and describe what goes on inside the classroom. We held interviews with a number of
teachers and carried out classroom observation in different schools (see also De Vries &
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 91
Arocena 2011). In this part of the project we focused on the learning and using of English,
because it provides a good opportunity to compare the Basque Autonomous Community and
Friesland.
When asked about her approach to teaching the English language, one of the teachers
answered: ‘I speak in English 99% of the time, ... 100%, ... I try’. She showed her awareness
that she does not manage to maintain her own ‘one lesson – one language’ rule. Another
teacher answered in a similar way but also added a reason for her lack of success: ‘First I
try and try and try in English [but] most of the time the students tend to speak in Basque
or Spanish’. So even though teachers impose a rule of one language per lesson, the students
do not comply and the teachers occasionally concede. A third teacher made an interesting
observation about the differences between the students in different age groups in secondary
education: ‘the younger they are, the more they use English ... I think it is about being
teenagers and [later] they say “this is for children speaking to the teacher in English, she is
Basque”’. These quotations make clear how hard it is to impose a monolingual norm on
multilingual students.
The actual language practices can be illustrated with an example from the observations in
an English class.
Example 1:
Teacher: Next week you have a play.
Student: ¿Qu´e? [in Spanish: What?]
Teacher: Antzerki bat. [in Basque: A play.]
During her English lesson the teacher insists on the use of the target language, but when one
of the students asks a question in Spanish, she responds in Basque. Immediately before and
after this exchange the teacher and the students used English.
The basic strategy of all teachers in the classroom is to use the target language as much
as possible during their lessons. However, from our classroom observations we learned that
teachers use short switches to give explanations or for classroom management, and also
use a number of stop words (e.g. ‘vale’, a common Spanish loan in Basque, meaning ‘OK’).
Although all teachers switch to some extent, we observed quite large individual differences
between teachers. Our interim conclusion here is that the official school ideology of ‘one
lesson – one language’ is only partly reflected in actual language practices.
Students’ mixing and hybridization of languages in non-school contexts constitute another
important aspect of language use but, as we can see in Figure 1, such practices even occur in
the school context, showing that when students are given the opportunity, they make skilful
use of these practices.
The poster in the figure (which comes from the data collected for the project Added Value
of Multilingualism, Corpus Orio ikastola 2011) advertises tortillas prepared by the students
for a fair at the school, to raise money for a trip to Barcelona. The students write delicius
[note the spelling] and tortilla the potato. The other words are in Basque, although buh la-la! is
not easy to classify. The example shows an interesting mixture of languages, which crosses
language borders and ignores the ideology of one language per lesson. The students are
demonstrating the resources of the languages in their repertoire, by combining the use of


Original text

Multilingual interaction and minority languages: Proficiency and
language practices in education and society
Durk Gorter University of the Basque Country UPV/EHU – IKERBASQUE
[email protected]
In this plenary speech I examine multilingual interaction in a number of European regions in
which minority languages are being revitalized. Education is a crucial variable, but the wider
society is equally significant. The context of revitalization is no longer bilingual but
increasingly multilingual. I draw on the results of a long-running project on the ‘Added value
of multilingualism and diversity in educational contexts’ among secondary school students,
and show that there are interesting differences and similarities between the minority
language (Basque or Frisian), the majority language (Spanish or Dutch) and English. The focus
on multilingualism is applied inside and outside the school. The discussion demonstrates the
complexity of everyday multilingual practices and the outcomes have implications for the gap
between education and society and for further research into the linkages between language
proficiency and actual language practices.
1. Introduction
Activities to protect and promote minority languages are common throughout Europe and
beyond. Theories of language revitalization point to education as a crucial variable, and
international legal instruments recognize the right to teach minority languages at school.
However, early efforts to secure the survival of minority languages showed that revitalization
cannot be achieved by schools alone; society at large is at least as significant. The relationship
between education and society is important at a time when both are rapidly changing.
Revitalization processes no longer take place in a bilingual context with one minority and
one dominant language, but increasingly in a multilingual context in which international and
immigrant languages are also present.
In this plenary paper I want to examine the interaction between three or more languages
in a number of European regions in which minority languages are already experiencing
revitalization. The paper is based on my experience of over 30 years of research into the
Frisian language in the Netherlands (Gorter 1987, 2001, 2008a), in addition to several years of
comparative work on minority languages across the European Union (Sikma & Gorter 1990;
Revised version of a plenary address given at the International Conference on Bilingual and Multilingual Interaction,
Bangor, Wales, 30 March–1 April 2012
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 83
Extra & Gorter 2001, 2008). More recently I have had first-hand experience of investigating
the Basque language in education (Cenoz & Gorter 2011). For my discussion I will draw on
the results of the long-running project on the ‘Added value of multilingualism and diversity
in educational contexts’, in which the teaching of languages in the Basque Autonomous
Community in Spain is compared to that in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands
(Arocena et al. 2010).
For the purpose of this discussion I will think of a language as lying at the intersection
of two axes. On the first axis is the relationship between language proficiency and language
practices. The extent to which a speaker ‘knows’ a language is considered to be important
in language learning. The work of language teachers consists for the most part in trying to
improve the proficiency of their students. Teachers of other subjects also contribute to this
goal, even if they do not focus on teaching the language per se in the course of, for example,
mathematics, history or music lessons. Of course, language learning continues outside the
classroom, mainly through language use, so how the different languages are used has great
significance. Language practices comprise the routine selections that speakers make from
their linguistic repertoire (Spolsky 2004: 5), which includes all types of linguistic behaviour
by individuals in a multilingual context. Pennycook (2010: 2) claims that ‘language practices
... are a central part of daily social organization’. So what speakers do with their languages,
how they choose and use them in different contexts, is extremely important.
The second axis represents the relationship between education and society, especially how
languages are taught and used in the school setting. Important issues include the selection
of languages to be taught or the amount of time to be dedicated to each one. Additional
considerations include the aims of language teaching and more complex questions such
as how languages are taught, what teaching strategies are used, how the school tries to
improve the level of proficiency in each of the languages and the desired outcomes in terms of
proficiency. The language usage patterns of teachers and students can be examined under this
heading, but it is also important to investigate language use in wider society, asking questions
about the development of languages in a specific community of speakers, how speakers use
the languages in their repertoire, how languages interact with each other and how different
groups of speakers use languages.
I also want to consider the relationships between these two axes. Both in schools and in
society at large it is interesting to see what actually happens to the languages. How proficient
are the speakers – teachers and students – in their languages? What do they routinely do in
school with the languages in their repertoire, and what goes on outside the school?
It is not easy to define a ‘minority language’. The definition in the European Charter for
Regional or Minority Languages of the Council of Europe (1992) is frequently quoted in
the literature (e.g. Dunbar 2001: 91; Extra & Gorter 2001: 19; Hult 2004: 192; Darquennes
2011: 549; Nic Craith 2012: 377). The Charter refers to ‘languages that are traditionally used
within a given territory of a state by nationals of that state who form a group numerically
smaller than the rest of the state’s population and [are] different from the official language(s)
of that state’.
Although this definition is widely used, it is not undisputed, because Article 1a of the
Charter explicitly excludes ‘dialects of the official language(s) of the State or the languages
of migrants’, and such varieties would be described by some as minority languages. The
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8 4 PLENARY SPEECHES
definition contains the word ‘state’ no less than four times, which demonstrates the power
of the state authorities to give official recognition to a minority language on its territory (or
to deny such recognition). Thus it is not the speakers of a minority language, or activists
or language experts, but the state that has the power to determine the status of a minority
language, including whether it officially exists at all.
Minority language speakers are multilingual by nature, or by necessity, from a young age. It
is often believed that multilingual communities were once monolingual, a misconception also
applied to countries as a whole, but in reality regions such as the Basque Country, Friesland
or Wales have been bilingual or multilingual at least to some degree for several hundred
years.
In this plenary paper I will be looking from a multilingual perspective at these two
axes: language practices and proficiency on the one hand and education and society on
the other. My emphasis is on European minority languages, in particular Basque and
Frisian.
2. Theoretical approach
Work on bilingualism and multilingualism has been inspired in many ways by research
in Wales. One of the most creative concepts of recent years is probably TRANSLANGUAGING
(‘trawsieithu’ in Welsh): a skill that aids the development of bilingualism. Baker (2001) attributes
its origins to Cen Williams, for whom it means (2002: 2) ‘(i) receiving information in one
language and (ii) using or applying it in the other language’. It is a skill that bilingual
Welsh-English children already use in everyday life, but one that should also be developed
systematically at school, because it reinforces not only the two languages, but the relationship
between them. Translanguaging, in its original formulation, is a teaching method in which,
for example, the listening, singing or reading taking place during a lesson is in one language
(Welsh), and further work, such as discussion or writing a summary, is in the other (English).
Baker (2007: 2–3) examines the potential advantages of using translanguaging in the
classroom to enable the student to develop into a balanced and confident bilingual person.
Baker suggests that bilingualism offers communication, cultural, curriculum, cognitive,
character and cash advantages. Garcia (2009: 45), in her book on bilingual education in
the twenty-first century, broadens the scope of translanguaging to all ‘multiple discursive
practices in which bilinguals engage in order to make sense of their bilingual worlds’.
She further asserts that ‘despite curricular arrangements that separate languages, the most
prevalent bilingual practice in the bilingual education classrooms is that of translanguaging’
(Garcia 2009: 304). In the Welsh context and for Garcia in the US, translanguaging applies
to two languages, but Canagarajah (2011) uses the term for ‘the general communicative
competence of multilinguals’. For Li Wei (2011) the concept of translanguaging has a
different source because it builds on the notion of ‘languaging’ in psycholinguistics, and
the term also links to Becker’s (1988) attempt to move away from language as a noun to
language as a verb. Li Wei (2011: 1223) applies translanguaging to multilinguals in its widest
sense, since it includes ‘any going between different linguistic structures, including different
modalities’.
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 85
2.1 Focus on multilingualism
The ideas of Williams, Baker, Garcia, Canagarajah, Li Wei and others were an inspiration
for the studies of multilingualism I have undertaken with my colleague Jasone Cenoz. We
have called our approach ‘Focus on Multilingualism’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011). In this plenary
speech I want to apply our ideas to a comparison of Basque and Frisian and other European
minority languages. We propose to look at all the languages of a multilingual speaker at
once. In the traditional approach, based on a ‘monolingual mindset’ (Clyne 2005: xi), the
competence of a multilingual person in one language is compared to that of a native speaker.
In contrast, we believe that ‘if multilinguals have some special characteristics when learning
and using languages, monolingual native speakers of each of the languages they speak cannot
be the appropriate reference’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011: 367).
Cenoz and I want instead to focus on the whole repertoire of languages and take into
consideration the relationships between them. Multilingual speakers learn and use their
languages while participating in language practices that are shaped by the social context.
They make use of all their linguistic resources and navigate between their languages in
interaction (see also Kramsch 2006). This perspective can be applied to research into the
acquisition of languages as well as to the classroom in multilingual education. Our approach
also implies that ‘the goal in multilingual education should be to behave as a competent
multilingual speaker’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011: 367) and the school should adopt a ‘flexible
bilingual pedagogy’ (Creese & Blackledge 2010: 112).
We distinguish three dimensions in the focus on multilingualism: (1) the whole linguistic
repertoire, (2) the multilingual speakers and (3) the wider social context. Each of these
dimensions can be explained further.
2.1.1 The whole linguistic repertoire
Our focus on multilingualism makes us look again at the concept of REPERTOIRE: ‘the totality of
linguistic resources available to members of particular communities’ (Gumperz 1986: 21–22).
I prefer the view put forward by Blommaert & Backus (2011), for whom repertoire is based
in someone’s biography and comprises the individual’s current language resources, their
actual skills and competences. They distinguish four broad categories of competence (2011:
16), which can be read as a sliding scale of language knowledge. ‘Maximum’ competence is
comprehensive and refers usually to the mother tongue and to school learning and covers
the whole range of language skills. It is clear, however, that there is no absolute maximum
because the perfect knowledge of the ideal hearer-speaker does not exist in reality. The
second category is ‘partial’ competence which concerns specialized language, registers and
genres and also touches on the whole range of language skills, with some limitations. The
third category is ‘minimal’ competence, which depends on the kind of encounters a speaker
experiences, and may be merely temporary knowledge, such as learning the odd word when
visiting a country. The fourth category is competence at the level of ‘recognizing’. This is
the ability to identify a word or text as belonging to another language, such as recognizing
a different script such as Chinese or Greek. Just as there is no absolute maximum, there is
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8 6 PLENARY SPEECHES
no minimum language knowledge. The repertoire of a multilingual speaker comprises his
knowledge of all languages taken together. This way of conceptualizing the idea of repertoire
fits with our focus on multilingualism because we also want to take into consideration all the
languages in the speaker’s repertoire, ranging from the language maximally known, to the
languages in which a speaker develops partial or minimal competence or can only recognize a
language, even if we are aware that ‘languages’ are constructed entities (Makoni & Pennycook
2007).
2.2.2 Multilingual speakers
The second dimension of our focus on multilingualism is that of ‘multilingual speakers’. How
do we characterize them? Multilingual speakers are not different monolingual people when
they use each of their two, three or four languages at different times or on different occasions.
They can be characterized as ‘speakers who use their resources when communicating with
monolingual and multilingual interlocutors’ (Cenoz & Gorter 2011: 367). Cook (1992, 2003)
and Grosjean (1985, 2008) proposed some time ago that multilingual speakers have different
characteristics from monolingual speakers because they have more than one language in
their repertoire. Cook (1992) suggested the concept of ‘multicompetence’ to denote a unique
form of language competence that cannot be compared to that of monolinguals. Similarly,
Grosjean (2010: 75) states that the ‘bilingual is not the sum of two (or more) complete or
incomplete monolinguals’. He uses an analogy from athletics, in which the high hurdler
blends the competences of a high jumper and a sprinter, but it is unfair to compare one type
of athlete to the other. A multilingual speaker uses different languages for different purposes,
sometimes using one language at a time, and at others mixing languages. The competence
of multilingual speakers is fluid, not fixed: difficult to measure, but real (Cenoz, Arocena &
Gorter in press).
It is interesting to note that speakers of European minority languages, such as Basque,
Frisian, Welsh, Irish, Scottish Gaelic, Breton and Catalan, share certain characteristics that
distinguish them from speakers of majority languages, especially the fact that they all become
fluent bilingual speakers. Without exception they speak at least two languages, often three or
more. For them, being a multilingual speaker is nothing special, it is what they know themselves
to be from an early age. Monolingual majority language speakers, in contrast, find only
one language in their surroundings and grow up using that language, their ‘mother tongue’.
Minority language children cannot avoid becoming proficient in their mother tongue, but also
become proficient in the dominant social language. Young minority language speakers may
not be aware of concepts such as ‘minority language’, ‘dominant language’ or ‘international
language’, but as speakers they soon become aware of the social inequalities of the languages
they speak; they pay attention to the significance of language choice and to the role of
languages in social relationships.
2.2.3 The wider social context
Today, regions where minority languages are spoken, such as Wales, the Basque Country or
Friesland, can no longer be thought of as closed, traditional societies. They are part of an
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 87
interconnected world, in which the local and the global merge to become the GLOCAL in a
networked society (Castells 2000; Wellman 2002) in which people are increasingly ‘always
on’ (Baron 2008).
Theories and models about revitalization or about loss and maintenance of minority
languages are often based on a vision of a society in which only two languages play a role, one
being the minority language, such as Basque, Breton, Catalan, Frisian, Irish, Scottish Gaelic
or Welsh, and the other the dominant language, such as Spanish, French, Dutch or English.
The origins of this vision are based on concepts like DIGLOSSIA (Ferguson 1959; Fishman 1967)
which take account of only two languages. At the time of these early contributions it was
useful to apply a schematic representation of two languages to such societies. However, over
the last decades societies have changed, becoming ever more linguistically diverse, so there
are several reasons why we can no longer simply talk of ‘bilingual societies’. First of all, there
is the unprecedented spread and penetration of English, the global language. English can be
encountered in the public space of almost any city or town in Europe. English is followed
at some distance by a limited number of widely used languages such as French, German,
Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, Arabic and Chinese. The associated language
institutes, such as the Alliance Fran¸caise for French or the Goethe Institut for German, actively
promote their languages and cultures to learners in numerous countries across the world,
and in part explain their spread. This limited set of languages also appears in many less
expected places, such as an option for the operating language of an electronic device in the
home, its instruction booklet and guarantee document. Sometimes three or four languages
are offered for such a purpose, but on occasions more than twelve can be found. Words from
these languages might also be used for the name of an exotic restaurant, a type of food, on
a label inside a piece of clothing, or the name of a distant location, habit or product, which
reaches us through the daily flow of news from every corner of the world. Today, in Europe,
people are confronted with these ‘foreign’ languages almost every day, even if only fleetingly.
Thirty years ago, let alone 60 years ago, in our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, people
only rarely came across Japanese, Korean or most of the members of this set of ‘international’
languages.
Another factor in increased linguistic diversity is, of course, the spread of numerous
‘migrant’ (or community or heritage) languages. Speakers of Arabic, Turkish, Chinese, as
well as those from European Union countries such as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania and many
others have migrated to countries all over Europe. When we walk down a shopping street
in a European city, we might overhear any of these languages and others, spoken by tourists
or other visitors. The number of different languages encountered on public signs in a city is
sometimes a surprise for the researcher. Barni (2006: 11) found traces of 24 varieties in the
linguistic landscape of one neighbourhood in Rome, a predominantly monolingual Italian
city. London, where Baker & Eversley (2000) estimated that school children speak over 300
different home languages, has been used to demonstrate the extensive linguistic diversity of
modern urban settings (Salverda 2002).
In many cases a monolingual mindset (Clyne 2005) lies behind ideas that go against
bilingualism; a similar way of thinking occurs among authors on minority languages when
they think in terms of two languages only – the majority and the minority language – ignoring
other languages. This way of thinking is common and, following Clyne, I want to label it
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8 8 PLENARY SPEECHES
a ‘bilingual mindset’. Instead, we need improved models to represent complex multilingual
societies in which major and minor languages are present.
Policies to promote minority languages are in operation throughout Europe and elsewhere.
For example, many studies and governmental reports mention the importance of teaching the
minority language at school (Oakes 2001; Coluzzi 2007; Kaplan & Baldauf 2007; Council of
Europe 2010; Henn-Reinke 2012). Education is seen as a crucial variable for the revitalization
of minority languages: Fishman (1991, 2001), in his influential multi-stage model of the
GIDS (Graded Intergenerational Disruption Scale), emphasizes the importance of language
acquisition, learning and education. But he also warned that a ‘narrow education framework
within which language maintenance retrieval and revival activities have been grounded is
doomed to failure’ (Fishman 2001: 417).
Several international legal agreements contain provisions for teaching minority languages.
An example is the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages, mentioned earlier,
which states in its Explanatory Report (Council of Europe 2010: 43) that ‘A crucial factor
in the maintenance and preservation of regional or minority languages is the place they
are given in the education system’. Only a few minority language groups control their own
fully-fledged school system, or have relatively strong provisions at different levels of education.
From our comparative studies of autochthonous minority languages in the European Union
(Sikma & Gorter 1990; Gorter 2008a) we concluded that the position in education of most
minority languages covered by the Charter can at best be characterized as weak or very weak.
It is clear that in areas where a minority language is spoken, the majority language often
dominates the educational system. The school as a state institution sees to it that the children
become proficient in the majority language, so they may even learn to prefer that language
over the minority language. Nelde, Strubell & Williams (1996: 6) noted that education as social
agency may contribute more to endangerment than to revival. In a comparative perspective
on European minority languages, the Basque language group comes out as relatively strong
and the Frisian language group occupies an intermediate position (Nelde, Strubell & Williams
1996: 65). We apply our focus on multilingualism to the comparison of Basque and Frisian
in a research project, to which we turn next.
3. A comparative research project
For the discussion I will draw on the results of the project entitled ‘Added value of
multilingualism and diversity in educational contexts’, which has run for several years, and
in which the teaching of languages in the Basque Autonomous Community in Spain is
compared to what happens in schools in the Province of Friesland in the Netherlands. The
project is carried out in collaboration between the Faculty of Education of the University
of the Basque Country in Donostia-San Sebastian, the Basque Autonomous Community in ´
Spain and the Mercator Research Centre of the Fryske Akademy in the province of Friesland
in the Netherlands. The basic aim of the project is to compare the position of the languages
in education in both regions, with a focus on the minority languages Basque and Frisian, but
in both regions also looking at the majority languages Spanish and Dutch, as well as English
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DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 89
and other languages (such as immigrant languages). This can feel like trying to compare
apples and oranges: the situations are very different.
A multi-method approach was used, including questionnaires, classroom observations,
student essays, language diaries and photographs, to collect quantitative and qualitative data
on such matters as language proficiency, language use and attitudes, in a sample of secondary
school students aged from 14 to 16, as well as among their teachers. A number of research
reports were produced for the Basque government and are available online (Arocena et al.
2010; Douwes, Hanenburg & Lotti 2010; Bangma, Van der Meer & Riemersma 2011; De
Vries & Arocena 2011).
We also collected data about the advantages and disadvantages of multilingualism, as
seen by different groups of university students in both regions. To complement this plenary,
I will use the outcomes of this sub-project to illustrate the next generation’s awareness of
the importance of multilingualism. The advantages they mentioned include ‘to understand
cultures around the world’; ‘to communicate with other people’; ‘possibilities for travel’; ‘more
job opportunities’; ‘access to more information’; ‘making it easier to learn other languages’.
The disadvantages mentioned include ‘knowing a word only in one language and borrowing
it, polluting the language with that word’; ‘you might reject your native language (Basque
in my case) if you learn another one that is more useful’ and even ‘I cannot think of any
disadvantages’.
These examples summarize the arguments in favour of and against multilingualism. They
are in line with the advantages of bilingualism cited in Baker (2007), mentioned above.
I now move on to some background information on multilingual education, to provide
a context for the findings I present later about language use by secondary school
students.
3.1 Multilingual education in the Basque Country
One of the most significant developments affecting a European minority language has taken
place in the Basque Autonomous Community in the north of Spain, where the main language
of instruction in the education system has changed from Spanish (and only Spanish) to
predominantly Basque. After the end of the Franco dictatorship in 1975, during the period of
transition to democracy, the educational authorities of the Basque Autonomous Community
developed three linguistic models: Model A, in which all teaching is through Spanish, and
Basque is taught for about three hours per week; Model B, in which all subjects are taught
through both languages for more or less equal amounts of time; and Model D, in which all
lessons are in Basque, except when Spanish and English are being taught as subjects. Outside
the Basque Autonomous Community itself, that is, in the other parts of the Basque Country –
the historical province of Navarre in Spain and the area known as Iparralde in the south
of France – advances in teaching the minority language have been much weaker (see also
Zalbide & Cenoz 2008; Cenoz 2009).
Over the past 30 years the position of Basque in education has undergone a drastic and
far-reaching change. In the early 1980s Model B and Model D together were offered to
less than 25% of all students, the remainder being educated under the Spanish Model A.
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However, the regional government generously supports and facilitates the teaching of Basque,
and parents are free to choose the model they want for their child. These factors have lead
to a gradual change in favour of Model D, which now accounts on average for 69% of all
students in pre-primary, primary and secondary schools. In the year 2011–2012, 73.6% of
young children entering the school system register in Model D and only 3.9% in Model A
(Eustat 2012).
In the school timetables the languages are allocated to different slots and are taught
separately. For example, in the timetable of the third year of a secondary Model D school
there are 20 lessons in Basque (including four hours in which the language is taught as a
subject), three hours for teaching Spanish as a subject and six hours for teaching English,
half of them devoted to English as a subject and the other half to teaching social science.
Because most secondary schools offer one subject through the medium of English, students
are exposed to more hours at school in English than in Spanish.
Of course these numbers relate only to the school day, an important but relatively small
proportion of the students’ total waking hours. A student may be awake from 7.30 until 23.30:
a total of 112 waking hours per week. Of those hours, 27.5 hours are spent in school, including
breaks: in other words, only one quarter of a student’s waking hours. In a multilingual society
this has consequences for language exposure and language use. To get an idea of what this
means we have to take into account where the student lives, because the socio-geographic
distribution of the Basque language over the territory is unequal. There is no census data,
but every five years since 1991 the Basque government has commissioned a major language
survey. The most recent full report available relates to 2006 (Gobierno Vasco 2008), although
some provisional figures for 2011 have been released (Viceconsejer´ıa de Pol´ıtica Lingu¨´ıstica
2012), which show a gradual increase in the number of speakers. For example, in 1991,
24.1% could speak Basque, while the figure for 2011 is 32.0%; an outcome which points
to the influence of education. This is confirmed by the differences between the age cohorts:
among the 16–24 year olds 60% can speak Basque, while for those over 60 the number is
only about 25%.
In the language surveys four different sociolinguistic zones are distinguished in terms of the
proportion speaking Basque: (1) less than 20%, (2) 20–50%, (3) 50–80% and (4) over 80%.
The areas of lower density are mainly in the southern half of the autonomous community
and in the urban areas of Bilbao, Vitoria and San Sebastian. This implies that patterns of
multilingualism are different, and depend on the social context. A student in a predominantly
Basque-speaking environment (over 80%) naturally has more exposure to Basque than one
in a predominantly Spanish-speaking environment (less than 20%). The intermediate mixed
environments are the most common, but Spanish dominates everywhere through such media
as television, newspapers and the internet.
3.2 Language use inside the school
Based on the data from the interviews and classroom observations I now turn to the schools
and describe what goes on inside the classroom. We held interviews with a number of
teachers and carried out classroom observation in different schools (see also De Vries &
use, available at https://www.cambridge.org/core/terms. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0261444812000481
Downloaded from https://www.cambridge.org/core. Imam Abdulrahman bin Faisal University, on 28 Oct 2019 at 07:42:30, subject to the Cambridge Core terms of
DURK GORTER: MULTILINGUAL INTERACTION AND MINORITY LANGUAGES 91
Arocena 2011). In this part of the project we focused on the learning and using of English,
because it provides a good opportunity to compare the Basque Autonomous Community and
Friesland.
When asked about her approach to teaching the English language, one of the teachers
answered: ‘I speak in English 99% of the time, ... 100%, ... I try’. She showed her awareness
that she does not manage to maintain her own ‘one lesson – one language’ rule. Another
teacher answered in a similar way but also added a reason for her lack of success: ‘First I
try and try and try in English [but] most of the time the students tend to speak in Basque
or Spanish’. So even though teachers impose a rule of one language per lesson, the students
do not comply and the teachers occasionally concede. A third teacher made an interesting
observation about the differences between the students in different age groups in secondary
education: ‘the younger they are, the more they use English ... I think it is about being
teenagers and [later] they say “this is for children speaking to the teacher in English, she is
Basque”’. These quotations make clear how hard it is to impose a monolingual norm on
multilingual students.
The actual language practices can be illustrated with an example from the observations in
an English class.
Example 1:
Teacher: Next week you have a play.
Student: ¿Qu´e? [in Spanish: What?]
Teacher: Antzerki bat. [in Basque: A play.]
During her English lesson the teacher insists on the use of the target language, but when one
of the students asks a question in Spanish, she responds in Basque. Immediately before and
after this exchange the teacher and the students used English.
The basic strategy of all teachers in the classroom is to use the target language as much
as possible during their lessons. However, from our classroom observations we learned that
teachers use short switches to give explanations or for classroom management, and also
use a number of stop words (e.g. ‘vale’, a common Spanish loan in Basque, meaning ‘OK’).
Although all teachers switch to some extent, we observed quite large individual differences
between teachers. Our interim conclusion here is that the official school ideology of ‘one
lesson – one language’ is only partly reflected in actual language practices.
Students’ mixing and hybridization of languages in non-school contexts constitute another
important aspect of language use but, as we can see in Figure 1, such practices even occur in
the school context, showing that when students are given the opportunity, they make skilful
use of these practices.
The poster in the figure (which comes from the data collected for the project Added Value
of Multilingualism, Corpus Orio ikastola 2011) advertises tortillas prepared by the students
for a fair at the school, to raise money for a trip to Barcelona. The students write delicius
[note the spelling] and tortilla the potato. The other words are in Basque, although buh la-la! is
not easy to classify. The example shows an interesting mixture of languages, which crosses
language borders and ignores the ideology of one language per lesson. The students are
demonstrating the resources of the languages in their repertoire, by combining the use of

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