Media Briefings

EDUCATION AND LANGUAGE PLAY A KEY ROLE IN BUILDING NATIONAL IDENTITY

  • Published Date: August 2013

The introduction of bilingual teaching in Catalonia’s education system in the early 1980s had a big positive effect on Catalan identity, according to research by Irma Clots-Figueras and Paolo Masella.

Their study, published in the August 2013 issue of the Economic Journal, finds that people who have experienced greater exposure to teaching in Catalan have stronger Catalan feelings – and the effect is as strong for people whose parents are not from Catalonia.

They also find that people with more exposure to teaching in Catalan are also more likely to vote for Catalan regionalist parties and more likely to say that Spanish regions – and Catalonia in particular – should have the right to ask for independence.

Governments can affect individual feelings, the researchers conclude:

‘Public policies can influence national identity and people’s long-term political views. Education, through the language of instruction, intervenes in the process of identity formation and is able to balance out the effect of important factors, such as origin and family background.’

The researchers consider the introduction of bilingualism in Catalan schools in 1983, studying the effect of this particular educational reform on individual identity and political behaviour. Prior to 1983, Spanish was the only language used in Catalan schools; after 1983, the Catalan education system became bilingual and Catalan, together with Spanish, was taught at school.

They use survey data from Catalonia and exploit differences in the number of years of compulsory education under Catalan instruction. To measure identity, they focus on this survey question:

‘With which of the following sentences do you feel more identified? (i) I feel only Spanish, (ii) I feel more Spanish than Catalan, (iii) I feel as Spanish as Catalan, (iv) I feel more Catalan than Spanish, (v) I feel only Catalan’.

The results show that individuals who have experienced greater exposure to teaching in Catalan during compulsory education are more likely to say that they feel more Catalan than Spanish.

An additional year of exposure to the reform during compulsory education increases the probability of feeling only Catalan, more Catalan than Spanish or as Catalan as Spanish by two percentage points. Interestingly, the effect also appears to be present among individuals whose parents do not have Catalan origins.

Additional findings suggest that individuals who experienced more exposure to teaching in Catalan are more likely to vote for Catalan regionalist parties (Convergència i Unió, CIU; Esquerra Republicana de Catalunya, ERC; and Iniciativa per Catalunya-els Verds, ICV). In fact, an extra year of compulsory education in Catalan increases the likelihood of respondents saying that they voted for a Catalan party by four percentage points.

The reform has also had an impact on attitudes towards the organisation of the state. Respondents affected by an additional year of instruction in Catalan during compulsory education are two percentage points more likely to say that Spanish regions – and Catalonia in particular – should have the right to ask for independence.

The researchers conclude that this reform can be interpreted as an example of a multicultural policy within Spain, where individuals living in Catalonia are the relevant minority and, at the same time, as an example of a nation-building policy within Catalonia, where individuals living in Catalonia who were born elsewhere or whose parents do not have Catalan origins are the relevant minority. They comment:

‘Our results suggest that nation-building policies and multicultural policies deliver very different outcomes in terms of the effect on individual sentiments: multicultural policies tend to favour the development of regional identities while nation-building policies tend to promote the expansion of a common national feeling.’

ENDS

Notes for editors: ‘Education, Language and Identity’ by Irma Clots-Figueras and Paolo Masella is published in the August 2013 issue of the Economic Journal.

Irma Clots-Figueras is at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Paolo Masella is at the University of Sussex.

For further information: contact Irma Clots Figueras on +34 616 052 273 (email: iclots@eco.uc3m.es or irmaclots@gmail.com); Paolo Masella via email: pm295@sussex.ac.uk; or Romesh Vaitilingam on +44-7768-661095 (email: romesh@vaitilingam.com; Twitter: @econromesh).