As many of you will already know, I have a tendency to become obsessed with certain languages. I begin to live and breathe the language and its culture – its music, its literature, its speakers. For the past four-five years, I’ve had this sort of feelings towards a rather special Romance language: Catalan. Many people I talk to have never even heard of Catalan, even though it has more speakers than my native Hungarian and is a co-official language of Spain. But as Catalonia is not an independent state and the majority of its speakers also speak native Spanish (or French), the language is not getting too much publicity around the world. I’ve spoken to Catalans who hardly ever mention abroad that they are native Catalan-speakers as it’s not much use to them – they simply state they’re from Spain and that they speak Spanish.
But believe it or not, we are being exposed to Catalan and its speakers more than we might think. Ever heard football fans referring to Barça? That doesn’t look too Spanish with the cedilla, right? Do you know Salvador Dalí, or Antoni Gaudí? Two of the greatest Catalans in history. Have you been to the beautiful beaches of Mallorca or Ibiza? You guessed it, they speak Catalan there!
So how did my obsession start? I’ve no idea. I may have been looking up European minority languages online, or I just came across some Catalan music. But I immediately felt that I wanted to find out more. And so I did!
Coincidentally, my little knowledge of Catalan paid off last summer. My friends and I travelled to Mallorca to spend a week exploring the island, including some less touristy villages. Now Mallorca is a unique case. The locals consider themselves to be Spanish (not Catalan), yet they speak Catalan – or a dialect of it called mallorquí. So that means the Balearic Islands are not part of Catalonia, but are part of the Països Catalans (Catalan Countries) which refers to all regions (should they be in Spain, France, Andorra or Italy) where the language is spoken. Phew!
Anyway, back to the point. We were surprised to find that English wasn’t too common in most places around the island, despite it being so popular with tourists. In fact, Palma de Mallorca (the capital) has only one taxi company and their dispatchers don’t speak any English. So it was my job to try and let them know in Catalan that we’d like a taxi to our tiny unknown village outside the city at 3am the next morning, for 4 people, heading towards the airport. And this wasn’t the only case – I used Catalan to buy tickets on the bus, to ask for directions, to settle an issue at the hotel, and so on. So I fell even more in love with this beautiful language.
However, one of the biggest reasons for my obsession is the following: speakers appreciate my efforts to speak it. And this gives me courage to use it wherever I can. The same applies to Polish – I’ve had so many good experiences with Polish people being impressed by my vocabulary or pronunciation that I felt a desire to learn even more.
So here’s the big announcement, Ladies and Gents, I’m going to Barcelona next week, for a linguistics conference of the revitalisation of indigenous and minority languages. Of course, you’ll get to hear all about that! But for now, the most important aspect of the trip is immersing myself into the Catalan lifestyle and speaking Catalan wherever I can. What’s more, the conference includes a visit to the Institut d’Estudis Catalans, the academic institution which researches and regulates the Catalan language. You can imagine how excited I am about that…
I’ve been keeping myself up to date on the activities of the many many organisations working to promote the language in Catalonia and beyond, such as Plataforma per la Llengua and the Institut Ramon Llull. The former has just launched a mobile app which lets you rate shops, restaurants, hotels etc. in Catalonia based on their willingness to speak Catalan with their customers – I’ll definitely give it a try once I’m there!
So I warn you now, this wasn’t the last time you read about Catalan on my blog – it’s likely to be a recurring topic, especially after my visit to Barcelona. I can’t help it, the beautiful sound and exciting orthography of this language never seizes to amaze me. Oh, and I haven’t even mentioned its impressive history and its shocking similarity to French. But that’s for another time. A reveure!