divendres, 20 de març del 2009

Catalan phonetics

I love phonetics. And I specially love the phonetics of Catalan dialects (as my friends know very well). I will, definetely, write about phonetics some day, but I am still think about how to make is sound easy and interesting.

Now I'd like to post the phonetics of the word "català" (Catalan). for the so-called standard phonetics (not all dialects pronounce it like this). If you know the International Phonetics Alphabet you will know what every symbol means. For the ones who do not know, I try to explain how to disentangle this mess ;).

- "k" its easy :).
- The inverted "e" represents the "schwa" sound like the "e" in "water".
- The "t" you know, the thing is the little symbol below. That means this "t" is dental, which means that it is pronounce with the tongue between your teeths (the "t" in Catalan is always like this, in opposition to English, where to pronounce this letter you place the tongue in the alveolar ridge).
-The apostrophe marks the strong syllable which in the word is "là".
-The following that looks like a Polish letter, mean a "retracted l". What is this? A retracted "l" is an "l" which is pronounce by curling the back of the tongue toward the palate/roof of the motuh. I don't know how I do it because all Catalan "l" are pronounced like this, but for a Polish this is very important because they difference between the "normal l" (like the "l" in "lullaby") and the retracted "l". Not for Catalans, we only have the "retracted l".
It worth mentionin that this is what betrays a Catalan speaker speaking Spanish. I had a hard time learning not to force my "l" when speaking Spanish and, though, I've improved, this still betrays me.
As for you, just know this is a minor issue, interesting to phonetic-lovers, but just say the sound "l" and don't worry about retractions, we won't notice the difference. In fact, I didn't know about this issue until I took Catalan phonetics at university.
- The "a" is easy. The two points above it only mean that the breath falls in the a.

NOTE: all syllables have the same length (unlike English!), as well as all the vowels: CA-TA-LÀ. Don't make weak syllables shorter.
NOTE 2: some dialects (western Catalan dialects) don't have the "schwa" sound, they would pronounce all as a tonic "a". For example, I would say it like the phonetics above, ie, pronouncing the "schwa" because I have an Eastern dialect, but my boyfriend, who has a Western dialect, would pronounce all "a". But this is not a problem for communication, it's just a feature and sometimes something to laugh and have fun specially when trying to imitate each other's dialects.

dimecres, 11 de març del 2009

Pau Casals, "El cant dels ocells" or a song full of meaning

It's five year now since the terrorist attacks in Madrid and I'm feeling a little touchy today (what a contrast with yesterday!). Two years ago, in remembrance of these attacks a beautiful song, originally a traditional Christmas Carol but now internationally known as a song that symbolizes peace and freedom, was played. I saw some images of that day today and it deeply moved me, not only because the victims have fallen into oblivion by the government (which cares more about political battles than them) but also because I realised how well a song can represent a universal feeling.

As I pointed out, the song "El cant dels ocells" (The song of the birds) was originally a Christmas Carol but, when Pau Casals popularized it, the song got its current significations. But how was it exactly? Why this switch in meaning? To know the answer we must focus into this brilliant cello player that was Pau Casals.

Pau Casals was born in El Vendrell (halfway between Barcelona and Tarragona) in 1876. So, when the Spanish civil war broke out he was already 60 years old. He survived the war, but as he was anti-fascist (against Franco's regime) and very pro-Catalan (he was independentist), he had to exile from the country. He died of a heart attack in Puerto Rico in 1973, two years before dictator Franco's death. Sadly, he never saw his country free again.

He was passionate about music and since he saw a fake cello when he was a child, he became a passionate of the instrument. He took his musical studies in Barcelona and played all over the world: the USA (he was even invited to the White House during JF Kennedy presidency), Russia, England, Austria, South America, Hungary.

However, what he is most known for is as a peace activist (he won several Peace awards and, curiously enough, his name "Pau" means "peace" in Catalan) and as the composer of the Himne a les Nacions Unides (United Nations Hymn), as well as for the speech he delivered in the UN in 1971, aged 95. His words, though being immensely nationalist, show the wish of peace he had rooted inside.

(Source: wikipedia and http://www.paucasals.org/en/home, youtube)

This is the speech he delivered in the UN Day (and he of course, played El Cant dels Ocells after not having played for many years):

And here you can see himself playing the song. It is the image most Catalans have of Pau Casals: himself and his cello:

Let the bird of peace flight. In memory of all victims of war, and today, specially those in Madrid 11/03/2004. Don't let them fall into oblivion.

dimarts, 10 de març del 2009

My blog on the radio! Moltes gràcies Xavi i Rac1! (Thank you very much Xavi and Rac1)

Since half past two I'm overwhelmed with happiness.

That is the time when I got a call from my mother. This is strange because my mother never calls me at that time. So I asked her if there was something wrong. She said that not at all, that she wanted to tell me something that I might like a lot. She said that she believed she had heard my boyfriend's name in "El món" (The world), a radio programme in the Catalan station Rac1, about eight o'clock and something about a blog which in its last posts talked about "calçots being similar to long onions". As you can imagine it caught me totally unaware: nobody -ie, my boyfriend Xavi- told me and, because this is exactly what I wrote yesterday!! I had to go deeper into it. I downloaded the podcast from the programme and there it was! Now it all explained the new reader that commented on a post today!

Of course, before downloading the podcast, I called Xavi (a faithful listener of El Món) and asked if this was possible. "Yes", he told me, "I wrote them and reccomended your blog". As I did it last week, I thought they wouldn't say it on air. Go to "El món"'s blog and you'll see. "And there it is!! My blog in Snap preview! And the text they read in the radio.

The text they read (approximately) is:

Aquesta curiosa cosa anomenada Catalunya. Així és com es podria resumir el contingut del blog Tot sobre Catalunya. Una recomanació que ens ha fet el Xavi Vilana d’aquest blog, creat recentment, que vol donar visibilitat a Catalunya més enllà de les nostres fronteres. Les entrades que fa la seva autora, l’Anna, serveixen per explicar temes com la història, la llengua, la cultura, les tradicions o la política catalana. All about Catalonia està escrit en anglès per poder arribar, així, a un nombre més gran d’internautes. Fa pocs mesos que està obert i la darrera entrada parla, com no, de calçots.
Source: http://www.rac1.org/elmon/?p=15775 (10-03-2009)

(This curious thing called Catalonia. This is how this blog's content could be summarized. All about Catalonia. A reccomendation made by Xavi Vilana about this blog, created recently, which wants to gives visibility to Catalonia beyond our borders. Her author, Anna, uses her posts to explain things like Catalan history, language, culture, tradition and politics. All about Catalonia [orig. in English] is written in English to reach a wider range of Internet users. It has been open since some months ago and the last entry talks, couldn't it be another way, about "calçots".)

I'm so so so happy! Moltes molte moltes gràcies El Món (I definetely put a link to your blog), and specially you, Xavi :).

It gave me a further reason to go ahead and keep writing the blog!

It is definetely a great day today despite there is no electricity on my building (they are hanging electricity readers) and we have no sink because there was a leak which caused problems to the flat below. I don't know if we will have electricity this night and so I will miss Doctor House on TV or if my frozen meat has defrost. But it is a GREAT DAY.

dilluns, 9 de març del 2009

La calçotada

Let's talk a little bit about food and celebrations around a specific item of food today. Specifically, let's talks about "Calçots" (pronounced, approximately "kalsots") and "La Calçotada" (pronounced, approximately, "kalsutada"or "kalsotada", depending on the dialect).

By now maybe you have guessed that a calçotada is some kind of meeting with friends or family or both where you eat calçots. But what are calçots exactly (I tell you now that there is no translation for the word, not even in Spanish)? Well, simply a kind of onion, which is long, similar to a leek. So yes, we meet with some friends to eat A SPECIAL KIND OF ONION together.

Though originally from Valls or the Alt Camp region and neighbouring regions near Tarragona, calçots are eaten almost all over Catalonia (maybe not so much in the mountains...). The time for eating them is during the winter, February and March being the most favourites months to do it, as it is not as cold as December or January. Note that usually calçots are eaten outdoors.

By now you might think we are kind of crazy and you are wondering why on earth we eat onions in the middle of the winter and outdoors. Well, I can assure you there is much more I have not told you yet and you'll soon understand what makes a "calçotada" an attractive and nice thing to do.

First of all, we are in a Mediterranean climate and winter is not as cold as in other places in Europe. February, March is cold but if it is sunny you can even take out your jacket during the day.

Second, calçotades ("calçotada" in plural form) are a social thing and usually celebrated with people you get on well with. It's a very good reason to meet this people and enjoy a good meal with them while telling everyday battles and having lots of fun.

Third, we don't eat bare onions. That would be terrible. Furthermore, I once tasted a bare calçot and it was almost tasteless. Calçots would be nothing without one of these two kinds of sauce either "salvitxada" (pronounced "salbitshada") or "romesco" (pronounce "rumescu" or "romesco" depending on dialect). At home I simply call it "salsa de calçots" (calçots sauce) and I think that when I say that I mean "romesco", but I'm not sure. The recipe is quite elaborated to make, that's why a good calçots sauce makes a real difference. Well, nowadays you can find salsa romesco in the supermarkets but the traditional sauce is a thousand times better than that.

Fourth, the onions are grilled in the barbecue or the grill for better flavour. Traditionally they have to served in roof tiles. Well, last Saturday I was in a calçotada and we missed roof tiles...and well, hand-made sauce :P.

Fifth, the way of eating calçots is almost a ritual. You pick the calçots from the tile (or the plate). As they have been grilled they should be all black outside. Then you hold from the beginning of its leaves with one hand and with the other hand you grab the bottom end and pull. If the calçot is well-made the black layer should go out at once. After that you deeply dip/soak the white part of the calçot in the sauce, you lift the calçot with your hand up to the mouth and you eat it. To be rigourous in the process and to avoid staining your clothes, you use a bib. Here I show you three images of the process (I missed the bib!):

Grilled calçot

Peeled calçot in process of sauce-soaking

The end of the calçot-eating ritual: the eating

Believe or not, there are even competitions of who is the one to eat more calçots. I think it is regulated by time. Anyway, I do think this is crazy :D.

So there is even more food in it. After eating many calçots (and get black hands and face) and sauce you eat lots of grilled meat and of course dessert and bring coffee. And after that you do "sobretaula" a very typical thing here (Spain and Catalonia) in social/family meetings: you talk for hours after eating, even during more hours that the meal itself has taken. It's one of these meals where you cannot eat anything more till the next day but you feel very glad to have been part of it.

dilluns, 2 de març del 2009

What is Catalan?

There are a lot of misconceptions around the notion of Catalan as a language outside Spain. Inside Spain the question of language is a completely different story, intertwined with prejudice and politics.

Let's start with the conception of Catalan abroad. For travellers visiting us, Catalan might be either conceived as a pictoresque peculiarity, some remnant of a language which is almost death, or as a Spanish dialect.

As for the first consideration, I recall now that some years ago, when I worked in a campsite a tourist came, guidebook in hand, that he had read in the book that we had another language different than Spanish in the area (I don't know which area he meant exactly…). He thought it was something “typical” and that it was like a kind of old tradition –at least that was my impression. He then asked me if I knew and spoke the language. He obviously expected me to say “No”. Or if he expected me to say "Yes", I gave him the kind of "Yes" he did not imagine. When I said: “Yes of course, I usually, if not always, speak Catalan" (I would say that at that moment in time I was not as bilingual as I am now). “I speak at home, with my friends, when I go shopping". He was amazed, and all he could say was: "But the book says it as a curiosity...But you learn it at school?" I answered, for his further amazement: "Yes, since we are kids. We also learn Spanish, but all other subjects are taught in Catalan". I would have knocked him down if I had told him there are 9 million speakers of Catalan and that it is one of the most spoken minority languages of Europe and that it is a very active literary language and lots of foreign books are translated into Catalan. I do not know if he was very convinced but he was surprised. I am happy that he learnt about a new reality and I hope that he began seeing Spain as something plural with more than one language or culture. That is what I always try to explain: Spain is not a WHOLE UNIQUE ONE but MORE THAN ONE, and we should take advantage of it and promote it this way.

As for the second consideration: it is also very usual that foreigners consider Catalan a dialect of Spanish or ask if it really is. This is a logical deduction, as Catalan and Spanish come both from Latin, and also because the conception of "dialect" is different here than in other countries. For languages with very different dialects, like German and Italian, I would say this conclusion would be very easy to reach. For me, dialects are regional linguistic peculiarities which do not difficult communication and add richness and colour to a language. The case between Spanish and Catalan is not that. A monolingual Spaniard will not understand a conversation or a book in Catalan unless s/he learns the language first. S/he might understand some words, of course (some words are similar because of their common origin), but not the message. Catalan and Spanish have enough differences to be considered different languages.

Believe it or not, Catalan is more similar to French than it is to Spanish. Or at least it can be conceived as similar to French and Spanish. Catalan has some difficult tricks because there is a lot of contact with Spanish. As a colleague told me once to make fun: “Catalan takes the worse of Spanish and the worst of French and puts it together”. I don’t know if this is true, but I would say Catalan is as beautiful as any other language can be and it is as worth studying as any other language. And, like any other language it has its own peculiarities.

PD: Thanks to a special friend who asked me about this a few days ago and gave me the idea to write this post, making me realise this was needed to clarify some things about the issue of language first.