dimecres, 5 d’octubre del 2011

There's not only one Catalan

If you are learning Catalan don't panic with the title! It only means that, as any other language in the world, Catalan has different accents and dialects. I particularly find this subject amazing; I already found it interesting when I was at high school and I barely had heard any other dialect or accent other than the one in my area. However, on my arrival to Barcelona at 18, my ears filled up with different Catalan varieties and I was listening very carefully to all the new people I met to catch up all the details that, up to that moment, I had only read in school books. I was an avid listener. Now, at 27, I still do it. I can't help it, I love it. And I think it is wonderful to have such richness and explore it. And here is what I will do today: setting the basics of Catalan dialectology!

Catalan-speaking areas Catalan is not only spoken in Catalonia. In fact it is spoken in other regions of Spain, namely: La Franja de Ponent ("The Western Strip", Aragon), the Balearic Islands, the Valencian Community and in one place in Murcia called El Carxe). And, furthermore, it is also spoken in "Catalunya del Nord" (Southern France); Alghero, in the Italian island of Sardinia; and Andorra. Together, this make a rough total of 9 million of speakers and 2 more million more who do not speak Catalan but understand it. And there also a few learners around the globe :).

Catalan-speaking areas
Western and Eastern
Mainly, there are two dialects in Catalan: Western and Eastern. This division is based on a very tangible difference: lack -Western- or presence -Eastern- of the schwa vowel (the schwa is also found in English, for example, the way the "e" is pronounced in "computer"). In other words: if "a" and open and closed "e" are turned -Eastern- or not turned -Western- to schwa in weak syllables.

There are other differences of course, but the most obvious and easily heard is this one.

More useful: the main 6 dialect distinction
Using the Western and Eastern dialect distinction only would be really simplistic and poor to describe all Catalan varieties. The official rules for oral Catalan are based on 6 Catalan dialects: Northern Catalan, Central Catalan, Balearic, Northwestern Catalan, Valencian and Algherese.

The official 6 dialect distinction

Let's make it more real: the 12 dialects distinction
Drilling down we even find that the 6 dialects distinction can't fit all purposes. This was what drove some professors of the Autonomous University of Barcelona (UAB) to publish a book with the specificities of 12 subdialects to help language assessment in the media. This distinction is more real, but still, in my opinion, it is too general in some cases and a bit misleading in the terminology.

The 12 accents map

I like to include myself somewhere in-between "olotí" (or transitional northern Catalan) and "the Catalan of Girona (not in the maps, part of Central Catalan). And my boyfriend is from Andorra, thus, his is a Northwestern dialect (he says "Andorran" :P). Schwa and not schwa in the same flat. He's one of my objects of study haha!

And with this variety... isn't it difficult to understand each other?
Not at all. Though some varieties might be hard to pick phonetically at the beginning (especially Balearic), after you get used to it, no one really needs to change their pronunciation much. Maybe some words are changed from a local to a standard form... but not big deal.

Accent and dialect
The concept of "dialect" in Catalan is not really the same as in the case of German or Italian, where their dialects are much more different among each other and a standard is really needed to make people from different dialects understand each other. In Catalan, there is one standard variety (and substandards in the Valencian Community and the Balearic islands), but there is not really needed in casual speech in a conversation with people who speak different dialects.

Accent is only restricted to phonetics, whereas dialect includes lexical and morphosyntactical characteristics. Thus, you could argue that Western and Eastern are accents and dialects at the same time, that there are 6 main dialects, 12 subdialects and many local accents.

I leave you with a test. Could you guess if these singers are Western or Eastern? (Catalan readers... don't tell :P)

Number one:

Number two:

Number three:

Number four:

Hope you enjoyed it! Next posts real examples with Catalan people. Any Catalan-speaker wants to help me make an accent map? Drop me a line :)

dimecres, 29 de juny del 2011

Crisis! - The sharp view of Aleix Saló

As you all know, Spain (and thus Catalonia) is one of the EU countries which is most affected by the crisis, together with Portugal, Ireland and Greece. We have not got to the point of needing economical rescue, but we have the highest unemployment rate in Europe and the end of the tunnel is still far away. But why Spain has reached this dramatical situation?

Whilst countries like Germany is overcoming crisis with efficient policies, in Spain problems keep growing. The two main political parties are devoted to criticise each other without even venture proper measures to leave the crisis behind.

Spain is different, they say. After years of basing economy on land and real state speculation, the bubble exploded. So simple yet so complex. To understand what led Spain to this severe crisis, you can't miss a brilliant video in Spanish called Españistán, created by who I think is one of the greatest Catalan cartoonists, Aleix Saló. I think he deserves a whole post for himself, so I'll keep you with the mystery of who this person is...By now, just get a taste of his sharp humour by watching the video (English subtitles). Enjoy and learn!

Note: There are quite a few cultural references in the video (marked with a number after some words which appear in the subtitles). Please refer to Youtube for a full explanation. And if you know a bit of Catalan or Spanish, don't miss him!

Please do not doubt to write your thoughts about it! And if you have ideas to change what was the disastrous basis of the Spanish economy and save the country, prepare a campaign and become a presidential canditate ;-) (just kidding).

And to end this post, I could not resist to post one of Aleix Saló's cartoons (in Catalan), appropiate for the occasion :P.

Young man: "Oh, here comes my shit salary."
Shit: "No. Your shit salary is there. I am your future pension."

dijous, 24 de març del 2011

Code switching

In linguistics, code switching means changing the language (or code) in the same discourse. That is, when a bilingual o multilingual person is speaking they may switch the language in which they are talking. Everyone who knows more than one language can do that, but it may not be a usual thing for them. But what happens in a society, like Catalan society, who is bilingual by default and two languages are part of common life? What happens is that code switching is the meal of every day, a daily constant, and most people living in Catalonia do it all the time without even noticing or caring.

And what is more interesting, we can have a conversation when people speak in Catalan and other people speak in Spanish all the time and no one is amazed. It was not until an English asked me how we could do that and not finding it strange, that I did not realise how shocking this could be for a foreigner.

We are switching the code all the time! If I had to think how many times I changed from Catalan to Spanish and back to Catalan today, I could not be able to tell. I don't know...maybe like five times an hour depending to whom I spoke. Or even more. Haven't got a clue. However, if I have to say which is the language I speak most, I would say Catalan. A few years ago it was the only language I used, but since I came to live in Barcelona, I began to use Spanish and now I use about Spanish about 20% of the time.

But how code switching works? I have tried to think why do I switch code and about the different scenarios. Basically, in my everyday life I find myself doing this:

1- My colleague Judit is Catalan and we always talk in Catalan to each other. So that is one situation in which there is no code switching.

2- My colleague Marta is from Bilbao and Spanish is her mother tongue. She's been living in Catalonia for a few years and she understands Catalan, but we spoke in Spanish since we met and we always speak in Spanish to each other now. In this situation, as a Catalan native, I switch the code to Spanish, but there is no code switching in the conversation.

3- My colleague José is from Galicia and he came to live in Barcelona last year. He speaks Spanish at home and Galician with some of his friends. He learnt Catalan at university, he understands it perfectly and asks me to talk in Catalan to him so he keeps on learning it, but he feels a bit insecure still and replies in Spanish. In this situation, there is no verbal code switching, but our brains are processing the messages in two languages at the same time!

4- My colleague José sometimes tries to talk in Catalan as he wants to gain confidence. On my side, I sometimes forget that he wants me to talk in Catalan to him and we are moving from Catalan to Spanish all the time. This means that we are switching the code all the time!

5- In a conversation possibilities multiply, but the most usual thing in my everyday life is that some people always talk in Catalan, some others always do so in Spanish and some other switch the code depending on the person they talk to, even in the same group conversation.

I usually do not mind to change the code and, as I pointed out I don't even realise I do so. On the other hand I also think that code switching can be a trap. Does it really means language command? What are the negative effects? It is always positive?

For me, code switching, its pros and cons. It is indeed enriching to have this phenomenon, but it can show lack of language command. Typical code switching means occasionally introducing words and syntactic structures from Catalan into Spanish and the other way round. If the speaker is aware that they may do so and is able to know what belongs to what language, then it is ok, nothing happens! It is very difficult to speak perfectly all the time, managing two language in the same casual conversation! On the other hand, it is indeed a problem if the person does not know it, because they will reproduce these errors in writing and in speaking all the time. And this can be very annoying, because it is no longer code switching but lack of linguistic competence and it can be very annoying both for native speakers of Catalan and of Spanish.

I am not really feeling to go deeper into this today as my aim waysjust explaining what happens with code switching in Catalonia and how I, as a Catalan, experience it as a real fact. Pondering about it will be a topic for another post.

dimecres, 16 de març del 2011

Back again

Welcome back!

How are you?

First of all, I'd like to apologise for not having written since April. Believe me, it was not because I was uninspired. Neither because I had lost interest. Nothing could be further from the truth as these things. There have been several things that have forced me to put off the moment to sit down and write a post.

Last year was not the happiest of years. Personally, I had to face problems with friends and health problems in the family, which, fortunately, ended well. This would be the negative side, but there is a good one too! During the summer I worked as an English teacher on a camp for kids for a couple of weeks, I had to work a lot in the office and I went to India with a very good friend. By the beginning of autumn, I made up my mind and applied for a postgraduate course which I am currently finishing. This course, on Catalan language assessment on the Media, has been, for the last five months, the reason which has been holding me from writing. Juggling with a 40 h per week translation job, 8 h per week university lessons, a 1 h per week guitar lesson, guitar playing practice, doing homework and studying, as well as fulfilling home tasks results in complete chaos sometimes!

But I must confess I chose this myself. I love the postgraduate course, it's one of the best decisions I have ever taken and I'm really enjoying it, even though it is a very demanding. It covers a wide range of language-related areas: the use of references for proper language assessment, writing style, terminology, syntax, orthotypography, punctuation, dubbing, subtitling, foreign anthroponomy and toponimy in the Catalan language, and oral language assessment. I have learned and am learning a lot of new and useful things, sometimes through a bit of pain (but which at the end of the day has made me some good).

I have changed completely my view on language, and I find the oral-related aspects of language amazing and complex: a challenge I'm willing to take some day. I have already tried the written language challenge, so it's time for oral language now! The day is coming: when lessons finish in May, I will have a 100 h internship on the Catalan public TV station, I can't believe my luck! I'm eager to begin!

I could speak for hours about everything related to the postgraduate course, but I would end up being annoying...So time for focusing on the blog now.

As you see I have changed the layout, I thought it would be a way to say I had resumed the blog. Besides, I wanted to try the new hundreds of templates available now! I hope you like it and that colours do not make reading difficult. If so, please let me know.

Now that I have more free time, I will try to set myself to writing regularly at least once a week; that will be my aim now. I will start by a brief summary of relevant things that went on last year in Catalonia, because diverse things such as the biggest snowfall on the coastline since 1986 or a change in the autonomic government occurred and these cannot be left unexplained.

This said, I only have to say that I am very glad to be back here :).