Friday, January 29, 2010

Catalunya or Catalonia

Once in a while I'll get someone asking me why I use Catalunya instead of Catalonia and I guess it's because it was how I first got to know the place and it's not difficult to pronounce, so in my mind I've always lived in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain and not Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. But I think the point of the question is why use the Catalan word when there's an English equivalent.

The beauty of the English language, I think, is that it's truly organic. There's no governing body like the royal academy in Madrid or the French institute in Paris where a bunch of old men sit around and decide what's a word and what's not. I often wondered what it'd be like to attend one, though. How they decide on the gender of an object or which of the three conjugations a verb falls into must be a fascinating discussion. I guess there's Cambridge and Oxford, but since most English speakers live far away from the UK, their opinions don't carry much weight. Thinking about it, English really is a populist language influenced more by the street than kings as it has been for much of it's history. Three cheers for English!

Perhaps, living in Los Angeles, where my last address was La Cañada Drive which was down the street from Los Feliz Avenue (Yup, we use incorrect Spanish too)  made my brain more receptive to incorporating non-English words for locations and addresses, making it a So Cal, spanglish, thang, but that would suggest we, angelenos, are unique. One just needs to listen to the news and hear names followed by  formerly known know that's not the case. Not to mention the many instances where a foreign word is commonly used and accepted despite there being an English equivalent: siesta for nap, cilantro for coriander (which I just had to look up), carte blanche for free reign, coups d' état for military overthrow. And if you're a Catalan reading this, this is a good thing, right? To see your land known in your language as Catalunya world wide. It's better than Cataluña, no? You are Catalans not Catalonians, are you not?

This debate of course is not unique to the English language. I listen to friends of mine here discuss if it's pijo to use an English word when there's an equivalent like slides for diapositivas or tomar un break for descansar, although lately it seems most new words approved by the royal academy are English with an accent somewhere and designated male gender or they just stick an -ing at the end. Honestly, how they can call themselves learned men of language and allow words like footing or trekking to become officially Spanish is beyond me. If they really appreciated language, they wouldn't completely bastardized the meaning and think of something different or at least use the correct word. Okay, so jogging (hoagging)  might be tough for a Spaniard to say, but running is better than footing and all it takes is a concise English-Spanish dictionary and reading the definition of a foot to see that. I mean, pieando?

Maybe, during these distressed economic times, when deficits are forcing the government to cut services, the first thing to go should be the royal academy, followed by every other linguistic governing board in every single autonomy. As the evidence shows they obviously haven't a clue about the subject on which they're supposed to be experts and the best way to watch a language grow is to throw off the shackles of the tyrannical linguistic agencies! Just imagine how much time, money and energy would be saved and what a more peaceful place it would be. Ah, just imagine that remotest of remote possibilities...



After some back and forth with Tom from the Badrash in the comments section, there's a poll for you - the reader - to voice your opinions on this. Let the people speak!


  1. There's no question that if you're writing in English, the correct term to use is 'Catalonia'. 'Catalonia' is not a new term (it has been used in English for hundreds of years) so there's nothing wrong with it.

    Hell, even the Catalans (correct English term, not 'Catalonians') get it right on their pro-independence banners ("Catalonia is not Spain"). Indeed, a Catalan might well feel more proud to see her country named in another language - thus providing it the dimension of recognition beyond its borders.

    When people use 'Catalunya' in place of 'Catalonia' it always grates on me as either a textual error or a possible affectation. Much as it would be completely odd-sounding for a Catalan blogger to write Visc a Londres, England, Regne Unit.

    Finally, this is not a question of linguistic purity or academic pretension. It's simply a case of good writing. By all means, call it what you like... I'm convinced though that the best convention is to stick to the English spelling.

  2. The fact that we're having this argument does show there's a question on the correct usage, Tom. Also I didn't say it was a new word, so no more sweeping statements or putting words into my mouth.

    You say that Catalans might be proud to know that there's an English equivalent. Firstly, you realize how chauvinistic that sounds, don't you? why is it most nationalistic people look to change the name of the city to their original name from the English version at the first opportunity? Of course, we could just put a poll on our respective blogs and see what their opinion is. In fact if the majority of Catalans say they prefer Catalonia to Catalunya, I'll change.

    Your analogy of a Catalan blogger using Londres in lieu of London is wrong because it's the Spanish version of an English word. It would've been correct if you said it annoys me when they people say "London" while speaking Spanish or Catalan. Does it?

    Now, you say this isn't about linguistic purity or academic pretension but a question of good writing. Again, I take issue with that because there are ample examples of writers using non-English words throughout literature for local color and word usage is only on component of good writing. also, given that most readers of this blog have an interest in Spain and Barcelona why not show them the correct way to call the region?

    What I find interesting about this debate is that the only people who have taken issue are ones from England who claim to be liberal, left-wing yet argue for the imposition of an English word when the Catalan equivalent doesn't impede understanding. It sounds more like what a conservative would say.

    Anyway, thanks for giving me permission to continue with Catalunya which I'll do until the results of the poll are in, just like I'll say Sevilla, Andalucia, Oviedo Asturias, Castilla-La Mancha etc. It's not a question of pretension or textual error but rather simply using the words of places as I know them. The fact that some are deemed worthy to have an English equivalent and others aren't shows how arbitrary the question is, I think.

    Thanks for the stimulating conversation and have a great weekend!

  3. With respect, I'm not having an 'argument' with you. It's not a question of differing opinions or interpreting the use of language differently. Nor is it a question of 'respecting' the Catalan or Spanish cultures.

    I didn't 'put words in your mouth' I was merely pointing out that in terms of language, the historical precedent is the one that normally wins through. For centuries, the English have referred to this country as 'Catalonia', just as the Catalans have referred to England as 'Anglaterra'. There's nothing rude or chauvinistic about that.

    Nor is there anything chauvinistic about suggesting that a Catalan MIGHT like to know that Catalonia has had some sort of recognition as an entity - one that had its own name in English - for hundreds of years.

    My analogy wasn't really wrong. It was based on your statement "so in my mind I've always lived in Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain and not Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain". I kept the normal Catalan name for London (Londres), changed the 'sub-nation' ('England') and then reverted to Catalan for the 'supra-nation' ('Regne Unit'). Of course, I could have made it clearer had I used 'Plymouth' or another city whose name is not translated in Catalan.

    What most trikes me is the inconsistency inherent in applying your rule to 'Catalunya' but not 'España'. I guess it's that inconsistency that makes the use of 'Catalunya' sound like something of an affectation.

    I must say I'm quite surprised at your belligerent attitude. I was, after all, only trying to help you out. It really is taking things a little too far to taint me as a 'liberal'.

  4. By the way, I'd be happy to run a poll on to see what people think. That's a really good idea.

  5. I suppose you can put Munich and Cologne in that category as well, but I've never met anyone their who gives a rats ass about whether you call it Münchin or Köln (provided you find a keyboard with umlauts).

    To think that there's any kind of "international" recognition just because some other country got into the habit of misspelling your region's name is a bit of a joke.

    For that matter Galicians should be very proud of the fact that South Americans think that Spain is entirely populated by gallegos.

  6. I'm from Sevilla and I'm very happy that English speakers are using the word Sevilla more often instead of Seville. I guess this is partly due to the amazing performance Sevilla FC is doing lately and also that my city is becoming more and more popular. The fact that the English say Sevilla doesn't annoy me at all! In fact, I love it! :)

  7. If I came across as belligerent that wasn't my intent and I apologize, but I do disagree with the premise of your comment which was the reason I used the word argument. I do find "trying to help you out" a bit on the condescending side, though:-)

    And while you say it isn't a difference of opinion that's what it boils down to, Tom. There's no right or wrong on this, just opinions. As santcugat so elequently put it, I could give a rat's ass if a Catalan wrote visc a Los Angeles, California, USA, nor would any of my friends or family but obviously you would. who's right? who cares. as for if Catalan or Spanish speakers would take issue, that's a question for them. I imagine some would; some wouldn't.

    as I mentioned in the original post, English is constantly changing. I remember my father getting angry with the needless prepositions creeping in like "meet up with" when "meet with" would suffice, yet now that's the accepted verb, extraneous preposition be damned. same goes with putting prepositions at the end of sentences. just look how little whom is used nowadays.

    leaving that aside, even when an english word has existed for centuries we'll often use the spanish or catalan word; this is no more apparent than with names. My friends are Jordi, Jaime, and Maria not George, James and Mary. I meet up with friends at plaça catalunya and espanya, not catalonia or spain square. perhaps, i could say españa or espanya but when my english friends and I speak, we say catalunya spain. Catalonia sounds like a different place to me. and since only two people have taken issue with this, I see no inconsistency since there is no rule when to use a spanish word or the english equivalent.

    i've also have found in my many travels trying to use the local name of the location does produce a sense of gratitude. if I use the English word, they'll inevitably spend ten minutes teaching me how to say it correctly so why not just use the native word from the outset? and i agree with what sancugat said, it's rather a silly point since most of this is due to the english inability to pronounce the names of places correctly back when it was an empire, many, many years ago.

  8. I love the Spanish name for Sant Cugat: San Cucufato. It sounds so witty in Spanish! I guess when Santcugat speaks in Spanish, he doesn't say: "Vivo en San Cucufato"...

  9. You're right Guillermina! I had totally forgotten about that!

    I think Franco actually did make them change the name back in the day.

  10. I see you've gone for a slightly more emotive question than me! I've added a poll to my page too. Hope you don't mind me posting the URL:

  11. Hate to say it, but the large majority of English is informed by the kings historically speaking... Case in point: the progressive aspect. English inherited this from French, a language spoken exclusively by the aristocracy. The other primary component of the English language is its Germanic origins, especially lexicography. However, the populist trait of the language you romanticize is nothing more, in general, than colloquialism. Formal, academic, or "intelligent" speak breaks down primarily into French and Latin origin, exclusively because of the aristocratic lineage.

    If I were hardpressed, I would acknowledge an equal influence from populist (read: Germanic; i.e. Peasant foundations) and aristocrat alike. A basic breakdown is as follows: 1/3 French origin, 1/3 Germanic, 1/3 Latin et al.

    Though you do have a point that the grammar/syntax/pronunciation/morphology/etc. isn't governed under a central authority. However, globalization and Hollywood have had a larger impact on the manner in which English is spoken than any other external or internal pressure in history (including British imperialism, Crusades, world wars, etc.), and in this regard one could consider the American/Californian pronunciation and grammar --i.e. the intricacies of such a soft-dialect-- to be just as much a central authority, as it is dictated by one loose organization.