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Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Other Language

After all this time in Spain, living in Valencia, I've finally found a decent grammar of Catalan which is VERY similar to Valenciano, the language they (sometimes) speak in this corner of the country. People here in the capital of the Valencia Community don't speak their native dialect much. I've never heard children speaking it when they play. No one has ever addressed me in Valenciano in a shop or café. It's a different story if you wander away from Valencia into the villages and smaller cities. In many parts of Catalunya it is spoken almost exclusively. I’ve never been able to find a decent grammar book for non-speakers.  Catalán para Dummies is a great place to start and is a book I would recommend to Spanish speakers wishing to learn a bit of the language of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia (known sometimes as Los Paises Catalanes).

I bought the book about five days ago and I’ve been studying in earnest. It’s amazing how many questions have been answered about my life here in Valencia just from this casual glance through the language.  I can now better pronounce a lot of common Catalán words that have seeped into the Spanish spoken in this part of Spain. About the sum total of my knowledge of Valenciano before was the hymn of the local soccer team Valencia Club de Fútbol. I mistakenly thought that their logo Amunt Valencia was some form of the verb “To Love” (like amar in Spanish) when in fact Amunt means Arriba.  Man, I sure was a dummy back before I bought this book.

If people here in the capital used their language more I have no doubt that I would have made much more of an effort to learn it. The problem is that almost everyone who speaks Catalán/Valenciano also speaks Spanish better than I do and they are more than willing to accommodate anyone who doesn’t know their language.  For me, learning Valenciano is more a sign of respect for the local culture than learning another language. It’s takes a tremendous amount of effort to learn a language.  For someone to put out the work necessary to learn another dialect when they are already able to communicate with those people just seems like going overboard. I don’t really plan on mastering Valenciano; I just want to be familiar with the grammar and pronunciation. For me it makes more sense to continue trying to master French or venture out by studying Italian or Portuguese.

Spain’s fertility rate is one of the lowest in the European Union and immigrants make up a considerable segment of modern Spanish life. I have read that Valencia is about 14% immigrants, either from other parts of Spain or from other countries like Morocco, Ecuador, Romania, and China. None of these immigrants speak Valenciano and there is no pressure—as far as I can see—to learn the language. I also don’t see any great urgency in teaching the language to anyone other than school children. Learning Valenciano is necessary for many government jobs, something that seems completely artificial considering how little the language is used here in the capital. The government will have to work a lot harder than it does now to promote Valenciano if anyone wants to see it survive into this century.

It has taken me a long time to finally get started but now that I have begun I am looking forward to making a bit of progress in the language. Adéu.

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