Language: Dialects of Catalan etc.

George Sassoon writes:  In a recent posting you mentioned various Catalan dialects which are all recognized as separate languages, by the EU or whoever. This reminded me of my friend William Graves, who was brought up in Deya, Mallorca, and learnt a quite different dialect to the Catalan spoken on mainland Spain, or even in Palma.  Are all these to be recognised as separate languages?  Are we to live in a Tower of Babel?  As a linguist myself, I like different languages, but there must be a limit.  On the ferry going to Mallorca, I bought a newsapaper which I could semi-understand without knowing what language it was in.  Later I sent it to Ron Bracewell who had some fun with it in he Stanford Faculty Club. I already told you about Zagreb intellectuals taking over Croatian peasant dialects!
The same is happening in Scotland where the Gaelic mafia in Glasgow and Edinburgh are all people from the Isle of Skye, where Gaelic is virtually extinct.  They are teaching an artificial dialect of the language, while the people of the Outer Hebrides, where Gaelic is very muchalive, don't get a look-in. In Wales, too, we have seen road-signs defaced in North Wales because they are in South Welsh, where the Welsh mafia ('taffia') are.  The list must be endless.  The same in Germany, too. Could it be that because of the EU, people are frightened of losing their regional identity?

RH: I agree. It is crazy. Local politicians want a cause to rally the people behind them, and dialectologists want to keep their subject alive.  I am still resentful about the time I spent studying French dialects, when I could have been learning Arabic.

Europe is full of odd dialects.  Christopher Jones takes us the case of Catalan: Don't forget the differences inside Catalunya proper, where the linguistics were accompanied by political "opinions."  The northeast of Catalunya was filled with Carlistas;  because of the wind named the "Tramuntana" the accent of the Ampurdán is simply shouted;the mystery of the Balearics is not Menorcan but rather Ibicenco, from Eivissa.  A rare sort of language survives there that some say is Phoenician full of squeaks and whistles.  Ibiza has plenty of Phoenician ruins and some statues of the Carthaginian Goddess Tanit.

RH: There are three main Balearic islands:  Ibiza (Eivissa), Majorca and Minorca.  Ibiza, the closest to the Spanish mainland, is small. It was previously almost unknown, but I assume it has developed into a resort.

Ronald Hilton 2004


last updated: February 3, 2005