Amusing really

The upper chamber of Spain\’s parliament has caused controversy by allowing senators to debate in five of the country\’s languages, with interpreters employed to turn their words into a tongue they all speak perfectly: Castilian Spanish.

Critics claim that allowing senators to speak Catalan, Galician, Valencian and the Basque language of Euskara has turned the Spanish senate into a tower of Babel. They accuse the senate of wasting public money at a time of swingeing public spending cuts.

Of course it\’s a hugely political thing: one way of looking at Spain is that it\’s a Castilian Empire imposed upon the regions. Indeed, that\’s actually a pretty reasonable way of looking at it. And traditionally the conservatives have thought that this was just fine while the left has thought, again traditionally, that it isn\’t.

But what\’s more fun is that, Euskara aside, they\’re really just four dialects of the same language. Certainly no further apart than Geordie and Cockney in our own dear mother tongue. At least one of them (Galician) is mutually intelligible with Portuguese as well.

Perhaps we should introduce this into our own Houses of Parliament? So that the Honourable Member for Newcastle can speak to us in his rich, native, tones (assuming that such a pocket Labour seat actually appoints a local, unlike the neighbouring Hartlepool which got Mandy) and we have a bank of translators to make him intelligible to the rest of us?

Although it would be a little cruel, I know, to appoint a translator for John Prescott. How could anyone ever work out what he was trying to say so that it could be translated?

14 thoughts on “Amusing really”

  1. “But what’s more fun is that, Euskara aside, they’re really just four dialects of the same language. Certainly no further apart than Geordie and Cockney in our own dear mother tongue.”
    Not true I am afraid – my wife is Latin American and can’t understand Valencian some words but not like a different dialect of English.
    (I think Valencian and Catalan are almost the same).

  2. So Much For Subtlety

    Catalan is most certainly not a dialect of Spanish. It is actually a language in its own right. Most Catalans claim it is more closely related to Occitan but that probably just means they hate the people of Castile a lot.

    But this website agrees:

    It also classifies Galician with Portuguese, not with Castillian.

  3. I think Tim is overstating it, all the Latin languages used to be on a continuum (as did the Germanic languages) where everyone was mutually intelligble with their neighbours even if the people at different ends of the continuum couldn’t comprehend one another. Catalan is sort of between Castillian & Occitan, Occitan was between Catalan & French etc.

    If Catalan, Galician & Spanish are one language then French. Italian & Portuguese are also the same language.

    Tim adds: That’s pretty much what I am saying. It’s less obvious with the Romance languages but if you were to take the Slavic ones it becomes clearer. Start at the Polish/ German border and start walking east. The language changes a few words every day’s walk and morphs quite happily from Polish through Ukrainian or Belarussian to Russian. Borders, national alphabets, spelling conventions etc have exaggerated the way in which the actual language as spoken on the ground is really a seamless continuum.

    There are breaks in it, at the borders of language groups, but within them not so much. The Romance story is complicated by the way that sea travel was so important. The language of Pozzuoli for example, just north of Naples, is closer to Catalan than it is to Florentine Italian (the now national language of Italy). Sicilian is hugely influenced by Arabic and so on.

  4. It was this aspect of the old Austrian parliament which turned Adolf Hitler off democracy. But that institution did not provide translation services, so the MPs simply declaimed to get reports in the newspapers of their own ethnic group.

    We are seen similar pottiness here with the promotion of Ulster Scots and Broad Scots as official languages. The once almost dead Cornish language is now taught in Cornwall’s schools as a result of the EU Framework Directive on minorities.

  5. Castilian comes from early Latin (eg mesa = table, from mensa); Catalan from late Latin (eg taula = table, from tabula). Don’t try saying Catalan is a dialect of Spanish in Barcelona, Tim. It’ll make them think you’re a Francoist.

  6. I’m with “So much for..” and “Chris” on this one. I live in Barcelona for part of the year and speak reasonable Spanish – ie Castellano – but I can’t understand Catalan, despite being able to speak French as well. It’s very much a language on its own, it’s not a dialect.

    Tim adds: Amusingly, much of Catalan sounds to me very much like Portuguese. Which is rather my point really.

  7. We should have a bank of translators to make Mandy intelligible to the rest of us, one well-versed in weasel, snide nuance and double-talk.

    Alan Douglas

  8. [email protected]
    Catalonia extends both sides of the border which is why France has bull fighting ( but amusingly Cataluna doesn’t due to fallings out with Madrid)
    Lived around Valencia for a while without realising it had it’s own language. What with some Catalan, some accidentally acquired Valencian & language course Castillian my Spanish is a mess . Now I’m in Andalucia which is a different dialect altogether & have spent most of last year in the Alpujarras where there’s a sort of sub dialect because the Arabs were kicked out of there 200 years later than the rest of Spain.
    Anyone tried Romanian? Can’t speak much but it reads just like Latin.

    Bars on the Costas seem to attract a lot of Geordies & Scots. To my London ear they need fitting with subtitles. Occasionally I drop into the high speed cockney/Yiddish I grew up with to annoy them. Why don’t the Jocks tone down the accent for outside consuption? Not saying they’ve anything worth listening to of course…

    Now here’s an odd thing: My amie from up in Lille speaks with a real Lilleoise accent (ch’ti?). She can understand a lot of colloquial english. And she can understand the bloody Jocks. And I can’t. So she translates.

  9. When Wales was incorporated into England there was, apparently, a serious discussion of whether Parliament should allow speeches in Welsh. I dare say that the bulk of English MPs already found it was enough to understand cockneys without adding a new problem.

  10. “Valencian is a language” really is a mostly political claim. That one certainly is mutually comprehensible with Catalan. I think the Valencians just don’t like being lumped with Barcelona that much and think that if the people to their north deserve special treatment, they do too. And if they are getting special parliamentary treatment, they may be succeeding.

    As well as Galician (which is a Portuguese dialect, although one with different spelling and a slightly different alphabet probably due to the political divide) there are various other claimed languages between Portuguese and Castilian – Extremaduran, Asturian, Leonese. The change from one language to another is probably more gradual on the West Iberian side than the East Iberian side. Historical linguistic analysis suggests that Portuguese divergence from Castilian was actually considerably later than Catalan divergence from Castilian. Except of course that over the last 500 years there has been more pressure on Catalan speakers to also speak standard Castilian than there has been on Portuguese speakers.

    There are breaks in it, at the borders of language groups, but within them not so much. The Romance story is complicated by the way that sea travel was so important.

    It’s also complicated by the fact that the French more or less succeeded in imposing a standard language on their whole country, and this is a language from further north, and hence the Italian and Iberian languages have a lot in common with each other that they don’t have in common with French, even though France is in the middle. The breaks occur at changes in language group, but also within the Romance languages when you get to French, precisely because the French were largely successful at imposing a standard on the whole country. The Spanish centre tried but didn’t really succeed, and those away from the centre resent this. As far as I can tell, the Italians didn’t really try (and anyway, the Italian nation came along far later than France or Spain) and there is plenty of linguistic diversity but far less resentment.

  11. The politics behind this:

    For Zapatero to approve this year’s budget, he needed the votes of the Basque Nationalist Party. This is just one of the ‘prizes’ extracted, despite socialist refusal for years.

    Of course, they have now, already, put in a request for the same treatment in Congress. The Socialist party have said no. (and a lot are seriously pissed off about the Senate too)

    From what I can see, the cost around €350.000 per year (which is peanuts in boom times) is upsetting people, but finally also the realisation that our common (statewide instituitons as opposed to regional ones) are no longer run in the Common Language is hitting home. Tha tmeans that many people watching proceedings on TV will need sub-titles to understand what is being said in their own institutions.

    Really progressive.

  12. @Tim
    “Amusingly, much of Catalan sounds to me very much like Portuguese. Which is rather my point really.”
    But if you speak Portuguese it doesn’t !

  13. My Spanish is relatively pure Castellano. Catalan is hovering at the edge of full comprehensibility. And I find that Italian is now broadly comprehensible. Portuguese still sounds like a retarded Frenchman speaking Spanish.

    Tim Adds: amusingly, my Russian contacts tell me that Portuguese is the easiest of the Romance languages for a Russian speaker to learn. All of the sounds in P are already present in R. The “j” sound, for example, is the same as the X (or in English, the ZH) in Zhiguli. Rather than the “s,s,s ” in Castilian “cervesa” which doesn’t exist in R at all.

    Me, I (with very little proof at all, if any) insist that this means that the various subsets of Vandals, Goths, Visi- etc, who settled in Portugal (300-600 AD ish) were originally speakers of Slavic languages. So what we’re getting here is basically Latin as spoken by native Slav speakers.

    Which is why Slav speakers now find it the easiest of the Romance languages.

    I know, I know, but it’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

  14. David Gillies – My Anglo-Portuguese wife agrees with you re the Russians learning Portuguese.
    However I have to say that Spanish sounds like Julian Clary speaking Portuguese….

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