Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Give us a Sign

How often we worry about communicating. In Britain there are many different accents and slang, which help to breed a sense of belonging to a community as well as presenting a challenge to anyone outside it. Which is why the young need to re-invent themselves every generation. In Spain, there’s plenty of slang, but spoken Spanish is pretty much easy to understand wherever you come from, with the gypsy accent and the Cadiz accent being perhaps the hardest to grasp, although, apart from the dropped constanants and a few bits of slang, they are intelligible enough. The gypsies talk of their special language, Caló, but no one appears to know more than a few words of it. Rather like me saying something remembered from my Latin classes.
Yup, in Latin they call that table ‘mensa’.
To make things comfortably more complicated, Spain has some regional languages that are been encouraged – or so it seems to me – so as to bring the local politicians into the centre of power. We all know that the Catalonians have ‘Catalán’, the Valencians have ‘Valenciano’ (which is the same as Catalán, but don’t say I told you), the Galicians have ‘Galego’ and the Basques have something that has nothing in common with any other language: it’s called in Spanish ‘Euskera’, while in the Basque country, it’s called ‘euskaldunak’.
Then those living in eastern Almería have something even odder – it’s called ‘English’…
It seems a pity that everyone living on the Iberian peninsular, Portuguese and Gibraltarians included, couldn’t all speak one language, but there you go. In a generation, few people in Barcelona will speak more than broken Spanish, and fewer still of the Galicians will be able to make themselves understood when they take a shopping trip to Madrid.
And as for the Basques…
The other day, three young cousins of my wife arrived to stay. You know how it is; a quick email and they’re on your doorstep the following morning. They were backpacking around Europe for a month before completing their studies in a university in Washington DC. They spoke, of course, American.
Actually, they didn’t, because they were deaf. They signed in American: although they dropped their vowels, invented meanings, used their own slang and were otherwise difficult or impossible to make head or tail of. They signed too dam’ fast and they never stopped. Don’t talk with your hands full, I wanted to tell them at the dinner table. Here, try some of this…
Oddly, you begin to pick it up rather fast – or, at least, your own version of it, even as you wonder exactly who here has the handicap!
Of course, they would write things down for us and were great fun besides. Being energetic young kids, they drank and smoked like troopers and stayed up late with my son and his friends on the Playstation. With fingers like that, said the kids, it’s no wonder they keep winning…
On one occasion during their short visit, three of us: a Spaniard, my son and I, together with the three of them, went out for a boozy dinner – hands and fingers flying – in a pork and chips place on the beach, the other tables staring and wondering who we were, you must try the Licór de Pacharán and so on; and we followed this with a trip to our friend’s house where we drank a bottle of whisky, never stopped talking for a second, smoked ourselves blue and generally partied until dawn. Yet, all the while, you could have heard a pin drop.
The neighbours didn’t bang on the walls, we didn’t shout and bellow as we left round about sun up and the loudest sound would have been my stomach churning.
They went off to Madrid on the six o’clock bus to go to some important international congress of signing as delegates. Several hundred of them let loose in Madrid.
Blimey, that must have been a riot!

1 comment:

neil wykes said...

I can only speak from my own experience, the experiences of the few have that have relayed theirs to me(meaning I can't be bothered to check the statistics) but the Basques and Galicians speak far better Castilian than those in the south of Spain do. Strong Murcian/Andalusian accents are difficult to understand outside of their regions by even native speakers whilst the singsong of the Galician accent, or the softness of Catalonian is understandable to non native speakers.
I've also been told that the syntax and phrases of Castilian are effecting the way young people speak Galician. In fact many of the middle classes refuse to speak Galician, considering it a pauper’s tongue and is practically non-existent in A Coruña.

Catalan is a different situation where most extra arts and education funding favour Catalan only projects, but still an impressive number of famous journalists and writers are Catalan, but choose to peddle their wares nationally in Castilian.

It’s only supposition on my part, but If the impossible happens and there is peace in the Basque country I can see a backlash against the Basque language, in much the same way as their was against Castilian during and after The Transition. and pace would stop the current brain drain of intellectuals who might want to question Basque nationalism

Castilian is still useful language in the bilingual regions of Spain, for three reasons; Principally enabling those who want to seek work anywhere in the country, to do so, unlike in the monolingual regions who can't work in the public sector of the bilingual areas until they pass exams in the regional language, Secondly as part of Spain's number one industry: Tourism which presents itself to the world in English and Castilian. Thirdly: South America.
I went on a bit longer than I intended, but I don't think that despite the best efforts of regionalist/nationalist politicians, Castilian will flourish on Iberian Peninsular for a while yet, but sadly it may become the sole language of the middle classes and political elite