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Treballar in Valencian

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As i was driving around Catalonia i listened to iCat.fm all the time. They play great music, and the lovely accent of the DJ’s on that station was probably the main reason that i decided to learn Catalan seriously.

They played a lot of Catalan music there, and i didn’t remember any artists names, except for Mazoni. They are a modern pop-rock band, quite similar to Super Furry Animals, but without most of the Furries’ sonic tricks. Their album “Si els dits fossin xilòfons” (“If Fingers Were Xylophones”) was one of the CD’s that i bought in my last day in Barcelona. There’s one song there, called “La granja de la Paula”, which is a translated version of Dylan’s “Maggie’s Farm”. There’s an excellent music video for this song, which is available on YouTube: Mazoni – La granja de la Paula. (Seriously, this is the best music video that that i saw since Radiohead’s “There There” from 2003.)

Now, if you search YouTube for “La granja de la Paula”, the first result is original Mazoni’s video, and the second result is a goofy video of a guy called Ganxito lipsynching to the song in a record store: Ganxito – La granja de la Paula.

Now, finally, the linguistic part: The first line is “No penso treballar a la granja de la Paula mai més” (“I ain’t gonna work on Maggie’s farm no more”). When Ganxito sings this line, he clearly pronounces the word “treballar” (“work”) as /treβa’ʎar/, while Mazoni’s singer Jaume Pla pronounces /trəβə’ʎa/. Ganxito’s pronunciation appears more intuitive to people who know some Spanish or Italian, but haven’t studied Catalan, because the e is pronounced as the Spanish e and both a‘s are pronounced as the Spanish a, and he also pronounces the final r as in Spanish. However, Pla’s pronunciation is the one that is taught as the standard literary Catalan pronunciation, which is based on the speech of Barcelona. In this standard pronunciation non-stressed a‘s and e‘s both sound as /ə/ and the final r of infinitives is not pronounced.

At first i thought that Ganxito’s main spoken language is Spanish, and he just pronounces Catalan incorrectly, reading it from a lyrics sheet as if it was written in Spanish. I quickly dismissed this thought, because it appeared that he writes a lot of Catalan at his website. My next thought was that he lives in an area where the pronunciation is different from that of Barcelona, most likely Valencia. Since he didn’t write where he lives, i just asked him through a comment on the video. And he replied! And yes, he lives in Valencia!

Not bad – after less than half a year of studying this language, without any formal training in its dialectology, and without ever having met anyone from Valencia, i pulled a Professor Higgins and guessed the origin of his accent.

This phenomenon is somewhat similar to the contrast of “okanye” and “akanye” in Russian and its sister languages. This refers to the pronunciation of non-stressed o: When a word is supposed to have an /o/ sound for etymological reasons, but the syllable is not stressed, the vowel of that syllable tends is. So in standard Russian the word that is written борода (beard) is pronounced /bara’da/, as if it was written барада, but it is pronounced /boro’da/ in some dialects of Russian outside of Moscow. In standard Ukrainian this word is written the same way as in Russian, but pronounced /boro’da/, and in Belarusian it is written барада and pronounced accordingly, as in standard Russian. (I don’t mean to say that Ukrainian and Belarusian are dialects of Russian.)


Written by aharoni

March 18, 2008 at 22:56