Aprenent català

Studying Catalan

Review – Diccionari Barcanova de la Llengua

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  • A monolingual dictionary
  • Purchased in FNAC Barcelona
  • Rating: 8.1

I bought it, because that was the only one-volume monolingual Catalan dictionary that i found in FNAC Barcelona that had etymology. The official IEC dictionary looked more professional, but it didn’t have etymologies. The etymology in this dictionary is far from perfect—quite a lot of words mysteriously don’t have any etymology instead of saying “unknown etymology”, a huge number of words give the Classical Latin word and add “mat. sign” = “mateixa significació” = “same meaning”, which is quite a waste of paper, and what’s worse—it says “mat. sign.” even in cases where deeper explanation would be beneficial, for example at the lovely word elucubració. It also has a concise grammatical appendix which is OK for quick reference, but very far from perfect, and a few pages of history of the Catalan language, though it doesn’t have a bibliography. The verb conjugation tables in this dictionary are rather puzzling and weird, and i strongly prefer those in DIDAC. Also, its coverage of Valencian seems to be patchy—it has hui and meua (today, my f.; avui and meva in standard Catalan), but not huit (eight; vuit in standard Catalan). Of course it is possible that it’s just my impression. Despite these shortcomings its definitions and examples appear to be more serious than DIDAC’s, and it’s the one that i use most of the time.


Written by aharoni

May 8, 2008 at 19:29

Review – DIDAC

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  • A monolingual dictionary
  • Purchased in FNAC Barcelona
  • Rating: 8.7

This is a dictionary for school children. It is colorful and richly illustrated. The printing quality is excellent. The definitions are simple and not terse as in regular dictionaries for adults. Examples of usage are simple to understand, but they appear to be written especially for the dictionary and not taken from real written literature, which would be better. Unfortunately, it has no etymological data and no detailed grammar, but it has very good tables of verb conjugation, pronouns, articles and prepositions. It also appears to have pretty good coverage of Valencian and Balearic words, although only standard forms are given in tables of verbs and pronouns. Overall, this is a very good dictionary for students, but its childishness is sometimes felt.

Written by aharoni

May 8, 2008 at 19:21


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A dig into Jewish history brought up an interesting, but confusing Catalan connection.

Nahmanides is one of the best known medieval rabbis. In Hebrew he is usually called Ramban (רמב”ן), an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Nahman – Moses, son of Nahman. Apparently he was born in Girona, hence “Gerondi” is sometimes added to the name above. So far, so good.

Apparently he has another name and that’s where it becomes confusing. I am not sure whether to call this name Latin, Spanish or Catalan, so i’ll just say “foreign”. This name has two parts. The first is easy – it’s something like Bonastruc, which i also saw spelled as Bonastrug, but that’s understandable. The second part is the toughest. It is given in various sources as one of those:

  1. Bonastruc ça Porta – Catalan Wikipedia and some Google results
  2. Bonastruc de Porta – Gran Enciclopèdia Catalana online. It doesn’t mention the “ça” spelling in the article about Ramban himself, but it does have an article about Centre Bonastruc Ça Porta, an institution in Girona dedicated to Jewish history, which means that the Catalan Wikipedia spelling is more than just a typo or a random whimsy of someone who likes weird medieval spellings.
  3. da Porta – JewishEncyclopedia.com article about Ramban doesn’t mention the Bonastruc name, but it does say that he was a brother of Benveniste da Porta.

Another proof that “ça” may have real meaning is the big Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear, which says that it’s a variant of the feminine article “sa” (nowadays sometimes used as the Balearic version of “la”) and gives a couple of examples which look like personal names.

But the plot thickens even further. Ariel, my Catalan “mentor” on Twitter, says – if i understood him correctly – that it should actually be spelled Saporta, and that it is related to the last name Sasportas, which some people in Israel have today. JewishEncyclopedia.com has an article about the Sasportas family, which says that it comes from the Spanish “seis portas” – “six gates”, but it also says that “Aaron Sasportas, the earliest known member of this family, was a descendant in the tenth generation of Nahmanides”.

So – can anyone point me to reliable sources that may help me solve this mistery? Or are those just two versions which are equally possible?

Written by aharoni

April 2, 2008 at 14:08

Free Software

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Lliure – a post in my other blog, which is a little about Catalan, but mostly about Free Software.

Written by aharoni

March 21, 2008 at 22:47

Posted in meta

Plural Letters

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In English you can dot the i’s and cross the t’s. In English, when you want to say the name of a letter in the plural, you add an apostrophe and an s. The pronunciation of this is intuitive enough, something like /kross ðə ti:z/.

In Catalan it is done differently: The letter is written twice! I’ve seen this in two places: Badia’s Gramàtica and the Catalan Wikipedia. Badia says, p. 782:

Pel que fa a les ee i a les oo

An Wikipedia says:

Al català existeix la possiblitat d’accentuar obert o tancat moltes ee

And i’ve got to admit that i don’t know how it is pronounced.

Written by aharoni

March 20, 2008 at 01:01

Posted in letters, pronunciation

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