Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Striking a blow for Catalan nationalism

Remember how I signed up for a course in Japonese food and culture in Catalan to keep up my skills while I'm here in Canada?  At UOC, yes I'm naming them and debating posting in Catalan too.  That would be the Universitat Obert de Catalunya.

The class is advertised as being in Catalan, so imagine my disappointment when I logged in today and found the welcome and the course orientation information entirely in Spanish.


The body of materials provided for the course are in Catalan, but the teacher....well, she's a girl from Spain, as in not Catalunya Spain, doing her PhD in something or other and doesn't write Catalan well, though she can read it, she says. (why is it I cannot get any work anywhere without nivell C in Català and this broad can teach a Catalan language University course in Spanish????)

Why, one might ask, would the UOC consider her a suitable instructor?

I wrote her an email, explaining that while I am interested in Japonese food and culture, I was principally taking the course to maintain my Catalan, so the Spanish use is pretty much NOT ok with me.  She replied in fairly terrible Catalan, and then reposted the welcome and intro in better Catalan, I suspect some emails were sent back and forth and someone in the University is translating it for her now.

Unfortunately, many of the Catalans in the course are now writing in Spanish rather than Catalan, a frankly SUPER annoying habit that most Catalans have of simply switching languages every time anyone with an accent speaks or if even 1 person in the room has trouble with Catalan.  Honestly.  Drives me nuts.  Do they want this language or not?  Do they want people to learn it?  Do they want immigrants to learn it or would they like to keep it to themselves as a sort of secret?

I will grant that not all Catalans do this, only about 95% of them, and many persist in Spanish even if I persist in Catalan (which I pretty much have to) and outright ask them to use Catalan.


UOC will also be getting an email from me.

Not a very nice one either.

Ya know, I teach courses here, I cannot advertise that the course will be offered in English and then deliver it in French.  Not a choice boys and girls.

Not a choice.


Joy said...

I'm involved with Canadian Parents for French, and there was an interesting conversation at a side event of our provincial (SK) AGM last month, in which some of the people at the table were recounting the sentiments expressed to them (them = second language advocates) in recent months by some Francophones. Some of the people in the larger French community in SK, apparently, were not happy with others "playing at" French language and not adopting the culture (or their specific version of culture), at the same time. Your reflections in this post, of the secret society of language, leads me to think that, yes, they do want to sort of keep it a secret society, rather than risk outsiders coming in and changing the culture built around their language. It is frustrating. And maddening. And disheartening, too.

Good luck maintaining your Catalan. I'll be interested in hearing the response from the University. ;)

kate said...

Hmm, very interesting point, Joy-- of course when outsiders come in and adopt the language, that language is opened up to a whole new set of uses/contexts etc. and the native speakers lose control over it. Interesting too about the idea that language and a particular culture are/should be linked, and one shouldn't be able to adopt just one of them.

oreneta, if you can't get the course in acceptable Catalan, maybe the University could switch you to a different course? Hope it gets worked out.

Anonymous said...

Actually, maybe you could try teaching an English class in Catalan. Would be fun. I don't know about other people and cultures, but I usually felt that foreigners trying to *learn* and *use* French, while in France, would/should get more attention from the French they are addressing, as an acknowledgement of their effort and of the difficulty of the language...

thecatalanway said...

hey how very annoying! I suppose one 'good' thing is the fact that you are sharing how it must feel for Catalans facing this sort of thing all the time. until they get too fed up to bother writing emails every time. Great that they have already changed the introduction after you complained and yes I too wonder if they could change you to another course - in Catalan with a native speaker. Otherwise you could spend the whole summer feeling peed off!
I just read in a leaflet that mobile phone companies here MUST By Law have a Catalan speaking service available when you ring with an enquiry. But they almost always start off in Spanish. why is this? Don't Orange and Vodafone etc have enough money to pay for Catalan employees???? Imagine having to request an english speaker in the UK?
BTW I just changed my Facebook language to Catalan - makes it all much more interesting. Should we befriend each other? Or would you like to? K x

swenglishexpat said...

Interesting language confusion. Maybe she is related to the chancellor of the uni? ;-)

Joy said...

@elpadawan, whilst in France, I/we received nothing but encouragement to use the language, but they are much less worried, in general, about adopting English words into their French language than the Franco-Canadians, in general, based on our experience. :)

@Kate, I am not certain that there isn't an element of culture that is absorbed with learning another language - can they even be separated? Language is all about context, really. I take exception to the idea that there is *one* version of culture that must be obeyed. ;)

Anonymous said...

@Joy: My experience from the time I spent in Canada and the Québec friends I made there is rather that Québec is trying to prevent new English words from entering the vocabulary, but they have adopted just as many English words as the French, only in different places. "Job, Chum, Rim, Broue (from Brew, a beer), Windshield, Scraps, etc..." are all English/American words absorbed by Québec French that would make French people raise an eyebrow if used in front of them. And I'm pretty sure it works both ways (we're saying "week-end" when they say "fin de semaine" in Québec, for example :) )

oreneta said...

Joy, I think in reality most Catalans are delighted when outsiders learn the language and there is a lot of consideration for immigrants. I do believe that most Catalans switch out to Spanish out of politeness or habit, but it does have the result of exclusion.

ElP, hilariously, most of the recommeded readings are in English, so I guess I actually have a huge advantage as I can read most of the course material plus the majority of the readings, it's only the prof that's a problem for me.

Kate, don't even get my started on telefonica. Most of the time if you want to work in Catlan you have to press 2, when you do so, it hangs up. I kid you not. As my level of Spanish is so low I do find myself getting frustrated. Grrrr.

Sweng, it does seem possible.