Saturday, November 30, 2013


I love living here, I am truly enjoying learning the language, and I am delighted with the friends I have here, so when you read what you say next, it is not meant in the spirit of criticism, ultimately, I am mystified.

There are many words that in English, we take it for granted that everyone knows.  The names of trees for instance.  Virtually everyone with a reasonably level of education knows a poplar, a pine, a spruce, an oak, a maple, several varieties of maple, etc etc etc...if we get exotic, something like a rowan, fewer people will be familiar with it (unless they read Harry Potter, or live where more of them grow).  I can't think of anyone who doesn't know what a saddle or a bit or reins are.  Or bricks or clay or a kiln.

Not so in Catalan.

Walking on the weekend, they were struggling for the name of a poplar - om they told me, though on further looking, that's an elm, and we were definitely looking at a poplar of some form.  Which I just looked it up and it's an àlbera particular type of poplar, or as I was told, a pullancre or a xop, which may be the name for poplars in general.   This leads me to think that alongside a general lack of vocabulary there are a vast number of names for different things like trees, which considering the sheer range of accent and vocabulary from town to town, that is not a big surprise.

I know a man who is a sculptor, he makes and sells art made of bronze and clay all over Europe, and he teaches this in one of the two art school in BCN.  He did not know the Catalan words for kiln and clay, which I just found out today.  A kiln is una bòbila, clay for making bricks etc is argila and a brick is un maó, which I have heard but totxo is much more common.  (my Catalan teacher did know these words, but had to be prompted - he is trained as an architect and rides horses, so my questions may have run in his favour, horses, woods and kilns!)

Saddle?  Sella.  I asked.

  • bridle - brida
  • reins - regnes
  • girth - la cincha (spanish, didn't know the word in Catalan - la cingla)
  • bit - el ferro (he's not sure that's the correct name, rather one they use)
  • stirrups - estreps

Mostly I wonder how it is that people don't know these words.  Adults with a good education.

I am mystified.


Anonymous said...

People choose what they want to learn and remember. I never had a very "nature oriented" education. You learn a few of the big trees, maybe see the shapes in class, and that's it. I did learn a bit more about them by being a boy scout, but that's not part of the mandatory education you receive (at least in France :D). And if this wasn't your cup of tea, by the time you reach adulthood you hurry up and forget as much as you can and make room for whatever interesting new things you could cram your head with. Like technical specs of the latest gizmos, the birthdays of all the cast of your favorite TV show, things like that. People will only remember things that they feel inclined to remember. Most people will remember pine,oak, birch because they're the standard variations of IKEA furniture (sad, maybe a bit exagerated, but maybe not entirely untrue). And poplars because that's the stuff you run into when you have a car accident.
In English, there are some very basic words that I probably don't know, because I somehow never really came across them. And on the other hand, I know some that you wouldn't expect a foreigner to know. Just because I happened upon them by chance, liked them or was amused by them, and they stuck (e.g. Zamboni, scrumptious. Those are very cool words. Hard to place in an actual convo, especially the first one, in Spain, I would surmise).
This gives me a cool idea. You could take a class in the mountains, tell them to pick a spot, and name everything they see, in Catalan. Then, they'd have to name them again in English. See how many know how to name all the things they see :)

oreneta said...

You have to go to more ice hockey games if you can't find times to use zamboni! It is an awesome word...and I do like the idea for the classes. Name them in Catalan and again in English, though I'd first have to learn the English name for some of the plants here that I am not familiar with! Good for me too. I'll let you know if I do it!

Helen said...

Some welsh words arenEnglish borrowings just spelt in Welsh. ,others they have made up words for. My favourite being popty ping for microwave oven. Sometimes they use the English for convenience eg the Welsh for 'please' is 'os gwelwch yn dda' so they often use 'plis,

Convenience sometimes wins and I suspect Catalan has the same problem

thecatalanway said...

I have noticed this too although right now I can't think of an example. Ask Pep and he can tell you the names of trees and plants in Catalan! But with other people there do seem to be strange gaps. Is it something to do with Catalan only fairly recently being the 100o/o language in schools?

People here don't know the names of birds as much as similar people in the UK do. Swifts and swallows _ I have had many conversations about orenetes and falciots and received blank looks. Culturally it has not been so popular I suppose.

but what I found very odd was that in three butchers shops they had no idea what I meant by Pancreas or Spleen. I did mimes and everything but noone seemed to know there was such an organ - all wanted it to be Higado.

It is so interesting to see these differences. I too am mystified but I think it must be something to do with English being so dominant and Catalan having to fight just to exist.