This new poll is borne from a post I read today at Jeremy Holland’s From Barcelona blog. But it’s also, I must admit, something I’ve probably grumbled about before.
Among the people writing about Catalonia in English, there seems to be little consensus as to what we call the place. I always use the English form ‘Catalonia’, Jeremy uses the Catalan ‘Catalunya’, Graeme at South of Watford uses the Spanish ‘Cataluña’… doubtless someone out there (Trevor?) uses the archaic ‘Cathalunya’.
My reasons for using the English form are fairly simple: firstly, consistency. In my guise as a sort-of-managing-editor, I spend plenty of time making sure that everyone writing for our website writes as consistently as possible. That is, we have a house style which should always be applied. So we write in American English, generally try to avoid jargon – sometimes a difficult task when writing about technology, and use the same naming conventions when referring to organisations, places or people. The idea of consistency in such writing is that a reader should never have to trouble themselves as to why we’re suddenly using a different word to describe something. I use ‘Catalonia’, ‘Spain’ and ‘Seville’ because I’m attempting to maintain some sense of consistency in the way I write (though a quick search shows that I have used ‘Sevilla’ a few times!). I feel that the majority of news organisations and works of reference would agree with me when I say that as a rule, toponyms ought to be written in the same language as the rest of the article.
The second reason I prefer the English form of the name is that when I’m writing in English, I’ll use an English word wherever possible. This has nothing to do with any kind of linguistic conservatism: though my ‘trade’ involves the constant use of English, I’m the first to proclaim that one of its great strengths is the lack of an Academy that protects it from foreign influence. I do, however, broadly agree with George Orwell’s Six Rules for clear political writing. As far as I’m concerned, ‘Catalonia’ is a perfectly decent English word that has been in use for hundreds of years and, like ‘Spain’ does the job admirably well. So why opt for the Catalan version? To me, it sounds like an affectation, particularly when this exception – this break in consistency – is applied only to ‘Catalunya’, and not to ‘Spain’.
Jeremy makes a couple of points when explaining why he prefers the Catalan form. He’s right to say that using ‘Catalunya’ hardly makes a piece of writing harder to understand. Pretty much anyone reading either of our blogs would be perfectly comfortable with the Catalan toponym. He also talks about the fluidity of English and its willingness to absorb words from other languages and cultures – something I mentioned above. But he does rather cloud the issue I thought we were talking about: whether there’s a correct way to name the place in English. He also introduces something of a red herring: street names and people’s names. To me, calling Joan, ‘John’ is incorrect… and calling the Plaça de Catalunya ‘Catalonia Square’ just aren’t the same thing as calling Catalunya, Catalonia.
But I may be wrong. Jeremy has promised that he’ll change and start using the English form if that’s what most Catalans say they prefer. I’m not going to change the naming conventions I use, no matter what you say. But I am interested in hearing what you think. So the question is: when writing in English, what’s the correct way to refer to the place? Catalonia, Catalunya, Cataluña, or something else entirely? As always, vote early & often to the right >>>