Tag Archives: Seville

thebadPoll: what’s correct: Catalonia or Catalunya… or Cataluña?

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 >>>

What’s in a name?

One of the silliest changes which occurred during the ignominious years of the dictatorship was the re-hispanicisation of Catalan place names. Lleida became ‘Lerida’, Girona ‘Gerona’ and my town, Cerdanyola del Vallès became ‘Sardañola del Vallés’. While many of these names had existed previously (see 1929’s Plaza de España in Seville), these towns changed their names officially during a time when Catalan was officially discouraged.

Now, they’re not used at all. While some older people from a more ‘Castilian’ background may still use the Spanish versions, the Generalitat and the Spanish government now exclusively use Catalan toponyms, probably for a mixture of reasons. I figure that the main reason behind using Catalan toponyms is that having two names for a place would be silly. Especially when the Castilian toponym is rarely if ever used.

Or so I thought. I happened to take a look at the Spanish wikipedia entry for Cerdanyola del Vallès and was surprised to see that it redirects to a page called ‘Sardañola del Vallés’. Weird, I thought: that’s not the name I recognise for this town. Those of you who are regular Wikipedia users will be aware that there are a lot of rules in place which govern the naming of articles, ‘point of view’, sources and so on. Before clicking on the ‘discussion’ page, I was fairly confident that this naming convention would have caused some dissent – and I wasn’t disappointed.

The crux of the argument that is laid out in defence of the Castilian spelling is that the Spanish Wikipedia does not use foreign language toponyms. For example, Bangkok is not referred to as “Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit”, it’s called Bangkok. Girona redirects to ‘Gerona’, but as with Cerdanyola, notes that the Catalan naming convention is also the official one. As supporting source for the Castilian toponym, one or two books are offered, but other editors note that these books simply repeat the spellings used during the Franco years rather than establish a modern precedent for a Castilian toponym.

I’d argue (though I haven’t ventured to do so in the pages of Wikipedia) that while in the cases of Gerona and Lerida, there is some historical precedent for the use of a Castilian toponym (both are provincial capitals and as such were considered important enough to have Spanish names; Sardañola del Vallés is nothing more than a translation, invented for political reasons and within living memory. I’d also argue that given that the Castilian toponym is never used, and that the Spanish government and the National Institute of Statistics  both use the standard ‘Cerdanyola del Vallès’, the Castilian toponym is nothing more than a relic of days gone by. Finally, in Spain, it is up to towns and Autonomous Regions to decide official names. According to both the Town Hall and the Generalitat, the official name of this place is Cerdanyola del Vallès. It seems to me that there is little linguistic or toponymic justification for the Wikipedia entry.

But what’s in a name, anyway?