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 >>>

39 thoughts on “thebadPoll: what’s correct: Catalonia or Catalunya… or Cataluña?

  1. Well I’ve voted for a different usage than the one I use on my blog. I’ve been taken to task a couple of times on the blog for using Cataluña but to be honest I don’t care whether it’s correct English or not – I’ve always been fully aware it’s not standard usage. I also always write Sevilla, and I think it’s just because I write the names that I use when I talk and having been in Madrid for several years…..

    Blogging is very personal and not subject to the sort of constraints that you might have in your company where an overall style for many different people becomes an issue. It’s nice to think that you write reasonably well, but in that context I believe the names you give to places come some way down the list.

  2. @Graeme – I think that’s a good point. Blogging – or this kind of blogging – is definitely more personal. I just find the topic interesting… mainly because I was so convinced that there wasn’t any question that I was completely right. So often, it seems that these convictions aren’t quite as correct as we think they are.

  3. Nice and well-thought out post, Tom.

    I do take umbrage with the use of “red herring,” though, as I was using names and squares as examples to show there’s no distinct line separating when the use of the local word is acceptable and when the English equivalent should be used. It seems right now everything within the city limits (carrer for street, passeig for boulevard, barrio for neighborhood) is okay, but not the city. this is basically the inverse of your Spain point, which shows how it’s more a question of personal preference and style than being right or wrong.

    I can’t really disagree with Orwell’s rules for political writing, although I’ve never considered myself a political writer or a journalist. if anything, i’d like to one day been known as a decent fiction writer with an enjoyable collection of books and stories under my belt. This means, of course, i look at the English language in a completely different way. similes and metaphors are used, big words might be written depending the rhythm of the sentence, dialog is driven by jargon and slang. the blog posts are more a way to keep the mind stimulated between books than professional travel writing.

    I guess more than anything I was surprised that this was even an issue where you felt “the need to help me out” since, as you stated, there’s little consensus as to the correct written usage of Catalunya. and like i said, in the year i’ve had the blog, only two people felt aggrieved enough to contact me about it. Basically, it seems a really silly thing to get riled up about, I think. But it gave you an idea for a post!

  4. @Jeremy – thanks for your comment. Out of interest, do you enjoy Orwell’s fiction? Do you reckon he applies his ‘rules’ to his fiction or that they were meant only for political writing (which is certainly how he framed them in the original essay)?

    Also, thanks for the blog post idea. It wasn’t the one I was planning to write this evening but it certainly was interesting enough.

    Last thing: I hope no one is ‘riled up’ about this topic. Personally, I find it fascinating and that’s at least partly because I spend a lot of time dealing with similar questions at work. While I’m certainly no expert, usage and style in writing are the sort of things I spend more time thinking about than I probably should. But just because this particular case is fairly trivial, that doesn’t mean that the subject itself isn’t interesting.

  5. @ Graeme – don’t agree with your vote but do with the post.
    @Tom – I have to say, while I enjoy the themes or Orwell’s writing and generally agree with his political points, I find he tends to tell rather than show. It’s not the type of fiction I generally enjoy.

    Yes, linguistics is a fascinating subject, no mater how trivial, except in the context of politics. it’s like religion in that way, I think. I guess my initial gripe was with the absolutist stance, especially as Graeme said, blogging is personal and as we all agree English standards are flexible, especially in regards to words. But I see in some recent comments your convictions aren’t set in stone which is a sign of intelligence.

    Looking forward to the next post.

  6. Well, in my view it has to be Catalonia when writing in English. I second Graeme’s point about cities though, more so if it is Sevilla.

  7. I think it should be in English when writing in English.

    Anything else it would be a political statement, in my view (e.g. Cataluña: “it implies Catalonia is part of Spain and it should remain forever so”, Catalunya: “Catalonia has its own cultural and political identity and we should point that out”) and not a truly neutral use of the nameplace, spacially when mixing (in English) Spain and Cataluña…

  8. Well I disagree Toni, I think it’s more important to look at the context in which words are used rather than just focus on the individual words themselves. I don’t think that most people who read my blog would really regard my use of the word Cataluña as suggesting that I sympathise with Spanish nationalism. I’ve managed to live over 12 years in Madrid without succumbing to that infection. On the other hand, if I was to start using some of the wording of the Spanish right for the Basque Country (such as Vascongadas) then that would be different because the usage of such language is much more associated with a political position – hence the need to look at the context.

    1. “I don’t think that most people who read my blog would really regard my use of the word Cataluña as suggesting that I sympath0ise with Spanish nationalism. I’ve managed to live over 12 years in Madrid without succumbing to that infection.” Really? Seriously? Obviously, living in Madrid has limited your comfort level with peninsular languages other than Castilian. I found this discussion while trying to figure out why the heck English speakers think “Catalonia” is an acceptable representation of the readily pronounceable “Catalunya” … I can understand the need to find a substitute for a letter that does not exist in English orthography (ñ) –or at least didn’t before the age of moveable type– but Catalan offers an excellent alternative for the name of the Catalan nation (and, of course, does not use the ñ) … WHY NOT USE IT?

      1. The name ‘Catalonia’ in English has been in use for centuries (e.g. this reference, from the court of Elizabeth I, in 1566). We also say ‘Spain’ for ‘España’, ‘Germany’ for ‘Deutschland’ and ‘Sweden’ for ‘Sverige’.

        The suffix -ia is very common in English names for countries – Latvia, Romania, etc.

        I really don’t see the problem with using the established English form.

  9. Surely that’s the way you use the term Cataluña, but I still think that this is not the case in general. As you say, the context is paramount. And I admire you for living in Madrid for so long without becoming influenced by the Spanish media and the “franquismo sociologico”!

  10. I find the use of ‘Catalunya’ in english sentences a bit strange.
    You wouldn’t say:
    ‘I have just been to Espana for my holidays’.
    ‘I have a friend from Deutschland’.
    So why would you say
    ‘I live in Catalunya’.

    Also, if I were Catalan, I would want english speakers to use ‘Catalonia’ and not ‘Catalunya’ when speaking English because it shows that Catalonia is important/known enough in other countries for those countries to have their own names (in their own languages) for Catalonia. For example, my city, Coventry isn’t important enough to have different names in different languages but London is. And seeing as Catalonia already has forms in many languages, I think they should be kept and used.

  11. I use Catalonia and Seville, but Andalucía, Mojácar and so on.
    Some keyboards don’t have a handy ñ for when needed.
    Isn’t the English name for La Coruna (or A Coruña) The Corunna or some such? What’s a person to do?
    Elche or Elx?
    Then… who want’s to take a swing at the Basque names?

  12. I guess Lenox that, as usual, if there is an official name in English, this should be the one to use. If the placename in question doesn’t then I think the local official name should be the one to go for. In Catalonia or Spanish-speaking Spain is easy: there is only an official placename: L’HOSPITALET DE LLOBREGAT or SAN SEBASTIAN DE LOS REYES…In places where the local name is bilingual (ELX/ELCHE for example), then it is a bit more tricky and I guess one should use the one that you are more likely to hear or see when visiting the area???

  13. well, toni, I guess based on your logic it’s Catalonia Square and Diagonal Avenue and Iberian ham of the acorn since there’s an official English name in each case. but I tend to agree with your last point that it’s a tricky subject and it’s not a bad idea to use the word your most likely to hear. Also, in the end, as I think you’ll agree it’s a personal preference and more a question of the audience than right or wrong.

  14. @Jeremy – actually, there isn’t an English toponym (or exonym) for Plaça de Catalunya or Avinguda Diagonal. So the correct thing to do in those cases is use the Catalan version. The rule is actually quite simple: if an exonym exists, it should be used. If not, the local toponym should be used. It’s not a law of English but it is a style convention adopted by most English-language works of reference.

    That said, if you’re proposing that we drop that convention for good – you could argue it’s pretty ethnocentric… and perhaps even imperialistic – then we should do so all the time. Spain should be called ‘España’, Italy ‘Italia’ and Bangkok ‘Krung Thep Mahanakhon’.

  15. I agree with Tom’s comment. I guess Jeremy that I didn’t make myself clear enough. Just imagine the opposite situation, a text in Catalan about London’s placenames, in the way you suggested:

    “Plaça de Leicester, Plaça de Trafalgar, La Galeria Nacional, Carrer de la Reina (Queens St), o Carrer del baix Tàmesi (Lower Thames St), o Carrer de l’alt Tàmesi (Upper Thames St), Carrer del Pati d’Armes del Rei (King’s Arms Yard)… seria absurd!”

    The opposite situation would alse be ridiculous, in my view:

    “Quan visiteu el UNITED KINGDON, no us oblideu pas d’anar a LONDON, la capital d’ENGLAND. Tampoc us perdeu pas WALES o SCOTLAND”

    I think the best is to use the translated form when there is a normal and documented use of that form throughout history, otherwise leave the local name, especially when writing about tourist guides etc. What use is there in writing LERIDA when in Catalonia the visitor only sees LLEIDA in road signs?? This can only be misleading, in my view…

  16. @ Toni – first I guess what’s confusing for me is to know when its an exonym and when it’s just a direct translation. it sounds very linguistic to me. do I need to buy a book that details the difference? For example what happens when we discuss food? Personally I think people should be able to write Catalonia, Cataluña, or Catalunya, say Iberian Ham or Jamon Iberico, butifarra or Catalan blood-sausages. It depends on personal choice, audience, and style. That’s why standards and conventions regarding word usage vary depending on the editorial board, not on one global set of rules.

    Is it a bit ethnocentric? Perhaps, but how’s that imperialistic? I suppose an expat living in Rome may well say Roma, Italia, just as one living in Germany may write Köln, Deutschland or one living in Bangkok might say ‘Krung Thep Mahanakhon’. It’s what happens when you live abroad; you tend to say the place as you hear it not as it written in English.

    But again, my point isn’t that there is a “right” way or a “wrong” way. It’s simply that people are free to speak or write about a place as they wish, using whatever words they like. as the various comments show there is no consensus. Of course you, as the reader, are free to read what you like and if it offends you when people use the catalan or spanish words, then you have the right to not read that publication. I just think to say one way is correct or incorrect when in the end it’s s subjective question.

  17. I agree with you, Jeremy. My “opinion” is more about “official” writing, as in newspapers and tourists guides or the like. Obviously, a blog is a different beast, and one should have the “freedom” to adapt to the local and/or personal circumstances. I am myself trilingual (Catalan, German and English), and very often mix terms and expressions of all 3 languages when I know my audience knows all 3 languages. It is, as you say, a question of context and knowing your audience.

  18. It occurs to me that our town of Mojácar, which started out with the Latin name of ‘Mons Sacra’ and later, under the Moors, was called ‘Muxacra’, should now be renamed to represent the new majority here.
    I was thinking ‘Norwich’.

  19. Funny, Lenox.

    @ Toni – I agree. I think it’s one of the beauties of a multilingual society is the richness each language gives to each other. In fact the original point of my post wasn’t to say Catalunya is correct or that people shouldn’t write Catalonia; it was merely musing that English has no set of standards when it’s appropriate to use foreign words, this debate is not unique to just English and the old men in the royal academy are idiots.

  20. BTW, Jeremy, browsing through your blog I came across your new book, and I wonder if the ETC bookshop does offer a mail service as Poblenou (or Newtown?) is a bit too far from my patch!

  21. I actually mix eubonics and catalan and call it da nou. i’m not sure if they do delivery. the second printing should be taking place this month and once i get a copy, I’ll be happy to mail it to you. no charge.

  22. @Jeremy – OK this is getting a little tired… but I’ll try one more time. As far as I can see, there is a consensus, a convention, a rule – if you will, among most people and certainly pretty much all publications, that where an exonym exists, it should be used. So it’s not down personal choice and it’s not a subjective issue.

    The fact that this isn’t published as an edict by some academy doesn’t mean that the convention doesn’t exist. To me, the most sensible idea would be to apply the same rule all the time… which is what I try to do. But writing Barcelona, Catalunya, Spain – that just doesn’t follow any convention at all.

    In short: there is a rule, but you don’t follow it. It’s not the end of the world and I don’t think anyone (least of all me) will be upset if you carry on writing things however you like.

    Anyway, we probably shouldn’t be arguing amongst ourselves like this. Brothers, we should unite against the common enemy: people who use the short form ‘Barça’ to refer to the city of Barcelona, not the football club!

  23. Two of your links don’t work. The one that does (Guardian), notably has 332 results, whereas ‘Catalonia’ has 789.

    From the fist page of 10 results, 3 results refer to the ‘Circuit de Catalunya’, and one refers to ‘Catalunya Radio’ (described, amusingly, as being ‘Spanish for “Catalonia Radio”‘. If you glance through other pages of results, you’ll see a few that refer to Catalonia as ‘Catalunya’ (mostly written by Sid Lowe or other football writers), but most of the articles seem to be referring to motor tracks, wine denominations, Plaças and that sort of thing.

    I’ll do a proper analysis for you when I get home.

  24. Would anyone like to answer these two questions with a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ and with a short reason for each answer:

    1. Would you write ‘I live in Deutschland’?
    2. Would you write ‘I live in Catalunya’?

    I am honestly not trying to be argumentative, I just want to see what people think.

    My answer to both questions is ‘no’ and my reason for both is that I don’t like writing foreign words in english sentences when there is a perfectly good english word to put in there.

    Also, I don’t think a Catalan person should write ‘Visc a London’ as they have a perfectly good Catalan word for London!

  25. There’s no need. The point I was trying to make was even in an internationally renowned publication there is flexibility on usage depending on subjected matter, hence no blanket consensus.

Leave a Reply to Toni Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.