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Post Mallorquí and Catalan: A Question
Created by John Eipper on 01/21/19 3:53 AM

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Mallorquí and Catalan: A Question (Timothy Ashby, Spain, 01/21/19 3:53 am)

I now spend about half my time in Mallorca (which we love) and have become fascinated by the Mallorquí dialect although my vocabulary doesn't extend much beyond "Bon dia."

Nearly all road, street and other signs outside of Palma are written in Mallorquí. I've noticed that many of the words are similar to French, while some are almost pure Latin, e.g. our eastern side of the island is called the Llevant, and we live near a place called Font de sa Cala (the Cove of the Spring or Source where ancient ships beached to take on fresh water--the "Font" still flows). "Bona" is commonplace ("Cala Bona" near us).

I know that Mallorquí is a dialect of Catalán, which mutated from the Vulgar Latin spoken in the eastern Pyrenees and deviated from the other Romance languages in the 9th century. My question to WAIS linguists--was a form of Vulgar Latin (Occitan?) spoken in what is now, France, Spain and Portugal before the Roman conquest? if so, the dialects must have been harmonised by widespread education, with Latin being the standard.

JE comments:  There was no Latin before the Romans swept in.  I wish I could provide more erudition on the pre-Latin languages of Iberia (and France), but there's a good article in Wikipedia:  "Paleohispanic Languages":


The biggest riddle is Iberian, which went extinct by the second century CE.  We know almost nothing about it.  Basque is at the other end of the pre-Latin spectrum:  it survives and thrives today.  Historical linguists cannot even agree if Basque and Iberian were genetically related, or isolates with some shared vocabulary through contact.

A question for our Catalan speakers (Jordi Molins in particular):  how radically different does Mallorquí sound to a resident of Barcelona?

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  • Mallorquí and Catalan (Jordi Molins, Spain 01/21/19 2:17 PM)
    Timothy Ashby asked: "Was a form of Vulgar Latin (Occitan?) spoken in what is now, France, Spain and Portugal before the Roman conquest?"

    As John Eipper highlights, there was no Latin on the Peninsula before the Roman conquest, during the Second Punic War. The only relevant pre-Roman substrate that I know of is the Basque in some names of towns in the Catalan Pyrénées.

    Maybe a bit decoupled from the specific question by Timothy: David Reich, a Stanford Professor, recently published in New Scientist a paper arguing that all males living in Iberia 4,500 years ago died without descendance, probably due to an invasion by Yamnaya (the tribe that introduced Indo-European languages in Europe, with an origin in the Ukrainian steppe).


    The Catalan spoken in Mallorca is Eastern Catalan, while the Catalan spoken in Valencia is Western Catalan. I highly doubt the differences are due to some kind of ancient substrate: I do not recall any word in "Mallorquí" or "Valencià" that I cannot relate to old (or new) Catalan. The Occitan language is different, but even some linguists argue for the existence of a Catalan-Occitan unified language (analogous to, for example, the "reintegrationist" movement of the Corsican language into Italian).

    The Catalan spoken in the Balearic Islands (not only in Mallorca) sounds to a "central Catalan" as an elegant version of traditional Catalan. For example, "Font de sa Cala" could also be a location name in the Catalan Costa Brava. However, in Catalonia the "salat" (use of "sa") has unfortunately been lost in daily usage, unlike in the Balearics. But some of the most famous beaches in the Costa Brava keep the "sa", such as "Cala sa Tuna," in Begur; there is a "Cala Bona" in Tossa de Mar, too.

    The Catalan accent spoken in small villages of the interior of Mallorca may sound a bit hard to understand at first, but nothing compared to, for example, how difficult it is for a Madrileño to understand the Spanish accent spoken in some small village in Jaén. The Catalan accent spoken in Menorca is quite difficult to distinguish from the accent in Eastern Catalonia, at least without speaking continuously for a few minutes. For me, it is virtually impossible to distinguish the Valencian spoken in the north of Valencia, from the Catalan spoken in the South of Catalonia.

    The usage of "mallorquí," "menorquí," "eivissenc" ... to denote the Catalan spoken in Mallorca / Menorca / Eivissa, is a trick by Spanish nationalism to put in doubt that the language is just a variety of Catalan. Nobody speaks about "Chilean" or "Asturian" as the Spanish language spoken in Chile or Asturias. The process of dehumanisation in Catalonia by Spanish nationalists, described in WAIS in recent years, is in fact a long-term process which has accelerated recently, but it has a multi-decade (even multi-century) substrate.

    JE comments:  I learned a lot here.  Jordi Molins's final paragraph is a perfect illustration of Max Weinreich's classic distinction between language and dialect (the former is the same as the latter, but with an army and a navy).  To divide Catalan into fragmented dialects is a way of undermining Catalonian solidarity.  But this sword cuts both ways.  My Valencian friends get angry if you call their language "Catalan."  I presume it's a similar situation in the Balearics.

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  • Mallorqui and Catalan (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/22/19 4:49 AM)

    I was born in Palma de Mallorca (a long time ago!) and for that reason I am very interested in Timothy Asbhy's report from Mallorca regarding the language of the Balearic islands.

    Unfortunately I do not speak any of these dialects.  Our family left the island when I was too young and moved to the Continent, although I can understand and read it almost fluently.

    Timothy and John's questions are particularly interesting to me and I feel obliged to contribute to the discussion, but to answer such questions it is necessary to look back at some historical facts.

    Catalan was introduced in the Islas Baleares (Illes Balears: Mallorca, Menorca, Ibiza, Formentera y Cabrera) in the 13th century when the Crown of Aragon defeated the Arabs and recaptured the islands. The Duchy of Catalonia was part of Aragon, in which the Catalan was spoken by most of the population. According to historical sources the resettlers were mostly Catalonians (39%), Occitanians (24%), Italians (16%), and in smaller numbers French, Castilians and others.

    For obvious reasons, the Catalonian peasants originally from northern Catalonia and Languedoc-Roussillon (formerly part of Aragon, now part of France) imposed Catalan as the dominant language.

    There are two important facts regarding this cultural process. First, Mallorquí is a modern form of medieval Catalan and Occitan. Eight centuries of a different evolution made this dialect in many ways phonetically and structurally different from modern standard Catalan. Second, in the Illes Balears there are also other different dialects, Ibizenco and Menorquí, being spoken on the islands of Ibiza and Menorca respectively.

    Regarding the origin of Catalan, linguistic sources place it as the original language of the Crown of Aragon, originally from Romanc, Occitan.  It was also called Llemosi o Catalanesch, and when implanted in Mallorca it mixed with sounds and words from Italian, Greek and Arabic.

    I recall two substantial characteristics of Mallorquí. First, the lack of a structured grammar which makes the language vulnerable to other linguistic influences. Second the spoken language is called Mallorquí and the written language Lemosin.

    JE comments:  José Ignacio, do you mean the lack of a codified grammar?  All languages must have structure...right? 

    I'm curious how many Arabic words exist in modern Catalonian.  Castilian Spanish has as many as 4000.  Does Catalonian rival this?

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    • Dialects and Politics: Mallorcan and Valencian (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/24/19 4:17 AM)
      In response to John E's question on the lack of grammar in Mallorquí (22 January), indeed all languages must have some kind of structure in order to perpetuate themselves over time. However, unless I am totally mistaken, there is not a formal or codified grammar for the language. In fact there was a famous attempt to codify Mallorcan grammar in 19th century by José Amengual, but according to philologists, his work merely sought to structure the language in a similar fashion to Castilian in order to facilitate its study.

      Having said that, it is perhaps useful to mention other controversial aspects of this subject. The controversy comes from the fact that most Mallorcans firmly believe that their original language is really at least as old as Catalan, with the same origins from vulgar Latin, a Romance language, with great influence and strong roots from Provenzal or Occitanian ("langue d'oc"). In this sense they might be sister (or brother?) languages, later enriched by Italian, Sefardi/Ladino, Arabic, Castilian and some other linguistic sources.

      They also claim that Mallorquí had its own structured grammar much earlier than Catalan (apparently the Catalonian language was only formally structured in 1918 by Pompeu Fabra), although some critics deny the existence of this alleged formal grammar. Regarding this controversy, as well as the intensity of Sephardic and Arabic influences on Mallorquí, I'll defer to the linguistics experts.

      Anyway it is interesting to note that this very same claim is made by Valencians. I frequently have listened to similar arguments, except that Valencian and Alicantino probably have greater influence from Castilian than Catalan or Mallorquí.

      It is worth recalling the following 1992 article by a famous Catalonian intellectual, Miquel Batllori i Munné. The headline reads: "The Catalan Barcelona attempts to impose on Valencia...or Baleares.. is an infamous and infectious dialect." This intellectual can be hardly accused of being a Spanish nationalist and I leave the content of the article for those interested and fluent in Spanish:


      The reality is that the current language spoken in Mallorca is mostly a Catalonian dialect, and the original Mallorquí is largely spoken by people with strong traditional values or from the countryside. Some nationalistic Mallorcan politicians and sociologists used to say that this fact is the product of a political and cultural phenomenon called "annexationism" or "pro-Catalinism," by Catalonian claims for what they call "Paises Catalanes," an uncertain and biased theory based on the annexationist and nationalistic Catalonian credo.

      Notwithstanding whether Mallorqui or the language most commonly spoken in the islands is or isn't a Catalonian dialect, we have to admit that Mallorquí has its own original characteristics, originally from the fact that it has retained older medieval forms, original expressions and sounds, which modern standard Catalan has either lost or never had, and that the old native language has been progressively replaced by standard Catalan, Catalan Barceloní being the "infamous and infectious" dialect.

      Finally, a comment on Jordi Molins's assestment. Jordi wrote, "The usage of 'mallorquí,' 'menorquí,' 'eivissenc' ... to denote the Catalan spoken in Mallorca / Menorca / Eivissa, is a trick by Spanish nationalism to put in doubt that the language is just a variety of Catalan." John E commented that "to divide Catalan into fragmented dialects is a way of undermining Catalonian solidarity." After what I said before I believe it should be clear that is quite legitimate and meritorious for Mallorcans, and even Valencians, to claim that their "dialect" or language, whatever you want to call it, has its own original roots in many ways distinctive from Catalan. To think their claim is a "trick" of Spanish nationalism or a strategy to undermine Catalonian solidarity is somehow naïve, if not a unsubstantial and manipulated concept.

      Besides, to claim the annexation of Mallorca and Valencia as part of the so-called "Paises Catalanes" only because they have some common cultural and linguistic roots is also a very arrogant nationalistic Catalonian claim. Those territories historically, unless I am mistaken, were never part of Catalonia but for many years belonged the Crown of Aragon.

      JE comments:  Battlori, a Jesuit, won no friends in Barcelona with his "infamous and infectious" remark.  If his point was to criticize the political hegemony of the Catalonian metropolis, he could have found a different rhetoric for this.  How can any language or dialect be "infamous"?

      Barcelona's nationalists do face the problem of freeing themselves from the control of Madrid without imposing their own imperialism over the hinterlands.  I hope Jordi Molins will comment.  In particular, what do the independentists say about Valencia?

      Of course, the world is now focused on Nacho Soler's own Venezuela.  With a new president sworn in, the youthful Juan Guaidó, but Maduro also clinging to power, there is a full-blown national crisis.  The US and several other nations have recognized Guaidó.  Let us pray it doesn't go this far, but such scenarios can lead to civil war.  Nacho, what is the latest?

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      • Language and Politics in Valencia, the Balearics (Jordi Molins, Spain 01/26/19 4:12 AM)
        The thesis of José Ignacio Soler about "Mallorquí" (January 24th) is anti-scientific. Of course, the value of my words on this topic is close to nil, since I am biased. However, I am pretty sure that if a non-biased scientist would give his/her opinion, the conclusion would not support José Ignacio's claims at all.

        Politically, the Balearics and Valencia are very different from each other. Despite having had a Popular Party (right-wing political party) majority for many years, the attitudes of Spanish nationalists in both territories differ.

        In fact, since the beginning of this WAIS discussion, there have been two main public appearances:

        On one hand, José Ramón Bauzá, the former Popular Party President of the Balearics, has abandoned the Popular Party. In his resignation letter, he states as the main reason for his resignation: "It was our political party [the Popular Party], when in government, who included in the Statute of Autonomy that the official language of the Balearics is the Catalan language."


        On the other hand, both the candidate of the Popular Party for the municipality of València, María José Català, and the candidate for the Presidency of the Valencian regional government by Ciudadanos, Toni Cantó, have recently stated that "the Valencian language is not Catalan."

        In the meantime, Mónica Oltra, the candidate for the Presidency of the Valencian regional government by Compromís, was ordered to stop speaking in Valencian by a security agent in the IFEMA fair, in Madrid (she was not speaking to the security agent, only to her colleagues).

        Benet Salellas, the lawyer of Ignasi Sabater, the Mayor of the Catalan town of Verges, was not allowed to enter into the police building (in the Catalan town of Girona) where Mr. Sabater was detained (for political reasons), until he stopped talking in Catalan.

        As Ben Hunt, of Epsilon Theory, states (a highly recommended reading): "The goal of most Narrative creation is to convince you to sit down and shut up." This is what is happening in Spain, and in the European Union, in relation to the dehumanisation process of Catalans in Spain.


        JE comments:  I naively believed the marginalization/proscription of Spain's minority languages had died with Franco, but these examples suggest otherwise.  Jordi, do you accept the Valencian position that their language is not a "dialect" of Catalan?

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        • Catalan "Victimismo" (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/28/19 4:20 AM)
          In response to Jordi Molins's post of January 26th, I am not sure what theory he is referring to or what he considers to be anti-scientific. He should first help us to understand what he believes to be a scientific theory.

          Whether Jordi is referring to the subject of Catalan, or Mallorcan and Valencian as a language or a dialect, or my mention of the concept of "Paises Catalans," none of these are clear. I moreover do not really understand what he means by quoting recent events to demonstrate the supposed "dehumanization" of Catalans in Spain. But let me leave this last subject for the end.

          To be more specific, in the first place I was not trying to issue any scientific linguistic theory on the subject of Catalan, Mallorcan or Valencian. Far from that. I leave the question of "scientific theories" to more qualified intellectuals than me.

          I was only addressing the controversy on the subject and quoting the opinion of philologists and linguists from Mallorca and Valencia, and even from Catalonia, on what seems to be the legitimate claim that the original language of the islands and from Valencia had a similar origin and a simultaneous and parallel development distinct from Catalan, and that Mallorcan and Valencian have been progressively replaced by a Catalan dialect through expansionist political processes from Catalonia. Whether or not this allegation is true, which anyway seems historically logical, again I leave it to historians and linguists to decide the issue.

          On the "dehumanization" of Catalans by Spain, if I understand correctly the concept means to "deprive one of human qualities." If you refer to this meaning I believe that Jordi's accusation is exaggerated and possibly absurd. If you only mean the Catalonian language as "a deprived Human-Catalonian quality," again your statement seems disproportional, because Catalan is a constitutionally sanctioned co-language together with Castilian Spanish in Catalonia and even the Baleares. To claim otherwise is another demonstration of the self-victimization, or "victimismo," of Catalonian nationalism. This is a common feature of all nationalist movements.

          There are hundreds of public demands and accusations in Spain and Catalonia regarding the marginalization of Spanish-speaking people in the education system and on the streets, due to the fact that they do not speak Catalan and want to be educated in Spanish. I have been a victim myself.

          JE comments:  The victimization of Castilian in Catalonia is ultimately a hegemony question.  Does a "hegemon" ever have the right to claim victim status?  I would say yes in certain contexts, but many would argue the opposite.

          José Ignacio, any recent (last 24 hours) developments in Venezuela's Maduro-Guaidó showdown?

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        • Catalonian and Valencian (Jordi Molins, Spain 01/28/19 2:49 PM)
          John Eipper asked on January 26th: "Jordi, do you accept the Valencian position that their language is not a 'dialect' of Catalan?"

          My opinion on this subject does not matter much, since I am biased.

          Let me first state the opinion of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (the official Spanish institution in charge of the Spanish language):

          "From the philological point of view (...) there is no doubt that Valencian is a variety of Catalan."


          Secondly, the opinion of the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua (the official Valencian institution in charge of the Valencian language):

          "Valencian, from the point of view of philology, is the language which is shared by the Autonomous Communities of Catalonia and the Balearics."


          As a consequence, the main philological institutions in Spain-ex-Catalonia agree Valencian is a variety of the Catalan language.

          Valencian is the historic denomination of the Catalan language in Valencia. In fact, historically Valencia was so important in the evolution of the Catalan language, that some linguists argue, half jokingly, that maybe that language should be called Valencian, and not Catalan.

          The fact that Valencia and Catalonia share the same language does not mean they need to be united politically. For example, Nigeria and New Zealand share the same official language (English), but they are different countries.

          Having said, the key question here is what leads to a whole country to deny reality in such an egregious way. One does not need to support the concept of "Països Catalans" to acknowledge Valencian is a variety of Catalan. Accepting reality suffices.

          My hypothesis is there is an unstoppable dehumanisation process going on in Spain against Catalonia.

          José Ignacio Soler's comment about Catalan "victimismo," when we are seeing Catalan politicians in prison and in exile, is distressing, in my opinion. Historical analogies should make us reflect whether there is something disturbingly wrong in Spanish nationalism nowadays.

          JE comments:   The Valencian Academy performs a subtle rhetorical dance, calling Valencian the language "shared" with Catalonia and the Balearics.  The name given to the "umbrella" language is not given.  Ah, language and dialect, army and navy...

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          • Language and Politics in Catalonia: Who is Dehumanized? (Jose Manuel de Prada, Spain 01/30/19 3:06 AM)
            To answer Jordi Molins's complaint about recent comments about Catalan victimism (January 28), I suggest that he try for at least one day to perform the mental exercise of getting into the skin of non-nationalists in Catalonia (which, as he knows well, constitute a very large swath of Catalan society).

            He will then get something of the feeling of what being "dehumanized" entails!

            We are routinely being treated as invisible and non-existent, and so far as our existence is recognized, we are considered to be fascists, Catalan-haters and ignoramuses.

            I call that dehumanizing!

            It is true there are "Catalan politicians in prison" as Jordi Molins says, and others who went abroad to escape from justice, having flouted the Spanish Constitution and the Catalan "estatut."

            On the other hand, Nationalist politics these days are a multi-ring circus, with deep divisions within the nationalist front getting even deeper, and Puigdemont's clownish behaviour getting even more grotesque.

            A few days ago, Puigdemont astounded everyone by appealing before the Constitutional Court (for which he usually has zero respect) a decision of the Nationalist-dominated "Mesa del Parlment," the body governing the Catalan legislative chamber.

            The blind loyalty of the pro-independence "base" to their schizophrenic leadership is only comparable to that of Trump to their abominable idol.

            There is indeed been always something "disturbingly wrong" in all kinds of nationalism.

            JE comments:  New Years greetings to José Manuel de Prada on the occasion of his first post of 2019. 

            José Manuel, is one branded as fascist and Catalan-hating by the mere act of speaking Castilian in public?  I'd be fascinated to hear an anecdote or two from your experience.

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          • Language and Politics in Catalonia: Some Final Thoughts (José Ignacio Soler, Venezuela 01/31/19 9:06 AM)
            The discussion with Jordi Molins about Catalan, Valencian and Mallorcan is not leading to any agreement. However I would like to add some final remarks from my side.

            In his post of January 28th, Jordi quotes a statement from the Academia de la Lengua Valenciana, "Valencian, from the point of view of philology, is the language which is shared by the Autonomous Communities of Catalonia and the Balearics." This might be a somehow biased translation because what the statement he tries to quote really says is:

            "El valenciano, idioma histórico y propio de la Comunidad Valenciana, forma parte del sistema lingüístico que los correspondientes Estatutos de Autonomía de los territorios hispánicos de la antigua Corona de Aragón reconocen como lengua propia."

            The English translation might be like this: "Valencian is the historical language of Valencia, which is part of the linguistic system of the ..... Hispanic territories of the former crown of Aragon recognize as their own language." Whether the "linguistic system" is Catalan or not, it does not say. In this philological context a language system might be just a system of languages with common linguistic roots.

            But anyway I do not plan to debate this issue any further. Indeed, I have no reason to affirm or deny that Valencian or Mallorcan are derivatives of Catalan, or vice versa. What seems perhaps more important to debate now is the political question that Jordi always insists on introducing into his arguments, the supposedly "Spanish nationalism" and "dehumanization" mantras.

            Jordi's characterization of the dehumanization of Catalan politicians in prison is distressing. As you should know, these politicians are in prison awaiting trial, because they broke the law, not because of their ideology. Whether this law or the Spanish constitution does or does not fit Catalonian independentist purposes is not the question. It is obvious that repeatedly mentioning this aspect in a discussion on linguistics is once more a clear example of "victimismo." The invariable culprit of this victimization is Spanish nationalism.

            I'll conclude by remarking that there is a substantial and crucial difference between Spanish nationalism and Catalonian nationalism. The first is inclusive, the second exclusive and supremacist. The first is a reaction to the second, not the other way around as independentists maliciously try to argue.

            JE comments:  Jordi Molins did acknowledge that the "umbrella" language I'll call Catalo-Valencio-Balearic could just as easily be known as Valencian (instead of Catalan).  One thing is clear:  the juncture of language, politics, and nationalism couldn't be more Max Weinreichian than on the Iberian peninsula.

            Spanish nationalism is "inclusive"?  This may be the case at present, but what about under Franco?  Such memories cannot be erased overnight.

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