Catalan, Language of Romance


I live in a small rural village in Catalonia and I’m often struck by the number of people who describe themselves as sons or daughters of the village. “Jo sóc filla de Sant Martí – I’m a daughter of Sant Martí,” said the woman doing her shopping at the local store. “Although I don’t live here now, I come back at the weekends.” Describing herself as a daughter of Sant Martí sounded like an odd turn of phrase to me, as I suppose English speakers would say something along the lines of, “I was born in Sant Marti, although I don’t live here now.” Her words seemed patriotic and somehow revealed her deep-rooted relationship with the village.

Photo: Mari-Angeles, shopkeeper and owner of Cal Jordi, and customer Montse

At the same time, I've always liked the way people in Catalonia talk about the population at large as “el poble” – the town (or village). Quite often, on the news, we hear comments like: “El poble is protesting.” Using the word “town” to describe society in general has a more personal emphasis. El poble refers to the people, the sons and daughters of the towns. The impersonal population becomes the personalised poble, with its individual villagers connected through their communities. Interestingly, it is the word poble (town) and not ciutat (city) that is used to refer to the Catalan population. Maybe this shows that the age-old concept of the town and its associated sense of community is valued over and above the more modern and impersonal concept of the city.

Photo: Sant Martí Sesgueioles Town Council

Following on from this train of thought, I often hear people use the word “terra” (land) when referring to Catalonia or their particular region of the country. Although I am used to hearing it, the word terra always evokes a sense of the past, a medieval and romantic vision of today’s world. I’m sure Catalan people are not aware of this romantic vision of their words when they speak but, surrounded by the stone clusters of houses and undulating crop fields of this village I call home, I cannot help but feel lulled by this romantic vision of reality. Will my own boys describe themselves in years to come as fills (sons) of the poble (town) of this terra (land)?

About: Genevieve Shaw has been working as a freelance translator since 2006, specialising in texts on health, culture, travel and marketing, from Catalan and Spanish into English. She is also a freelance copywriter. A member of the Professional Association of Translators and Interpreters in Catalonia (APTIC) and Mediterranean Editors and Translators (MET), Genevieve has a degree in English Literature and Language and a master’s in Marketing. She writes a blog called My Message in a Bottle and lives in a village in Catalonia with her husband and two sons. For further information, please visit her website.