Thursday, April 17, 2014

Mallorca's Salad (Sic) Days

The word "sic" is directly lifted from Latin. Its literal meaning is "thus". It has come to be used in the written form as a means of highlighting an error, such as a misspelling, a malapropism or simply wrong usage. It is commonly used to poke fun, which is appropriate, as there is so much fun that one can have with Latin and linguistic arguments in Mallorca.

These arguments are ones with which we are all too familiar. They centre on Catalan or not Catalan and, for the linguistically uninitiated or couldn't-care-lesses (sic), they are frequently arcane to the point of being beyond comprehension or stupid to the point of long having dispensed with common sense or rationality.

Of course, one man's language is his to defend, as indeed is an alternative language or dialect, so one can't and shouldn't be too dismissive of another man's language argument. However, there are occasions when intrusion into someone else's argument is required, if only to highlight what might appear to be the pettiness of the debate. 

While the polemic in Mallorca is one which typically embraces the linguistic parallel universes of Catalan and Castellano, there is an idiomatic black hole which exists in the Catalan universe, inside which resides mini-universes that have diverged from Vulgar Latin roots. This is a divergence, the peculiarity of which is made even more peculiar by the fact that it centres on what in original Latin was that language's set of intensive pronouns. In Latin there is no such thing as a definite or indefinite article - "the" or "a". In Catalan there most definitely is. Or rather, there most definitely are.

Ipse, ipsa, ipsum. You can blame all of them because they are at the heart of the row that has found its way into the Balearic parliament. In the Mallorquín dialect (and in a few other Catalan dialects), these pronouns led to a localised Vulgarisation of the article. It is why Mallorquín uses "es" and "sa" instead of the normal Catalan "el" and "la" (the same as Castellano therefore).

This Mallorquín branch line of definite article usage is known as the "article salat". In Castellano "salat" becomes "salado". The salad days aren't so much salad days of innocence as salad days of the linguistic argument having its heyday. They're arguing over the bloody definite article.

This has all arisen because the Mallorcan broadcaster IB3 has started to use "es" and "sa" in its news reports instead of "el" and "la". Why should this inspire an argument? Believe it or not, and you will believe it, it all has to do with the Partido Popular regional government's antagonism towards Catalan. There has been an outcry. The accusation is that the government is interfering with the editorial independence of IB3 (and this is not the first time that it has been accused of doing so) by pressing its anti-Catalan agenda and its pro-Balearic dialects agenda as a complement to Castellano.

Both forms of the article are commonly used in Mallorca, but there is a general distinction made in terms of literary/more formal usage and everyday usage. The Catalan article is used for the former. Hence, it might be deemed appropriate for news reports. This is how opponents of the introduction of the "salat" see things. They also see the use of the "salat" as a deliberate ploy to undermine Catalan.

The government insists that the "salat" usage reflects colloquial speech and that its use by IB3 "dignifies" linguistic peculiarities. But the government's vice-president, Antonio Gómez, who, it just so happens, was for a time the director-general of IB3, isn't saying who made the decision to adopt it. At the Universitat de les Illes Balears, where linguistic standards tend to be decided, the view is that the "salat" damages the standard use of Catalan and that it introduces conflict where none had previously existed. This, unfortunately, sums up how the government has conducted its language policy. It has sought fights, and its increasing unpopularity reflects what have been, for the most part, unnecessary fights.

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