Catalan and north-eastern Jaén speech

Iberian linguistics is even more complex than I had thought.

Walking is a great way to overhear a comparatively small number of entire conversations. Cycling exposes you to greater variety, but unless you sort out a reasonably unobtrusive emergency stop technique, you’ll be stuck with a large and fairly useless collection of context-stripped fragments (“as I was saying”, “when we get home”). Once you stop, you’ll find that most people will be prepared to talk to you, sometimes at great length. South Asians and sub-Saharan Africans are a good bet, but no one talks as much as a guy who spends his life wandering through reedbeds with 270 sheep and a nuclear dog family.

In Barcelona varieties of Catalan and Spanish live side by side, so that it’s not unusual to hear a couple talking, one using urban Catalan and the other Castilianised Andalusian. As you go south along the coast, there’s a large zone of German/English domination, with only the state apparatus and old men using Catalan. Into Valencia community, and there’s virtually no public use of Catalan/Valencian, although old men talk it in bars in some villages, many of them using characteristic Lleida-style hybrids. (A random favourite: the use of the Spanish jabalí instead of the “standard” Catalan senglar for “wild boar”, commencing with an English “jab” instead of a spot of Spanish throat-clearing. No coincidence, surely, that the church built in the Ruzafa barrio of Valencia at the spot where Jaime/Jaume of Aragon accepted the surrender of the Moors in 1238 is dedicated to San Blas, patron saint of throat conditions. Do speakers of sweet gutturalects like northern Castilian and Arabic suffer from a higher rate of throat cancer than Catalans?)

One of my most interesting conversations on The Trip was with the guy with the 270 sheep near model farmworkers’ village, San Miguel, as one comes down from the hills along the southern end of Albacete province and head towards Jaén. The area where he was born and has lived is roughly 300km from the last pockets of Valencian speakers, and I don’t think was subject to Aragonese or western Catalan settlement during the reconquista, but I was struck by the similarities between some aspects of his speech and Catalan. For example, in many areas of Andalusia the final “s” gets replaced by an aspirant (las vacas => lahbakah), and, slightly less frequently, you lose other final consonants, particularly, I think, the “n” (like the standard Catalan nació in relation to the Castilian nación), but this guy was using radical shit like tambí for the Spanish también/Catalan també, and osté for the Spanish usted/Catalan vosté. Another example: inflection of the unstressed “o”, giving curtiju instead of cortijo, a characteristic of eastern Catalan variants. I was going to tie him up and bring him along to enable further study of Murcian-Andalusian hinterland speech, but a bike can only take so much.

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  1. What you have done should be obligatory for every one who still says “In Cataluña they speak Catalan, in Valencia they speak Valencian, in Andalucía they speak Andalucian”. Spain was always very mixed linguistically and is getting more so every day.

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