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A guide to pronouncing the place names in reports about the terrorist attacks in Catalonia

Journalists have been struggling with the pronunciation of Catalan place names in the aftermath of last week’s tragic events in Catalonia. Strangely, sometimes the names of places in Catalonia and the rest of Spain are pronounced as if they were French, with a nasal vowel creeping in to place names that begin with “Sant”, for instance. This phenomenon is known as a hyperforeignism.

Journalists should not be expected to pronounce place names exactly as they are pronounced in the original language, but the purpose of these tips is to offer the best compromise pronunciation, i.e. a pronunciation that uses sounds that we use in English. In other words, it would sound pretentious to pronounce the r of the French city Rennes out of the back of the throat, like the French do, but it makes sense to avoid pronouncing the final s, since it is easy for an English-speaking person to do so and it does not sound unnatural.

I’ve refrained from using phonetic symbols to make this guide accessible. A linguist will spot inconsistencies in my “transcriptions”, but they’re intended to be read by English speakers as if they were English words. The syllables written in all caps are the stressed syllables. The letters uh indicate a schwa sound, like the initial a in the English word about.

Barcelona: This one’s easy. I think we can consider this one to be Anglicised, like Paris (in which we pronounce the s, even though it is silent in French). So just pronounce it the usual English way. But whatever you do, please don’t pronounce the letter c as a th! It sounds pretentious, and although it is part of the Spanish pronunciation, in Catalan, the c in Barcelona is pronounced as an s, just like in English. Recommended pronunciation: [bar-suh-LO-nah].

Cambrils: Another easy one for English speakers. Read it as written, including the final s. The stress in on the final syllable: Recommended pronunciation: [kuhm-BREELS].

Sant Sadurní (d’Anoia): I’ve put the final part in brackets because, although it is part of the official name, it is usually left out, in the same way that Newcastle-upon-Tyne becomes Newcastle. The pronunciation is quite straightforward. Note that in Catalan and Spanish (unlike in French), accented vowels indicate the stress, so Sadurní is stressed on the final syllable. The only other thing to note is that the final t of Sant is silent in most Catalan dialects. Recommended pronunciation: [SAN suh-dur-NEE (duh-NOY-a)].

Sant Just: Like in the above, you can drop the t, so Sant is pronounced [San] (don’t make it sound like the French word Saint!). The j of Just is pronounced like the s in vision, or the j in words borrowed from French, like jus. Recommended pronunciation: [SAN JOOST].

Alcanar: The main mistake I’ve heard with this one is a stress on the first syllable; it should be on the final syllable. The final r is silent in standard Catalan, but is pronounced in the accent of the people living in that part of southern Catalonia. Recommended pronunciations: [uhl-kuh-NAR] or [uhl-kuh-NA].

Subirats: The important thing here is to place the stress on the final syllable. All the letters are pronounced. Recommended pronunciation: [soo-be-RATS].

Ripoll: No, it doesn’t sound like the English word ripple! The double l produces a sound that doesn’t exist in English and is hard to pronounce. But we can get close enough by pronouncing it like a letter y. The stress is on the final syllable. Recommended pronunciation: [ri-POY].

Vilafranca (del Penedès): There are several places called Vilafranca in the Catalan sprachraum, but since this one is the biggest, Vilafranca del Penedès is often shortened to Vilafranca. The pronunciation of the short form is straightforward; English speakers will even relax the unstressed vowels in the same way that a Catalan would. If reading the long form, the word Penedès is stressed on the final syllable, as indicated by the accented vowel. Recommended pronunciation: [vi-la-FRAN-ka (duhl puh-nuh-DES)].

Pau Pérez: Not a place name, but the name of one of the victims. The first name should be familiar to basketball fans, thanks to Pau Gasol. I’ve written it as “pow” in the recommended pronunciation. Note that this should rhyme with cow, not with bow. In the surname Pérez, the first syllable is stressed, as indicated by the accented vowel. It is a Spanish name, so most Spaniards (including Catalans) would pronounce the z as a th sound, but in other parts of the Spanish-speaking world people would pronounce it as a hard s sound, so this would also be acceptable. Recommended pronunciations: [POW PEH-reth] or [POW PEH-ress].

Have I missed any out? Leave a comment below, or tweet me, and I’ll add any other places you’d like to know how to pronounce.


Notes la crisis [sic]?

Ahir feia una mica de zàping, i vaig veure que a TV3 donava OIK mentns. Com que no és un programa que m’interessa, anava canviar de canal, però després he vist això:


OIK fa mal als ulls? I es va quedar a la pantalla durant ni més ni menys que 84 segons. Com és possible?

Actualització el dia 30 d’abril de 2009:

Resposta del Servei d’Atenció 5430:

Entenem el seu malestar i li demanem disculpes. No dubti que farem arribar la seva queixa als responsables de l’espai “Oikmentns?”. En la nostra tasca regular de seguiment de la programació, fem els passos necessaris perquè les errades que han pogut sortir no es tornin a repetir en emissions posteriors.

Gràcies pel seu interès.


Translation and the target audience (may be of interest to non-translators too!)

Before writing this entry, I would like to make it clear that the purpose of this entry is not to criticise a translator, but simply to reflect upon how a particular translation could have been improved. I am sure that there are also many things that could be improved in my own translations.

I’ve just been watching a documentary on the Catalan television channel 33. As usual, I was watching the documentary in the original language, which was in English, but because the documentary was about the high levels of murders in Guatemala, all the interviews were in Spanish, so I used the audio button to switch to the Catalan audio channel so I could hear the interviews without a voice dubbed over the top.

As this was a BBC documentary, the original script for the narrator would have been in English, and this would have been translated into Catalan. At one point, they were talking about a young girl who had been killed, and as her body was moved into a coffin the narrator said, “A la Gran Bretanya, el cadàver es conserveria com a prova. Aquí la posen al fèretre.”, which in the original English would have been something like “In the UK, the body would have been kept as evidence. Here, they put it in a coffin.”

Why did the text refer to the UK? Because the documentary was comparing what happens in Guatemala with what happens in the country of the viewers. If this documentary had been made by CBS, they’d have probably said “the US” instead of “the UK”.

By keeping the reference to the UK in the Catalan version of the documentary, it doesn’t really make a lot of sense to the Catalan viewer and sounds rather arbitrary. Why is the narrator referring to what happens in the UK, rather than in another country? In Germany, the body would also have been kept as evidence, as it would in France, Italy or Belgium. So it would have made much more sense to say “in Europe” or “in Catalonia”.

This is where the question of the target audience is important. If this had been translated for the Balearic Islands channel IB3, it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense to say “in Catalonia”. Similarly, if this was being translated into French and was going to be broadcast only on French television, it would make sense to say “in France”; but if it was also going to be broadcast in Walloon and Romandy, it would make a lot more sense to say “in Europe”.

This is just a short reflection on one of the many things we have to think about, besides converting words from one language to another, when translating.


Tancament de TV3 a les comarques alacantines

Fa uns quants mesos, vam aprendre que Hugo Chávez va tancar les emissions d’alguns canals de televisió a Veneçuela. Doncs, per més que el detestin, ahir el PP va actuar exactament com ell en tancar els repetidors que permetien als valencians de les terres alacantines de rebre les emissions de Televisió de Catalunya.

És vergonyós. Una barrabassada. No només atempta contra la llibertat d’expressió, sinó que també és un cop dur contra la llengua catalana, el resultat del qual és que la proporció de mitjans audiovisuals en castellà — ja majoritaris — ara és encara més alta. Espero que els alacantins no s’avinguin davant aquest gran disbarat.

El català és una llengua en clar desavantatge respecte al castellà en els mitjans de comunicació. Davant aquesta situació, hauríem de poder mirar tots els canals que emeten en català arreu dels territoris de parla catalana. Que estiguem d’acord o no amb l’existència dels Països Catalans com a concepte polític, em sembla tan evident que la reciprocitat de TOTS els canals autonòmics en llengua catalana beneficiaria a tots els territoris on es parla la nostra llengua. Tan evident, que estic convençut que qui no vol aquesta reciprocitat vol que la llengua catalana no es normalitzi.

És més, si els territoris de parla francesa que són França, Valònia, Suïssa i el Quebec veuen la utilitat de promoure la llengua francesa participant en el canal TV5, un canal que emet programes produïts per totes les televisions públiques d’aquests territoris, quant més nosaltres, que parlem una llengua en una situació molt més precària que la francesa, hauríem de crear un projecte semblant. Evidentment tindria principalment programes de Televisió de Catalunya, Televisió Valenciana i Radiotelevisió de les Illes Balears, però també s’hi podria incloure els programes en català de France 3 i els programes de Catalan TV de l’Alguer.

Quant a la reciprocitat que diuen que existeix entre TV3 i IB3, jo no rep IB3 pel sistema analògic, perquè mai no es va sintonitzar a la meva finca, com tampoc el 3/24. A més, no s’emet pel sistema de TDT, al qual tots ens hauríem d’estar adaptant. I jo em pregunto: després de l’apagada analògica, hi haurà alguna manera de poder veure IB3?