Book Review: Catalan

Teach Yourself Catalan:  A Complete Course For Beginners, by Alan Yates

This is the sort of book that would be best in association with a formal course on Catalan, but since those are few and far between then books like this are pretty useful in teaching this quirky and worthwhile language.  One thing I have noticed in reading quite a bit of material related to Catalonia is that books about the cuisine or art or language of that nation feel the need to justify it as being separate.  As far as I’m concerned, that sort of justification is unnecessary–Catalonia is its own nation, it has a separate language (and a beautiful one too), its own history and its own identity separate from the rest of Spain, and whether or not it ever becomes recognized as an independent state its own distinct culture is worth studying.  There is no need to point to how many millions of people speak it or how big of an area its language zone covers; if the language were an extinct one it would still be worth having a book about it for those who were curious about the language.  Sometimes people try too hard to legitimize themselves when they don’t need to try at all, and the books I have read about Catalan things have that particular quality.

This particular book of nearly 400 pages is divided into four sections.  The first section, which takes up most of the book, consists of thirty lessons on the Catalan language.  After a preface and linguistic map of Catalan there is an introduction with pronunciation and the alphabet and lessons on nouns and definite and indefinite articles (1), contractions (2), verb conjugations (3, 4), adjectives (5), imperfect tense (6), possessives (7), preterite (8), future (9), compound and conditional perfect tenses (10), esser and estar–two forms of “to be” (11), negatives (13), demonstrative adjectives and pronouns (14), relative pronouns (15), strong and weak object pronouns (16), adverbial pronouns (17), combinations of pronouns (18), reflexive verbs and pronouns (19), comparatives (20), verbs and their objects (21), present participles and gerunds (22), impersonal expressions (23), present subjunctive (24), imperfect subjunctive (25), adverbs (26), numbers and dates and measurements (27), partitives and fractions (28), imperative (29), and verbs after si (30).  The next part of the book consists of four appendices that discuss irregular verbs (i), combinations of two weak object pronouns in a matrix (ii), proper names (iii), and suggestions for further reading and study (iv).  There is then a key to the exercises as well as a wordlist from Catalan to English and vice versa as well as an index.

As someone who has read a bit in and about Catalan, there are a few aspects about the language I find particularly interesting.  It is similar enough to Spanish that one can understand a lot of it (though by no means all of it) in terms of cognates, and it has some unusual spellings (including a form of the c that is very unusual and a heavy use of the x that is quite striking) as well as abbreviations that are similar to French and a tendency to lop off the end of words from their Spanish equivalents–for example, the Spanish cebolla becomes the Catalan ceba for onion.  Catalan strikes me as a quirky language that has something interesting and worthwhile to say, and its quirkiness certainly has made it enjoyable for me to read about it a bit, even if I have no plans of actively using the language at this point.  Sometimes it is just fun to have a little bit of awareness of something and its quirkiness and to keep the matter in mind, as someone who supports the cause of Catalan independence and wants to give some attention to the language that keeps them separate from Spain, regardless of Spain’s unwillingness to let them go.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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