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El Organillero

The problem's actually more extensive than they think: there's a bar in Oakland called The Leaning Tower of Pizza.

Peter Harvey

The mind boggles :-)

John Cowan

Here's a lovely bit from Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander:

They sat at a round table in a bow widow that protruded from the back of the inn high above the water, yet so close it that they had tossed the oyster-shells back into their native element with no more than a flick of the wrist: and from the unloading tartan a hundred and fifty feet below them there arose the mingled scents of Stockholm tar, cordage, sail-cloth and Chian turpentine.

'Allow me to press you to a trifle of this ragoo'd mutton, sir,' said Jack.

'Well, if you insist,' said Stephen Maturin. 'It is so very good.'

'It is one of the things the Crown does well,' said Jack. 'Though it is hardly decent in me to say so. Yet I had ordered duck pie, alamode beef and soused hog's face as well, apart from the kickshaws. No doubt the fellow misunderstood. Heaven knows what is in that dish by you, but it is certainly not hog's face. I said, visage de porco, many times over; and he nodded like a China mandarin. It is provoking, you know, when one desires them to prepare five dishes, cinco platos, explaining carefully in Spanish, only to find there are but three, and two of those the wrong ones. I am ashamed of having nothing better to offer you, but it was not from want of good will, I do assure you.'

'I have not eaten so well for many a day, nor' -- with a bow -- 'in such pleasant company, upon my word,' said Stephen Maturin. 'Might it not be that the difficulty arose from your own particular care -- from your explaining in Spanish, in Castilian Spanish?'

'Why,' said Jack, filling their glasses and smiling through his wine at the sun, 'it seemed to me that in speaking to Spaniards, it was reasonable to use what Spanish I could muster.'

'You were forgetting, of course, that Catalan is the language they speak in these islands.'

'What is Catalan?'

'Why, the language of Catalonia -- of the islands, of the whole of the Mediterranean coast down to Alicante and beyond. Of Barcelona. Of Lerida. All the richest part of the peninsula.'

'You astonish me. I had no notion of it. Another language, sir? But I dare say it is much the same thing -- a putain, as they say in France?'

'Oh no, nothing of the kind -- not like at all. A far finer language. More learned, more literary. Much nearer the Latin. And by the by, I believe the word is patois, sir, if you will allow me.'

'Patois -- just so. Yet I swear the other is a word: I learnt it somewhere,' said Jack. 'But I must not play the scholar with you, sir, I find. Pray, is it very different to the ear, the unlearned ear?'

'As different as Italian and Portuguese. Mutually incomprehensible -- they sound entirely unlike. The intonation of each is in an utterly different key. As unlike as Gluck and Mozart. This excellent dish by me, for instance (and I see that they did their best to follow your orders), is jabalí in Spanish, whereas in Catalan it is senglar.'

'Is it swine's flesh?'

'Wild boar. Allow me . . .'

'You are very good. May I trouble you for the salt? It is capital eating, to be sure; but I should never have guessed it was swine's flesh. What are these well-tasting soft dark things?'

'There you pose me. They are bolets in Catalan: but what they are called in English I cannot tell. They probably have no name -- no country name, I mean, though the naturalist will always recognize them in the boletus edulis of Linnaeus.'

John Cowan

I forgot to mention that the setting is Minorca.

Peter Harvey

The Balearic Islands have their own ways of speaking Catalan, which differ significantly from what is spoken in the mainland. When Maturin speaks of:

the language of Catalonia – of the islands, of the whole of the Mediterranean coast down to Alicante and beyond

he is expressing a point of view that is controversial. The view that Catalan is the language of what is now the Valencian Community is not universally accepted. It is true that they are very similar, perhaps like Dutch and Flemish, but for political reasons many people there reject the idea that they speak Catalan. In fact there is a continuum running up Spain’s Mediterranean coast into Roussillon and round to Italy. Maturin is, as we know, a supporter of Catalan independence. O’Brian has put in his mouth the view of modern-day Catalan nationalists who want an extensive Catalan state based on linguistic similarity.

He describes Catalan as:

A far finer language [than Castilian Spanish]. More learned, more literary. Much nearer the Latin.

Catalan is closer to French in many ways than to Spanish; I am not sure that that makes it closer to Latin. For example, it has taula for table against Spanish mesa. Both languages are obviously derived from Vulgar Latin as spoken in those regions.

When he says that Catalan and Spanish are:

As different as Italian and Portuguese. Mutually incomprehensible – they sound entirely unlike

he is partly correct. Portuguese-speakers can usually understand some spoken Spanish (though not vice versa) and when an Italian, Berlusconi for example, appears on the news with subtitles he can be understood fairly easily in Spain. In the written forms the similarities between Catalan and Spanish are obvious and for basic everyday purposes a Spanish-speaker can understand written (but not spoken) Catalan without too much difficulty. In fact, it is that similarity that the Nationalists use to justify their Catalan-only policy for official purposes.

They are bolets in Catalan: but what they are called in English I cannot tell. They probably have no name – no country name, I mean, though the naturalist will always recognize them in the boletus edulis of Linnaeus

In fact, bolet is the Catalan for a mushroom of any kind. (Catalan Wikipedia: https://ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bolet)

Finally, when Jack Aubrey, who is a typical Englishman when it comes to dealing with foreigners, says porco he is using an Italian word but should still be understood. The Catalan word for pig and pork is porc. The Spanish is cerdo.


My sense is that, among certain circles in England, Spanish is seen as a poor relation in terms of language learning. Certainly, when I went to school in England, Spanish was seen as the "easy" choice for those who were no good at languages. The classics, German, Italian, and Russian were seen as more prestigious.

Peter Harvey

I am sure that there is something in that. In the late 60s I did German and French A-level and O-level Russian and Spanish, and Spanish was certainly the easiest.

But I think that there is more. Italy was on the route of the 18th-century Grand Tour; Spain wasn't. For all its problems, Italy has been open to Europe since then; 19th-century Spain was a mess of civil wars and was introspectively closed off -- even till the mid 20th century. Spain only developed mass tourism in the 60s, and then it was based on the coasts; the huge cultural wealth of the interior, which can certainly match what Italy offers, is even now largely unknown.

It's not just that Spanish is "easy" (after all it is still taught more than Italian) but that there is still a lingering doubt in Britain about Spain's moral worth. Memories of the Inquisition and the Armada run deep in the British psyche.

John Cowan

I don't think anyone in the early 19C believed that Catalan and Valencian were distinct languages, and the people who claim to believe it now, in fact seem to only speak Castilian! Certainly the Valencian Academy of Language says they are two names for the same language.

Boletus edulis mushrooms are known in the U.S. by their Italian name, porcini; the English Wikipedia says that in England they are penny-bun mushrooms. The Catalan Wikipedia gives the name as cep.

Peter Harvey

John, The people who claim that Valencian is a different language certainly do speak it. They tend to have a sort of Valencian Nationalist position insisting that theirs is a discrete language separate from Catalan. They have a Language Institute to promote it and that is the first step to formal separation. On the other hand, the Catalan Nationalist campaign for the Països Catalans (Catalan Lands) is explicitly based on uniting the areas where Catalan is spoken and it includes Valencia. It is all political of course and has nothing to do with linguistic reality.

I have mentioned the Valencian language here:


John Cowan

Well, I was going by what Wikipedia says, which I have also seen elsewhere:

Many Catalan politicians, in turn, argue that the right wing is using this issue [of linguistic Valencianism] to portray Catalans as linguistic imperialists, in order to garner support in the rest of Spain for the centralist position of the Spanish right wing. They often refer to the fact that many of the most ardent defenders of Valencian's linguistic individuality often are not able to speak the language themselves.
Peter Harvey

John, Firstly I must apologise for the disappearance of your message. I suffered a plague of Chinese spam (about 300 messages) and regrettably your message was deleted with them, being the latest 'real' comment.

As I remember it, my reply is that it is generally the right in Valencia that supports the difference between the Valencian and Catalan languages. As a rule in Spanish politics, the right is centralist and the left supports more local power. However, where the right rules (as they do in Valencia) they are jealous of their local power.

Peter Harvey


I have been able to retrieve your comment.

You can decide for yourself whether some Catalans are linguistic imperialists


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