un gest per la llengua

Speaking Catalan (or At Least I Tried)

Before Delta Moon’s show in Lleida, Spain, our Spanish agent, Pepe Ferrández, handed me a cardboard box and said, “The government requires that I give this to you.”

The box was labeled with a picture of a winking face and the words un gest per la llengua, which is Catalan for “a gesture towards language”.

There are actually several languages spoken in Spain. The main ones are Spanish (Castillian), used by the government and national media and understood almost everywhere, Galician, which is sort of halfway between Spanish and Portuguese with its own unique elements, Catalan, more like halfway between Spanish and French with its own unique elements, and the Basque language, which is unlike anything else.

The cardboard box contained a kit prepared by the General Directorate for Language Policy of the Ministry of Culture “for scientists and artists who visit Catalonia.” Inside I found a booklet, a set of seven flashcards with phrases like bona nit (Catalan for “good evening”), moltes gràcies (“thank you very much”) and fins aviat (“see you soon”), and a badge with the winking face that actually contained an audio player, with a set of earbuds and a USB connection. I guess the idea was that you could practice the phrases either on your computer in a hotel room or by using the badge while walking down the street or whatever. You could also cue up a phrase, and when it came time to say, “It’s a pleasure to be here with all of you,” just fiddle with the badge and repeat whatever came to your ear.

Bona nit I already knew. I paced up and down the dressing room trying to get the other phrases to flow naturally. On stage that night I spoke half in English, trying to throw in as much Catalan as I could. After the show I asked Pepe how it sounded.

“They got bona nit and fins aviat,” he said.”I don’t think anyone understood anything else you said. But they appreciated that you were trying.”

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