Twin Catalan Readings Highlight Borders In Language, Culture

“. . . languages like Catalan provide an important understanding of the diversity of languages in the world.”

By Sarah Manhardt

The Catalan program celebrated Sant Jordi Day—a more patriotic Catalan equivalent of Valentine’s Day—with a discussion of literature and the art of translation at the Seminary Co-Op on Monday. The event was co-sponsored by the University’s Department of Romance Languages and Literature, the Joan Coromines Chair of Catalan Studies, and the Institut Ramon Llull. Mary Ann Newman discussed her translation of Josep Maria de Sagarra’s 1932 novel Private Life with Susan Harris, the editorial director of the international magazine Words Without Borders.

Catalan is one of the four official languages of Spain, along with Basque, Galician, and Spanish. It is spoken throughout Spain, with pockets of speakers in France, Andorra, and Italy. While the use of Catalan was severely repressed during the regime of fascist dictator Francisco Franco, the language survived and has experienced resurgence in recent years.

Alba Girons Masot, Catalan language coordinator and lecturer at the University, emphasized the importance and utility of the Catalan language, which is intertwined with Catalonian culture.

“I think it is interesting to learn Catalan because you discover a new literature and films and so many things; you have access to this culture universe, but at the same time in a very daily and practical way,” Girons Masot said.

The event then featured a reading from Private Life in both Catalan and English. The 15-minute reading illustrated the importance of translation, placing the rhythms of the two languages next to each other.

After the reading, Newman and Harris discussed Private Life as a scandalous “roman à clef.” Newman explained that the novel was considered a class betrayal at the time of its publication, as Sagarra was a part of the decaying aristocracy he skewered.

Most of the conversation, however, focused on the art of translation. Newman said that translators must rely on judgment to navigate between languages.

“There were a lot of places where I just tightened the style because of English,” she said. “I couldn’t put things in the same order as the Catalan, so I had to play with it.”

Newman also discussed the research she undertook for the translation, saying that some of the references from the 1930s were no longer clear and required investigation, and that additional context was needed for an English-reading audience.

Mario Santana, Catalan undergraduate adviser and associate professor of Spanish literature, said that languages like Catalan provide an important understanding of the diversity of languages in the world.

“Living in the world from the perspective of a language that is not shared by many people, I think it gives you a very different perspective on the world and learning how to negotiate linguistic differences. It’s one of the challenges in the present, and I think it’s going to continue to be one of the challenges in the future,” he said.