Thursday, October 31, 2013

Struggling with Catalan in Barcelona - What´s in an Unpronounceable Name?

Humiliation. Frustration. A recurring sense of despair. The desire to move.

Did I lose you on the last one? Let me explain.

My street´s name, Llull (which is Catalan), is almost impossible for a non-native speaker to pronounce correctly. Out of necessity, I keep trying, but my painful and very public failures are starting to make me feel stupid. Sometimes I  think one more look of utter bewilderment on the face of a local will, in fact, drive me nuts. In a vote for sanity, I am seriously considering my only other option - to move.

Communication problems begin with poor pronunciation 
Language Challenges in Barcelona, Spain
Ramon Llull, who lived his mortal life from 1232 to 1315, was a husband, a father, a writer, 
a poet, a mystic, a missionary, a saint and a martyr. His feast day is June 30th. 

Drastic? Perhaps. But I´m at my wits end. I have started to fear situations in which I might have to pronounce my street name. Taxi rides are a source of stress. 5 minutes of uncomprehending looks from the driver as I pronounce every variation on Llull that I can think of, from yoo-ee and you-yuh to you-ll and yu-yah, just do my head in. For the sake of simplicity, I have taken to spelling rather than saying my street name in situations where I am forced to use it. In a taxi the conversation now goes something like this ...

¨A donde vas?¨                                   Where to?
¨Ele-ele-u-ele-ele, numero 98.¨            L-l-u-l-l, number 98

Yes. I get some strange looks, but then I am already used to those.

Which brings me to my real point. Is it right that a mere rudiment of language can become such a source of anxiety for non-native speakers that it causes us to fear and eventually avoid direct communication? Is anyone judging us more harshly than we are judging ourselves? OK, it´s true,1 or 2 jerks actually are. But why do we ignore all those other folks and let the mean ones make the impact?

Ramon Llull, of the tongue-twisting surname, was an impressive man. Apart from being a philosopher and logician, he was a lover of languages who is credited with writing the first major work of Catalan literature some 750 years ago, which is all well and good.

If only my street weren´t named after him.

Even these authorities can´t agree. 
Check out the links below for 3 different variations on the pronunciation of Llull