Another couple of weeks, another European leader whose name we need to figure out how to pronounce.
Carles Puigdemont, as leader (or outlaw, depending on your perspective) of Catalonia, has been in the news for a few weeks now. But it’s only since yesterday, when the Belgian press started to get excited about his arrival in Brussels today (yesterday to you, as I’m writing this in Brussels Airport on Tuesday, scheduling it to be published on Wednesday, when I’ll be in Ireland. Europe is confusing), that I really began to think about the pronunciation of his name.
Before I go any further, what, strictly, is the pronunciation of the gentleman’s surname? Rather than lecturing you about the phonological system of Catalan as if I know anything about the language, let me just provide you with this link to people pronouncing it.
It’s not so bad really, is it? It’s pretty much as you might have guessed, fairly phonetic. The first part is the only part it’s really hard to guess, but even then it’s not so surprising.
Obviously most of us don’t have to worry too much about how to pronounce his name, but I’m sure reporters and newsreaders were dismayed to see what his name is. That’s the impression I get listening to the Belgian news. It’s quite funny to hear the newsreader pronounce it one way, and then hand over to a reporter who pronounces it another way.
I’m not picking on the Belgians (specifically the Walloons) by the way, as I’m sure it’s the same all over the world. Obviously there’s a French bias in how some of them pronounce it (I can actually hear some of them wondering if they should pronounce the T just before they say the name). Overall though, I’m sure the fleeting look of terror that passes over so many of their faces before they say it is being replicated in newsrooms across the world.
I do feel sorry for the Belgians though, as currently they have no idea how long he’ll be in Brussels, and therefore how long he’ll be the top story here. I do admit to enjoying some schadenfraude in hearing their efforts though. Today I could swear the poor woman reading the news on Classic 21 pronounced his name two different ways within two sentences.
When you step back and look at a world map, and see how small Europe is, it might seem hard to believe that we could struggle so much with the languages of people who are basically our neighbours. But Europe has always been a collection of lots of little tribes who barely get along at the best of times, and I think cases like the Scottish and Catalan independence referendums, and Brexit, have brought this to the fore.
Not that I don’t believe we can all get along. I support the general idea of the EU, and think coöperation is necessary. But I can still understand why culturally or ethnically distinct groups want to have a nation state to call their own.
There’s no easy answer to how to balance such self-determination with closer European unity. But maybe learning how to pronounce the names of our political leaders will be a step in the right direction.