In 1960 a group of Catalan-speakers from across the Països Catalans (Catalan Countries) traveled by boat to the city of Alghero [Sardinia, Italy] in what would come to be called Lo Viatge del Retrobament (The Voyage of Rediscovery). Fifty years later, coninciding with the traditional festivities of Sant Joan on the eve of the summer solstace, the city Alghero and the vicepresedency of the Catalan Government commemorated this voyage with a reenactment of the original boat trip to the island.
Fifty years on, this new Rediscovery – boat included – was never going to be as meaningful as that initial 1960 voyage. Firstly, because by this point Alghero is not a recent rediscovery for people from Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, and people living in Alghero have likewise been visiting the Països Catalans for quite some time now. Secondly, because those who traveled to Alghero by boat in 1960 were coming directly from Franco’s dictatorship. When they arrived in Alghero they discovered the Catalan soul of a city that proudly displayed familiar Catalan flags, and where people spoke the local alguerès (Algherese Catalan) on the streets in complete freedom.
In contrast, fifty years on the new participants were met with fewer Catalan flags displayed on balconies and throughout the streets, and probably fewer Catalan speakers (take a look at the results of the survey of the use of alguerès from 2004 on the website of the secretary of Linguisitic Policy). With both sides now in a democracy, even though their nationalistic yearnings may not have been satisfied to the degree each side would have liked, this time around it was simply a voyage of cultural tourism. Nonetheless, this second Rediscovery most likely warranted a more active approach and a better understanding of the reality of Alghero and Sardinia.
This is because the future of Catalan-speaking Alghero - and the language’s revival – both depend on the socio-economic context (in addition to the political context, just like everywhere else). Claudio Sanna, a singer from Alghero, sings in praise of “Saint Ryanair.” And I believe he’s on to something. As long as Ryanair continues to fly regularly between Girona and Alghero, and Alitalia between Barcelona and Alghero, as long as Grimaldi Lines maintains the frequency of its boats from Barcelona to Porto Torres – all of these aspects of the tourist (and economic) sector will help convince those from Alghero that the language of their parents, grandparents or neighbors can be advantagous to finding a job in the hospitality, education, new technologies and services sectors, among others. And simultaneously, the flux of people from Alghero to Barcelona or Girona can help to bring dignitiy and added value to alguerès. But beyond this point, overcoming the challenges to good language planning will depend primarily on political will (especially municipal political will, with the support of the legal framework of the region and state); and, naturally, on the will of society.
Now, you can’t go off to Alghero for a weekend and come back propagating the (false) idea that there are no more Catalan-speakers there. If we listen closely we will hear an alguerès with a Sardinian intonation (and not an Italian one). Its unique phonetic system is the result of having evolved isolated from Catalan while in close contact with Sardinian and, most recently, Italian. Listen closely to elderly folk sitting along the Passejada boulevard or in other public spaces as they comptemplate the onslaught of tourists; laborors working on scaffolding; conversations that float up from the dabaixos of old Alghero (but also on the outskirts, in the new city, in Pedrera, in Sant Agustí Nou, etc). The language is very much present there, even if it is mainly found among the middle-aged and older generations.
I remember that when I used to live in Alghero in the mid-1990s I mostly spoke in alguerès, which I felt was a logical way of adapting to my new linguistic surroundings (people would say to me: “This one is already half alguerès (Algherese), he speaks just like us”). I also remember a farmer I once interviewed about the different names of varieties of fruit in alguerès. He already found it odd enough that a Catalan from Barcelona would be interested in these sorts of things. Nonetheless, he was even more astounded once he discovered that I spoke “més o manco” (more or less) like him, and he asked me: “Do all Catalans speak like this?”, happy be able to hold a conversation with a foreigner in alguerès. I believe that this is an example of the humbleness that Catalan-speakers need if we wish to truly rediscover Alghero. We need to remember that from 1960 on, alguerès has continued to be the language of everyday informal use, despite it never finding a favorable “niche” in the sociolinguistic and inter-generational fabric. Let us not forget, however, that it has not been the language of literacy or schooling.
The Alghero that I see today is the same city I got to know fifteen years ago. I continue to seek out its Catalan spirit and uniqueness. For a few years now I have noticed that some taxis are displaying advertisements of the company Rumpara, which phoentically disguises the word rompuda, past participle of the verb rompre (to break). Rumpura is the xisto (nickname) of a family from Alghero, “los de Rompuda”, a word that has become fossilized in the advertisement (because today with the official change of conjugation the past participle should be rompida, from the verb rompir, just as córrer (to run) has gone on to be spelled corrir, and rebre (to receive) has shifted to recivir, and please excuse the whims of a linguist...).
This is my Rediscovery of Alghero... And if at the airport, in a shop or in a restaurant I am attended to in alguerès, I for one will celebrate!
Andreu Bosch i Rodoreda
is a philologist and linguist, with a PhD in Catalan Philology from the University of Barcelona in 2008. He specializes in the study of the Catalan of Alghero. Between 1993-1996 he taught Catalan at the University of Sàsser (Sardinia) and coordinated the Teaching Resources Center Maria Montessori (Alghero). He has been a part-time associate professor at the University of Barcelona since 2001, and on July 2nd, 2009, he was named director of the Department of Language and Universities of the Ramon Llull Institute.