Pallarès, Catalan, the Pyrenees and tourism in global times

Actress Noemí Busquets as the wise yet naughty Esperanceta Gassia at the Ecomuseu de les Valls d’Àneu during the theatrical night visit to the ethnographic museum of Esterri d’ Àneu in Pallarès

Actress Noemí Busquets as the wise yet naughty Esperanceta Gassia at the Ecomuseu de les Valls d’Àneu during the theatrical night visit to the ethnographic museum of Esterri d’ Àneu in Pallarès

When thinking of promoting tourism in a mountainous area of the Catalan Pyrenees it might seem as if using Pallarès, the local dialect of the Western Catalan type, with very specific vocabulary that visitors from other Catalan-speaking areas are not familiar with and which has been traditionally linked to rural and traditional lifestyles, would make little sense.

Nevertheless, much is to be gained by resorting to this local variety of the Catalan language in touristic activities in the area of Pallars Sobirà… why is that? Well, surprisingly, globalization is the answer.

One of the things that happen in the globalized touristic use of languages, according to authors such as Jaworski and Thurlow (2011) is the “commodification” and “recontextualization” of language. That means, language becomes a commodity in tourism … Aloha in Hawaii and Namaste in Nepal add authenticity to cultural visits, which is always a key asset in tourism. Beyond greetings and occasional language-learning through touristic “grazing” and “gazing”, though, tourism naturally creates new contexts for cultural phenomena and it currently values (oral) intangible heritage greatly. In fact, intangible heritage becomes visible precisely thanks to tourism. Pallarès is, in this sense, an intangible heritage of great value due to its connection to the authentic culture and territory of the Pyrenees.

According to dialectologists (Veny, 1993), Pallarès displays the marks of languages that were spoken before Catalan in the Pyrenees; mainly Basque, which vanished around the 8th century AD due to the Romanization process, but which endured in “isolated” mountain valleys of the Pallars until the 10th century, leaving a strong imprint on place names specially.

Mountain regions are ambivalent: either mountains and valleys “isolate”, or they “link” populations, villages, and cultures. So, when researching in order to assess the potential value of Pallarès in the promotion of the rich touristic offer of the Pallars Sobirà region (a land with prime adventure sports environment and unique cultural offers from Romanesque art to gastronomy) I asked cultural anthropologist and director of the Ecomuseu de les Valls d’Àneu Jordi Abella about this. Mr. Abella told me that “the villages of the Pyrenees in the 19th century were already connected to European capital cities such as Madrid, Paris and Barcelona” and that too long a “good savage myth à la Rousseau had lived on to give a false romantic image of the Pyrenees” based on cultural purity due to isolation.

In a way, both isolation and globalization are forces at play here: isolation is evidenced by the fact that Basque lived on for 200 years in the Pallars; and globalization is evidenced by the fact that people changed to a common language – Catalan – which they could use at fairs and for trading.

Poster of the theater and dance festival “Esbaiola’t” in Esterri d’Àneu. The verb “esbaiolar-se” is unknown in other varieties of Catalan and means “to clear one’s mind” as well as “to clear up the mists (weather)”

Poster of the theater and dance festival “Esbaiola’t” in Esterri d’Àneu. The verb “esbaiolar-se” is unknown in other varieties of Catalan and means “to clear one’s mind” as well as “to clear up the mists (weather)”

Catalonia as a whole is going through what some have called a “thirst for history” (Toledano Gonzàlez, 2004). Catalans are more inclined to consume and discover more about their own culture at the current history-defining moment in which a Catalan vote for self-determination is being discussed. This creates a context that naturally invites greater use of Pallarès as Actress Noemí Busquets (who plays the role of a Pallarès-speaking witch-like wise and wacky lady that confronts local and global values during the night visits to the Eco Museum of the village of Esterri d’Àneu) emphasises: “now I feel that it (Pallarès) is better appreciated by visitors”.  And the fact is that 63% of the visitors coming to the Pallars region are from Catalonia (Boyra & Fusté, 2013), and mostly from the metropolitan area of Barcelona. What is it that Pallarès can offer them?

When in 1913, the philologist Pompeu Fabra wrote the Orthographic Rules of Catalan and later on the General Dictionary of Catalan Language (1931), he based them on the Eastern Catalan dialect – the one spoken in Barcelona – and left aside most vocabulary of other dialects and almost completely ignored Pallarès. Now, as a consequence of this, people coming to the Pallars get surprised by Pallarès. While queuing up at a grocery shop in the beautiful village of Esterri d’Àneu, a spontaneous conversation on dialectology started: a woman shared that when she got married to her Pallarès husband and moved to his village, her mother-in-law once asked her to fetch the “llosa”. “Llosa” in Catalan means “stone slab”; so, she continued “I was hoping that the stone slab wouldn’t be too heavy”. To her relief she later found out that “llosa” in Pallarès means “ladle”.

Pallarès brings back to Catalan-speaking visitors, a richness of vocabulary that they would otherwise ignore. When I asked Yolanda Mas, tourism specialist of the city hall of Sort (the capital of the Pallars Sobirà) what she thought of promoting Pallarès through tourism, she said that “it is an endangered resource that we should definitely invest in”. Nowadays, the visitors to the Pallars Sobirà are very diverse; from French and English to Spanish, Israeli and Russians; so the linguascape of the Pallars might become even more complex soon, and while offering touristic activities in Hebrew or Russian may respond to the economic need of the moment, offering activities in Pallarès Catalan in addition to activities in Standard Catalan and other languages, will be proof that “identity sells” while being at the same time a necessary expression of authentic identity.

ResearchBlogging.org References
Boyra, J. & Fusté, F. (2013). Anàlisi dels instruments d’ordenació i dels recursos territorials i l’activitat turística a la comarca del Pallars Sobirà GREPAT/ Escola Universitària Formatic Barna, Barcelona

Fabra, P. (1913). Normes ortogràfiques. Institut d’Estudis Catalans, Barcelona.

Fabra, P. (1931). Diccionari general de la llengua catalana. Llibreria Catalònia, Barcelona.

Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. (2010). Language and the Globalizing Habitus of Tourism: Towards a sociolingüístics of Fleeting Relationships (From: Handbook of Language and Globalization, edited by Coupland, N.) Wiley- Blackwell Publishing ltd. West Sussex, UK.

Toledano Gonzàlez, L. (2004). Atles del Turisme a Catalunya mapa nacional dels recursos turísitics intangibles. Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona- Grup de Recerca Consolidat Manuscrits / Generalitat de Catalunya.

Torrents, A. (2014). La variant dialectal pallaresa com a bé immaterial de la marca de turisme cultural “Pallars”. Creació i comercialització de productes turístics. Quaderns de recerca Escola Universitària Formatic Barna, Barcelona.

Veny, J. (1993). Els parlars catalans (Síntesi de dialectologia) Editorial Moll, Mallorca.

Author Anand Torrents Alcaraz

Anand Torrents Alcaraz is a philosopher, educationist and Gestalt therapist, who is passionate about issues of language and identity. Anand graduated in Philosophy from the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona and holds a Master’s degree in Psychopedagogy from the Universitat de Barcelona. Anand has taught languages at every level of the educational system in Catalonia and abroad (from primary school to university). He is currently doing research on issues of diversity and multiculturalism.

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