Private life, by Josep Maria de Sagarra, is a Catalan novel written in 1932. For a long time, I have wanted to read it. These last holidays, I decided to do so, but in a special way: I wanted to read, first, Vida privada and, then, Private life, the translation of the same work into English by Mary Ann Newman, in order to make a presentation in class comparing the original version with the translated one and also because the English edition was really cute.
While I was reading the original, I realized that it was full of loanwords from English, and I decided to change the subject of my presentation: I decided to do it all about how English words were introduced in the text.
But, firstly, we should talk about the plot of Private life: this classic of Catalan literature is about an aristocratic family, the Lloberola, and particularly about two Lloberola brothers, Frederic and Guillem, Tomàs de Lloberola sons, who are married to two high society ladies. However, they have other lovers. But the quantity and variety of characters in this novel is huge; I could spend hours counting them, so I’ll stop here.
The author himself had been born into an aristocratic family, but we should consider that the plot of his novel is not something like an autobiography. He observes reality, but he writes using his own imagination; definitely, he writes fiction. However, when the novel was first published, some people protested because they thought they had been portrayed in the book.
I will talk about the relationship between Private life and English, but, before, we should observe that this novel, written in Catalan, also maintains a relationship with Spanish and French.
In Private life, some characters use Spanish to be more sophisticated or fashionable. This is something that also happens in the case of English, as we will see. In the first example I have given, we read that one character, the Marquesa de Lió, is talking with Primo de Rivera, and she says: «Ay, Miguel! You are so funny, so salty, saladísimo!»
In the second example, one character says that one boy is «plenty mono». It is curious because the translation to English explains what mono means: «the Spanish word for “cute”».
In the other two examples, we observe the use of words like «potin», which, in French, means ‘rumour’, and «chic», which is also used in English, but comes from French.
Another curious thing about Private life is that some characters have a disrespectful vision of Catalan. In the first extract of this slide, Pilar, who is an important character, is defined as a girl who used to talk in Catalan even when her mother forbad her to do so because it was a working-class language.
In the second example, which I have supplied in Catalan and also in English, Frederic de Lloberola criticises the use of the word “menyspreu” instead of “despreci”, while we know that “menyspreu” is the correct one. In 1918, Pompeu Fabra had published his Gramàtica catalana, and so the rules of Catalan were a recent topic when Sagarra wrote his novel.
I have divided the English words that appear in Private life into two groups: the ones which are used to give a sophisticated connotation to one’s own speech and the ones which are used by youngsters. This division is not something really relevant, because, sometimes, youngsters use English words to give a sophisticated connotation to their speech and, sometimes, their elders use words from the Catalan young people’s slang.
In the first example of English words with a sophisticated connotation, I have put «hall», because it demonstrates that this word is used even when there are some words in Catalan that have the same meaning, as in the case of ‘sala’, ‘rebedor’, ‘vestíbul’, etc.
In the second example, the storyteller talks about some healthy parts of the body of a «girl». Why hasn’t he used the word «noia»? Probably, he has preferred «girl» because girls from American or English culture, in Sagarra’s times, were associated with a sporty image.
In the third example, we read «blues», «black-bottom», «charleston»… And also «Joséphine Baker», who was a French vedette born in St. Louis. French and American cultures are really present in this text and we could say that in Catalan society in the 1930s.
In the fourth example, we read «cocktail», while, in the following ones, we read «golf», «Gillette» or «out-board»… Not all these words are used to give a sophisticated connotation to dialogues. Some of them are used simply because there isn’t an equivalent word in Catalan or Spanish.
To represent how young people talk, we find some words as «chewing gum», which could make us think that, in those times, there wasn’t a word for ‘xiclet’. ‘Xiclet’ comes from Chiclets, an American brand that was first sold in Barcelona in 1963. In the second example of this slide, a young character, Patrici, reacts to the confession of another character, Maria Lluïsa, saying «Shocking.»
In the next slide, we read words like «team» (which is unnecessary, as we could say ‘grup’) and «music-hall». We observe that, normally, English words appear in those passages which are related directly to social life; characters from Private life do not speak English in their own private lives.
And we also see the use of «trench-coat», which is the garment that a young character, who has a grandmother, uses. It is said that, when her grandmother was young, she would have never worn a «trench-coat»; this relates English words (and, what is more: English fashion and ideas) to youth.
Other examples I have included are words like «extra dry» (to define a wine) or «boy», which is used as the word «girl» was used before: to define a physical stereotype of a youngster.
Another word, «crawl», has been adapted to Catalan: nowadays, we use the neologism «crol», which is a swimming stroke, but, in Sagarra’s times, people used the original word in English.
Finally, there are some English words that we still use in their original form, like «sex-appeal». If I am not wrong, in French, «week-end» is still used.
While I was reading this novel, I asked myself: why are all these words being used by Catalan speakers? How have they entered Catalonia? I think that Sagarra’s text itself provides an answer: in the last pages of the novel, there is a reference to «the sails that set out for America to seek sugar and coffee, and (…) those other ships that came back from the port of Liverpool freighted with cotton bales». The commercial relationship with America and England could be seen as an origin for this sort of linguistic exchange.
In another part of the text, Maria Lluïsa confesses that she could have loved to be like a kind of Greta Garbo, while the man she was in love with, Bobby, could have been like a sort of Lewis Stone. American films were really fashionable, in those times. This could be a second origin.
And, in Private life, we also find references to some contemporary writers like Proust or, in the case of English literature, D. H. Lawrence, whose most famous book is Lady Chatterley's Lover. In Sagarra’s novel, one character is worried because she has read the book and feels a bit ashamed about it, because that book represented a scandal when it was first published.
So these are all the examples I wanted to explain. As we have seen, the relationship between English and Catalan could have its origin in some social classes and in those times when Catalan had been recently fixed as regards some rules. The fact that, today, English is not seen drastically as a language reserved for some concrete social classes anymore could be seen as a great improvement.