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Speaking Mallorquín


Language in Mallorca is a pretty complicated issue, or so it would seem to the outsider.

Before my wife and I came to Mallorca to settle here 22 years ago we prepared ourselves for the move by taking language classes. Upon our arrival here, we soon realized that we had learnt the wrong language. We had taken Spanish lessons, when in fact everybody in Mallorca spoke Mallorquín amongst themselves.

We also found out soon enough that prior to our arrival language had been an issue of quite severe political supression, mainly during the Franco years (1936-1975). People still fall silent and start whispering when one asks them about that particular period in their lives.

A married Mallorcan couple that we have known for years now speak Mallorquín at home. They also converse in Spanish with us. During their schooling, however, they had not been allowed to learn their own language but were taught Castellano only. As a result of this they find it pretty dificult today to read a letter from the townhall or anyone else that is written in Mallorquín, even though this is their own language and they speak it everyday. To write a letter in Mallorquín they find a near impossible task; they have never learnt this skill.

I consider it futile to protect plants, birds, bats and whatever other animal but not to protect the human right to speak and learn and practise one’s mother’s language. I also consider it wrong for people to come to this island and tell our hosts what they should speak and how they should live their lives.

I went to the Festival de Poesia de la Mediterrània last night, in Palma’s Teatre Principal. Thirteen poets recited some of their work there, plus Biel Mesquida, the organizer, himself also a poet and writer. If I counted correctly, there were ten languages spoken on stage: Mallorquín, Catalan, Castellano, Gallego, Maltese, English, Italian, Slovenian, Danish and Esperanto. Each and every one of these idioms is beautiful and valuable, is warm, human and dignified. The almost exclusively Mallorcan audience had no problem relating to any of the poets whatever their particular language.

If we don’t value people (and their culture, their souls, their dignity and their language) then there is no point in attaching values to the rare  Robust Orchid (Orchis robusta) or the Red Kite (Milvus milvus), or indeed any plant or any animal. In fact there would be no point, fullstop.

The photo was taken in Felanitx, Mallorca, Baleares, Spain. The date: March 22nd, 2009. The time was 12:26:31.

8 replies »

  1. What a great post about the language! I find difficult to understand Mallorquín and have only a few word to speak. (Bon dia, bona tarda, bona nit, perdoni, quant es.) The problem is; when you say something in Mallorquin people think you speak the language. And I don’t even speak more then a few sentences of Castellano. But I understand a lot more. I think language is interesting, but difficult to learn.

    Have a nice weekend!

  2. Beautifully said. I did not visit Mallorca long enough to observe language subtleties. However, I’m now living in Hawaii where the people have so many of the same issues of which you speak. The native language was driven underground and an alien culture superimposed on what was already there, then everything was mixed up with the arrival of more and more foreigners, the languages and cultures of many of them also marginalized. It’s made for a very fraught identity nowadays.

  3. So you have been living there for 22 years and yet have not realized that Catalan and Mallorcan is the. same language?.

    • If only things were as simple as you make it out to be, Albert, there would be no need for the Diccionario Alcover Moll to be published in 10 volumes, the Diccionari català-valencià-balear. There are hundreds of words spoken in Mallorca which are unknown in Catalan, and hundreds of words spoken in Catalan which do not exist in Mallorquin. You might argue that the language spoken in the Illes Balears or in Valencia are mere dialects of Catalan, and throw in the Occitan vernacular for good measure. I happen to disagree but then I am not on a colonialist trip. May I point out that Catalan was considered a dialect of Spanish (Castilian) in 1939; surely even you must agree that this is an uneducated statement. But everybody is entitled to their own opinion.

    • Not true. Although the grammar is very similar, there are very many words, – includind yhe word “speak” for example, that are entirely different. The same thing applies to Eivissa by the way.

  4. Excellent post and point well made by Mallorcaphotoblog. It seems clear to me that the biggest threat to the continued existence of Mallorquín at the current time is not Castellano but Catalan ….

  5. A small comment…
    Mallorca was all up for Franco from day one of the Civil War. Very much different from Formentera and Menorca… Só in a way the castellano loving dictator was here on invitation. I will start to learn mallorquin myself now to show some respect, but the history can’t be changed.

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