El Born or el Borne neighborhood in Barcelona?


For those who haven’t yet become aware of the fact, Barcelona–and for that matter Catalonia as a whole–is officially a fully bilingual region no matter what right wing Spanish media says to the contrary. This seems to be a rather gigantic shock to those who come from abroad to live here because when finding that Catalan is indeed a valid and these days, heavily defended language, these expats then get incredibly pissy. Much akin to, “The only problem with Scotland, is that it’s full of Scots.” many expats who made a conscious decision to live in Barcelona at times say, “It’s great except for the fucking Catalans.” to which those of us who accept and adore the place often find ourselves thinking, “Barcelona is great except for all the assholes living here who hate Catalonia.”

This never-ending problem will probably only be solved if Catalonia were to someday become an independent nation but the most prevalent and unavoidable manifestation of this comes in terms of the language. Expats in Catalonia almost always stick to speaking Castilian. A few, such as myself make the effort to learn Catalan. You can read my reasons for this here. Despite trying to talk reasonably about it, I will probably need to have all sharp objects taken out of my possession the next time I hear someone who doesn’t bother to learn Catalan tell me, “Well, Castilian is just more useful.”

So, it seems a more worthwhile pursuit therein is to join with Editor-in-Chief in trying to stop the dumbshitification of Catalan words and place names. Much like Barcelona/Barthelona, the amount of times I hear or read Barri Gótico instead of either Barri Gòtic/Barrio Gótico are innumerable (first is Catalan, second Castilian.) Or then someone telling me in English, “Yeah, I’m going to be in Eixample once this taxi reaches Paseo de Grácia” is just auditory rape as if you are going to call Passeig de Gràcia, Paseo de Gracia in Castilian, then you need to call, Eixample, Ensanche. To put this in to more English-centric terms, do you say, “When I get out of the subway I’m heading for my lorry.”? No, no you don’t because you sound like an idiot if you mix English dialects so picture how much worse it is mixing fully separate languages.

By and large, these language offenses are restricted to expats or the worst of online travel writers which is to say, every online travel writer. The one big exception to this is the neighborhood of “El Born” where I lived for two years and know very well.

Let me start by saying that this neighborhood doesn’t technically exist. It does in imagination as again, all and/or the worst of online travel writers will often call the entire neighborhood on the other side of Via Laietana, “el Born” which it’s not. In reality, Born sits underneath the Ciutadella park as it was outside of this neighborhood that people think of as Born today. “El Born” of imagination is actually la Ribera and it along with Santa Caterina and Sant Pere form the three official parts of this neighborhood located between Barri Gòtic, Barceloneta, Parc de la Ciutadella, and Eixample Dret. But fine, I can accept that la Ribera is now “el Born” as it has been other names and was called Vilanova de les Arenes before it was la Ribera, but this historical context is important.

What does “el Born” mean? According to the Catalan dictionary it means several things but the definition of it being “a place where tournaments where held” is the most interesting as that’s what this area outside of la Ribera that now sits under Ciutadella was. Maybe it’s derived from the French word, “béhourd” which is a type of old Medieval tournament like were held in Born in days of yore. Also ironically, this more commonly known, “béhourd” was actually from the Old Germanic word, “buhurt” which makes me wonder if “butt hurt” in modern colloquial American English got it from there, but so I digress.

I still don’t understand how we come to “el Borne”. This word is used by those speaking Castilian and much like Brad Pitt in The Mexican it’s completely misused word. As many English speakers stick an “o” on the end of English words to make them “Spanish”, so too will the Spaniards make Catalan words more “Castilian-y”. I bring this up as one of the other definitions of “born” in Catalan is a terminal for connecting an electronic or mechanical device. It just so happens that this is also a definition for borne in Castilian. In other words, it’s a false friend like with English speakers who think “exito” in Castilian means, “exit” in English.

My personal theory would posit that “born” is the actual, original word, derived from French and “behordo” is the correct Castilian word, also derived from French. Thus, el Born shouldn’t be el Borne, but actually be called, el Behordo.

So why is this significant? Because it means that el Borne is an uneducated mistake of a place name to use. It hurts my ears to hear it. Just by saying “el Borne”, it speaks leagues as to how you live in Barcelona which is to say, you are completely unconnected to the city.

Thankfully more are coming around to the correct name as “el born barcelona” has some 2.3 million search results while “el borne barcelona” has 460k results as well as Google digitally bitch slapping you with, “Showing results for el born barcelona” when you initially try to search for the latter. So get hip, understand Barcelona bit better, and for the love of god, stop calling it “el Borne”.

5 Replies to “El Born or el Borne neighborhood in Barcelona?”

  1. It’s a bit more complicated. You should also take into account that Spanish was the sole official language in Barcelona and the rest of Catalonia for several centuries before the re-establishment of the Catalan autonomous community in 1980. Before the 1980’s, when Spanish was the only official language, the formal names of the streets and districts in Barcelona were a quaint hodgepodge of Spanish (like “calle Platería” or “calle Pelayo”) and old-spelling Catalan (“calle Bruch”, “calle Aviñó”, and so on). At those times, the street and the market were officially called “el Borne”. That name was officially deprecated and became “el Born” in the eighties when all the street names were catalanised, but the Spanish-language name remains in popular use, just like other older names such as “Consejo de Ciento” or “Lauria”, which are still very often used by Barcelonans themselves.

    For me, a non-Catalan Spaniard who has lived in Barcelona, “el Borne” is the name I’ve always been more familiar with and the one I always use. I don’t think there’s anything incorrect in using a name that has been amply used and documented for (at the very least) more than a century. I’m not sure if it’s related, but there’s also a “Passeig del Born” in Palma de Mallorca, and the traditional Spanish-language version of it is “Paseo del Borne” too.

    A final minor unrelated correction: it should be “Paseo de Gracia”, not *”Paseo de Grácia”, in Spanish.

  2. Ángel, you’ve stated your argument well, but it ignores actual facts in favor of the Spanish vision of Catalan history. While this sounds completely prickish, I’m sorry but I don’t really care to debate it further with you as I’ve done this in the past and it’s like getting in to a discussion about evolution with a fundamental Christian in the United States. There is simply no resolution and I stand by what I stated in the article.

  3. Miquel, you say “but it ignores actual facts in favor of the Spanish vision of Catalan history” – I am not sure why you decided to dismiss Ángel’s valid and correct comments; what was said was not a Spanish vision of Catalan history, but a pretty good and clear explication of the place name situation in terms of how and why they were bilingual (more can be read here about the history of Barcelona place names http://w10.bcn.cat/APPS/nomenclator/welcome.jsp. I’m Irish, living in Catalonia, so I know about minority languages and nationalism….).

    You say ¨I still don’t understand how we come to “el Borne”. This word is used by those speaking Castilian and much like Brad Pitt in The Mexican it’s completely misused word.¨ If you had taken your time to respond to Ángel, and absorb the information given to you rather than rudely dismiss it, you would have seen that “el Borne” is, as Ángel said, the old Castilian name for it: the official Catalan nomenclator states this (http://w10.bcn.cat/APPS/nomenclator/frcontent.jsp?idioma=0), so this is not a “Spanish vision” of this situation, but the official Catalan version, and a little bit of research would have cleared up your lack of understanding of the reason for the ‘e’ at the end of the Catalan word.

    I guess Ángel’s broader point is that if a Spanish speaker is in (or from) New York do they have to say ‘New York’ or can they say ‘Nueva York’; if someone is in Los Angeles do they say ‘The Angels” if they are speaking English?

    The majority of the world is bilingual, so a mixing is inevitable (if not fun…), and is how languages form and develop.

    When you hear a Catalan speaker say ‘claro’ in an otherwise pure catalan sentence does it also hurt your ears (foreigners: ‘claro’ means ‘of course’/’sure’ in Castilian and its equivalent in Catalan is ‘clar’)? Or what’s your reaction when you hear a Spaniard in Catalonia end a conversation in Castilian with a hearty “adéu” (foreigners: ‘adéu’ means of ‘good bye’ in Catalan and its equivalent in Castilian is ‘adíos’) – which are both things I hear every day.

    Anyhow, my main question is: why do you say that for the meaning of ‘Born’ “Maybe it’s derived from the French word, “béhourd””? The dictionary http://www.diccionari.cat/lexicx.jsp?GECART=0020591 shows that the root of the verb ‘bornar’ is a West Germanic word ‘bihurdan’.

    For the meaning of Barcelona’s Passeig de Born the nomenclator (http://w10.bcn.cat/APPS/nomenclator/frcontent.jsp?idioma=0) says “Pren el nom actual de bornar, o sigui tornejar, lloc on es duien a terme els tornejos. Tingué una especial significació en la vida barcelonina dels segles XIII al XVII per tal com s’hi celebraven, a més dels tornejos, justes, festes populars, processons, etc.” “Avenue named after the verb “bornar” (to celebrate tournaments), so this was the place where tournaments were celebrated. This place was specially important in the life of Barcelona from the XIII to the XVII century, because not only tournaments….”.

  4. Killian,

    You’ve focused more on Ángel’s flawed revisionist argument than anything else. And yes, I did research this quite heavily prior to writing it as ‘borne’ always sounded off (as it’s a false friend) and I’ve studied Spanish, Catalan, and French. In researching, I went through all the arguments you’ve presented and came to the conclusion stated above.

    And yes, using ‘claro’, ‘vale’, ‘te veig’, or ‘hi ha’ in place of ‘n’hi ha’ in Catalan bothers me as it’s not a question of adaptation but assimilation. You may know about minority languages but your Irish has a country. Neither Catalan, Basque, Galician, nor Aranese do and as such, they are always under threat of being eradicated. If you don’t find that to be a problem, then we should probably all just learn Chinese and be done with attempting to have unique histories or cultures.

  5. Miquel,
    I did not focus on “flawed revisionist argument” at all, so I am uncertain why you said that.

    “Using ‘claro’, ‘vale’…in Catalan bothers me”: The English language would be truly dull without: schmuck, bagel, caucus, cork, sommelier etc.

    Interesting that you regard Catalan under threat but ‘Irish’ as safe because it’s got a country. Catalan is alive and vibrant and spoken by millions whereas Irish is spoken by less than 1% of the population of Ireland http://www.endangeredlanguages.com/lang/3437 and is barely a living language; it’s considered an endangered language by UNESCO.

    “Unique histories or cultures” – the truly great lesson to learn from history and linguistics is that we are all mongrels and the interconnection and mixing is what makes human groups and societies strong and resilient.

    By the way, Catalan does have one country – Andorra.

    “we should probably all just learn Chinese” – which Chinese? “Spoken Chinese comprises many regional variants, generally referred to as dialects. However, the mutual unintelligibility of the varieties is the main ground for classifying them as separate languages or dialect groups. http://www.chinalanguage.com/content/?pageID=book:27” – sounds like the relationship between Catalan, Castilian, Galician, and Portuguese; so your comment sounds like a Chinese person saying ‘go learn Iberian Romance’, no?

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