It’s the subjunctive, stupid


There are various points I’ve reached in my learning of Catalan which are noteworthy. The first one was the most gratifying and consisted of “Oh, you speak Catalan? You speak it very well.” or “You’ve only been speaking for a year and a half? Impressive.” These comments have gone by the wayside in recent months. Partly it’s due to being around a lot of the same people repeatedly, but in reality I think it has to do largely with one thing: using the subjunctive. This verb conjugation I can’t for the life of me understand as, being an native English speaker it has no reason to be. Why you have to say, “Quan vulguis” instead of “Quan vols” to state, “when you’d like” I don’t get as they mean the same thing. But, regardless of this, you learn when to toss in this conjugation when it is supposedly required and you go on with things. It’s still a shitload easier than the declensions in Slavic languages.

The problem with this conjugation is that few foreigners ever pick it up correctly in Castilian and by way of this, I assume in Catalan either. If you actually study the language beyond the “Donde esta la biblioteca?” phase, you do indeed learn it, but most foreigners (especially we English speakers) get lazy as you can say the normal present tense conjugation and still be understood. Once you start using it and using it correctly it shows that you’ve put in a good deal of time to work on the language and the looks on people’s faces change from “Wow, it’s great you speak Catalan!” to “I have no idea what the fuck you’re saying and I can tell you know how to speak well, so what gives?”

The looks on the faces opens up another weird point in my Catalan journey as, for some reason, random people will ask me things in Catalan first. It’s like the expression on my face changed or something because I most assuredly don’t look the least bit like anyone from the Iberian Peninsula and the normal default is to ask someone who looks like a foreigner a question in Castilian first. Maybe it’s because I have more color now from working outside on forest recuperation at the farm. Or… I don’t know. But to be asked directions in Barcelona in Catalan when you look like a Northern European is curious given that Castilian is so often heard.

It’s not as curious in the villages however as Catalan is definitely the main language and you have to be some kind of asshole to insist on only speaking Castilian. I’m often asked there, like during the Priorat Wine Fair, “Ets d’aqui?” meaning, “You from here?” Again, I most certainly don’t look like a Catalan villager, but at some point I started giving off the vibe that somehow I’m a foreign looking guy that does indeed speak Catalan–albeit with continual work needed. I now need to figure out how to appear to be rich so people give me things because they want a rich person to be using them. I saw this repeatedly in my days working for Coppola and I’ll figure out how to pull it off somehow.

But overall, I feel that the work on Catalan has been worth it as at wine tastings I see the guys who only speak Castilian there. While tolerated and talked with, they’re never really embraced and they just stick out like a sore thumb. Then there’s the Catalan/French divide in Priorat which was illustrated so well by a large table I was sitting at by the cellar of L’Infernal who had invited me to the paella lunch after the thoroughly pleasant Tast del Cal Compte in Torroja.

The table was littered with magnum upon magnum of excellent wines but despite this common language, the table was most decidedly divided in to the Catalan end and the smaller French end. I was sitting somewhere in the middle, enjoying the sun, the wine, and the subjunctive when it was called for while the French enjoyed their cigarettes.

3 Replies to “It’s the subjunctive, stupid”

  1. I can not figure out why people think you are from a village somewhere in Catalonia, I guess it must be in your mannerisms or something about the way you hold a fork. I guess you must be blending in. Sounds like you are certainly enjoying yourself.

  2. Well, going by the name of Miquel, rather than Michael or Miguel, is a good start!

  3. Even if you may not still understand its purpose in life, please don’t ever kill the Subjunctive mood, as it adds that humble and human touch to certain statements, it gives them a new perspective. So, if I WERE you, I would remember this little remnant of the Subjunctive mood in your own native language from time to time. ;-)

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