I was trying to remember the point of that saying about reading the phone book. I guess we can’t get away with idle speculation any longer, since the internet is right there to track down any bit of trivia (which I did: reading the phone book features in prolonging a filibuster, and in proving the skill of an actor–so good she could read the phone book and still keep an audience). I was wondering about it because I’ve been attempting to read from the phone book that came to our Valencia apartment not long after we arrived, and it hasn’t been easy.
Valencia has its own language which is designated as “co-official” here. Valencian is one of the Catalan dialects (the folks in charge of making official pronouncements regarding it say that Valencian and Catalan are two names for the same language). The first book printed with movable type on the Iberian peninsula was written in Valencian, but as you can imagine, that was some years back.
A 2010 poll found that slightly more than half of the population of the land of Valencia (about 5 million people, centered in the city of Valencia) can speak Valencian, though that proportion is decreasing as pesky foreigners like ourselves arrive to clutter the place up. Valencian is taught in public schools, and either stands on its own or alongside Spanish on street signs, on official paperwork and in many other printed materials. There are similarities between Spanish and Valencian, but I’m told that Valencian is more similar to French and Italian than it is to Spanish and Portuguese.
My Spanish vocabulary has always been heavy on church topics. Though I studied Spanish in high school and college, a lot of my conversational experience comes from my Spanish-speaking LDS mission and church friendships since then (I did have one exciting episode as an emergency room patient spontaneously translating for a guy who’d had an unfortunate altercation with an air conditioner, but those types of experiences have been rare).
My vocabulary is less well rounded in the sorts of things you’d find listed in the yellow pages, so my plan to educate myself with the phone book meets a snag. Is this word that I don’t recognize some vocabulary I should add to my personal lexicon, or is it a word in Valencian? Is my memory faulty, or was that word always spelled that way? There are some patterns I’m beginning to recognize–a Spanish ending of “ado” is likely to be “at” in Valencian, so “mercado,” market, is “mercat”, and so forth. And Valencian is chock full of the letter X, so that’s a big hint. But even with the x and the patterns, that’s not much to go on.
I thought I’d get some help with the formatting of the book–maybe the Valencian is always printed above the Spanish. But no, it’s sometimes above, sometimes below. It’s also true that the phone book print is fairly small and not very easy on the eyes, so I’m not making much headway. The good news is that this weekend I came into possession of a document that provides long passages both in Spanish and Valencian: a concert program for the Banda Municipal de Valencia. Now I can compare some text (say, the bio of the conductor) in the two languages and learn more of those Valencian language patterns. As for my Spanish vocabulary, I’ll think of something.
And the phone book? I guess I’ll have to use it to prove my acting prowess, or my skills in a filibuster.