L'article personal en català. Marca d'oralitat en l'escriptura

Student thesis: Doctoral thesis


Since its origins, the Catalan language has featured a particle or article which systematically precedes proper names of persons (first names, last names and nicknames), notably in spontaneously produced oral language. This personal particle or article initially took on the form en (masculine) and na (feminine), deriving from the Latin vernacular DOMINE and DOMINA, and until the fifteenth century denoted respect or courtesy placed before the names of persons of all social ranks. It is found in literary texts, letters, administrative and historiographic documents, and judicial proceedings from the thirteenth to the seventeenth centuries, thus reflecting, albeit only partially, the spontaneous or informal language used by witnesses in oral legal proceedings.<br/><br/>Starting in the fifteenth century, the personal article sheds its value as a term of respect (first in spoken language) and serves as a mere preface to proper names of persons as in today's usage. Although it still preserves its original form in the Catalan of the Balearic Islands, in all other Catalan-speaking areas the personal article has adopted other forms or combinations: en and la, el and la or lo and la, most likely on the analogy of the definite article. The use of the personal article is of no syntactic consequence in Catalan. In contrast to the definite article, it is syntactically redundant, expletive. It stands as an appendix to or mere marker of the proper name of a person. Nor does it arise in all language contexts. It is in fact omitted in interpellation, with verbs of designation, with the verb fer in the sense of "belong to one," in the case of anthroponyms used in a metalinguistic sense, and in the majority of Biblical names.<br/><br/>Furthermore, the methods of computational linguistics used to identify factors contributing to the readability of texts show that in the case of Catalan the personal article exhibits an extremely high frequency: it ranks number eighty-five (85) among the words most often used by speakers. This and other data from the Diccionari de freqüències confirm that the most frequently used words are those that are shortest, oldest, and simplest morphologically; in addition, they are in all languages usually the most grammatical or functional. Thus the personal article, which features both these characteristics even though it conveys no strictly referential information enhances readability or the grasping of textual content in that along with all other grammatical words it announces fairly precise forms or structures, that is, it anticipates a part of the text or speech.<br/><br/>Spontaneous (unplanned) oral language nowadays still features systematically and throughout a large portion of Catalan-speaking areas this marker (in its various dialectal forms) before the proper names of persons, regardless of origin, culture, status or relationship with the speaker. This usage stands in contrast to Portuguese, the only other Romance language with extensive use of the article preceding names of persons, but only when the person mentioned has direct acquaintance or personal dealings with the speaker; whereas in Italian, French and Spanish the use of an article before the proper names of persons is residual, limited to very specific areas, and often connotes rusticity or a low sociocultural level.<br/><br/>Since the common noun includes on the whole all beings that share, conceptually, the same semantic traits, in discourse it must often be specified (by the definite article, for example) and/or complemented in a defining manner in order to identify one element among all those that might be identified in the same way. The proper name, however, denotes individual elements without having to allude to its intrinsic qualities or characteristics. It directly identifies by its own means a single, specific, known referent arising from the communicative situation, preceding discourse, or knowledge shared by sender and receiver. For this reason in the majority of languages the proper name needs no defining complements or actualization by means of an article, as can indeed be the case in Catalan as well. Nevertheless, there are discursive contexts in which a proper name might lose its denotative value of individual referent and behave much like a common noun; for instance, "a Mr. Puig," "the adolescent Monzó," "the dearly loved Joan Coromines," "the second Núria that came," "though many Llulls there may have been...," or "the Jordis have arrived." In these cases, the name proves incompatible with the personal article, which is furthermore unfeasible in the plural. Thus we cannot say, "l'entranyable en Joan Coromines," nor "N'entranyable Joan Coromines," nor "Han arribat ens Jordis."<br/><br/>Written Catalan does not always exhibit this oral marker we call the personal article. Indeed, the appearance of the personal article in written texts of formal and planned register dwindles when compared with spontaneous oral language use. Still, the dividing line between written and oral is today somewhat blurry (being much more sharply defined long ago); the reason is likely to be found in the audio-visual media, which has given rise to new genres and speech events straddling written and spoken language. Between the two opposing poles, spontaneous conversation on the one hand, and the written essay or news article on the other, lie a range of language events that are intermediate or hybrid, that is, they combine or interrelate oral and written language, as in radio or television scripts, theater or film performance, speeches and lectures, or dialog in literary narrative. This oral appearance within written language, or vice versa, spotlights the gradual continuum existing between these two extreme poles. Consequently, the disjunctive oral means versus written means must be fine-tuned and further distinguished by other contrastive pairs if we wish to justify numerous instances interrelating oral and written language. Indeed, we should also bear in mind criteria such as planned versus unplanned, generic topic versus specific topic, formal versus informal, and informative purpose versus interactive purpose, all of which in a variety of possible combinations and degrees of intensity have given rise to this continuum of language events. Needless to say, writers, grammarians and linguists during the first third of the twentieth century did not avail of this analysis or view of language events. Moreover, audio-visual media during that period had barely begun to develop, so the present-day continuum between the oral and written poles had not yet appeared. It is no surprise, therefore, that Ruyra, Rovira i Virgili and even Fabra, in coming to grips with the personal article in their newspaper controversy of 1925, focused almost exclusively on the identity of persons to determine whether the personal article ought to be used entertaining considerations about social status and prestige, celebrity, the era in which one lived, whether one was living or dead, Catalan or not, and so on. Not until near the end of the controversy did they bring in notions such as "high style," "topics in politics, art, science, criticism," "didactic works," and "the novelist's style versus the style of the scientific or historical essay" in contrast to ordinary spoken language.<br/><br/>Thus the appearance of the personal article is common in the direct speech of characters in literary narration, dialogs in films or on television and, in non-fiction, interviews with celebrities and certain kinds of press coverage of everyday events. It is not usually found, however, in written texts targeting an audience in a formal register, where the tendency is impersonal, the tone neutral, and the referential function of language prevails (often with information that is highly organised and prioritized).<br/><br/>Regarding literary narrative, it is noted that until the 1970s there was a tendency to omit the personal article in translations. It can be seen that although numerous narratives in translation reflect surroundings and situations that are informal and quotidian, and therefore discourse which is spontaneous and real, the translator guards against using the personal article. Surely this practice stems from the distance the translator must perceive between the societies or worlds of the stories translated and the reality which the bulk of Catalan readers live in and know (far, for instance, from the reality of Russians or down-and-out Americans). But after the 70s the use of the personal article in translations begins to take root and spread, coinciding with the spread of audio-visual media (especially television), which bring home to a vast audience societies and worlds heretofore remote, unknown or exotic, and with which this vast audience will now become acquainted. The cultural and psychological wall crumbles, bolstering the use of the personal article in translations (even in stories set in seventeenth-century China, or in present-day Chicano culture mixing American and Mexican language and culture).<br/><br/>Still, the use of the personal article in literary narrative (whether in translation or in the original Catalan) is not without instances generating doubt or incoherence. Some authors or translators use it off and on in the discourse of the narrator or a character in a single work. Others, by omitting it in the discourse of the narrator and using it with characters, purposely mark the roles of narrator and actor. In most cases, the forms of the personal article used are those combined in the system en and la.<br/><br/>The creation of Televisió de Catalunya in 1983 sparked symbolically the process of launching the Catalan language into the film industry associated with television. This ushered in the use of colloquialisms and oral language imitation in television soap opera and films shown on television by means of dubbing, subtitling or off-voicing, or directly in Catalan, now present in a medium until then reserved exclusively for Spanish. This film narrative planned beforehand in written scripts requires codifying of a colloquial language that lends credibility to speech by characters in products enjoyed through both oral and visual means, where the illusion of reality is calculated even more carefully than in literary narrative. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that scripts in translation or written directly in Catalan systematically include this marker of spontaneous oral language, the personal article.<br/><br/>As to the forms of the personal article adopted, Televisió de Catalunya is moving toward drawing a distinction stemming from the existence of two types of narrative products: home produced and foreign produced. The former reflect forms of everyday life and surroundings seen by the Catalan viewer as nearby or familiar, and here the combination used are the forms el and la. Foreign produced narrative (dubbed or subtitled) usually recreates forms of life and surroundings more or less removed from those that viewers experience directly; the combination en and la is used. Thus, the alternate use of these two systems, depending on whether programs or films are home produced or foreign produced, seems to respond to a preestablished criterium, where en, while remaining a marker of informal registers and hence of oral language, would prove useful in translated works featuring forms of life and surroundings more or less foreign to the Catalan viewer (keeping in mind that en is a form being replaced more and more by el). So en is apparently becoming a marker of oral language that is more or less neutral, indicating a certain distance between the world of the viewer and the world of the fiction. On the other hand, use of the form el in the oral language of home produced programs or films would serve to strengthen the credibility of a story that seeks to reflect forms of life and surroundings that are familiar and lived in by Catalan viewers (since el is a living, widespread form at least in central Catalan, which is often used in television narrative).
Date of Award18 Jun 2001
Original languageCatalan
SupervisorMargarida Bassols Puig (Director)

Cite this