Monday, October 13, 2014

“It is necessary to highlight the historical dimension; present is normally explained by means of the past”Joan Veny

Joan Veny, professor emeritus of Catalan: “It is necessary to highlight the historical dimension; present is normally explained by means of the past”

Joan Veny 08/01/2013
Joan Veny (Campos, Mallorca, 1032) holds a PhD in Philosophy and Letters from the UB (1956) and he is professor emeritus of Catalan at the University (2002). He has been member of the Philological Section of the Institute for Catalan Studies since 1978, and from 1994 to 2000 he was the president of the International Association of Catalan Language and Literature. The Cross of St George was conferred on him by the Government of Catalonia (1997), he was the president of the Atles Linguistique Roman (1999), and of the Board of Management of Termcat. He also received the medal of the secondary school Màrius Torres of Lleida and the Award of the Catalan Foundation for Research (2004). He was named illustrious child of his native town (2006) and doctor honoris causa by the University of Valencia (2008). On 20th December, a ceremony to commemorate his 80th birthday took place at the University of Barcelona. During the event his latest book De geolingüística i etimologia romàniques was presented.

This text is an extract from the dialogue that Joan Veny held with the professor of Romance Languages José Enrique Gargallo. The dialogue is part of the video series entitled 15 minutes with… published on the website of the UB. You can watch the full conversation on this link.

Professor of Romance Dialectology
I began mi career as a lecturer of Romance Philology. Doctor Badia, who was in charge of these studies, transferred them to me. I really thank him because people who devote ourselves to Catalan should not limit ourselves to our territory. We must open our mind, broaden our horizons. First, towards substratum languages: Occitan, Aragonese, Spanish, and even Sardinian, if you want; and afterwards, towards the other Roman languages. This will help us to understand some problems that remain unsolved if we close ourselves in considering only our language.

Linguistic Atlas of the Catalan Domain
As time went through, I remained as the only person responsible for this project that aims at studying linguistic diversity related to territory. Together with the professor Badia i Margarit, we developed a survey composed by 2,400 questions about varied topics (human body, diseases, vegetation, pets, etc.) in order to provide a general idea of the state of Catalan between 1960 and 1970. These works have a considerable scope and therefore they need the collaboration of a team of philologists. Joaquim Rafel, Lídia Pons and Joan Martí, among others, collaborated in our project. It is a really innovative project if we compare it with other similar works that we can describe as geolinguistic, because two researchers visited each location. We carried out the survey in 190 towns, the double of towns that were polled in previous atlas, and we collected information about popular, material and spiritual culture. We were also the first to apply in the Iberian Peninsula a direct system for data collection using a tape recorder and we received a grant that allowed us to create a data base which gave birth to the first linguistic atlas in our linguistic domain.

The handbook Els parlars catalans
It is a work I wrote in so little time —maybe in a month— because, in fact, the idea was to write on a paper my experience as a teacher of Catalan Dialectology, a subject that was possible thanks to the invitation of professor Comas. The book was really successful, in my opinion not for its quality, but for the way things were at that moment. In that time, Dialectology was taught at secondary school, curiously, so teachers and even some students were interested in this work which offered a summary of Catalan Dialectology.

The Termcat and the IEC
Thanks to the project of the Linguistic Atlas of the Catalan Domain we were able to build a data base that has allowed us to present this work in a really modern way. As a result of his restructuring, I was part of the different commissions of lexicography, of oral standard vocabulary, that allowed me to accept a great number of dialectalisms that were not present in the corpus developed by the major encoder of our language: Pompeu Fabra. Consequently, helped by different collaborators from several dialectal areas, 700 or 800 dialectalisms were added to the 1995 prescriptive dictionary —the Diccionari de la llengua catalana (DIEC)— as a demand of the society, not the central Catalan one, but the multiple society of Catalan: the one from the Balearic Islands, the one from Rosello, the one from Valencia, the one from Lleida, etc.

Sower of vocations
Unlike some colleagues, I have always had a great respect for students; I think that we can learn a lot from them. When you give a lesson and you observe the reaction of some students, their doubting faces, the questions they are posing to themselves about your words... All that makes you rethink about the explanation given and, therefore, improve it, and increase your knowledge by consulting more works. 
In research, I think I have opened several paths, and I am quite proud because thanks to the work developed by some students we have great studies about Catalan Gallicisms, for example, or a thesis that is going to be read about the sea urchin or about the names given to vines and wines... All these works and many others have been focused not only on Catalan from an internal point of view, but also, as I stated at the beginning, they have broaden our horizons and they can be described as brilliant Romance studies.

Advice to Philology students
I would say to them that life does not give anything without an effort, they must work hard. Today, the culture of effort is in decline, but it is necessary to highlight the need of that effort, the need of continuous work. In relation to Romance Philology, I would say to them that they should not focus ourselves only on our language, let’s say Italian, French, Occitan or Catalan. Instead, we must broad our horizons and observe what is happening in other languages in order to develop comparative studies, because that will make us progress. I also consider that a forgotten dimension must be highlighted: the diachronic dimension, the historical one; in other words, present is usually explained by means of the past.

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