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Marc Pomerleau


Catalonia: Counting on translation

The Catalan government has called a referendum on independence, to be held on November 9th, 2014. The Spanish government is strongly opposed to it and has invoked Spain’s constitutional indivisibility. While politicians in Barcelona and Madrid fight over it politically and legally, Catalan civil society is in full seduction mode, trying not only to convince the undecided, but the international community as well. One of their tactics: translation. Translation into several different languages.

Despite what some may think, translation is not a simple mundane act. Translation can tell us a lot about the state of a given society. As Catalan is not widely known outside its native territories, translation becomes a necessary communications tool. And it is the tool Catalan pro-independence organizations are counting on.

Multilingual pro-independence publications

Without a doubt, one of Catalan civil society’s most ambitious actions of 2013 has been 'Catalonia Calling: What the World has to Know', a book published by history magazine Sàpiens. First written in Catalan, the book was subsequently translated into Spanish, English, French and German, and sent off to the 10,000 most influential people in the world, thanks to grassroots financial contributions: the costs of the book’s production, translation and distribution were the result of crowdfunding.  The public has responded so well that the campaign had to be extended: in the end, 14,513 copies of the book were shipped to people such as United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, the Dalai Lama, Barack Obama and the World’s other Heads of State, as well as scholars and influential celebrities like Bono and Steven Spielberg.

This 145-page book contains several articles dealing with key events in Catalonia’s history. On its first page, the publication’s editor, Clàudia Pujol, clearly states the book has been published firstly to make Catalonia known and, secondly, to have it recognized. In order to do that, she writes, readers must be able to explore not only the past and the present, but also the future to which a majority of Catalans aspire.

If 'Sàpiens’' initiative is unparalleled in scope, it is not the only example of its kind. The book, 'What’s Up With Catalonia?', edited by Liz Castro, an American Catalanophile includes 35 essays written by some of the most influential Catalans, including Generalitat President Artur Mas and the president of the Catalan National Assembly, Carme Forcadell.

The book explores the ins and outs of the Catalan independence movement. Once again, this project was made possible through crowdfunding. 500 copies of the book have been sent to influential politicians, libraries, newspapers, etc. The book has also recently been translated into Spanish under the name '¿Qué le pasa a Cataluña?' An English/Spanish bilingual edition is also available.

On December 15th, 2013, 'Ara', a daily newspaper, also got involved by publishing a trilingual supplement in Catalan, Spanish and English, whose English title is 'The Moment of Truth'. The 11-page supplement explores issues such as the recent rise in support for independence, the Catalan language’s place in Europe and the future of Catalonia in Europe. In order to promote the project, the daily has decided to make it available to all and posted it on its web site.

What about the Spanish Unionists?

The Spanish Unionists, or the “No” Side, have not done anything to promote their point of view outside of Spain, and then, only in Catalan or Spanish. Convinced they will win the legal battle, they probably don’t feel the need to. The few documents published to promote a united Spain have been published in Spain itself, and most often in Spanish. That is true of Cataluña Hispana, published in 2013. To our knowledge, nothing of its kind has been translated into any other language. These texts surely present interesting arguments in favor of a united Spain, but the book is essentially preaching to the choir. In other words, it’s ineffective.

Translation, Legitimacy and Power

What do pro-independence Catalans hope to achieve by publishing these writings? They hope to promote their cause to the world at large, yes, but they are mostly looking for support and legitimacy. This last point is central to their approach, which seeks to rebut what the Spanish government has been screaming from the rooftops for months, that the Catalan independence movement is illegitimate.

Without its own State, Catalonia has turned to cultural diplomacy, which includes translation. Translation allows ideas to spread, which makes it a powerful activity. According to internationally renowned translation scholar Tejaswini Niranjana, translation is itself a political act.

Catalan civil society’s political acts are attempts to seduce; seduction through translation. On this front and with regards to communications in general, the Spanish unionists are clearly trailing behind the pro-independence Catalans.

More information on the works cited:

Catalonia Calling : What the World has to Know 
What's up with Catalonia? / ¿Qué le pasa a Cataluña?
L'hora de la veritat /La hora de la verdad/ The moment of truth
Cataluña Hispana


Certified Translator Marc Pomerleau is a PhD candidate and lecturer in the University of Montreal’s Department of Linguistics and Translation.

He is interested in language issues particular to the Romance linguistic sphere, especially those related to Quebec, the Iberian Peninsula and Latin America. He works in French, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Catalan

This article was first published in French in Le Huffington Post Québec on January 18th, 2014 and was translated into English by David-Marc Newman.