Is that what you MEAN?

It’s an issue that I find myself addressing a lot, especially given that part of my work sees me employed as a language coach

On 15 April a headline caught my eye in one of the local Catalan newspapers, and it did so for a reason that has become of increasing interest to me in recent times: ambiguity. What does this quote say to you? Cospedal, sobre el independentismo: “Cuando se sobreponen a la ley comienzan las dictaduras”. My translation would be something along the lines of “When you override the law, dictatorships begin”. All well and good. But hang on a minute, what I understand from that quote surely cannot be what she meant. To me it reads like an admission that the PP has taken upon itself to start a new dictatorship in Spain because (according to them) the law has been broken with the Catalan independence process. I can only imagine that she actually meant that people who break the law are likely to start a dictatorship themselves, a leap of logic that perhaps she and she alone is capable of making, which is exactly why my initial understanding of her words differed from that.

It’s an issue that I find myself addressing a lot, especially given that part of my work sees me employed as a language coach, helping university professors get their message across to students from all around the world. A large part of that job involves helping the professors identify ambiguity in the language they use - a very commonplace and understandable problem given the flexibility of Catalan and Spanish when compared to English and its insistence on precision - and reformulating it to ensure the international listener is aware of the intended meaning of their discourse.

Of course, anyone with even a rudimentary knowledge of pragmatics and communication will know that we necessarily bring context to our interpretation of any language we are exposed to, and therefore the assumption can easily be made that Señora Cospedal was claiming the actions of Catalan pro-independence politicians were paving the way to their creating a dictatorship. That would be the contextual interpretation, given the PP’s stance on these things. However, if we apply logic, then it’s just more claptrap from a PP politician either lacking the ability to express themselves properly or deliberately providing inflammatory content for sensationalist headlines. And we can’t put it down to a lack of education in this case because Señora Cospedal has a law degree. That said, in modern-day Spain holding a degree is not what it used to be, is it Señora Cifuentes? Whatever, to deduce that working politically to create an independent state leads to a dictatorship could hardly be conceived to be a rational thought process. How does holding a referendum lead to a dictatorship? Where? Here in Catalonia? In Spain (again)? Led by whom? Is she insinuating that the democratically elected Catalan pro-independence politicians are trying to create an independent state to then turn it into a dictatorship? As I said earlier, that’s one hell of a leap of logic, and one that I cannot grasp at all, which is why my interpretation of what she said is more likely an admission that what has happened in Catalonia is leading the PP to follow that course of action itself. Now, given Spain’s recent history and that of the politicians that comprise the PP, that’s not such a big leap of logic, I wouldn’t have thought. Or perhaps we need to be a bit more careful with our choice of language.

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