Oh here we go again. When I first came to live on the island of Mallorca, I couldn’t get that oafish rhyme out of my head of, the water in Majorca don’t taste like it oughta, and it started me questioning how the word really oughta be pronounced. The local British newspaper, inaugurated in 1962, is called the Majorca Daily Bulletin and despite some calls to replace Majorca with Mallorca, is having none of it. After all, the Brits invented the j in Majorca, because they couldn’t get their tongues around the double l, pronounced y, so it would be churlish, surely, to offer them authenticity without a linguistic life raft? Also, let us consider the power of PR. The newspaper can’t just throw away 47 years of brand identity for the sake of accuracy, for heaven’s sake.
Indeed who can say with total conviction that the jaunty j in Majorca isn’t in fact correct? True, when the Romans invaded the Balearic Islands in 123 BC, the Roman Emperor, Quintus Caecilius Metellus, decided to call two of the Balearic islands, Balearis Minor (small) and Balearis Major (large). And yet the history books say nothing about his adding a ca at the end of each one to satisfy orally challenged British tourists of the future. Of course, the real problem with Majorca, is that for today’s refined British traveller, it sounds common. For those of a sensitive nature, that j immediately recalls the mass tourism that swamped the island in the sixties with its jam packed charter airlines scouring Palma’s runway, lobster hewed tourists in kiss-me-quick hats downing Watneys Red Barrel and enjoying wet t-shirt competitions in Magaluf. Yet there is another side to the coin. Was it not Robert Graves, that revered British poet and erstwhile resident of Deia, who in 1953 wrote an essay entitled, ‘Why I live in Majorca?’ If the j was good enough for the highly cultured Graves, why should it now prove so distasteful to the independent British visitor?
The fact is that Mallorca with the double l is not an affectation and is used by both Catalan and Castilian Spanish speakers alike. If, as some insist, island tourism began in 1838 when tuberculosis riddled Chopin holed up in a Carthusian monastery in Valldemossa with his uppity lover, George Sands, isn’t it high time we learned to drop the j? I mean, we’ve had 171 years to get to grips with the fact that two l’s can make a y. Quite frankly in the interests of European integration, it seems a little sissy to do anything but.
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