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Catalan language

Catalan (Català, Valencià) is a Romance language understood by as many as 12 million people in portions of Spain, France, Andorra and Italy, although the majority of active Catalan speakers are found mostly in Northeast Spain.



Catalan is a Romance language. According to the Ethnologue, its specific classification is a member of the East Iberian branch of the Ibero-Romance branch of the Gallo-Iberian branch of the Western branch of the Italo-Western branch of the Romance branch of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language famiily .

Geographic distribution

Estimates of the number of Catalan speakers vary from four million to twelve million. [1] (pdf), [2], [3], [4], [5].

Catalan is spoken in:

All these areas are informally called Catalan countries (Catalan Països catalans), a denomination based originally on cultural affinity and common heritage, that some have subsequently interpreted politically.

Official status

Catalan is the official language of Andorra. It is co-official in the Spanish regions of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, and Valencia, and in the Sardinian city of Alghero, in Italy. It has no official status in the parts of Aragon where it is spoken, but has gained some recognition by Aragonese laws since 1990. It has no official status in the other places where it is spoken.


In 1861, Manuel Milà i Fontanals proposed a dialectal division of Catalan in two major blocks: Eastern Catalan and Western Catalan.

There is no precise linguistic border between one dialect and another because there is nearly always a dialect transition zone of some size between pairs of geographically identified dialects, (except for dialects specific to an island). In addition, each dialect isn't completely homogenous: any dialect can be subdivided into several subdialects. Catalan can be subdivided in two major dialectal blocks and those blocks into individual dialects:

Western Catalan

  • North-Western Catalan
    • Ribagorçà (from Ribagorça, a region of Catalonia)
    • Pallarès (from Pallars)
    • Tortosí (from Tortosa)
    • Lleidatà (from Lleida province)
  • Valencian
    • Northern valencian
    • Apitxat, or Central Valencian
    • Southern Valencian
    • Majorcan from Tàrbena and la Vall de Gallinera Valencian municipalities

Eastern Catalan

  • Northern Catalan, or rossellonès, from Roussillon.
  • Central Catalan
    • Salat from the Costa Brava*
    • Barcelonès
    • Tarragonès
    • Xipella
  • Balearic
    • Mallorquí
    • Menorquí
    • Eivissenc from Ibiza (Catalan: Eivissa)
  • Alguerès, from the Italian city of Alghero (Catalan: Alguer)

See Catalan dialect examples for examples of each dialect.

The status of Valencian

The issue, as with Serbian and Croatian, of whether Catalan and Valencian constitute different languages or merely dialects has been the subject of political agitation several times after the Franco era. The latest political controversy regarding Valencian occurred on the occasion of the approval of the European Constitution in 2004. The Spanish government supplied the EU with translations of the text into Basque, Catalan, Galician, and Valencian, but the Catalan and Valencian versions were identical. While professing the unity of the Catalan language, the Spanish government claimed to be constitutionally bound to produce distinct Catalan and Valencian versions because the Statute of the Autonomous Community of Valencia calls the regional language "Valencian", while that of Catalunya calls its regional language "Catalan".

Most current (21st century) Valencian speakers and writers use spelling conventions (Normes de Castelló, 1932) that allow for several diverse idiosyncrasies of Valencian, Balearic, North-Western Catalan, and Eastern Catalan.

All universities teaching Romance languages, and virtually all linguists, consider these all to be linguistic variants of the same language (similarly to Canadian French vs. Metropolitan French). The criterion used by most linguists to decide whether two language varieties are a separate language is the criterion of mutual intelligibility; by this criterion Valencian and other varieties of Catalan are dialects of the same language. Consider also the web sites of the Valencian universities: Universitat Jaume I de Castelló or Universitat de València.

Nevertheless, differences do exist: the accent of a Valencian is recognisable, there are differences in subjunctive terminations, and there are a large number of words unique to Valencian; but those differences are not any wider than among North-Western Catalan and Eastern Catalan. In fact, Northern Valencian (spoken in the Castelló province and Matarranya valley, a strip of Aragon) is more similar to the Catalan of the lower Ebro basin (spoken in southern half of Tarragona province and another strip of Aragon) than to apitxat Valencian (spoken in the area of L'Horta, in the province of Valencia).



Main article: Catalan grammar

Writing system


Catalan developed by the 9th century from Vulgar Latin on both sides of the eastern part of Pyrenees mountains (counties of Roussillon, Empuries, Besalú, Cerdagne, Urgell, Pallars and Ribagorça). It shares features with Gallo-romance and Ibero-romance, and it could be said to be in its beginnings no more than an eccentric dialect of Occitan (or of Western Romance). The language was spread to the south by the Reconquista in several phases: Barcelona and Tarragona, Lleida and Tortosa, the ancient Kingdom of Valencia, and transplanted to the Balearic Islands and l'Alguer (Alghero).

Catalan was exported in the 13th century to Balearic Islands and the newly created Valencian Kingdom by the Catalan and Aragonese invaders (note that the area of Catalan language still extends to part of what is now the region of Aragon). During this period, almost all of the Muslim population of the Balearic Islands were expelled, but many Muslim peasants remained in many rural areas of the Valencian Kingdom, as had happened before in the lower Ebro basin (or Catalunya Nova).

During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries the Catalan language was important in the Mediterranean region. Barcelona was the pre-eminent city and port of the so-called Aragonese Empire, a confederation nominally ruled by the King of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Roussillon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and — later — Sardinia and Naples). All prose writers of this era used the name 'Catalan' for their common language (e.g. the Catalan Ramon Muntaner, the Majorcan Ramon Llull, etc.) The matter is more complicated among the poets, as they wrote in a sort of artificial Langue d'Oc in the tradition of the troubadors. Italian resentment of this Catalan dominance appears to have been one of the wellsprings of the so-called "Black Legend".

During the 15th and 16th centuries the city of Valencia gains pre-eminence in the confederation, due to several factors, including demographic changes and the fact that the royal court moved there. Presumably as a result of this shift in the balance of power within the confederation, in the 15th century the name 'Valencian' starts to be used by writers from Valencia to refer to their language.

In the 16th century the name 'Llemosí' (that is to say, "the Occitan dialect of Limoges") is first documented as being used to refer to this language. This attribution has no philological base, but it is explicable by the complex sociolinguistic frame of Catalan poetry of this era (Catalan versus troubadoresque Occitan). Ausias March himself was not sure what to call the language he was writing in (it is clearly closer to his contemporary Catalan or Valencian than to the archaic Occitan).

Then, during the 16th century, most of the Valencian elites switched languages to Castilian Spanish, as can be seen in the balance of languages of printed books in Valencia city: at the beginning of century Latin and Catalan (or Valencian) were the main languages of the press, but by the end of the century Spanish was the main language of the press. Still, rural areas and urban working classes continued to speak their vernacular language.

During the first half of the 19th century Catalan and Valencian esperienced a major revival among urban élites due to the Renaixença , a romantic cultural movement. The effects of this revival persist to this day.

During the Franco regime (1939-1975), the use of Catalan was banned, along with other regional languages in Spain such as Basque and Galician. Following the death of Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy, the ban was lifted and the Catalan language is now used in politics, education and the media, including the newspapers Avui ('Today'), "El Punt" ('The Point') and El Periódico de Catalunya (sharing content with its Spanish release and with El Periòdic d'Andorra, printed in Andorra; El Periódico de Catalunya has Spanish-language and Catalan-language editions, with identical content) and the television channels of Televisi&oacute de Catalunya (TVC): TV3 and Canal 33 as well as a 24 hour news channel 3/24; there are also many local channels available in region in Catalan, such as BTV and CityTV (Barcelona), Canal L'Hospitalet (L'Hospitalet de Llogbregat) and Canal Terrassa (Terrassa).


Some common Catalan phrases:

  • Catalan: Català
  • hello: hola /ˈɔlə/; Déu vos guard /ˈdew βus ˈgwar/
  • good-bye: adéu /əˈðɛw/ (sing.); adéu siau /əˈðɛw siˈaw/ (pl.)
  • please: si us plau /sisˈplɑw/
  • thank you: gràcies /ˈgrɑsiəs/; mercès /mərˈsɛs/
  • sorry: perdó /pərˈðo/
  • that one: aquest /əˈkɛt/ (masc.); aquesta /əˈkɛstə/ (fem.)
  • how much?: quant val? /ˈkwɑmˈbɑl/; quant és? /ˈkwɑnˈtes/
  • yes: /ˈsi/
  • no: no /ˈno/
  • I don't understand: No ho entenc /ˈno wənˈteŋ/
  • where's the bathroom?: on és el bany? /ˈonˈezəlˈβaɲ/; on és el lavabo? {{IPA/ˈonˈezəlˈləˈβɑβu/}}
  • generic toast: salut! /səˈlut/;
  • Do you speak English?: Que parla l'anglès? /kə ˈparlə lənˈglɛs/
  • Do you speak Catalan?: Que parla el català? /kə ˈparləl kətəˈlɑ/

Learning Catalan

  • Digui, digui... Curs de català per a estrangers. A catalan Handbook. — Alan Yates and Toni Ibarz. — Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Cultura, 1993. -- ISBN 84-393-2579-7.
  • Teach Yourself Catalan. — McGraw-Hill, 1993. — ISBN 0844237558.

Catalan courses are given at many universities in the EU and USA.

See also

External links

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