Occitan (IPA BrE: /ˈɒksɪtn/; AmE: /ˈɑksəˌtɑn/), known also as Lenga d'òc or Langue d'oc (native name: occitan [utsiˈta], lenga d'òc [ˈleŋgɔˈðɔ(k)]; native nickname: la lenga nòstra [laˈleŋgɔˈnɔstrɔ] i.e. "our [own] language") is a Romance language spoken in Occitania, that is, Southern France, the Occitan Valleys of Italy, Monaco and in the Aran Valley of Spain. It is also spoken in the linguistic enclave of Guardia Piemontese (Calabria, Italy). It is a co-official language in Catalonia, Spain (as Aranese). Modern Occitan is the closest relative of Catalan. The languages, as spoken in early medieval times, might be considered variant forms of the same language.
The area where Occitan was historically dominant is home to some 14 million inhabitants. It may be spoken as a first language by as many as two million people in France, Italy, Spain and Monaco Some researchers state that up to seven million people in France understand the language. However, these two estimates should be considered very optimistic upper bounds; the actual figures are almost certainly substantially lower. More widely accepted wisdom suggests that as few as half a million proficient speakers remain in France, for example. Written Occitan is generally understandable by readers who have some knowledge of French, Italian and Spanish, but especially of Catalan.
English-speakers often use the term Provençal (an older French word derived from the name of the region Provence) to refer to Occitan.
History of the modern term
The name Occitan comes from lenga d'òc (i.e. òc language), which comes from òc, the Occitan word for yes. The Italian medieval poet Dante was the first to have recorded the term lingua d'oc. In his De vulgari eloquentia he wrote in Latin: "nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil" ("some say òc, others say sì, others say oïl"), thereby highlighting three major Romance literary languages which were well known in Italy, based on each language's word for "yes", the òc language (Occitan), the oïl language (French), and the sì language (Italian). This was not, of course, the only defining character of each group.
The word òc came from Vulgar Latin hoc ("this"), while oïl originated from Latin hoc illud ("this [is] it"). Other Romance languages derive their word for yes from the Latin sic, "thus [it is], [it was done], etc.", such as Spanish sí, Western Lombard sé, Italian sì, Catalan sí, or Portuguese sim.
Other names for Occitan
For many centuries, the Occitan dialects (together with Catalan
) were referred to as Lemosin
, the names of two regions lying within modern "Occitania
". After Mistral
movement in the 19th century, Provençal achieved the greatest literary recognition, and so became the most popular term for the Occitan language.
Nowadays, strictly, the terms Provençal and Lemosin are used to refer to specific varieties within Occitania, whereas Occitan is used for the language as a whole. However, many non-specialists continue to refer to the language as Provençal, causing some confusion.
Occitan was the vehicle for the influential poetry of the medieval troubadours. With the gradual imposition of French royal power over its territory, Occitan declined in status from the 14th century on. By the Edict of Villers-Cotterets (1539) it was decreed that the langue d'oil (Northern French) should be used for all French administration. Occitan's greatest decline was during the French Revolution, during which diversity of language was considered a threat.
The literary renaissance of late 19th century (which included a Nobel Prize for Frédéric Mistral) was attenuated by the First World War, where Occitan speakers spent extended periods of time alongside French-speaking comrades.
Because Occitan is the most central of the Romance languages, external influences could have impeded its origin and development, making it only a tributary of standard Latin. However, many factors favoured its development as a language of its own.
- Mountains and seas: The range of Occitan is bounded naturally by the Mediterranean Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, the Massif Central, the Pyrenees, and the Alps.
- Buffer zones: Very dry land, marshes, and areas otherwise impractical for farming and resistant of colonization provide further separation (territory between Loire and Garonne, the Aragon desert plateau).
- Constant populations: Some Occitan-speaking peoples are descended from people living in the region since prehistory (Bec, 1963).
- Little Celtic influence (Bec, 1963)
- Ancient and long-term Roman influence: Julius Caesar once said that the people of Aquitaine could teach the Romans themselves to speak Latin more correctly. According to Müller, "France's linguistic separation began with Roman influence" (Bec, 1963, pp. 20, 21)
- A separate lexicon: Although Occitan is mid-way between Gallo-Romance and Ibero-Romance language groups, it has "around 550 words inherited from Latin that do not exist in the langues d'oïl nor in franco-provençal" (Bec, 1963, 20, 21).
- Little germanization: "The Frankish lexicon and its phonetic influence often end above the oc/oïl line" (Bec, 1963, 20, 21)
- Variety: Occitania has always been a linguistic crossroads, thanks to its commercial importance. The Spanish rabbi Benjamin of Tudela described Occitania in 1573 as a marketplace bringing together "Christians and Muslims, where Arabs, Lombard merchants, visitors from Rome, from all parts of Egypt, the lands of Israel, Greece, Gaul, Genoa, and Pisa. All languages are spoken there" (Géo magazine, 2004, p. 73)
Occitan around the world
Usage in France
Though it was still an everyday language for most of the rural population of the South well into the 20th century, it has been all but replaced by the imposition of French. According to the 1999 census, there are 610,000 native speakers (almost all of whom are also native French speakers) and perhaps another million persons with some exposure to the language. Following the pattern of languages in decline, most of this remainder is to be found among the eldest populations. Occitan activists (called Occitanists) have attempted, particularly with the advent of Occitan-language preschools (the Calandretas), to reintroduce the language to the young. Nonetheless, the number of proficient speakers of Occitan appears to be dropping precipitously. A tourist in the cities in southern France is unlikely to hear a single Occitan word spoken on the street (or for that matter, in a home), and will likely only find the occasional vestige, such as street signs (and of those, most will have French equivalents more prominently displayed), to remind them of the traditional language of the area. Occitans, as a result of more than 200 years of conditioned suppression and humiliation (see Vergonha), seldom speak their own language in the presence of foreigners, whether they're from abroad or from outside Occitania (in this case, often merely and abusively referred to as Parisiens or Nordistes, which means northerners). Occitan is still spoken by many elderly people in rural areas, but they generally switch to French when dealing with outsiders.
Usage outside France
- In the Val d'Aran, a valley in the north of Catalonia (in north-eastern Spain), Aranese (a variety of Gascon, in turn a variety of Occitan) is treated as an official language, together with Catalan and Spanish.
- In Italy Occitan is also spoken in the Occitan Valleys (Alps) in Piedmont and Liguria. An Occitan-speaking enclave also exists at Guardia Piemontese (Calabria) since the 14th century. Italy adopted in 1999 a Linguistic Minorities Protection Law, or "Law 482", which includes Occitan, however Italian is the dominant language. It should be noted that the Piedmontese dialect is extremely close to Occitan.
- In Monaco, some Occitan speakers coexist with remaining native Monegasque (Ligurian) speakers. French is the dominant language.
- Scattered Occitan-speaking communities exist in different countries:
- There were Occitan-speaking colonies in Württemberg (Germany) since the 18th century, the latter as a consequence of the Camisard war. The last Occitan speakers were heard in the 1930s.
- In the Spanish Basque country, Gascon was spoken in the center of Donostia/San Sebastián, perhaps until the beginning of the twentieth century .
- In the Americas, Occitan-speakers exist
Traditionally Occitan-speaking areas
- Aquitaine — excluding the Basque-speaking part of the Pyrénées-Atlantiques in the western part of the department and a small part of Gironde where Saintongeais is spoken. The towns of Biarritz, Anglet, and Bayonne are originally Occitan-speaking, with Basque-speaking groups, but their Basque populations grew sharply during the industrial revolution.
- Midi-Pyrénées — including one of France's largest cities, Toulouse. There are a few street signs in Toulouse in Occitan, but the language is almost never heard spoken.
- Languedoc-Roussillon (from "Lenga d'òc") — including the areas around the medieval city of Carcassonne, excluding the large part of the Pyrénées-Orientales where Catalan is spoken (Fenolhedés is the only Occitan-speaking area of the Pyrénées-Orientales).
- Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur — except for the Roya and Bévéra valleys, where there is a transition dialect between Ligurian and Occitan (Roiasc, including Brigasc). There were former and now extinct isolated towns that spoke Ligurian in the Alpes-Maritimes département. Mentonasque, that is spoken in Menton, is an Occitan transition dialect with a strong Ligurian influence.
- In Monaco, Occitan coexists with Ligurian Monegasque. French is the dominant (and imposed) language.
- Poitou-Charentes — Use of Occitan has declined here in the few parts it used to be spoken, replaced by French. Only Charente limousine, the eastern part of the region, has resisted. But moreover the natural & historical languages of most of the region are the Poitevin and Saintongeais.
- Limousin — A rural region (about 710,000 inhabitants) where Occitan (Lemosin dialect, Nord-Occitan family) is still spoken among the oldest residents.
- Auvergne — The language's use has declined in some urban areas. The departement of Allier is divided between a southern Occitan-speaking area and a northern French-speaking area.
- Centre region — Some villages, in the extreme South, speak Occitan.
- Rhône-Alpes — While the south of the region is clearly Occitan-speaking, the central and northern Lyonnais, Forez and Dauphiné parts belong to the Arpitan language area.
- Occitan Valleys (Piedmont, Liguria) — Italian regions where Occitan is spoken only in the southern and central Alpine valleys.
- Val d'Aran — part of Catalonia that speaks a mountain dialect of Gascon Occitan.
According to linguist Pèire Bèc
(Pierre Bec), in Manuel pratique d'occitan moderne
(Paris, Picard, 1973), here is the most widely accepted dialectal classification.
says that another "supradialectal" classification is possible, that follows different criteria:
- Central Occitan (Occitan central), i. e. the Lengadocian dialect, excepting the Southern Lengadocian subdialect
- Southern Lengadocian subdialect
- The Catalan language is an Ausbau language which became independent from Occitan during the 13th century. But it comes from the Aquitanopirenenc stem.
All these regional varieties of the Occitan language are written and valid. Standard Occitan
, also called Occitan larg
(i.e. "wide Occitan") is a synthesis which respects and admits soft regional adaptations (which are based on the convergence of previous regional koines
). So Occitan can be considered as a pluricentric language
. The standardization process began during the 1970s with the works of Pèire Bèc
, Robèrt Lafont
, Rogièr Teulat
, Jacme Taupiac
and Patric Sauzet
. But it has not been achieved yet. It is mostly supported by users of the classical norm
. Due to the strong situation of diglossia
, some users still reject the standardization process and don't conceive Occitan as a language which could work just as other standardized languages.
There are two main linguistic norms currently used for Occitan, one (known as classical) which is based on that of Mediaeval Occitan, and one (sometimes known as Mistralian, due to its use by Frederic Mistral) which is based on modern French orthography. Sometimes, there is some conflict between some users of each system.
- The classical norm (or less exactly classical orthography) has the advantage of maintaining a link with earlier stages of the language, and reflects the fact that Occitan is not a variety of French. It is used in all Occitan dialects. It also allows speakers of one dialect of Occitan to write intelligibly for speakers of other dialects (e.g. the Occitan for day is written jorn in the classical norm, but could be jour, joun or journ, depending on the writer's origin, in Mistralian orthography). The Occitan classical orthography and the Catalan orthography are quite similar: they show the very close ties of both languages. The digraphs lh and nh, used in the classical orthography, were adopted by the Orthography of Portuguese, most probably after Friar Gerald, a monk from Moissac, became bishop of Braga in Portugal in 1047 and played a major role in modernizing written Portuguese using classical Occitan norms.
- The Mistralian norm (or less exactly Mistralian orthography) has the advantage of not forcing Occitan speakers who are already (as is usually the case) literate in French to learn an entirely new system. Nowadays it is mostly used in the Provençal/Niçois dialect, besides the classical norm. It has also been used by a number of eminent writers, particularly in Provençal. However, it is somewhat impractical, since it is based mainly on the Provençal dialect and also uses many digraphs for simple sounds, most notably ou for the [u] sound, written as o under the classical orthography.
There are also two other norms but they have a lesser audience. The Escòla dau Pò norm (or Escolo dóu Po norm) is a simplified version of the Mistralian norm and is only used in the Occitan Valleys (Italy), besides the classical norm. The Bonnaudian norm (or écriture auvergnate unifiée, EAU) was created by Pierre Bonnaud and is used only in the Auvergnat dialect, besides the classical norm.
| Comparison between the four existing norms in Occitan: extract from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights
| classical norm
|| Mistralian norm
|| Bonnaudian norm
|| Escòla dau Pò norm |
Totei lei personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e li cau (/fau) agir entre elei amb un esperit de frairesa.
Tóuti li persouno naisson liéuro e egalo en dignita e en dre. Soun doutado de rasoun e de counsciènci e li fau agi entre éli em' un esperit de freiresso.
Toti li personas naisson liuri e egali en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadi de rason e de consciéncia e li cau agir entre eli emb un esperit de frairesa.
Touti li persouna naisson liéuri e egali en dignità e en drech. Soun doutadi de rasoun e de counsciència e li cau agì entre eli em' un esperit de frairessa.
Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en dreit. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chau (/fau) agir entre elas amb un esperit de frairesa.
Ta la proussouna neisson lieura moé parira pà dïnessà mai dret. Son charjada de razou moé de cousiensà mai lhu fau arjî entremeî lha bei n'eime de freiressà. (Touta la persouna naisson lieura e egala en dïnetàt e en dreit. Soun doutada de razou e de cousiensà e lour chau ajî entre ela am en esprî de freiressà.)
Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotaas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chal agir entre elas amb un esperit de fraternitat.
Toutes les persounes naisoun liures e egales en dignità e en drech. Soun douta de razoun e de counsiensio e lour chal agir entre eles amb (/bou) un esperit de freireso.
Totas las personas que naishen liuras e egaus en dignitat e en dreit. Que son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e que'us cau agir enter eras dab un esperit de hrairessa.
|Gascon (Febusian writing)|
Toutes las persounes que nachen libres e egaus en dinnitat e en dreyt. Que soun doutades de rasoû e de counscienci e qu'ous cau ayi entre eres dap û esperit de hrayresse.
Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chau (/fau) agir entre elas emb un esperit de frairesa.
Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor cal agir entre elas amb un esperit de frairesa.
| The same extract in four neighboring Romance languages for comparison
Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doués de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité.
Tots els éssers humans neixen lliures i iguals en dignitat i en drets. Són dotats de raó i de consciència, i els cal mantenir-se entre ells amb esperit de fraternitat.
Tutti gli esseri umani nascono liberi ed eguali in dignità e diritti. Essi sono dotati di ragione e di coscienza e devono agire gli uni verso gli altri in spirito di fratellanza.
Todos los seres humanos nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y, dotados como están de razón y conciencia, deben comportarse fraternalmente los unos con los otros.
Debates concerning linguistic classification and orthography
The majority of scholars believe that Occitan constitutes a single language. Some authors, constituting a tiny minority, reject this opinion and even the name Occitan
: they think that there is a family of distinct languages (called langues d'oc / lengas d'oc
in plural) rather than dialects.
Many Occitan linguists and writers, particularly those involved with the pan-Occitan movement centred on the Institut d'Estudis Occitans, disagree with the view that Occitan is a family of languages and think that Limousin, Auvergnat, Languedocien, Gascon, Provençal and Alpine Provençal are dialects of a single language. Though there are some noticeable differences between these varieties, there is a very high degree of mutual intelligibility between them ; they also share a common literary history, and in academic and literary circles, have been identified as a collective linguistic entity—the langue d'oc—for centuries.
Some Provençal authors continue to support the view that Provençal is a separate language. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Provençal authors and associations think that Provençal is a part of Occitan.
This debate about the status of Provençal should not be confused with the debate concerning the spelling of Provençal.
- The classical orthography is more phonemic and diasystematic, and so more pan-Occitan. It is used in (and adapted to) all Occitan dialects and regions, including Provençal. Its supporters think that Provençal is a part of Occitan.
- The Mistralian orthography of Provençal is more or less phonemic but not diasystematic and is closer to the French spelling, and therefore more specific to Provençal; its users are divided between the ones who think that Provençal is a part of Occitan and the ones who think that Provençal is a separate language.
For example, the classical (pan-Occitan) spelling writes Polonha where the Mistralian spelling system has Poulougno, for [puˈluɲo], 'Poland'.
The question of Gascon is a little similar. Gascon presents a number of significant differences from the rest of the language; but despite these differences, Gascon and other Occitan dialects share a very important common lexical and grammatical material, so authors such as Pierre Bec argue that they could never be considered as different as, for example, Spanish and Italian. In addition, the fact that Gascon is included within Occitan despite its particular differences, can be also justified because there is a common elaboration (Ausbau) process between Gascon and the rest of Occitan. The vast majority of the Gascon cultural movement considers itself as a part of the Occitan cultural movement. And the official status of Val d'Aran (Catalonia, Spain), adopted in 1990, says that Aranese is a part of Gascon and Occitan. A grammar of Aranese by Aitor Carrera, published in 2007 in Lleida, presents the same view.
The exclusion of Catalan from the Occitan sphere, although Catalan is a language closely related to Occitan, is justified because there has been a conscience of it being different from Occitan since the later Middle Ages and the elaboration (Ausbau) processes of Catalan and Occitan (including Gascon) have been quite distinct since the 20th century. Nevertheless, some other scholars point that the process which lead to the affirmation of Catalan as a distinct language from Occitan was started during the period when the pressure to include Catalan-speaking areas to a mainstream Spanish culture was at its most.
Jules Ronjat has sought to characterize Occitan by 19 principal criteria, as generalized as possible. Of those, 11 are phonetic, five morphologic, one syntactic, and two lexical. Close rounded vowels (French: rose
) are rare or absent in Occitan. This characteristic often carries through to an Occitan speaker's French, leading to a distinctive méridional
accent. Unlike French, it is a pro-drop language
allowing the omission of the subject (canti
: I sing; cantas
you sing). Among these 19 discriminating criteria, 7 are different from Spanish, 8 from Italian, 12 from Franco-provençal, and 16 from French.
Features of Occitan
Among the diachronic
features of Occitan as a Romance language:
- Unlike in French, stressed Latin A was preserved (Latin mare > Oc. mar, but > Fr. mer).
- Like in French, Latin U changed into [y], shifting around the series of back vowels, [u] > [y], [o] > [u].
- Gascon changed Latin initial [f] into [h] (Latin filiu > Gascon Oc. hilh), like medieval Spanish (possibly under Basque influence).
- Other lenition and palatalisation phenomena shared with the rest of the Western Romance languages, especially with Catalan.
Comparison with other Romance languages
Common words in Romance languages, with English (a Germanic language) for reference
(including main regional varieties)
|| English |
| cantare|| cantar (chantar)|| cantar|| chanter|| cantà|| cantare|| cantar|| cantar|| cânta|| [to] sing |
| capra(m)|| cabra (chabra, craba)|| cabra|| chèvre|| cavra|| capra|| cabra|| cabra|| capră|| goat |
| clave(m)|| clau|| clau|| clef/clé|| ciau|| chiave|| llave|| chave|| cheie|| key |
| ecclesia(m), basilica(m)|| glèisa|| església|| église|| cesa|| chiesa|| iglesia|| igreja|| biserică|| church |
| formaticu(m) (Vulgar Latin), caseu(m)|| formatge (hormatge)|| formatge|| fromage|| furmai|| formaggio|| queso|| queijo|| caş|| cheese |
| lingua(m)|| lenga (lengua)|| llengua|| langue|| lengua|| lingua|| lengua|| língua|| limbă|| tongue; language |
| nocte(m)|| nuèch (nuèit)|| nit|| nuit|| noch|| notte|| noche|| noite|| noapte|| night |
| platea(m)|| plaça|| plaça|| place|| piasa|| piazza|| plaza|| praça|| piaţă|| place |
| ponte(m)|| pont (pònt)|| pont|| pont|| punt|| ponte|| puente|| ponte|| pod|| bridge |
A comparison of terms and word counts between languages is not easy, as it is impossible to precisely count the number of words in a language. (See Lexicon
for more information.)
Some have claimed around 450,000 words exist in the Occitan language, a number comparable to English (The Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged with 1993 addenda reaches 470,000 words, as does the Oxford English Dictionary, Second edition.) The Merriam-Webster Web site estimates that the number is somewhere between 250,000 and 1 million words.
The magazine Géo (2004, p. 79) claims that American English literature can be more easily translated into Occitan than French, excluding modern technological terms that both languages have integrated.
A comparison of the lexical content can find more subtle differences between the languages. For example, Occitan has 128 synonyms related to cultivated land, 62 for wetlands, and 75 for sunshine (Géo). The language went through an eclipse during the Industrial Revolution, as the vocabulary of the countryside became less important. At the same time, it was disparaged as a patois. Nevertheless, Occitan has also incorporated new words into its lexicon to describe the modern world. The Occitan word for web is oèb, for example.
Differences between Occitan and Catalan
As detailed above, the separation of Catalan from Occitan is largely politically (rather than linguistically) motivated. However, the variety that has become standard Catalan does differ from that which has become standard Occitan in a number of ways. The following are just a few examples:
- (Standard) Catalan is unique in that Latin short e developed into a close vowel /e/ (é) and Latin long e developed into an open vowel /ɛ/ (è); this is precisely the reverse of the development that took place in the other Catalan dialects, and the rest of the Romance languages, including Occitan. Thus Standard Catalan ésser [ˈesə] corresponds to Occitan èsser/èstre [ˈɛse/ˈɛstre] 'to be;' Catalan carrer [kəˈre] corresponds to Occitan carrièra [karˈjɛɾo̞] 'street.'
- The distinctly Occitan development of word-final -a, pronounced as [o̞] in standard Occitan (e.g. chifra 'figure' [ˈtʃifro̞]), did not occur in general Catalan (which has xifra [ˈʃifrə]). However, some Occitan varieties also lack this feature and some Catalan (Valencian) varieties have the [ɔ] pronunciation mostly happening during a vowel harmony process.
- When in Catalan word stress falls in the antepenultimate syllable, in Occitan the stress is moved to the penultimate syllable: for example, Occitan pagina [paˈdʒino̞] vs. Catalan pàgina [ˈpaʒinə], "page". However, some varieties of Occitan (e.g., around Nice) keep the stress on the antepenultimate syllable (pàgina) while some varieties of Catalan (in Northern Catalonia) keep the stress on the penultimate syllable (pagina).
- Diphthongisation has evolved in different ways, e.g. Occitan paire vs. Catalan pare 'father;' Occitan carrièra (carrèra, carrèira) vs. Catalan carrera.
- Some Occitan dialects lack the voiceless postalveolar fricative phoneme /ʃ/ but south-western Occitan presents it, e.g. general Occitan caissa [ˈkajso̞] vs. Catalan caixa [ˈkaʃə] and south-western Occitan caissa, caisha [ˈka(j)ʃo̞], 'box.'
- Occitan has developed the close front rounded vowel /y/ as a phoneme, often (but not always) corresponding to Catalan /u/, e.g. Occitan musica [myˈziko̞] vs. Catalan música [ˈmuzikə].
- The distribution of palatal consonants /ʎ/ and /ɲ/ differs in Catalan and a part of Occitan: whilst Catalan permits these sounds in word-final position, in central Occitan they are neutralised to [l] and [n] (e.g. central Occitan filh [fil] vs. Catalan fill [fiʎ], 'son'). Non-central varieties of Occitan, however, can have a palatal realisation (e.g. filh, hilh ).
- Also, many words that start with /l/ in Occitan start with /ʎ/ in Catalan, e.g. Occitan libre [ˈlibre] vs. Catalan llibre [ˈʎibrə], 'book.' This is perhaps one of the most distinctive characteristics of Catalan amongst the Romance languages. However, some transitional varieties of Occitan, near to the Catalan area, also have initial /ʎ/.
- Standard Eastern Catalan has a neutral vowel [ə] whenever a or e occur in unstressed position (e.g. passar [pəˈsa], 'to happen,' but passa [ˈpasə], 'it happens'), and also [u] whenever o or u occur in unstressed position (e.g. voler [buˈlɛ], 'to want,' but vol [ˈbɔl], 'he wants.' However, this does not apply to Western Catalan dialects, whose vowel system usually retains the a/e distinction in unstressed position, nor to Northern Catalan dialects, whose vowel system does not retain the o/u distinction in stressed position, much like Occitan.
- Verb conjugation is slightly different, although there is a great variety amongst dialects. Medieval conjugations were much closer.
- Occitan tends to add an analogical -a to the feminine forms of adjectives which are invariable in standard Catalan: for example, Occitan legal / legala vs. Catalan legal / legal.
- Catalan has a distinctive past tense formation, known as the 'periphrastic preterite,' formed from a variant of the verb 'to go' plus the infinitive of the verb: donar 'to give,' va donar 'he gave.' This has the same value as the 'normal' preterite shared by most Romance languages, deriving from the Latin perfect tense: in Catalan, donà 'he gave.' The periphrastic preterite only exists in Occitan as an archaic or as a very local tense.
- The writing systems of the two languages differ slightly. The modern Occitan spelling recommended by the Institut d'Estudis Occitans and the Conselh de la Lenga Occitana is designed to be a pan-Occitan system, whereas the Catalan system recommended by the Institut d'Estudis Catalans is specific to Catalan. For example, in Catalan, word-final -n is omitted, as this is not pronounced in any dialect of Catalan (so we have Català, Occità); central Occitan also drops word-final -n, but it is retained in the spelling, as some eastern and western dialects of Occitan do retain the final consonant (so we have Catalan, Occitan). Some digraphs are also written in a different way such as the sound /ʎ/ which is –ll– in Catalan (similar to Spanish) and –lh– in Occitan (similar to Portuguese) or the sound /ɲ/ written –ny– in Catalan and –nh– in Occitan.
Occitano-Romance linguistic group
Despite these differences, Occitan and Catalan remain more or less mutually comprehensible
, especially when written — more so than either is with Spanish or French, for example. Occitan and Catalan form a common diasystem
(or a common Abstandsprache
) which is called Occitano-Romance
by linguist Pèire Bèc
. The two peoples share early historical, cultural, and amicable heritage.
The combined Occitano-Romance area is 259,000 km² and represents 23 million speakers. However, the regions are not equal in terms of language speakers. According to Bec 1969 (pp.120–121), in France, no more than a quarter of the population in counted regions speak Occitan well, though around half can understand it; it is thought that the number of Occitan users has decreased dramatically since then. By contrast, in Catalonia, nearly three quarters of the population speak Catalan and 95% understand it.
One of the most notable passages of Occitan in Western literature occurs in the 26th canto of Dante's Purgatorio in which the troubadour Arnaut Daniel responds to the narrator:
- "Tan m'abellis vostre cortes deman, / qu'ieu no me puesc ni voill a vos cobrire. / Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan; / consiros vei la passada folor, / e vei jausen lo joi qu'esper, denan. / Ara vos prec, per aquella valor / que vos guida al som de l'escalina, / sovenha vos a temps de ma dolor"
- Modern Occitan: Tan m'abelís vòstra cortesa demanda, / que ieu non pòdi ni vòli m'amagar de vos. / Ieu soi Arnaut, que plori e vau cantant; / consirós vesi la foliá passada, / e vesi joiós lo jorn qu'espèri, davant. / Ara vos prègui, per aquela valor / que vos guida al som de l'escalièr, / sovenhatz-vos tot còp de ma dolor.
The above strophe translates to:
- So pleases me your courteous demand, / I cannot and I will not hide me from you. / I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;/ Contrite I see the folly of the past, /And joyous see the hoped-for day before me. / Therefore do I implore you, by that power/ Which guides you to the summit of the stairs, / Be mindful to assuage my suffering!
Another notable Occitan quotation, this time from Arnaut Daniel's own 10th Canto:
- "leu sui Arnaut qu'amas l'aura
- E chatz le lebre ab lo bou
- E nadi contra suberna"
- Modern Occitan: Ieu soi Arnaut qu'aimi l'aura e caci [chaci] la lèbre amb lo buòu e nadi contra subèrna.
- "I am Arnaut who loves the wind,
- And chases the hare with the ox,
- And swims against the torrent."
French writer Victor Hugo's classic Les Misérables also contains some Occitan. In Part One, First Book, Chapter IV, "Les œuvres semblables aux paroles", one can read about Monseigneur Bienvenu:
- "Né provençal, il s'était facilement familiarisé avec tous les patois du midi. Il disait: — E ben, monsur, sètz saget? comme dans le bas Languedoc. — Ont anaratz passar? comme dans les basses Alpes. — Pòrti un bon moton amb un bon formatge gras, comme dans le haut Dauphiné. […] Parlant toutes les langues, il entrait dans toutes les âmes."
- "Born a Provençal, he easily familiarized himself with the dialect of the south. He would say, E ben, monsur, sètz saget? as in lower Languedoc; Ont anaratz passar? as in the Basses-Alpes; Pòrti un bon moton amb un bon formatge gras as in upper Dauphiné. […] As he spoke all tongues, he entered into all hearts."
- E ben, monsur, sètz saget?: So, Mister, everything's fine?
- Ont anaratz passar?: Which way will you go?
- Pòrti un bon moton amb un bon formatge gras: I brought some fine mutton with a fine fat cheese
The Spanish playwright Lope de Rueda included a Gascon servant for comical effect in one of his short pieces, La generosa paliza.
John Barnes's Thousand Cultures science fiction series (A Million Open Doors, 1992; Earth Made of Glass, 1998; The Merchants of Souls, 2001; and The Armies of Memory, 2006), features Occitan.
So does the 2005 best-selling novel Labyrinth by English author Kate Mosse. It is set in Carcassonne, where she owns a house and spends half of the year.