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Catalan language

Catalan (català kətəˈla or [kataˈla]) is a Romance language, the national and official language of Andorra, and a co-official language in the Spanish autonomous communities of the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Valencia—where it is known as Valencian— and in the city of Alghero in the Italian island of Sardinia. It is also spoken, although with no official recognition, in the autonomous communities of Aragon (in La Franja) and Murcia (in El Carxe) in Spain, and in the historic Roussillon region of southern France, roughly equivalent to the current département of the Pyrénées-Orientales (Northern Catalonia).


Catalan language developed by the 9th century from Vulgar Latin on both sides of the eastern part of Pyrenees mountains (counties of Roussillon, Empúries, Besalú, Cerdanya, Urgell, Pallars and Ribagorça). It shares features with Gallo-Romance and Ibero-Romance, and started as a dialect of Occitan (or of Western Romance).

As a consequence of the Catalan conquests from Al-Andalus to the south and to the west, it spread to all present-day Catalonia, Balearic Islands and most of Valencia.

During the 15th century, during the Valencian Golden Age, the Catalan language reached its highest cultural splendor, which was not matched again until La Renaixença, 4 centuries later.

See also History of Catalonia

After the Treaty of the Pyrenees, a royal decree by Louis XIV of France on April 2, 1700 prohibited the use of Catalan language in present-day Northern Catalonia in all official documents under the threat of being invalidated. Since then, Catalan language has lacked official status in that Catalan-speaking region in France.

On December 10, 2007, the General Council of Pyrénées-Orientales officially recognized Catalan language as own one of the department, and searches to further promote it in public life and education.

See also Language policy in France

After Nueva Planta Decrees, administrative use and education in Catalan was also banned in the territories of the Spanish Kingdom. It was not until Renaixença period, that Catalan language started to recover.

In Francoist Spain (1939–1975), the use of Spanish over Catalan was promoted, and public use of Catalan was discouraged by official propaganda campaigns. The use of Catalan in government-run institutions and in public events was banned. During later stages of the Francoist regime, certain folkloric or religious celebrations in Catalan were resumed and tolerated. Use of Catalan in the mass media was forbidden, but was permitted from the early 1950s in the theatre. Publishing in Catalan continued throughout the dictatorship. There was no official prohibition of speaking Catalan in public or in commerce, but all advertising and signage had to be in Spanish alone, as did all written communication in business.

See also Language politics in Spain under Franco

Following the death of Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy, the use of Catalan increased partly because of new affirmative action and subsidy policies and the Catalan language is now used in politics, education and the Catalan 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); and the television channels of Televisió de Catalunya (TVC): TV3, the main channel, and Canal 33/K3 (culture and cartoons channel) as well as a 24-hour news channel 3/24 and the TV series channel 300; there are also many local channels available in region in Catalan, such as BTV and Td8 (in the metropolitan area of Barcelona), Canal L'Hospitalet (L'Hospitalet de Llobregat), Canal Terrassa (Terrassa), Televisió de Sant Cugat TDSC (Sant Cugat del Vallès), Televisió de Mataró TVM (Mataró).


The ascription of Catalan to the Occitano-Romance branch of Gallo-Romance languages is not shared by all linguists. According to the Ethnologue, its specific classification is as follows:

Catalan is very similar to Occitan. (See also Occitan language: Differences between Occitan and Catalan and Gallo-Romance languages.) Catalan shares several similarities with other Romance languages as well.

Geographic distribution

Catalan is spoken in:

All these areas are referred to by some as "Catalan Countries" (Catalan: Països Catalans), a denomination based on cultural affinity and common heritage, that have also had a subsequent political interpretation but no official status.

Number of Catalan speakers

Territories where Catalan is official

Region Understands Can speak
Catalonia 6,949,195 6,043,088
Balearic Islands 931,989 746,792
Valencian Community (as Valencian) 3,648,443 2,547,661
Andorra 75,407 61,975
TOTAL 11,605,034 9,399,516

Figures relate to all self-declared speakers, not just native speakers.

Other territories

Region Understands Can speak
Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) 20,000 17,625
Northern Catalonia (France) 203,121 125,622
Franja de Ponent 47,250 45,000
Carxe (Murcia) No data No data
Rest of World No data 350,000
TOTAL 270,371 538,247

Figures relate to all self-declared speakers, not just native speakers.


Region Understands Can speak
Catalan-speaking territories (Europe) 11,875,405 9,587,763
Rest of World No data 350,000
TOTAL 12,225,405 9,937,763

Notes: The number of people who understand Catalan includes those who can speak it.

Sources: Catalonia: Statistic data of 2001 census, from Institut d'Estadística de Catalunya, Generalitat de Catalunya Land of Valencia: Statistical data from 2001 census, from Institut Valencià d'Estadística, Generalitat Valenciana Balearic Islands: Statistical data from 2001 census, from Institut Balear d'Estadística, Govern de les Illes Balears Northern Catalonia: Media Pluriel Survey commissioned by Prefecture of Languedoc-Roussillon Region done in October 1997 and published in January 1998 Andorra: Sociolinguistic data from Andorran Government, 1999. Aragon: Sociolinguistic data from Euromosaic Alguer: Sociolinguistic data from Euromosaic Rest of World: Estimate for 1999 by the Federació d'Entitats Catalanes outside the Catalan Countries.


In 1861, Manuel Milà i Fontanals proposed a division of Catalan into two major dialect blocks: Eastern Catalan and Western Catalan. Each dialect also encompasses several regional varieties.

There is no precise linguistic border between one dialect and another because there is nearly always a transition zone of some size between pairs of geographically separated dialects (except for dialects specific to an island). The main difference between the two blocks is their treatment of unstressed vowels, in addition to a few other features:

  • Western Catalan (Bloc o Branca del Català Occidental):
    • Unstressed vowels: . Distinctions between e and a and o and u.
    • Initial or post-consonantal x is an affricate /tɕ/ (there are exceptions in Xàtiva, xarxa, Xavier, xenofòbia... these are pronounced with/ɕ/). Between vowels or when final and preceded by i, it is /jɕ/.
    • 1st person present indicative is -e or -o.
    • Latin long /eː/ and short /i/ have become /e/.
    • Inchoative in -ix, -ixen, -isca
    • Maintenance of medieval nasal plural in proparoxytone words: hòmens, jóvens
    • Specific vocabulary: espill, xiquet, granera, melic...
  • Eastern Catalan (Bloc o Branca del Català Oriental):
    • The vowels /e/, /ɛ/ and /a/ become /ə/ when unstressed and /o/, /ɔ/ and /u/ become [u].
    • Initial or post-consonantal x is the fricative /ɕ/. Between vowels or when final and preceded by i it is also /ɕ/.
    • 1st person present indicative is -o, -i or there is no marker.
    • Latin long /eː/ and short /i/ have become /ɛ/ (In most of Balearic Catalan they are pronounced [ə] and in Alguerese [e]).
    • Inchoative in -eix, -eixen, -eixi.
    • The -n- of medieval nasal plural is dropped in proparoxytone words: homes, joves.
    • Specific Vocabulary: mirall, noi, escombra, llombrígol...

In addition, neither dialect is completely homogeneous: any dialect can be subdivided into several sub-dialects. Catalan can be subdivided into two major dialect blocks and those blocks into individual dialects:

Western Catalan

  • North-Western Catalan
  • Transitional Valencian or Ebrenc
  • Valencian
    • Castellonenc (from region of Plana)
    • Apitxat, or Central Valencian
    • Southern Valencian
    • Alacantí (from the Alicante's metropolitan area and most of Vinalopó valley)
    • Majorcan from Tàrbena and la Vall de Gallinera Valencian municipalities

Eastern Catalan

Standards of Catalan language

There are two main standards for Catalan language, one regulated by Institut d'Estudis Catalans, general standard, with Pompeu Fabra's orthography as axis, keeping features from Central Catalan, and the other regulated by Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua, restricted scale standard, focused on Valencian standardization on the basis of Normes de Castelló, that is, Pompeu Fabra's orthography but more adapted to Western Catalan pronunciation and features of Valencian dialects.

IEC's Standard, apart from the basis of Central Catalan features, takes also other dialects features considering as standard. Despite this, the most notable difference between both standards is some tonic "e" accentuation, for instance: francès, anglès (IEC) - francés, anglés (AVL) (French, English), cafè (IEC) - café (AVL) (coffee), conèixer (IEC) - conéixer (to know), comprèn (IEC) - comprén (AVL) (he understands). This is because of the different pronunciation of some tonic "e", especially tonic Ē (long "e") and Ǐ (breves "i") from Latin, in both Catalan blocks ([ɛ] in Eastern Catalan and [e] in Western Catalan). Despite this, AVL's standard keeps grave accent "è", without pronouncing this "e" [ɛ], in some words like: què (what), València, èter (ether), sèsam (sesame), sèrie (series) and època (age).

There are also some other divergences like the tl use by AVL in some words instead of tll like in ametla/ametlla (almond), espatla/espatlla (back) or butla/butlla (bull), the use of elided demonstratives (este this, eixe that (near)) in the same level as reinforced ones (aquest, aqueix) or the use of many verbal forms common in Valencian, and some of these common in the rest of Western Catalan too, like subjunctive mood or inchoative conjugation in -ix- at the same level as -eix- or the priority use of -e morpheme in 1st person singular in present indicative (-ar verbs): "jo compre" (I buy) instead of "jo compro".

In Balearic Islands, IEC's standard is used but adapted into Balearic dialect by University of the Balearic Islands's philological section, Govern de les Illes Balears's consultative organ. In this way, for instance, IEC says it is correct writing "cantam" as much as "cantem" (we sing) and University says that priority form in Balearic Islands must be "cantam" in all fields. Another feature of Balearic standard is the non-ending in 1st person singular in present indicative: "jo cant" (I sing), "jo tem" (I fear), jo "dorm" (I sleep).

In Alghero, IEC has adapted his standard into Alguerese dialect. In this standard one can find, among other features: the lo article instead of el, special possessive pronouns and determinants la mia (my), lo sou/la sua (his/her), lo tou/la tua (your), and so on, the use of -v- in the imperfect tense in all conjugations: cantava, creixiva, llegiva; the use of many archaic words, usual words in Alguerese: manco instead of menys (less), calqui u instead of algú (someone), qual/quala instead of quin/quina (which), and so on; and the adaptation of weak pronouns.

The status of Valencian

The official language academy of the Valencian Community (the Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua) considers Catalan and Valencian simply to be two names for the same language. All universities teaching Romance languages, and virtually all linguists, consider these all to be linguistic variants of the same language (similar to Canadian French versus Metropolitan French).

There is a roughly continuous set of dialects covering the various regional forms of Catalan/Valencian, with no break at the border between Catalonia and the Valencian Community (i.e. villages contiguous to both sides of the border speak exactly the same), and the various forms of Catalan language, among them, the Valencian ones, are basically mutually intelligible. This is so even though in some cases only educated speakers may have real linguistic competence, like it is the case when the most divergent Eastern dialects such as the one from Alghero or from the Balearics are confronted to Valencian or other Western varieties.

All in all, differences do exist: Valencian accent is recognisable, there are differences in subjunctive terminations, and there are a large number of words unique to Valencian varieties; 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).

The Valencian language has often been seen as a dialect of Catalan due to their basic mutual intelligibility. However, the issue of language versus dialect is as much a matter of politics as of linguistics. By the criterion of mutual intelligibility, Valencian and other varieties of Catalan are dialects of a single language; but according to this criterion, Galician and Portuguese are also dialects of a single language, as are Norwegian and Danish, a contentious conclusion in either case.

What gets called a language is defined in part by mutual comprehensibility, but also by political and cultural factors. In this case, the perceived status of Valencian as a "dialect of Catalan" has historically had important political implications including Catalan nationalism and the idea of the Països Catalans or "Catalan countries."

Catalonia and the Valencian Community are two different Autonomous Communities of Spain, but were the feeling of a common Catalan identity to become strong enough, some believe, or fear, that there could develop into a political will for a single large Catalan region which might wish to become independent of Spain. The language(s) debate is part of this. Some Valencians who advocate distinguishing two Catalan languages do so to resist a perceived Catalan nationalist agenda aimed at absorbing Valencian language and identity, and incorporating Valencians into what they feel is a "constructed" nationality centered on Barcelona. This idea is promoted by organisations opposed to a union between Catalonia and Valencia.

Similarly to Serbian and Croatian, the issue of whether Catalan and Valencian constitute different languages or merely dialects has been the subject of political agitation several times since the end of the Franco era. The latest political controversy regarding Valencian occurred on the occasion of the drafting of the European Constitution in 2004. The Spanish government supplied the EU with translations of the text into Basque, Galician, Catalan, 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 Autonomy of the Valencian Community refers to the language as "Valencian". In practice, the Catalan, Valencian, and Balearic versions of the EU constitution are identical: the government of Catalonia accepted the Valencian translation without any changes under the premise that the Valencian standard is accepted by the norms set forth by the IEC.

Valencian and Central Catalan have fewer differences from one another than do American English and British English, although this is partially because the English phonetic system is much more complex than that of Catalan. The differences between British English and American English can roughly be compared to those between Valencian and Catalan. For example, British English and American English have a different vowel system, as do Valencian and Catalan. In Valencia, as in America, the language is generally rhotic (that is, final "r" is pronounced); in Catalonia, as in England, it generally is not. There are pairs of words similar to "truck"/"lorry" or "cookie"/"biscuit", for example "mirall"/"espill" (meaning "mirror") or "rentar"/"llavar" ("to wash"). There are different spellings for the same word à la "color"/"colour", for example "seva"/"seua" ("his"); although in this case the pronunciation is not the same, it is a common feature in dialectal and not-so-old Catalan to turn intervocalic "u" into "v", so "seva" and "seua" are phonologically identical (/'seua/), although phonetically different ([ˈsevə] vs. [ˈsewa].) There are differences in conjugation just like "lit"/"lighted", for example, "acomplix"/"acompleix" ("accomplishes"). There are verbal forms which are not frequently used in either dialect - "aní"/"vaig anar", just like "I advise that he come"/"I advise him to come". In short, much like English, Catalan is a multi-centric language - there exist two standards, one for Oriental Catalan, regulated by the IEC, which is centered around Central Catalan (with slight variations to include Balearic verb flexion) and one for Occidental, regulated by the AVL, centered around Valencian.

The AVL accepts the conventions set forth in the Normes de Castelló as the normative spelling, shared with the IEC that allows for the diverse idiosyncrasies of the different language dialects and varieties. As the normative spelling, these conventions are used in education, and most contemporary Valencian writers make use of them. Nonetheless, a small minority mainly of those who advocate for the recognition of Valencian as a separate language, use in a non-normative manner an alternative spelling convention known as the Normes del Puig.

Sounds and writing system


The first descriptive and normative grammar book of modern Catalan was written by Pompeu Fabra in 1918. In 1995 a new grammar by Antoni M. Badía i Margarit was published, which also documents the Valencian and Balearic varieties.

The grammar of Catalan mostly follows the general pattern of Western Romance languages.

Substantives and adjectives are not declined by case, as in Classical Latin. There are two grammatical genders—masculine and feminine.

Grammatical articles originally developed from Latin demonstratives. The actual form of the article depends on the gender and the number and the first sounds of the word and can be combined with prepositions that precede them. A unique feature of Catalan is a definite article that may precede personal names in certain contexts. Its basic form is en and it can change according to its environment (the word "en" has also other lexical meanings). One of the common usages of this article is in the word can, a combination of "casa" shortened to ca (house) and en, which means "The house of." For example "Can Sergi" means "Sergi's house".

Verbs are conjugated according to tense and mood similarly to other Western Romance languages—present and simple preterite are based on Classical Latin, future is formed from infinitive followed by the present form of the auxiliary verb haver (written together and not considered periphrastic), and periphrastic tenses are formed from the conjugated auxiliary verbs haver and ésser followed by the past participle. A unique tense in Catalan is the periphrastic simple preterite, which is formed from the conjugated present form of the verb anar (to go) which is followed by the infinitive of the verb. Thus, "Jo vaig parlar" (or more simply "Vaig parlar") means "I spoke."

Nominative pronouns are often omitted, as the person can be usually derived from the conjugated verb. The Catalan rules for combination of the object pronoun clitics with verbs, articles and other pronouns are significantly more complex than in most other Romance languages; see Weak pronouns in Catalan.

Catalan names

Catalan naming customs are similar to those of Spain. Although it is not mandatory, according to tradition a person often receives two last names—his father's and his mother's. The two last names are usually separated by the particle "i", meaning "and". (In Spanish the last names are sometimes separated by the equivalent word "y", but usually they are not separated at all.)

For example, the full name of the architect Antoni Gaudí is Antoni Gaudí i Cornet after his parents: Francesc Gaudí i Serra and Antònia Cornet i Bertran.


Some common Catalan phrases (pronounced as in the Central dialect -Barcelona and outskirts-):

  • Catalan: Català [kətəˈla]
  • Hello: hola [ˈɔlə]
  • Good-bye: adéu [əˈðew]; adéu siau
  • Please: si us plau [sisˈplaw]
  • Thank you: gràcies [ˈgɾasiəs]; mercès [məɾˈsɛs]; merci [məɾˈsi] (colloquial)
  • Sorry: perdó [pəɾˈðo], ho sento
  • This one: aquest [əˈkɛt] (masc.); aquesta [əˈkɛstə] (fem.)
  • How much?: quant val? [ˈkwamˈbal]; quant és? [ˈkwaˈnes]
  • Yes: [ˈsi]
  • No: no [ˈno]
  • I don't understand: No ho entenc
  • where's the bathroom?: on és el bany? [ˈoˈnezəlˈβaɲ]; on és el lavabo? [ˈoˈnezəlˈləˈβaβu]
  • Generic toast: salut! [səˈlut];
  • Do you speak Catalan?: Parles català?

Some useful Valencian phrases (pronounced as in the standard Valencian):

  • Valencian: valencià [valensiˈa]
  • Hello: hola [ˈɔla]
  • Good-bye: adéu [aˈðew]
  • Please: per favor
  • Thank you: gràcies [ˈgɾasies]
  • Sorry: perdó [peɾˈðo]; ho sent [uˈsent] or [uˈseŋk]; ho lamente
  • How much?: quant val? [ˈkwanˈval]; quant és? [ˈkwanˈtes]
  • Yes: [si]
  • No: no [no]
  • I don't understand: no ho entenc [ˈnowanˈteŋ]
  • Where's the bathroom?: on està el bany?
  • Generic toast: Jesús [dʑeˈzus]; salut [saˈlut]
  • Do you speak Valencian?: parla valencià?

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. — Alan Yates. — McGraw-Hill, 1993. — ISBN 0-8442-3755-8.
  • Colloquial Catalan. — Toni Ibarz and Alexander Ibarz. — Routledge, 2005. — ISBN 0-415-23412-3.
  • speakcat On-line basic course

Catalan courses are offered at a number of universities in Europe and North America.

Voluntaris per la Llengua is a Catalan language learning programme.

English words of Catalan origin

See also


External links


About the Catalan language

Monolingual Dictionaries

Bilingual and Multilingual Dictionaries

Automated translation systems

  • Traductor Automated, on-line translations of text and web pages (Catalan < > English, French and Spanish)
  • SisHiTra Automated, on-line translations of text and web pages (Catalan < > Spanish)


Learning resources

Catalan-language media

Catalan-language web searching

Catalan-language online encyclopedia

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