Catalan Language, Where Spoken, Migration, and Dialects in Spain and Europe (With Map)
Like many countries in Europe, Spain is home to diverse languages, dialects and subcultures. The four major languages spoken in Spain are Castilian (a.k.a. Spanish), Galician, Basque, and Catalan. Here, I'd like to focus on Catalan language. Please note that this language is one part of a strong and old Catalan culture, which developed across the northern Pyrenees in the countries that are now France, Andorra, Spain, and Italy.
The Modern Use of Catalan
Catalan is the daily language of more than 4 million people, almost 8 million people can speak it, and 10.5 million people can understand it. The country that is most associated with Catalan is Spain, where it is mostly spoken in the north-eastern region called Catalonia.
It is also spoken in the Balearic Islands, where it is one of the official languages (along with Castilian). They speak their own Balearic dialect. In Valencia, a variation of Catalan called Valencian is spoken. Catalan is also spoken in the eastern part of Aragon, thought it is not official, and less than 1000 people speak in in El Carche, Murcia.
In France, Catalan is spoken in Rosellón and Cerdanya, areas also known as North Catalunya. It is an unofficial language in almost the entire region of the Eastern Pyrenees.
In Italy, Catalan is spoken in Alghero, on the Island of Sardinia, by 14% of the population. It is used in public administration and in the educational system.
In Andorra, Catalan is the only official language.
In all areas where Catalan is spoken, social biligualism is common. People speak Catalan along with French, Italian, and Spanish. In Catalonia, immigration from the rest of Spain and Latin America have resulted in high rates of bilingualism. It is the second most spoken language in the Balearic Islands and Catalonia
Dialects are not terribly divergent, and don’t compromise comprehension between speakers.
Learn to speak Catalan, it's cheaper than Barcelona!
There are two institutions that set academic standards for Catalan, situated in the major cities of Barcelona and Valencia. The Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua is centered on the standardization of Valencian, and the Institut d'Estudis Catalans f ocuses on the general standard and the characteristics of the Catalan of Barcelona.
The most notable difference between the two standards is the use of accents, because of the differences in pronunciation.
For example, in Valencia:
and in Barcelona:
The "Germinated L"
An interesting aspect of Catalan spelling in the use of the "germinated l", which are two L's with a period in between them:
English Words of Catalan Origin
– Barracks , from the ancient barraca (hut), a through baroque French
– Surge , from the old French, catalan surgir
– Paella , from Valencian
Catalan cuisine is mouth-watering
Caught between France and Italy, the Catalonians haven't been recognized for their culinary excellence.
History of Catalan
Catalan developed from Latin on both sides of the Pyrenees. Early Catalan words and phrases appear as early as the 9th century, and written documents exist from the year 1150. at the end of the 12th century, the first literary text appears in Catalan. It is Las Homilías de Organya , a collection of sermons.
The Middle Ages
The expansion of the Catalonian empire was also an expansion of Catalan, which influenced Mediterranean languages, especially on the Italic peninsula. Influences of Catalan are still seen today in Southern Italy.
The 15th century was a golden age of Valencian-Catalan literature, but in the 1700's, Louis XIV of France prohibited the use of Catalan in North Catalonia.
This renaissance was a revivalist and romancisist movement of catalan culture and language that started in the 1830's and lasted until the 1880's. It hoped to restore Catalan to the level of a "cultured language", like French and Italian. This age gave birth to the Catalan art movement known as modernisme, and such notable artists as Antoni Gaudi, the famous architect.
This movement admired the Middle Ages, and started the Jochs Florals- the Flower Games, which are an imitation of Medieval poetry contests. The Jochs Florals are still played today in Catalonia.
Franco was the dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975, and he promoted the use of Castilian over Catalan by prohibiting the public speaking of Catalan.
After Franco's death in 1975, Catalan became more widely used. Because of the animosity created by outlawing their language, the Catalan people became very interested in celebrating folkloric and religious celebrations. Today, Catalan is used in public administration and taught in schools.
Most Catalan words come from Latin, though a few come from Germanic languages, English, and other Romance languages.
Words from English: bar, web, revolver
French: Brioix, garatge, fitxa
Italian: piano, macarró, pantà, finestra, porta
Spanish: senzill, xoriço, amo, burro
Arabic: alcohol, sucre, alcova
Basque (Euskera): esquerre, isard, estalviar
Two books that helped me understand Barcelona and Catalan Culture:
Robert Hughs is THE expert on the art of Catalonia and Barcelona. In smooth prose, he provides insight into Catalan culture and history.
These are my favorite travel guides. my trip to Barcelona was unforgettable because I followed the great advice from Lonely Planet writers.
Gallo-Romance Language Family
The basic vocabulary and grammar of Catalan are more similar to the Gallo-Romance group of romance languages than the Ibero-Romance group. Catalan is especially similar to Occitan, or Languedoc, which is spoken in France and Italy.
Unlike Spanish but like Italian, Catalan possessive adjectives use the definitive article.
Catalan: el meu gos (my dog)
Italian: il mio cane
Spanish: mi perro
These patterns can be seen in many other aspects of Catalan grammar and vocabulary. The table below shows that Catalan, though it is mainly spoken in Spain, is more similar to Italian than to Spanish. This is because Catalan developed from the Gallo-Romance family of Romance languages (Italian, Occitan, French, Catalan), rather than the Ibero-Romance group (Spanish, Galician, Portuguese).
Barcelona in film:
Woody Allen's hit about two women traveling in a world-class city.
This movie takes place in Barcelona during the cultural renaissance of the 80's. Two American men move to the city and have cultural mishaps.
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