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Catalan Language, Where Spoken, Migration, and Dialects in Spain and Europe (With Map)

Updated on March 2, 2013
The Flag of Catalonia
The Flag of Catalonia
The Flag of Andorra
The Flag of Andorra

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 Flag of Aragon
The Flag of Aragon
The Flag of the Balearic Islands
The Flag of the Balearic Islands
The Flag of Murcia
The Flag of Murcia
The Flag of Sardinia
The Flag of Sardinia

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.

The Flag of Valencia
The Flag of Valencia


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

Map showing where Catalan is generally spoken in Europe.
Map showing where Catalan is generally spoken in Europe.


Dialects are not terribly divergent, and don’t compromise comprehension between speakers.

The Catalan Dialects
The Catalan Dialects

Academic Standards

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:

francés, anglés

and in Barcelona:

francès, anglès

(French, English)

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

Seafood Paella
Seafood Paella

Catalan cuisine is mouth-watering

Catalan Cuisine, Revised Edition: Vivid Flavors From Spain's Mediterranean Coast
Catalan Cuisine, Revised Edition: Vivid Flavors From Spain's Mediterranean Coast

Caught between France and Italy, the Catalonians haven't been recognized for their culinary excellence.

The Homilies d'Organya
The Homilies d'Organya
An Advertisement for the Jochs Florals, the Floral Games of Catalonia
An Advertisement for the Jochs Florals, the Floral Games of Catalonia

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.


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).

to eat
to talk

Barcelona in film:

Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Vicky Cristina Barcelona

Woody Allen's hit about two women traveling in a world-class city.



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    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      22 months ago from Miami, US

      Hi Juan, that is really interesting...actually, I have met people in South America with the surname Catalan too. It would be interesting to know if their ancestors were Catalonian people. Let us know if you find anything out about your family's history.

    • profile image

      juan catalan y fuentes 

      3 years ago

      Hi, i am from the philippines and feel proud to have assumed a surname CATALAN. I don't know how people from this place got such surname but reading from the history of barcelona just now, CATALAN is such a great place. I hope i can have more materials and i'm sure no family or person carries the surname CATALAN in such place. I'll be very glad to know if there. Thank you very much

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      5 years ago from Miami, US

      Hi Katia- I took that tree from the Wikipedia page on Catalan Language. They have a very comprehensive article that I think you'd enjoy.

    • Katiadejuan profile image

      Katia De Juan 

      5 years ago from London, UK

      Hi Stephanie, I really love the "Tree" of the evolution of languages from which becomes Catalan. Could you tell me the book or the source from which you got it? I would love to read about the subject. Thank you very much. (^_^)

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      6 years ago from Miami, US

      Thank you, katiedejuan. That is a common misconception...that Catalan is a dialect. And you're right, it is closer to French, and I think, Italian and other languages in Italy, than it is to Spanish! Well, the world is big, and there is so much to learn about different people. I appreciate your nice comment and vote :)

    • Katiadejuan profile image

      Katia De Juan 

      6 years ago from London, UK

      Thanks for sharing this great hub about Catalan. I know a lot of people who would need to read it and see that tree of its origins to know how it isn't a Spanish dialect but another language (similar to Spanish, of course, since it also descents from Latin, but not from the Spanish itself ) which came from another branch much closest to French. Vote up! :)

    • stephaniedas profile imageAUTHOR

      Stephanie Das 

      7 years ago from Miami, US

      I'm glad you enjoyed it! I appreciate your comment. I've even heard Catalans refer to themselves as one of the "Lost Nations of Europe". Some of them feel that their culture and language are enough to establish themselves as a nation.

    • icciev profile image


      7 years ago from Kuwait

      I know that Catalan Language exist, but never knew all this great information, thanks for sharing this information and for the nice flags that you add that I never seen before, voted up.


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