Catalan language

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Catalan/Valencian ('Català/Valencià')
Spoken in: Spain, France, Andorra, Italy
Region: Catalonia, Valencia, Balearic Islands, Roussillon, Aragon, Murcia, Sardinia, Andorra
Total speakers: More than 7.5 million
Ranking: Not in top 100
Genetic classification: Indo-European

       East Iberian

Official status
Official language of: Andorra; Catalonia, Balearic Islands, Valencia in Spain
Regulated by: Institut d'Estudis Catalans
Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua
Language codes
ISO 639-1 ca
ISO 639-2 cat
SIL cat
See also: LanguageList of languages
The Catalan-speaking world
Phonology and orthography
Institut d'Estudis Catalans
Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua
History of Catalonia · Counts of Barcelona
Crown of Aragon · Treaty of the Pyrenees
War of the Spanish Succession
Catalan Countries
Catalonia · Valencia · Balearic Islands
Northern Catalonia · Franja de Ponent
Andorra · Alghero
Generalitat de Catalunya
Generalitat Valenciana
Consell General de les Valls (Andorra)
Castells · Correfocs
Myths and legends
Catalan literature · Antoni Gaudí · Modernisme
La Renaixença · Noucentisme
Salvador Dalí · Joan Miró
FC Barcelona · Valencia CF · RCD Mallorca
Vila-real CF · RCD Espanyol · Llevant UD
USA Perpinyà
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Catalan (Català) or Valencian (Valencià) is a Romance language, the national language of Andorra, spoken or understood by as many as 12 million people not only in Andorra, but also in portions of Spain (where it is the second most spoken language), France, and Italy. The majority of active Catalan speakers are in Spain. Catalan is the only official language of Andorra and one of the official languages in several Spanish regions.



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 subcomplex of the Italo-Western complex of the Romance group of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language family. It shares many features with both Spanish and French, and is the language nearest to Occitan, and is often thought of as a sort of "transitory" language between the Iberian and Gallic languages when comparing the modern descendants of Latin.

Geographic distribution

Main article: Catalan countries

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. 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.

Number of Catalan speakers

Territories where Catalan is official

Region Understands Can speak
Catalonia (Spain) 5,837,874 4,602,611
Land of Valencia (Spain) 3,512,236 1,972,922
Balearic Islands (Spain) 733,466 504,349
Andorra 62,381 49,519
TOTAL 10,145,957 7,129,401

Other territories

Region Understands Can speak
Alghero (Sardinia, Italy) 20,000 17,625
Roussillon (France) 203,121 125,622
Aragonese Fringe (Spain) 47,250 45,000
Carche (in Castilian) or Carxe in Catalan/Valencian (Murcia, Spain) No data No data
Rest of World No data 350,000
TOTAL 270,371 538,247


Region Understands Can speak
Catalan Countries (Europe) 10,416,328 7,317,648
Rest of World No data 350,000
TOTAL 10,416,328 7,667,648

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 catalana [6]. Land of Valencia: Statistical data from 2001 census, from Institut Valencià d'Estadística, Generalitat Valenciana [7]. Balearic Islands: Statistical data from 2001 census, from Institut Balear d'Estadística, Govern de les Illes Balears [8]. Northern Catalonia: Media Pluriel Survey commissioned by Prefecture of Languedoc-Roussillon Region done in October 1997 and published in January 1998 [9]. Andorra: Sociolinguistic data from Andorran Government, 1999 [10]. Aragon: Sociolinguistic data from Euromosaic [11]. Alguer: Sociolinguistic data from Euromosaic [12]. Rest of World: Estimate for 1999 by the Federació d'Entitats Catalanes outside the Catalan Countries.


Varieties of Catalan
Varieties of Catalan
Dialectal Map of Catalan Language
Dialectal Map of Catalan Language

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). The main difference between both blocks are:

  • Western Catalan (Bloc o Branca del Català Occidental):
    • Unstressed vowels: /a, e, i, o, u/. Distinctions between e and a and o and u.
    • Initial or post-consonatic x is affricate /tʃ/. Between vowels or final preceded of i, /jʃ/.
    • 1st person of Indicative's present desinence is -e or -o.
    • Inchoative in -ix, -ixen, -isca
    • Maintenance of medieval nasal plural in proparoxiton words: hòmens, jóvens
    • Specific Vocabulary: espill, xiquet, granera, melic...
  • Eastern Catalan (Bloc o Branca del Català Oriental):
    • Unstressed vowels /ə, i, u/. The unstressed vowels e and a becomes /ə/ and o and u becomes /u/.
    • Initial or post-consonatic x is fricative /ʃ/. Between vowels or final preceded of i, /ʃ/.
    • 1st person of Indicative's present desinence is -o, -i or ø.
    • Inchoative in -eix, -eixen, -eixi.
    • The -n- of medieval nasal plural falls in proparoxiton words: homes, joves.
    • Specific Vocabulary: mirall, noi, escombra, llombrígol...

In addition, neither dialect is 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 (colour:green)
    • Ribagorçà (from Ribagorça, a region of Catalonia)
    • Pallarès (from Pallars)
    • Lleidatà (from Lleida province)
  • Southern Catalan or Northern Valencian
    • Tortosí (from Tortosa)
    • Catalan from Matarranya
    • Vinarossenc (from Vinaròs)
    • Valencian from Maestrat (a region of Valencia)
  • Valencian (colour: turquoise)
    • Castellonenc (from region of Plana)
    • Apitxat, or Central Valencian
    • Southern Valencian
    • Majorcan from Tàrbena and la Vall de Gallinera Valencian municipalities

Eastern Catalan

  • Northern Catalan, or rossellonès, from Roussillon. (colour: blue)
  • Central Catalan (colour: light blue)
    • Salat from the Costa Brava*
    • Barcelonès
    • Tarragonès
    • Xipella
  • Balearic (colour: light green)
    • 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

A poster in Catalan from the Spanish trade union federation displayed in Valencia
A poster in Catalan from the Spanish trade union federation displayed in Valencia

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 Land of Valencia calls the regional language "Valencian", while that of Catalonia calls its regional language "Catalan". In practice, the "Catalan", "Valencian", and "Balearic" versions of the EU constitution are identical, although some compromises over spelling may have been involved in making them so.

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 (similar to Canadian French versus 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, Universitat de València or Universitat d'Alacant.

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).

Sounds and writing system

Main article: Catalan phonology and orthography


Main article: Catalan grammar


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 the 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".

One of the first few pages of Tirant lo Blanch, by Joanot Martorell
One of the first few pages of Tirant lo Blanch, by Joanot Martorell

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 experienced 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 Televisió de Catalunya (TVC): TV3 and Canal 33/K3 (culture and cartoons channel) 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 Llobregat) and Canal Terrassa (Terrassa).


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

  • Catalan: Català /kətəˈlɑ/
  • hello: hola /ˈɔlə/
  • 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? /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.
  • Colloquial Catalan. — Toni Ibarz and Alexander Ibarz. — Routledge, 2005. — ISBN 0415234123.

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

English word of Catalan origin

  • Barracks, from barraca, used for several kinds of buildings.

See also

External links

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About the Catalan language

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