A Look At the Catalan Language

Updated September 25, 2011.

Catalan is a Romance language that is most closely related to Occitan. Although Occitan-Catalan started forming in 700-800, Occitan and Catalan are usually thought of as splitting from 1000-1300. However, scholars such as María del Candau de Cevallos and others present evidence that Catalan was already breaking away from Catalan-Occitan as early as the 700’s-800’s.

An alternate method is to see Catalan as part of something called Ibero-Romance together with the Romance languages of the Iberian Peninsula and to put Occitan in Gallo-Romance together with French and related tongues. It’s better to just avoid this and create a whole new category called Catalan-Occitan.

The Catalan-speaking world. Catalan is mostly spoken in Catalunya and Valencia in Spain, a bit in Aragon in Spain, and also in far southwestern France in Rousillon. The three shaded islands on the map are the Balearics. The tiny shaded area on the island at the far right represents Alghuerese Catalan spoken in Alghuero, Sardinia.

The Catalan-speaking world. Catalan is mostly spoken in Catalunya and Valencia in Spain, a bit in Aragon in Spain, and also in far southwestern France in Rousillon. The three shaded islands on the map are the Balearics. The tiny shaded area on the island at the far right represents Alghuerese Catalan spoken in Alghuero, Sardinia.

There is a common notion running about that Catalan speakers can understand Occitan. Although surely it differs with exposure, in general, Catalan speakers have a hard time understanding Occitan. Intelligibility between the two languages is probably on the order of 50%. But after only a few weeks of close contact and some intense coaching, they should be able to understand each other pretty well. On this basis, Occitan and Catalan are surely not dialects of a single tongue. However, Catalan and Occitan are very closely related languages.

The same type of folks (I call them “everyone can understand everyone” people or lumpers) also insist that Castillian and Catalan are mutually intelligible. If this were the case, there would be no grounds for a political fight in Catalunya from the Castillian speakers who do not wish to have Catalan shoved down their throats.

The truth is that Castillian speakers can only understand about 40% of written Catalan. Some estimates are that spoken Catalan and Spanish have less than 60% intelligibility. The actual figure may be even less. Catalan is surely not a dialect of Castillian.

There are claims that Catalan and Portuguese are mutually intelligible. This is not the case.

Catalan is also not intelligible with Aragonese. In the Medieval Period, Aragonese and Castillian were considered to be unintelligible to Catalan speakers in the Catalan region. Aragonese is not even intelligible within itself. Why would they be able to understand Catalan too?

Catalan, when spoken, sounds like a cross between Castillian and French.

There is a lot of intense language politics swirling around Catalan. It is the language of an autonomous region of Spain called Catalunya. The fascist Franco tried to kill the language by forbidding its use.

Spanish nationalists are just as horrible as French nationalists, if not worse. As an example, there is a tiny part of Portugal that Spain has occupied for hundreds of years. As per a treaty of 1812, Spain was required to hand over this bit of territory. In the 197 years since then, they have flatly refused to do so. An imperialist Spain continues to occupy a few small islands of frankly Moroccan territory off the coast of Morocco in defiance of Moroccan insistence that they are Moroccan territory.

After the fascists were toppled, Spain was arm-twisted into making Galician, Basque and Catalan into official languages. During the dictatorship, Galician and Catalan were referred to as dialects of Castillian. Recently, Aranese, an Occitan dialect, was also recognized. There are other languages in Spain such as Asturian, Leonese, Murcian, Andalucian, Extremaduran and Aragonese. These are not yet recognized by the imperialist Spanish state.

There are problems in Catalunya. At home, about 1/2 the population speaks Catalan and 1/2 speaks Castillian. However, 95% can understand Catalan, 81% can read Catalan, 78% can speak Catalan and 62% can write Catalan. The Catalan government, understandably, has been mandating the amount of use of Catalan on billboards, the percentage of foreign films translated into Catalan, the number of hours of school instruction that must be in Catalan and the hours of foreign language study in Catalan or Castillian.

For this, Castillian speakers have called them “fascist,” but it’s only normal for them to try to save their language, which is not necessarily doing all that well.

In Andorra, the official language is Catalan, and this is also the most widely spoken language. It is the only officially independent Catalan speaking country on Earth. French and Castillian are also widely spoken.

All dialects of Catalan are said to be mutually intelligible.

However, people say that about the Occitan lects, about Dutch and German, about the Scandinavian languages, about Spanish and Portuguese, on and on, so that is not very reliable.

Further, there is a strong politicization movement similar to Occitan whereby a language in trouble wants to see its various lects as unified under a single language. The notion is that splitting will further endanger a troubled language. Hence, there is a tendency for Catalan nationalists to scream that they can easily understand every variety under the sun. That’s ultimately a politicized response, and it is not scientific.

It’s only natural to wonder whether Catalan is more than one language, so an investigation was undertaken.

Method: Literature and reports were examined and Catalan-speaking informants were interviewed to determine the intelligibility of the various dialects of Catalan. >90% intelligibility was considered to be a dialect of Catalan. <90% intelligibility was considered to be a separate language. The emphasis was on intelligibility rather than structural factors. Overtly political argumentation was ignored.

Results: The result of this investigation was to split Catalan from 1 to 2 languages. Below, separate languages are in bold, and dialects are in italics.

Discussion: Catalan is a very tight-nit language family. The vast majority of Catalan lects can more or less understand each other with few problems. The Blaverist Movement is politically motivated and is not linguistically justified.

A great map of all of the languages and dialects of SW Europe. It's in Spanish, but you should be able to understand it anyway. All of the Catalan dialects are listed here in dark green.

An excellent map of the languages of southwest Europe. Catalan languages and dialects are in dark green.

There are many dialects of Catalan.

Some are: Rousillonese (Northern Catalán), Valencian (Valenciano or Valencià), Balearic (Balear, Insular Catalan, Mallorqui, Menorqui and Eivissenc), Central Catalan, Alghuerese, Northwestern Catalan (Pallarese, Ribagorçan, Lleidatà and Aiguavivan).

Northern Catalan is actually spoken in France by about 100,000 speakers. It receives no support from the Jacobin French state. Northern Catalan is a very divergent Catalan dialect, although Catalan speakers say that they can understand it just fine. It has a lot of French influence in the lexicon. Northern Catalan sounds very much like French to Southern Catalan speakers. About 40% of the population can speak the language.

Rousillonese is the main dialect of Northern Catalan spoken in France. It’s in better shape than many say it is, but the future prospects are probably not too good.

Rousillon is close to the Occitan language Languedocien.

There is a tremendous to-do over Valencian. Valencian activists, the Blaverists, insist that Valencian is a separate language from Catalan. This is a political issue, not a linguistic one. Linguistically, it is long settled. Valencian is simply a dialect of Catalan, and the two varieties have about 93% intelligibility. There is no scientific grounds for splitting Valencian into a separate language.

Balearic, Alghuerese and Rousillon (Northern or French) Catalan are much further from Central Catalan than Valencian is.

Balearic is spoken in the Balearic Islands and is said to be quite different. Majorca Catalan is somewhat hard to understand for Valencians. It is even hard for Barcelonans to understand. Central Catalan speakers say they go to the islands and communicate without problems, however others say that the old Catalan language of Ibiza is hard for Barcelonans to understand. Some Balearic speakers, like Valencians, say they speak a separate Catalan language.

Intelligibility between Balearic and Catalan Proper is said to be about the same as between Catalan and Valencian, which would mean that Balearic is a dialect of Catalan. We will tentatively split this off due to reports of intelligibility issues, but this remains very controversial. The best way to sort this out would be through intelligibility studies as have been done with Valencian.

Central Catalan is the main variety and is the most widely spoken. This is the variety of Barcelona, and this is what the literary language is loosely based on. Catalan TV usually uses this dialect.

Northwestern Catalan is extremely divergent.

Ribagorçan is transitional to the Aragonese language and is sometimes called a dialect of Aragonese. The truth is that the eastern part is Catalan transitional to Aragonese, the western part is Aragonese transitional to Catalan and the central part is Benasques.

Pallarese is also spoken in the same area and is said to be very different.

Aiguavivan is spoken in high valleys of Pyrenees and is very different. Related varieties called Chapurriau are spoken in Castellote, Torrevelilla and Matarraña nearby in Aragon and across the border in Valencia. These are mixtures of Old Castillian, Castillian, Valencian, Aragonese and a bit of Catalan. The Valencian element predominates. Although these lects are intelligible with Catalan proper, the speakers insist that they do not speak Catalan.

Benasquese is spoken in the same region as Aiguavivan and is often said to be a Catalan dialect. It is not. It is either a transitional lect between Catalan and Aragonese, a divergent Aragonese dialect, or a separate language in between Aragonese and Catalan. At any rate, however we wish to characterize Benasquese, it is not a Catalan dialect.

All of NW Catalan appears to be intelligible with the rest of Catalan.

At last we come to Algherese, spoken in Sardinia in the town of Alghero. This language is dying out, but there are still 20-30,000 speakers, mostly older people.

Many say that structurally, this is by far the most divergent variety of Catalan, created when Catalans landed on the island over 500 years. Algherese has been split from Catalan for over 500 years now. The lect sounds like Medieval Catalan and furthermore, lots of Sardinian language has gone in. Catalan speakers say it sounds like Italian.

Reports indicate that Catalan travelers to Alghero can still understand Algherese quite well, albeit as a somewhat Medieval form of Catalan.

However, the venerable Encyclopedia of Endangered Languages treats Algherese as a separate language, as all of the lects listed are treated as languages. However, this treatment will rely on intelligibility alone, and on that basis, Algherese is a dialect of Catalan, not a separate language.

References

Candau de Cevallos, María del C. 1985. Historia De La Lengua Española. Potomac, Md.: Scripta Humanistica.
Gulsoy, Joseph. 1982. “Catalan”, Chapter in Posner, Rebecca, Green, John N. Trends in Romance Linguistics and Philology, Volume 3. La Hague, Paris, New York: Mouton.
Moseley, Christopher. 2007. Encyclopedia of the World’s Endangered Languages. Abiding, UK: Routledge, Taylor and Francis Group.

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40 Comments

Filed under Catalan, Dialectology, Europe, France, Indo-European, Italy, Language Classification, Linguistics, Regional, Romance, Spain

40 responses to “A Look At the Catalan Language

  1. J F Blanc

    Hello Robert,

    This time I’d quite agree with you. Alguerès is very distinct from standard Catalan, I found once a comparison between standard orthography and local pronunciation that left no doubt about the difficulties of intelligibility.

    But this seems to be the case of any delocalised location of a language, isn’t it?

    JF

  2. Españuelo

    The correct name is Castilian language or also Andalusian language, equal that Serbian-Croatian, it is to say Castilian-Andalusian language.

  3. Thank you very much, JF. I am not really some many ultra splitter maniac. If I can’t find a good basis to split, I won’t do so. I am still curious about some of those strange northwestern dialects, but I never heard about intelligibility issues.

    Delocalized languages are often intelligible with the original version if they have not been separated for too long. For instance, there are Franco-Provencal and Occitan speakers in the US, and apparently their speech is intelligible. Overseas French is often intelligible. I think it depends more on the time period of separation. After a few hundred years or so and especially after tons of new vocabulary comes in, typically the diaspora language is no longer intelligible. Compare Faetar in Italy.

    Don’t you think that Gardiol in Italy has poor intelligibility with the rest of Occitan? And I was wondering what you think of splitting Nissart and Montegasque?

    • J F Blanc

      Hi Robert,

      Nissart is clearly a variant of Provençal with some archaisms , and some specific features (shared with cisalpine occitan) probably caused by the vicinity of Padanian dialects (proparoxytons like làgrima /tear/ compare with provençal/lengadocian lagrema or lagrima accented as a paroxyton).

      Monegasque is Padanian ligurian, just like Roiasc (which has some transition features towards occitan). The Occitan transition area towards ligurian is Mentonasc.

      Note there were some other ligurian enclaves in Provence (Biot, Vallauris, Mons, Escragnolles) now extinct.

      About Gardiol, never got a chance to hear it. Its written form (a dictionary is downloadable on the comune website) is quite intelligible.

  4. Espanuelo, I think a lot of Latin Americans would get mad if you said they spoke Castillian.

    Do you mean the proper name for the Spanish spoken in Spain is Castillian?

    • Españuelo

      Until 1921 in Spain, the name was Castilian (Castellano).
      In America, yet they say Castilian. There are very american constitutions with the name of Castilian language and not Spanish.
      The change of name, from Castilian to Spanish (Español), is expansive politics of the centralism.

  5. Mort Goldman

    Excuse my ignorance, but I’m assuming Occitan is identical with the language of Provence, from which we get the name Languedoc. I thought it was more closely related to French than to any of the languages in and around Iberia. My German professor was actually a Catalan, but for some obscure reason she didn’t want anyone to know. In fact, she wanted people to think she was actually German and spoke English with a carefully cultivated German accent. She–again, for reasons known only to her–insisted that Catalan was merely a dialect of Castillian.

    As I understand it, the upper classes in Latin America will emulate Castillian Spanish and may claim that the Spanish they speak is Castillian. I do know that some of them will affect such things as the lisp. But yes, I think the standard Spanish spoken in Spain is Castillian.

    Thanks for these articles. I used to belong to an APA (look it up) that discussed linguistic matters. Very fascinating, although I was ultimately unable to keep up with it. It was probably slain by the Internet long ago.

    • What’s APA stand for? I went through 136 abbreviations and none of them made any sense. Langue d’oc and langue d’oil are two main branches of language spoken in France. They refer to different words for the word “yes.” It’s “oil” in French and “oc” in Occitan. Think “oui.”

      Catalan is most certainly NOT a dialect of Castilian. I think hardly anyone believes this anymore.

      The upper classes of Latin America often do speak an excellent Spanish. They often say that they speak the “pure” Castillian Spanish. I think that they speak an older version of Castillian down there. The speech of the upper class Bogotans is very good (but very strange), and even Spaniards acknowledge that. Many Spaniards have a low opinion of Latin American Spanish. I saw one once say, “Please do not call that Spanish!”

      Castillian Spanish is popular all over Latin America. I would not say that people are trying to affect anything – they are just trying to speak Castillian. Even one of the poor illegal aliens I know here told me that the “real pure Castillian” is becoming more and more popular down in Mexico. I guess it’s a cool thing or trying to seem educated.

      • Artur

        Older generations in latin american countries, those that were not christianized indians, but those that had Spanish parents still use very strong castillian accents. futhermore, well to do mexicanos as well as spaniards go back and forth from spain and mexico, so it is not uncommon that mexicans would pick up on castilian pronunciation and spaniards would increase their vocabulary with latin american words not native to the iberian peninsula.

  6. Hello JF. Speakers of Nissart say that the other nearby branches of Provencal can’t really understand Nissart.

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  9. Hi Robert

    I will add a few very non-professional remarks.

    I have spent time in Catalunya. In my view the medieval city of Girona, Northwest of Barcelona, is the centre of central Catalan. Whereas in Barcelona more than half the population speak Catalan all the time as a first language, in Girona it is the first language of the vast majority. I did not hear Spanish spoken in Girona at all. I stayed in a village near Girona and communicated with locals in Spanish. They either did not understand me, or could not, and replied to me in Catalan! No-one would speak Spanish to me, not in the shops and not in the post office! Whether this was the result of linguistic nationalism, or poor comprehension of spoken Spanish, I do not know…. I am a French and Spanish speaker. My ear is not attuned to spoken Catalan and I cannot understand it. Spanish and Catalan are mutually unintelligible, I can attest to that. My comprehension of written Catalan is slightly higher, and with a dictionary, I can just about read it, very slowly. My connection with Catalan is of a romantic nature. I spent time with an English woman near Girona who is a fluent speaker of both Catalan and Spanish, but she had a marked aesthetic preference for Spanish. I had to agree. I found spoken Catalan unattractive, whereas I enjoy the sound of Occitan, a related language, more closely related to Catalan than Spanish. I also had a year long relationship with a Catalan woman in Oxford, who is also, like most educated Catalans, bilingual in Spanish. She started to learn Spanish at the age of three. She was passionate about her mother tongue. Guess what she bought me for my birthday? A Catalan primer (instructions in Spanish) and a Catalan English dictionary! What a shame that I didn’t really like the damn language, whereas I adore Spanish! I was interested to note that her English accent was very much more intelligible, and her English was very much better pronounced, than is the case with the vast majority of Spanish learners of English, who in my experience mangle flat English vowels, dipthongs and tripthongs atriociously, in some cases to the point of unintelligibility. I have a Peruvian friend, a pharmacist, whose English is only semi-intelligible due to his diabolical pronunciation.

    I hope all this is not too boring!

  10. I agree with Paul, as a native Catalan speaker I’d rather say that bilingual Catalans tend to pronounce English better than monolingual Spanish speakers. I think it’s because the Catalan vowel system is more varied than Spanish (unlike Spanish, we have schwa and distinguish between “open” and “closed” “o” and “e”..). The sole fact that we distinguish between voiced and unvoiced “s” makes our accent quite different from that of the rest of Spaniards.

    Whenever I travel abroad (I can speak English and a bit of German) people tend to identify my accent as “romance language speaker”.. but they don’t know where to put it exactly on the map: if I don’t mention my nationality, people from Northern Europe or Americans tend to identify me as French or Italian rather than Spanish.

    With regard to Catalan dialects, as a speaker from Barcelona, I find spoken northern i.e. “French” Catalan much more difficult to understand than spoken alguerese. But that’s my personal view. It might be that “French” catalan has been contaminated a lot by the contact with the French language (not only in phonetics, but also in grammar), which makes northern catalan even harder to understand than Italian- and Sardinian influenced alguerese.

    By the way, very interesting (and varied) blog!

  11. E. B.

    First of all, nice blog!
    I kind of agree that, if there is a clearly different variety, it is Algherese. Whether a different ‘language’ or not, I wouldn’t be that sure.
    But I wanted to add something important. Benasquese is not a dialect of Catalan. It is regarded by most linguists as being half way between Catalan and Aragonese, but closer to the latter. It could almost be regarded as a microlanguage in its own right, although it’s now usually considered the most extreme of the eastern varieties of Aragonese, even by most native speakers, who simply call it ‘patués’. So it is either an extreme transitional variety (as thought by most old linguists), an Aragonese particular dialect (as thought by the Academia de l’Aragonés) or a microlanguage between Aragonese and Catalan (as thought by the Sociedat de Lingüistica Aragonesa), but a Catalan dialect, certainly not, as it is far more distant from Catalan, both grammatically and lexically, than Algherese is.

    • Thanks, I will be making that change shortly. I wonder how intelligible Benasquese is to other Aragonese speakers?

      Great comments BTW.

      As a Catalan speaker, do you have a hard time understanding Rousillonese (Northern Catalán) as the previous commenter does?

  12. Well perhaps I should clarify a bit what I said before about northern Catalan.

    It certainly depends on the speaker, but I’ve had the chance to speak with old people from Roussillon (by the way, Catalan is seriously endangered among younger generations there) and they certainly use a lot of unique expressions, most of them coming from French, but some of them genuine and proper only to Northern Catalan.

    Understanding, however, was possible for both sides. Also the fact that I had some notion of French and the other speakers had some notion of Spanish might have helped. It’s just that it was a bit harder to understand than other dialects. One should bear in mind that the Catalan from Spain has been heavily influenced by Spanish, so both dialects, south and north of the Spanish-French border have been evolving separately during the last 300 years and have had multiple “contaminations” from French and Spanish respectively.

    No doubt that Alguerese is the most distinct among all Catalan dialects. But, as spoken Italian is easier to understand for a Catalan-speaker from Barcelona than spoken French is, the result is that Alguerese catalan is somehow “easier” to understand than northern catalan, although from a strictly linguistic point of view (grammar, vocabulary…) northern catalan is closer to central catalan than alguerese. It’s just that the “Italian” accent is easier to understand than the “French” accent for a Barcelona speaker …

    As bilingual speakers (there isn’t a single monolingual Catalan speaker on earth) it is quite usual to introduce words and even short sentences or sayings from Spanish, French (for Roussillonese speakers) or Italian (for alguerese speakers) while we are speaking in Catalan. We know and we are fully aware that they’re not Catalan but they work as “filler” or we use it to emphasize, etc…

    • Hi Rafel. I went ahead and split it off. If it’s really harder to understand than Alghuerese, and Alghuerese is split, we need to split Rousillonese too. The communication that you are talking about sounds like what I would call marginal. Marginal is about 90% intelligibility. It’s also often the picture we see with about 85% intelligibility. That’s all pretty interesting stuff you are telling me.

      How do you feel about the future of Catalan? Are you optimistic or pessimistic? Bear in mind that I do run guest authors here, and I might be interested in a post about the future of Catalan from a Catalan nationalist POV.

      I am really trying hard not to split off dialects here, but sometimes you just have to, you know?

      Anyway, even if I split Alghuerese, Rousillonese and Catalan, I would call them “the Catalan languages.”

  13. Ann

    It is a shame that many of these pockets of dialects are likely not the result of a natural linguistic evolution but instead the result of Franco’s attacks against cultural/linguistic populations. I think this is why many Catalan nationalists are sensitive about this issue.

    Catalans, although “allowed” to speak and educate their children in Catalan (within Catalunya) have no official state status with which to protect this right. Moreover,
    Catalan is still a stigmatized language and culture and this fact probably accounts for the Valencian “language” movement and the tendency for catalan speakers, in general, to embrace alternative cultural/linguistic identities.

    It is possible that if Catalunya became an independent state and a respected member of the European Union that many of these alternative identities might find it more opportune to embrace a national Catalan indentity and language.

    What I mean to say is that linguistic identity often has less to do with the mechanics of language than it does with how the speakers see themselves. In other words, if it is more convenient to see yourself as Rousillonesc this will influence how you speak, the phrases you use and your pronunciation – at least unconciously.

    Analyzing Catalan dialects is interesting and this article provides an intriguing snap shot of the current state of the language. The conclusion I draw from this is that Catalan continues to be a threatened language and culture.

    (I have lived in Spain for 12 years and speak Catalan and Spanish. My husband is a Catalan from Barcelona. As far as the level of understanding between Catalan dialects goes, we have found that where there is mutual goodwill, no matter where you go, you can understand any other Catalan speaker. If there is illwill it can at times, be almost impossible. This clearly goes beyond the statistics of shared words and phrases.)

  14. Re Ann’s comments:

    If I understand you correctly, then you are describing what My Fair Lady (Pygmalion) was all about. It isn’t only living in the East End of London that creates a Cockney – it’s the system that keeps East Enders locked into the “working classes” which are seen as inferior in the eyes of the dominant upper crust that runs their lives.

    “Black” language in the States, while certainly a rebellion, is no doubt also a form of protection as well as providing a sense of belonging in an atmosphere of division and discrimination. A “Black” who decides to
    make it in the “white” world learns to speak and act “white”.

    You really hit the nail on the head with regard to goodwill. If people really want to communicate, language and dialect differences are not a barrier.

    • I’ve run into a number of people here in the US who don’t speak English period. It’s almost impossible to communicate anything at all to them. On Internet IM, I have tried to communicate with Italian, French, Arabic, Czech and German speakers? Honestly? It was almost impossible. Most had a bit of English, and I do know a bit of French. No use anyway. I have tried to communicate via email with someone who speaks Bulgarian and has poor English. Very hard to say much of anything.

      As far as dialect goes, I do not think that Europeans understand at all. Here in the US, you either never or almost never run into any native English speaker who you cannot understand. Nonunderstandable dialects almost do not exist. Some do, like AAVE or Ebonics, but all Blacks who speak AAVE (around here anyway) also speak perfect English, and they just use AAVE as a way not to be understood.

      I hear Europeans say all the time that when speaking closely related dialects (of say Occitan) or Galician and Portuguese, that, “We understand each other, but…” it’s so difficult and there are so many misunderstandings that they often resort to a 3rd language to talk – Spanish or French.

      Let me tell you, this situation is simply unknown to me as an American. People I know have dealt with it, but I do not think I ever have. We had a case recently where a hardcore Queens New York dialect speaker moved here to California and was not understood for 3-4 months before he started talking like we do. I never met the guy. Bottom line is that even the dialects in Europe are often so far apart that there is no comparison to the situation here in the US.

      It does not make sense to compare US dialectal situation to European dialects, is what I am saying. I hear Europeans all the time comparing say Bavarian and German to say Californian, Midwestern, New York or Boston or Deep South. Forget it. It’s a false comparison. In general, all of those US dialects are totally understandable to any American.

      It’s true that there are people who don’t want to understand each other. Europeans talk about this a lot with dialects.

      Generally, the situation Ann is discussing occurs in dialects with about 80-90% intelligibility. Above 90%, it looks a lot different, and below 80%, it looks different still.

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  16. Without wishing to belabour the point too much, the United States is not multicultural in any official sense, but is well-known known as a “melting pot” with one official language and an expectation that people of other persuasions will assimilate.

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  18. joolsey

    Hi Robert,

    I find one of the most absurd aspects of those Valencianists who insist upon their Catalan being a distinct language is the fact that it contradicts history: the Catalan language was introduced into the Levant region by settlers, adventurers and soldiers from Lerida.

    One argument they make, quite often after they have conceded that, ok, they are the same language but why on earth should we call it Catalan when the first texts were written by Ausias March in Valencia? So then maybe Catalan speakers from Catalonia and the Balearics should say: Ok, let’s call our language ‘Valencian’ then. But as long as it is still classified as a unified language.

    Well, I have an objective solution: call all these variants ‘Leridan’.

    • Eriq

      Re: joolsey on Ausiàs March and Catalan language

      Ausiàs March was hardly the first to produce texts in Catalan, as he wrote during the fifteenth century. He was, though, the first to write sonnets in Catalan in the style of Petrarch, and his work seems to have inspired later Castilian poets to do the same.

      The first known written Catalan texts exist in the homilies that make up the Llibre d’Organyà (twelfth century, and three centuries before March), while the pinnacle of early, or medieval, Catalan prose is represented in the writings of Ramon Llull (thirteenth century, two centuries before March).

      Catalunya and Catalan language and culture were founded in the age of Charlemagne (in the ninth century), as he rewarded his military commanders with lands to the south of Septimania–that is, in the Pyrenees and southward–in order to populate his conquered land. Therefore, it seems completely preposterous that Valencians could consider themselves to be the first to write in Catalan, or to call the language “Valencian” instead of Catalan.
      And there already is a variant of Catalan known as “Leridan”: lleidatà, as we say in Catalunya. That is the variant upon which the Valencian variant was constructed.

  19. throughmyscreen

    Hello Robert,

    first of all I am very happy such article is on-line. I continuously have conversations with people about the Catalan language/culture and it’s situation with Spain. This sums it up quite well.

    There is a couple of things that I would like to say as a native catalan.

    In Catalunya I am pretty sure that more than 50% speak Catalan. In Barcelona there is a big population of Spanish that immigrated to Catalunya (and still do) which to integrate in society, have to learn Catalan. There are many people who after years, still don’t speak Catalan but they understand it. Those are usually a minority since their children have learned Catalan in school.

    Like Paul Grenville said above, in Girona Spanish is hardly spoken. My boyfriend (a native English spaker) and I spent a summer in l’Empordà and he could hardly put in practice the Spanish he had been learning. A lot of people have never had the need to speak Spanish because everything is in Catalan and there are also no foreigners there.

    As a half valencian I testify that Valencian is a dialect of Catalan, whatever the Blaveros (Blaverist) say. At my parents Catalan and Valencian are spoken and the differences are minimal.
    I am really happy you have talked about it on the blog, because this has been a very problematic subject. I lived in Valencia for 4 years during my University studies and I was tortured for being Catalan (being identified through my accent) from the Valencian side and from the Spanish side.
    Valencian who claim that they speak another language, are simply people who their native language is not Valencian and who have grown up with the Spanish feeling of in a way, naturally hate Catalan. Native Valencian speakers are usually pro-catalans. These usually live outside if Valencia city.
    It was so hard to deal with that, that I worked on my accent until I got totally rid of it. Then I was considered a better Catalan because I didn’t sound like one.
    How many times I have been told “you are the nicest Catalan I have ever met…” It’s a sentence that implies such racism!!! As if Catalans where all meant to be mean.

    Being Catalan in Spain or Catalunya is not always easy. Also, the continuous pressure of fighting and being angry at Spain and deceived by politics is very hard. Dinner conversations at the table are mostly about the language and culture preservation and Spanish continuous attack.

    Partly for this reason, I live in Germany since 2 years, where I do not have to deal with this pressure. I feel relieved since I live out of the country, but of course still worried about loosing our culture and language.

    Through years, Spanish attack against Catalan culture and language has been so ferocious that people who didn’t want or felt like Catalunya needed independence are starting to feel it. I put as an example my father, a Valencian native who has been living in Barcelona for over 25 years now. He never thought that an independence was necessary, but through years, he has seen the situation in which Catalunya has been put and he starts to consider it a possibility. Radicalism is arising and catalan population is starting to have to take a decision which had never had to take before: Am I Spanish or Catalan?

    Let’s hope that the Spanish government is smart enough to not push people’s feelings enough to open a breach which will never be possible to close again.

  20. Francat

    In fact catalans were called by foreigners as spanish pretty long time ago before castilians were. Nevertheless, in fifteenth century started a long historic process that lead to castilians being called as ‘spanish’ by the foreigners. In the sixteenth century appeared the anticatalanism and the kidnapping of whole Spain by castilians and encouraging catalan ethnocide.
    A famous castillian writter called Quevedo, a well-known anticatalan,
    (s. XVII) said something like that:
    ‘as long as there were Catalans and stones in deserted fields, we will have enemies and war’. Nowadays, his spirit is still alive among half of spaniards or people from ‘the vast Castilia’.
    That’s the reason why most of the catalans don’t like to be called as spanish in spite of we, the catalans are actually spanish. SPAIN HAS BEEN KIDNAPPED BY CASTILIANS IN FIVE CENTURIES, THAT’S THE ONLY TRUTH AND THAT’S THE REASON WHY SPAIN IT’S ACTUALLY SPOILED !

  21. Pingback: Blogging Notes | Beyond Highbrow - Robert Lindsay

  22. Let’s look at it this way: Written Portuguese I would say is 90% intelligible to me, a Spanish speaker who has never studied Portuguese. But why can’t I understand a d*mn thing when a (European) Portuguese speaks? It takes me at least a minute to identify the language in the first place. It is THAT odd. On the other side, I picked up Catalan very fast. Yeah, the vocabulary and grammar are very different… But the pronunciation, at least as spoken in Barcelona, sounds way easier to understand. Why? I guess that if Catalonia had had the chance to separate from Spain 5 centuries ago instead of Portugal the story would be different. Maybe Brazilians would speak fluent Spanish and I wouldn’t understand Catalan at all!

  23. Rimmurr

    I’m from Chile so my first language is Spanish. I can understand about 90% to 95% of Catalan when spoken. Both languages are very similar.

    I got interested in Catalan when I watched an episode of Dragon Ball in Catalan on Youtube. I could understand almost everything they said, but still, the languages sound attractive enough to me so as to want to learn to speak it.

  24. vlc21

    Hello,

    I happened to find this article and after reading it I would like to comment on it from a Valencian perspective. I believe the statements about Valencian are made in a simplistic way without going deep enough on the subject.

    The sentence Valencian is ‘simply’ a dialect of Catalan seems to me to imply a pejorative connotation (meaning just a language derived from or inferior to Catalan). Probably, if the same statement was made in the opposite direction, “Catalan is simply a dialect of Valencian”, Catalan speakers would be offended. If we consider the Catalan-Balearic-Valencian as one continuum of dialects, which superiority should have Catalan over the other 2 varieties? It’s not me asking; one of the fathers of modern Catalan who was president of the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (the body that regulates the language in Catalonia), Antoni Maria Alcover, asked when the current standard (based on Barcelona speech) was being voted in 1913: “what right or literary status has Barcelonian dialect compared to Balearic Catalan, western Catalan or Valencian? To give Barcelonian dialect such status, wouldn’t that be to create a linguistic centralism?”

    The current Catalan standard was made by Pompeu Fabra, a Catalan chemist, mainly based on Barcelona dialect (which lacked any literary status) and with almost not concessions to other variants. I believe Valencian linguistic conflict has not all, but a lot to do with that fact, since Valencian speech and traditional orthography (that were the most important ones and the model to follow by all 3 regions since the golden century of Valencian literature) were not represented in the new standard. It was made by Catalans for Catalans. Today’s Valencian standard follows Catalan one with minor modifications, and many local words, expressions and uses are allowed but qualified as ‘colloquial, vulgar or dialectal’. Other traits of classic and modern Valencian, some already present in Joanot Martorell, Aussias March and others, are forbidden. This creates a lack of identification between the standard and its speakers. The last official survey about the topic from the Spanish Sociological Research Centre in 2004 showed that 65% of Valencians saw Valencian as a different language from Catalan. I wonder: Is that to be ignored by linguists? Is 65% of Valencian society plainly wrong? Should not linguistic science study the language developments instead of impose them? Speakers’ feeling is a strong criteria to decide whether a language is a dialect of another language or not (see the case of Luxembourgish), and it was because of that feeling that Catalan split from Oc languages (you mention in another article that this separation started in the middle age, which may be, but effectively it was completed only in the 20th Century).

    Talking about the origin of the language, when the Crown of Aragon conquered back Valencia from the Muslims, there was neither a political entity named Catalonia nor a language called Catalan (at least there are not references). Some of the people that came during that period were from what today is Catalonia, but if they brought a language with them it was far from what today is Catalan. But let’s say they did bring and managed to fully impose a pre-Catalan language, which is arguable and has been contested by many. That is not sufficient reason for linguistic dependence (for example, Afrikaans was brought by Dutch and Belgian people to South Africa, and today it is an independent language; even Catalan could be said to have its origin in Oc languages, and same thing for the relation between Portuguese and Galician).

    Then there is the name issue, another important conflict point. Valencian was the literary variant among the whole continuum during the golden period, and Valencian writers at the time named their language ‘Valencian’, many times as opposed to ‘Catalan’ (there are even translations Catalan-Valencian). This situation continued for hundreds of years until the mid-19th century. Even great Spanish writers like Cervantes made statements in that direction. People from Valencia don’t want to and should not give up the traditional name of the language that is spoken in their land.

    Finally, you mentioned mutual intelligibility is around 93%. I believe that could be true if you take Catalan and Valencian standards (remember that Valencian official standard is based on the Catalan one) and if you take as references the Valencian or Catalan speech taught at school or spoken in media, and persons who have been exposed to the other language. However, official standard Valencian is quite far from what people actually speaks at home or in the streets. Taking speakers that do not speak standard and are not exposed to the other variety, or even taking a Valencian text that is either from before 20th century or an actual one with the currently unofficial Valencian orthography (which by the way was the 1st one to be official but is now banned), the intelligibility drops, and I would say it becomes close to Spanish-Portuguese intelligibility (that’s just an assumption, it would be interesting to test it). There’s also the fact that the intelligibility is asymmetric; it is easier for Catalan speakers to understand Valencian than vice versa. In any case, mutual intelligibility by itself does not define a language status (see the cases of Bulgarian-Macedonian, Czech-Slovak, Serbian-Croatian-Bosnian-Montenegrin and many others).

    As you say the debate is not only linguistic but political; language is closely related to politics, especially for minor languages that require political support to develop. In the case of Catalan, politics have played a major role both in the creation of the standard language and in its support to be used; it hasn’t been at all a natural process. Also, the current body regulating Valencian (that as I said follows Catalan rules with some adaptations) was established after a political settlement between a Catalan and a national party. But Catalonia has neither political nor linguistic authority over Valencia; If Valencian people would decide to materialize the feeling of linguistic independence that still prevailed in 2004, nobody could stop it, even if today that’s not the case.

    Regards,

  25. Pingback: Catalan vs. Castillian: translation differences - 1 Global Translators

  26. vlc54

    I’m Valencia, from the central area of Valencia. I think we can not separate the dialects of Catalan language and that all together are forming a single language. You can not create a new language only with political criteria. It is true that the Valencian dialect has a different phonetic that dialect of Barcelona but it sounds almost identical to those of Lleida (west of Catalonia), Andorra (a sovereign state in the Pyrenees) Catalan spoken in Aragon and South Tarragona province (south of Catalonia). I have heard and spoken many times with catalan people from any part of the territory of Catalonia and I have never ceased to understand everything they told me. You can not compare the intelligibility of any dialect of Catalan with the Spanish and Portuguese, the former is much higher. And I also think that with the time, the information and education more valencian people believe that Valencian and other Catalan dialects are parts of a single language.

    • vlc21

      Thanks for your reply vlc54,

      Actually you can separate a variety and create a language on political grounds. Almost all languages come from another, and almost always politics are involved on the formation of a language. There are plenty of examples, and precisely Catalan is one of them. There is a quote from Antoni Badia Margarit, linguist who was president of Institut de Estudis Catalans, who wrote in his Gramatica Historica Catalana: “Catalan is not a romance language that has always been among the languages with their own personality: it was the opposite, it was considered a dialectal variety from Provençal language, and only since relatively a short time ago it has deserved the category of neolatin independent language”. But Fabra created a new standard, the political authorities in Catalonia supported it, and the language split from Oc languages.

      Anyhow, in the case of Valencian and Catalan, the languages were not united. For many centuries they evolved in parallel and had different grammar, vocabulary and orthography. Even Fabra said on 1891, some years before he created the standard: “a common orthography for Catalan, Valencian and Mallorcan goes against nature”. Sanchis Guarner, catalanist valencian linguist and writer, wrote: “the absolute unity of the language of Catalonia, Valencia and Mallorca is more and arrival point than a departure point”. And the way for this arrival was political. The standard for Catalan has been politically supported and adapted for Valencian, and politics introduced it in the Valencia schools.

      About the intelligibility being similar to Spanish-Portuguese, I qualified that it would be the case only for speakers not exposed to the other variety, which nowadays is almost impossible, considering that Catalan orthography has been taught in the schools in Valencia for 30 years and Catalan media broadcasted and published in Valencia for many years as well. But that was is just an opinion; as I said, it would be interested to test it. As a curiosity, I met one person who spoke Valencian but made school in Spanish and had very limited exposure to Catalan, and she assured me she had difficulties to understand it. Probably there are also cases for the opposite. In any case, Czechs and Slovaks understand each other almost perfectly, same for Bulgarians and Macedonians, and even for Portuguese and Galicians, and that does not prevent them from having separated languages.

      Regards,

  27. Pingback: ¿Lengua o Dialecto? – Exploración de la peninsula Ibérica | lenguabifidablog

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