The Catalan Language

Catalan Flag The Senyera
(The "Senyera" or Catalan Flag)

Catalan is a Romance language with as distinctive a character as that of Castilian, Portuguese, French or Italian. 

History of the Language

The Romance languages are a group of closely related vernaculars descended from Latin, a member of the Indo-European Group of Languages.

In Republican Rome, the spoken language of the lower classes underwent modifications in pronunciation and grammar that ultimately were to differentiate it from the written language and the language of the privileged. This people's Latin, or Vulgar Latin, was carried to the far-flung provinces by soldiers, merchants, and colonists.

In the provinces, Vulgar Latin underwent further changes through the influence of the subjugated peoples, who brought to it their own speech habits and pronunciation influenced by their own indigenous languages. 

With the collapse of the Roman Empire, insularity affected the various regions and the emerging Romance languages in turn began to break up among themselves.

In one of these regions - South East France and the Mediterranean Coast of the Iberian Peninsula - this vernacular language developed into Catalan. The history of the language's later development is intricately linked to the history of Catalonia itself.

1,000,000 Catalans demanding autonomy
(A Million Catalans demanding Autonomy)

History of Catalonia

We can begin to talk about a recognizably Catalan nation in the early middle ages when the Dukes of Barcelona grew to power and prestige. In 1137, on the marriage of Count Ramon Berenguer IV to the heir to Aragon, the Kingdom of Catalonia-Aragon was established.  In the 14th Century this dynasty came to an end and the country has been in an almost constant battle to preserve its personal identity and the independence of its institutions ever since.

Click Here for a More Detailed History of "Catalunya".

Use of Catalan

Catalan is spoken in the provinces of Girona, Lleida, Barcelona, Tarragona, Castellón, Valencia, Alicante, and the Balearic Islands and it is the official language of Andorra. It is also spoken in France, in nearly the whole of the Pyrénées-Orientales and in the town of L'Alguer in Sardinia.  It is a language spoken by more than 6,000,000 people. 


Map of Catalan Speakign area
(Catalan Speaking Areas)

Catalan Literature

Few important prose works were produced in Catalan before the end of the 13th century. A notable exception being the chivalric novel Tirant lo Blanc, a humorous, ironic, yet compassionate account of the adventures of an imaginary knight, with vivid descriptions of life at the time. 

The 15th century was the Golden Age of Catalan poetry. During this period the literary language lost its indebtedness to Provençal and  purely Catalan forms became dominant. The greatest among the poets of this period was Ausías March, a Valencian. Subsequently, Catalan poetry went into a decline after the loss of independence of Aragon to Castile and the triumphant rise and spread of Castilian.

Catalan writers produced very little notable literature until the 19th Century renaissance. When writers such as Buenaventura Carlos Ariba, Mosén Jacinto Verdaguer and Ángel Guimerá, (poet and dramatist), appeared on the scene.

Among important Catalan writers of the 20th century are the novelists Narcís Oller, Joaquim Ruyra, Mercè Rodereda and Prudenci Bertrana and the poets Salvador Espriu, Josep Plà and Joan Maragall. Under the regime (1939-75) of the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco, all traces of Catalan autonomy were temporarily abolished; and the ues of the language was severely restricted. However, the Catalan language has since revived.

Recent Catalan writers of note include the poet Miquel Martí i Pol, the short story writer Pere Calders and the novelists Montserrat Roig, Terenci Moix, Jordi Sierra i Fabra and Quim Monzó. 

Catalan Grammar
Among the characteristics of Catalan are the following: A number of perfect participles are formed from the perfect stem instead of from the infinitive stem; in the Valencian and Balearic dialects, the pronunciation of b and v has not merged; the voiced sound of intervocalic s has persisted; in unaccented final vowels, a is retained and other vowels are dropped; the Latin au is changed to o as in Castilian; final dentals are vocalized, which is held to be the essential characteristic of classic Catalan; noun declensions are totally absent; and the original pronunciation of the Latin u is retained in cases in which French and Provençal use ü.

Similarities and differences among the Romance languages and their relation to Latin may be seen in the following sentences, which mean "The poet loves the girl":

Latin -  Poeta puellam amat
French - Le poete aime la jeune fille
Italian   - Il poeta ama la ragazza
Portuguese - O poeta ama a menina
Spanish - El poeta ama a la muchacha
Romanian  -Poetul iube fat
Catlan  - El poeta estima a la noia

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