Monday, December 2, 2013

Language Profile: Catalan

This week we're going to be looking at three closely related language varieties spoken in Spain and what makes each of them unique. Catalan, Valencian, and Balearic all belong to the Romance language group that also includes the neighboring languages of Spanish and French.

According to most linguists, Catalan is a Romance language. Valencian and Balearic, on the other hand, are generally considered to be the names for the regional varieties of Catalan spoken in their respective regions, the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands. However, there are many people in Spain who disagree with these linguistic assessments, which we will see later this week when we look at Valencian and Balearic.

Catalan is an official regional language of Spain in the autonomous community of Catalonia as well as the Balearic Islands, an archipelago in the Mediterranean Sea. It is also the sole official language of Andorra, a tiny principality situated in the midst of the Pyrenees mountain range between Spain and France. The language is also spoken in an area of southern France known as Northern Catalonia.

A chart showing how
gender and number
inflection work in Catalan.
Catalan evolved from Latin around the 9th century. Since then it has suffered through some difficult times, the most recent being when its use was banned by Franco's dictatorship between 1939 and 1975. In recent years however, the language has become quite prestigious in the areas where it is spoken. It is used as a language of education, and it is mandatory that it be taught in all schools in Catalonia. Most forms of mass media are also available in Catalan including television, radio, and literature.

Many foreign visitors to Catalan-speaking areas such as Barcelona believe that Catalan is just a "funny dialect of Spanish", but this is not true at all. In fact, Catalan has more in common linguistically with French, Italian, and Occitan than with Spanish or Portuguese.

Standard Catalan is regulated by the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, or IEC. It is written using the Latin alphabet, and uses some interesting digraphs such as ig which is pronounced /tʃ/ at the end of a word, and ix, pronounced /ʃ/.

On Wednesday we'll be looking at the variety of the language spoken in the region south of Catalonia, the Valencian Community. Check back in a couple days to learn more about Valencian.

Catalan | Valencian | Balearic