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Catalan Citations   Catalan Links   Select a New Language

Number of Speakers: 7 million

Key Dialects: Catalan-Rousillonese (Northern Catalán), Valencian (Valenciano, Valencià), Balearic (Balear, Insular Catalan, Mallorqui, Menorqui, Eivissenc), Central Catalan, Algherese, Northwestern Catalan (Pallarese, Ribagorçan, Lleidatà, Aiguavivan).

Geographical Center: The east coast of Spain, primarily in Catalonia, along the border of Spain and France.

Catalan is spoken in four states along a 68,000 kilometer expanse of land along the Mediterranean. These states include Andorra, Spain, France, and Italy. The majority of Catalan is spoken in Spain by close to 7 million people in the following regions: Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, the community of Valencia, and Franja de Ponent (Aragon). The second highest concentration of Catalan speakers is in southwestern France (Northern Catalonia), where approximately 100,000 people speak the language. 31,000 people speak Catalan in Andorra, while 20,000 speak the language in Alguer (Sardinia), Italy. Outside this region, Catalan is spoken in Algeria, Argentina, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Switzerland, Uruguay, USA, and Venezuela. Some five million people speak Catalan as a second or third language in Spain. The number of monolingual Catalan speakers is scarce.

Catalan is an East Iberian Romance language of the Indo-European language family.

The standard dialect of Catalan is a literary composite based on several dialects and is not spoken. This dialect is closer to Barcelonan speech than any of the other dialects. All dialects are mutually intelligible, though some dialects diverge considerably from the standard form, primarily with respect to phonological realization. Speakers of Aiguavivan Catalan (Northwestern Catalan) live in isolated valleys and have a distinct phonology from that of their neighbors. The Pallarese and Ribogorçan dialects of Northwestern Catalan are among the dialects most different from standard Catalan. Central Catalan and Valencian are among the most similar dialects. Central Catalan shares a number of lexical items with Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Sardinian, and Romanian.

Catalan is written in a slightly augmented Roman orthography. A number of digraphs are employed (e.g [ll], [rr], [ss]), the cedilla is incorporated (e.g. [ç]), and the diaeresis is used to mark a departure from the standard pronunciation of the vowel it marks (e.g. [ï]). Stress is indicated by means of accent marks placed above a vowel. The letters k, w, and y are used exclusively in foreign names or in borrowings.

The majority of the grammatical differences between Catalan and Spanish reside in the lexicon and in the phonology. The consonant inventory of Catalan is very similar to that of Spanish. Eight vowels, twenty-three consonants, and a number of diphthongs are attested. As in Spanish, two r-sounds are attested: the trilled and untrilled variants. The Catalan [l] phoneme is distinct from both Spanish and French l, and more closely resembles the so-called “dark l” of English. Also unlike Spanish, nasals in final position do not assimilate with respect to place of articulation, but rather are pronounced in their underlying form. The loss of a [b]/[v] distinction in the Catalan phonology is a distinct innovation of the language, and clearly represents a point of departure with Spanish phonology. The assignment of stress in Catalan can be described in the following way: the main stress of a word falls on the penultimate syllable if the word ends in a vowel, a vowel + s sequence, or –en/–in, otherwise it falls on the final syllable.

Catalan is a head-initial language with an SVO word order, although this order may be modified for discourse-pragmatic purposes. As in Spanish, nouns inflect for gender and number, pronouns inflect for gender, number, person, and case, and verbs agree with their subjects in both gender and number and inflect for tense and mood. Additionally, adjectives agree with the nouns they modify in gender and number. Like most Romance languages, Catalan is a Null Subject or Pro-Drop language, meaning that the subject argument of the verb can be omitted, given that the information pertaining to the gender and number of the subject is recoverable by way of the verb’s agreement morphology. As in Spanish and Italian, post-verbal subjects are attested and pronouns admit of strong and weak (clitic) forms. Negation in Catalan consists of an initial negative particle no followed by a final negative element pas, as in French. However, unlike French, pas does not function as a reinforcing negative adverb in Catalan, but rather serves to emphasize the meaning of the negative sentence.

Catalan is the official language of Andorra and along with Castillian Spanish, is an official regional language in three autonomous communities in Spain (Catalonia, Franja de Ponent, and Valencia). In these regions, Catalan is used in government, mass media, and everyday communication. Although it is spoken by over 11 million Europeans in some form or another and understood by close to 10 million people, it is not recognized as an official language of the European Union. Catalan is the 7th most spoken language in the EU, it is the 10th most translated source language in the world, and it was recently ranked 19th in the world in terms of language presence on the internet.

Catalan came into existence sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries in the Pyrenees territories of the Carolingian Empire that comprised the Marca Hispanica counties. Following the territorial conquests of the Catalan-Aragonese crown from the 12th through the 16th centuries, Catalan spread southeastwards within Spain and throughout the Mediterranean to Sicily, Sardenia, Naples, and Athens. The first known Catalan texts date from the 12th century and are fragments of the Catalan version of the Forum Ludicum. Although Catalan was granted official status in parts of Spain in 1932, many Catalan-speaking communities would have to wait until the end of Franco’s dictatorship for widespread official status. Catalan was granted official status in Catalonia in 1979; in Valencia in 1982, in the Balearic Islands in 1983; and in Andorra in 1993.

Crowley, W. Irving. 1936. A Modern Catalan Grammar. New York: G.E. Stechert and Company.

Gili, Joan. 1974. Introductory Catalan Grammar. Oxford: The Dolphin Book Co. Ltd.

Gordon, Raymond G., Jr. (Editor). 2005. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, Fifteenth Edition. Dallas: SIL International.

Vilajoana, Jordi, and Damià Pons. 2001. Catalan, Language of Europe. Generalitat de Catalunya, Department de Cultura. Govern de les Illes Balears, Conselleria d’Educació i Cultura.

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