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The Catalan Language - A Languages Of The World Primer

Dec 18, 2007
Catalan is a Romance languages that grew out of "Vulgar Latin". It initially developed along the northern and southern sides of the eastern Pyrenees and by the 9th century was an identifiable language in its own right.

As Catalan political and military power increased during the "reconquest" of Spain from the Arab inhabitants, the language was pushed south through Catalonia and into Valencia and across the seas to the Balearic Islands.

When Catalan political and military power subsequently ebbed, however, the language suffered. In 1700, following the Treaty of the Pyrenees, Louis XIV of France banned Catalan from being used in official documents in what Catalans call "Northern Catalonia" (corresponding approximately to the current French department of Pyrenees-Orientales).

At around the same time, the kingdom of Spain prohibited the use of Catalan for official purposes including in education. It was not until the cultural revival in the late 19th century that the language began to recover, only to be battered once again by the Spanish Civil War. Franco's linguistic policy of Castilian first (known as Spanish outside Spain) meant that there was little place for Catalan, which was widely repressed. After Franco's death in 1975 and the coming of democracy the language once again flourished, aided somewhat by active promotion by the local Catalan Regional government (Generalitat).

Related languages
Catalan is very closely related to its linguistic neighbours (Occitan, Castilian, Aragonese, French). Of these Occitan and Catalan are probably the most mutually intelligible although many Castilian speakers have little difficulty understanding Catalan with the reverse almost invariably true. As with most romance languages there is a fair degree of mutual intelligibility with Italian, French and Portuguese but as accents and pronunciation vary dramatically from the Balearic islands to Andorra there is no hard and fast rule.

Status today
Catalan is an official language of Andorra and has joint official status in Catalonia where it is widely used in political and cultural life. It is also spoken in parts of south-eastern France, Aragon, Murcia and in the city of L'Alguer in Sardinia. Valencian, which is spoken in Valencia, and the various linguistic variants spoken on the Balearic Islands are, to all intents and purposes, the same language with accent and pronunciation being the most notable divergences. A rough equivalence would be the differences between US and British English. For local political reasons, however, there is strong resistance to being classed under the Catalan banner and indeed during the ratification process for the 2004 EU constitution, the Spanish government supplied separate Catalan, Balearic and Valencian translations even though they were actually identical.

Accurate estimates of the number of true native speakers are difficult to come by but official sources claim close to 10 million people are able to speak the various variants. This breaks down into 6 million in Catalonia, 2.5 million in Valencia and 0.75 million on the Balearic Islands. An additional 2 million people claim to be able to understand it. The position of Catalan has been strengthened in recent decades by the popularity of local Catalan-speaking television stations and by the fact that it is compulsory in schools across Catalonia and Valencia.
About the Author
Stranslations offers professional language translation services in English, French, Spanish, German and other major European languages.
The original version of this article can found at www.stranslations.com.
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