Catalan: a Language That Has Survived Against the Odds
Catalan is a Romance language spoken by about 9.5 million people. It is the official language of Andorra and an official language, along with Spanish, in Catalonia (Catalunya), Valencia (Comunitat Valenciana) and the Balearic Islands (Illes Balears). It is also spoken in parts of Aragon and Murcia, Pyrénées-Orientales in southern France, and in the Sardinian city of Alghero (l'Alguer)
The language of Valencia is known as Valencian, which some belief is a separate language, however most linguists view it as a variety of Catalan. The Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua (AVL) consider Catalan and Valencian to be two names for the same language.
Catalan appeared as a distinct language during the 10th and 11th centuries. During the 12th century, Catalan began to appear in writing in scientific, philosophical, financial, religious, legal, literary and historical documents. At that time, Latin and Provençal were the preferred languages for literary and philosophical texts.
After the War of the Spanish Succession (1705-1715), Philip V abolished all the government institutions then existing in Catalonia and implemented Spanish laws. Catalan went through various periods of prohibition and repression.
In the 19th century, a period of economic, cultural and national recovery began, known as the Renaixença (Renaissance). Catalan was reborn as the language of literary culture through the Jocs Florals (Floral Games - a poetry contest) and through distinguished figures such as Jacint Verdaguer, Narcís Oller and Àngel Guimerà.
The Renaixença raised awareness of the lack of unity in the use of the language (there was no model for a common written language) and of the need to draw up rules on spelling. The founding of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (Institute of Catalan Studies) in 1907 led to the language being codified through the publication of Normes ortogràfiques (Spelling Rules) in 1913, the Diccionari ortogràfic (Spelling Dictionary) in 1917, and the Gramàtica catalana (Catalan Grammar) by Pompeu Fabra in 1918.
During the first 30 years of the 20th century, Catalonia went through a period of political fervour, culminating in the recovery of a degree of political power in the Generalitat (the Government of Catalonia) during the 1930s. During the Second Republic (1931-1939), Catalan was restored to its official language status, which it had lost in the 18th century. However, this promising future was checked by the Civil War and its consequences. The use of Catalan in public was forbidden and the language retreated into the home.
Ever since the restoration of democratic institutions, there has been a process to re-establish the use of Catalan. It is now a co-official language, along with Spanish, in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, and is widely used an everyday language throughout Catalonia, Valencia, Andorrra and the Balearic Islands. Catalan is used as a medium of instruction in many schools. It is also used extensively in the media and in government.
Catalan at a glance
· Native name: català [kətəˈɫa/kataˈɫa]
· Linguistic affiliation: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Western, Gallo-Romance, Occitano-Romance
· Number of speakers: c. 9.5 million
· Spoken in Andorra, southern France, northeast Spain, the Balearic Islands, Alghero in Sardinia, Italy
· First written: 11th century
· Writing system: Latin script
· Status: official language in Andorra and in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands in Spain. Recognised minority language in Pyrénées-Orientales in France, in Aragon in Spanish, and in Alghero in Sardinia in Italy.
|Barcelona. Photo : Storyblocks.com|
Proud of its own identity and language, Catalonia is one of Spain's richest and most highly industrialized regions, and also one of the most independent-minded.
With a distinguished history stretching back to the early middle ages, many Catalans think of themselves as a separate nation from the rest of Spain.
This feeling is fed by memories of the Franco dictatorship, which attempted to suppress Catalan identity, and is nowhere more clearly expressed than in the fierce rivalry between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, Spain's top football clubs.
A roughly triangular region in Spain's far north-east corner, Catalonia is separated by the Pyrenean mountains from southern France, with which it has close historical ties.
Most of the region's population lives in Barcelona, its vibrant political and economic hub and a popular European travel destination.
Holiday-makers also flock to the Mediterranean beaches of the Costa Brava and Costa Daurada/Dorada, and the Pyrenees are popular with hikers, making tourism an important part of Catalonia's economy.
But it is manufacturing - traditionally textiles, but more recently overtaken in importance by the chemical industry, food-processing, metalworking - that make the region Spain's economic powerhouse, along with a growing service sector.
|Barcelona, Catalonia. Photo: Storyblocks.com|
The area first emerged as a distinct entity with the rise of the County of Barcelona to pre-eminence in the 11th century. In the 12th century, the county was brought under the same royal rule as the neighboring kingdom of Aragon, going on to become a major medieval sea power.
Catalonia has been part of Spain since its genesis in the 15th century when King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile married and united their realms.
Initially retaining its own institutions, the region was ever more tightly integrated into the Spanish state, until the 19th century ushered in a renewed sense of Catalan identity, which flowed into a campaign for political autonomy and even separatism. The period also saw an effort to revive Catalan, long in decline by then, as a language of literature.
- Politics: Catalonia's leadership is keen to split from Spain, and held an independence referendum in 2017
- Culture: Catalonia's laws require teachers, doctors, and public sector workers to use Catalan, an official language along with Spanish
- Economy: Catalonia is one of Spain's wealthiest but most indebted regions. Harsh austerity measures have boosted separatist sentiment
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