The Catalan language and its dialectal variants

Catalan is a Western Romance language spoken in the regions of Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, although it is also spoken in the principality of Andorra (where it is its own language and the only official language), ‘Franja de Poniente’ (an area bordering Catalonia located in the extreme east of the Aragonese region), Roussillon (in the southwest of France), the Sardinian town of Alghero and the Murcian region of El Carche. Afterwards, the use of this language is currently distributed among the Italian, French and Spanish states, with special relevance in the latter.

Catalan is currently spoken by some ten million people, of whom an estimated four million are native speakers (concentrated mainly in Catalonia and Valencia). The most outstanding sociolinguistic feature of the Catalan language is that it is in a situation of social bilingualism: with French in the Roussillon area, with Italian (more than with Sardinian) in Alghero and with Spanish in the rest of its linguistic area, including Andorra.

This situation is mainly due to the historical and political development experienced by the Catalan language over the centuries.


History of the Catalan language

The Catalan language’s history covers the journey that the language has taken from its birth from Vulgar Latin to the present day, passing through periods of great literary activity, such as the Middle Ages and the Renaixença (Renaissance).

It is considered that between the tenth and eleventh centuries the Catalan language is already fully formed, being perfectly distinguished from Vulgar Latin, from which it came (like the rest of the Romance languages). Among the earliest texts in Catalan available to us are the translation of the Forum iudicum or Les Homilies d’Organyà, both from the 12th century.

In the 13th century there was a proliferation of legal and commercial texts in Catalan, which became increasingly important under the influence of the Counts of Barcelona. The Usatges de Barcelona, originally written in Latin, were translated into Catalan in the second half of the 13th century.

In this same period, the writer Ramon Llull stood out for using Catalan as opposed to Latin as an instrument of cultural expression, to the extent that he has been considered the father of Catalan literary prose.

During the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, the Catalan language experienced a great boom, coinciding with the geographical expansion of the Crown of Aragon throughout the Mediterranean (Valencia, Mallorca, Sicily, Sardinia and Naples).

Despite its geographical dispersion, Catalan achieved a high degree of uniformity and prestige thanks to the work carried out by the Aragonese royal chancellery, the main administrative and bureaucratic body of the Crown in charge of drafting official documents. The Barcelonese dialect was accepted as a standard form.

The epoch of splendor of literature in Catalan corresponds to the 15th century, with outstanding figures such as the poet Ausiàs March or the writer Joanot Martorell, both natives of Valencia. The latter wrote Tirant lo Blanc, a chivalric novel considered a masterpiece of Valencian and world literature. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Catalan continued to be the language of popular use at all levels; however, Spanish was gradually introduced into the Catalan-speaking linguistic area, coinciding with the splendor of Spanish literature in the Golden Age.

On a political and social level, the year 1715 was a turning point in the development of the Catalan language, since, after the War of the Spanish Succession and the establishment of the Bourbon monarchy, the former regions of the Crown of Aragon were subjected to Castilian laws, and Catalan was subject to prohibitions and reprisals. 

In the 19th century, the region of Catalonia underwent a period of economic recovery, which led to the revival of Catalan as the language of culture, driven by the Catalan bourgeoisie. Poetry contests that the Floral Games, revived in the Catalan-speaking lands during the period known as the Renaixença, uncovered talents as important as those of Jacint Verdaguer and Àngel Guimerà.

At the same time, the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (Institute of Catalan Studies) was created to give unity to the Catalan language.

With the Second Republic (1931-1939), Catalan regained its official status, but lost it again after the Civil War and the victory of General Franco, being banned and its use relegated to the domestic realm.


Current situation of the Catalan language

Currently, the situation of the Catalan language varies greatly depending on the territory. In Spain, after the death of Franco and the approval of the 1978 Constitution, it was recognized that, apart from Spanish, the other Spanish languages would also be official in the respective Autonomous Communities where they were spoken in accordance with their Statutes (Article 3). Therefore, Catalan, together with Spanish, is official in Catalonia, the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands. 

However, the most outstanding aspect of the Spanish Constitution is that it leaves the development of a language policy for the rest of the official languages of the State in the hands of the autonomous governments. Thus, governments such as the Catalan, Valencian or Balearic have had a relative margin of maneuver to promote the use of Catalan in the different spheres of society.

In contrast to Spain, where the use of Catalan is actively promoted at an institutional level, in France it has no official recognition whatsoever. In Andorra, on the other hand, Catalan is the only official language, while in the Italian town of Alghero it is relatively co-official. 


Dialectal varieties of Catalan and the controversy surrounding their denomination

The dialectal division of Catalan is the way in which we can classify the different varieties of this language. In general terms, the language is usually classified into two large blocks: Western and Eastern. The dialects of the western area include, for example, Andorran Catalan, Lleida Catalan and all the variants of Valencian, while the eastern area includes dialects such as Central Catalan, Rosellonese, Balearic and Alguerese.

Dialects cannot be delimited exactly because there is always a more or less wide transition zone between them (except in the islands).

The fact that the Catalan-Valencian-Balearic linguistic group is commonly known as the ‘Catalan language’ has caused (and continues to cause) some controversy. Thus, in certain areas, such as the Valencian Community, the only official denomination used is ‘Valencian’, and there is even an autonomous linguistic entity such as the Valencian Academy of Language, which promulgates its own regulations. In the Balearic Islands, although the controversy is not so notable, the existence of very characteristic dialectal features (such as the use of the article salat) has also led to a certain desire for distinction from the general term ‘Catalan’.

However, despite this controversy —motivated for political rather than linguistic reasons— Catalan, Valencian and Balearic are integral parts of the same language: none of them is above the other, but rather they are dialectal varieties of the same linguistic trunk.

Among the co-official languages of Spain, Catalan is undoubtedly the one that generates the greatest volume of work, as many companies require their documentation to be translated into this language. At FAST.txt we are very aware of this need, and that is why we have the best Catalan translators specialized in different fields (economy and finance, technology, legal matters, medical-health translation…). If you need to hire a Catalan service and you don’t know who to turn to, don’t hesitate any longer: put yourself in our hands and trust FAST.txt.

Carlos Sánchez Luis