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THE CATALAN LANGUAGE

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Barcelona (Spain)

THE CATALAN LANGUAGE

Catalan in Catalonia

Catalan is spoken throughout an area which covers 68,730 km2, is divided between four European states (Spain, France, Andorra and Italy), and has a population of over 11 million people.

Where is it spoken?

The usage of Catalan is not uniform in all the areas in which it is present. On the one hand we have Catalonia, Andorra and the Franja de Ponent (part of Aragon bordering with Catalonia), and on the other, the city of Alguer (in Sardinia) and North Catalonia (in the French department of the Eastern Pyrenees). In Catalonia and the Franja de Ponent, Catalan is almost universally understood and the percentage of Catalan speakers is over 75%. In Alguer and North Catalonia, only the half of the inhabitants understand Catalan, and it is spoken by under 50%. We have two other areas in which Catalan is spoken: the Balearic Islands and the Autonomous Community of Valencia. Overall, we can say that of the 11 million people who live in these Catalan speaking territories, the language is spoken by over 7 million and is understood by almost 10 million.

Who speaks it?

In Catalonia, the Balearic Islands and the Autonomous Community of Valencia, the younger generations understand Catalan better and are better prepared to speak it. In Catalonia, for example, the percentage of Catalan speakers (75% of the total population) totals 90% in the case of 15-29 year olds. Nowadays it is not easy to meet young people who cannot speak Catalan.

Catalan in teaching

It is clear that Catalan is not an obscure, minority language, spoken only by the elderly, a language doomed to disappear because it is no longer passed on from parents to children. Except for the Franja de Ponent and Alguer, Catalan is an official language in the areas in which it is present, a presence which permeates every sphere of society. Catalan, for example, is taught in all schools and many children, especially in Catalonia, receive almost all their teaching in this language. In Catalonia, over 70% of pupils sit their university entrance exams in Catalan and Catalan is the language used in teaching at 60 to 100% of the Catalan universities. Many students from outside Catalonia are therefore likely to find themselves studying a subject in Catalan; no insuperable effort if they already know Spanish, as the two languages have many similarities. Experience tells us that a Spanish-speaker will be able to understand spoken Catalan in under a fortnight. And with a little more effort, he or she will be able to speak it within a few weeks, increasing their cultural diversity almost without realising it.

Language of culture

The vitality of the Catalan language is also apparent in cultural statistics. Almost 6.000 books are published in Catalan every year in Spain, making up 12% of the total published in Spain. In Catalonia, 30% of the daily press is in Catalan, and the most popular television channel, TV3, broadcasts all its programmes in Catalan. The leading radio station by number of listeners, Catalunya Ràdio, also broadcasts entirely in Catalan. In the city of Barcelona, a true home to the theatre, most plays are performed in Catalan.

Language for commerce

Catalan, however, is not just a language for education and culture, but also for commerce and business. It is unusual not to be attended to in Catalan in a bank or shop in Catalonia; not only that, many businesses are obliged to have all the documentation they offer their clients available in Catalan. Banks must provide check books in Catalan; travel agencies, the contracts; hotels, the hotel bill, etc... In fact, everybody is in daily contact with the language. Catalan does meet some resistance in certain areas (the courts and the police force), but this is gradually being overcome. It will not be long before Catalan will be classed as a normal language, alongside other European languages with similar demographics such as Danish, Finnish, Greek or Swedish.

The Consortium for the Linguistic Normalization is an entity created from the common will of the Government and of numerous town councils, local boards and regional governments with the aim of facilitating the knowledge and the diffusion of the Catalan language in all areas.

 

Simple rules for reading Catalan

Catalan words are pronunced the same way as they are written so that reading a written text is a very easy task. The Catalan phonetics is rather straightforward. The Catalan language uses the Latin alphabet and ascribes a distinguished sound to each sign. There very few exceptions.

It includes 5 well-established vocalic sounds corresponding with the five vowels of the Latin alphabet that always have the same sound: A, E, I, O, U.

Pronuntation of vowels

 

Letter Phonetic symbol Explanation
a á

1. Stressed a is an open vowel between standard      
English bat or bath:  pa, fals.

2. Unstressed a has a neutral sound pronounced     like a in English instant, like e in butter: vila, roba.

e
é

1. Open e is like e in e in English set: cel, terra.

2. Closed e is like a in English rain : rec, llengua.

3. Unstressed e has the same sound as unstressed a: Pare, Mare.

i

í, i

 

j

1. Catalan i is like i in English marine. It is slightly more tense and longer when stressed: pi, grill, pineda.

2. As a glide, i is always unstressed and a part of a diphthong.

о

о

 

ó

u

1. Open o is like o in the English pot, though not quite so short: bo, arròs.  

2. Closed o is like o in English note but without the final [w] glide: boca, autor, estómac.

3. Unstressed o sounds like oo in English food, but with less tension: boqueta, oral.

u

ú, u

 

w

1. Catalan u sounds like u in the English rude when stressed, and like put when unstressed: fúria, fum, furiós, fumera.

2. At the beginning of a syllable (between two vowels), u sounds like w in the english away. It is always unstressed and a part of a diphthong.

 

 

Letter Catalan Word Look at the sign on page Pronounced Meaning
a mare 15 a as in bath mother
b autobús 23 b as in bus, about bus
c cotxe 23 c as in car, camera

car

ç

plaça

19

c as in ceiling square
d diari

33

d as in dandy, th as in there newspaper
e llibre 33 a as in about, /ə/ as in butter book
f
finestra 33

f as in fair, philosophy

window
g
gambes 35

g as in go

prawns
h
història 47 silent history
i
nit 13 ea as in eat night
 jugar
59
j as in joke
to play
k
-
-
k as in kite; used only in foreign words
-
l
legalitat
19
l as in lost, legume, lentils
legality
llllimones
29
similar to English li in million lemons
m
moto
23
m as in man, moon
motorcycle
n
nous
29
n as in net, no
walnuts
o
porro
30
o as in order
leek
p
patates
30
p as in pig, pocket, spot
potatoes
q
quiosc
33
k as in kill, question 
newsstand
r
darrere
20

r as in fair, hair

behind in

s
pèsol
30

s as in sister, set

peas
t
hotel
33
t as tea, time
hotel
u
taula
33
oo as in room
table
v
vi
37
b as in ball, v as in vest
wine
w
-
-
w as in water, used only in foreign words-

x

vaixell
23
sh as in shy; x as in exit
boat
y
guanyador
58
only in the "ny" combination, near to ni in onion
winner
z
topazi
19
z as in zoo topaz