Gereon Janzing, geobotánico y etnobotánico
Gereon Janzing, geobotánico y etnobotánico

Catalan language

Catalan is one of the Romance languages, closely related to Occitan (Provençal). During the Spanish dictatorship people learnt that Catalan was a Spanish dialect, what of course is nonsense. Although the distinction between a language and a diakect is not always clear, in this case there is not the lest doubt. Until the Renaissance many people considered Catalan an Occitan dialect, what makes more sense considering that the two languages are very similar to one another. Nowadays it is acknowledges as what it is: a language. (Occitan or Provençal was the language of the medieval troubadours, today there is hardly anyone left who speaks it.)

The two main dialects are:

– West Catalan: North-West Catalan and Valencian; and

– East Catalan: Central Catalan, North Catalan or Rousillonese in France, Balearic (Ibicencan, Majorcan and Minorcan) and Alguerese on the island of Sardinia.

The terminology of the dialects is not uniform. There are authors who use the term West Catalan only for North-West Catalan and East Catalan only for Central Catalan. North-West Catalan can also be found called Leridan.

The most important difference is that the vowels a and e in West Catalan are distinguished also in an unaccented syllable whereas in East Catalan they unite in a single neutral vowel. Also the vowel o has in West Catalan its full sound in unaccented syllables and in East Catalan is pronounced like u–however, here there is an exception: In the major part of Majorca the o maintains its full pronunciation even in an unaccented syllable.

Catalan has many 

parallels with Spanish

, partly due to direct influence; it also has parallels with more easterly Romance languages, some surprising parallels with Romansh. A parallel of some Catalan dialects with Sardic (on Sardinia) is the article known as "article salat".

Two persons (in Catalan: dues persones, in Ibicencan: dos persones) must be mentioned if we speak about the history of the Catalan language:

Ramon Llull (1232/1233 - 1315/1316) was a philosopher and also active as a writer. His work has so much influence on the Catalan language until today that his texts offer few difficulties for an educated Catalan of our times, even though he or she has no schooling in Ancient Catalan. Some verbal forms are very different from the modern ones. The masculine article in his texts is the one of those times, lo (plural: los), which nowadays is limited to North-West Catalan. When Llull wrote poetry, however, he did that in Occitan, which in those times was the language of poetry in Catalonia.

Pompeu Fabra (1868 - 1948) formed a unified orthography for Catalan, taking into account the dialectal pronunciations but also etymology and tradition. So to an East Catalan it may seem absurd to write casa with an a, but cases with an e since he does not pronounce any difference. But for a West Catalan this difference in spelling reflects a difference in pronunciation. Etymologically it may seem absurd to write cavall with a v and not a b like in Latin caballus. The reason is that the spelling with v has a tradition in ancient texts; moreover in some dialects b and v are distinguished, and cavall is pronounced clearly with a v.

Two books I can recommend (in Catalan):

Lluís-Anton Baulenas: Manual de llengua catalana. Barcelona 1986.

Frances de B. Moll: Gramàtica catalana referida especialment a les Illes Balears. Palma 1968. 14ª edició 2008.