Catalan (Català, Valencià) is a Romance language nowadays spoken in a territory populated by some 11 million people that spans over the states Spain, France, Andorra and Italy:
- Catalonia (Catalunya, Spain), where it is coofficial with Spanish.
- Balearic Islands (Illes Balears, Spain), where it is coofficial with Spanish.
- Andorra, where it is the only official language.
- Part of Valencia (País Valencià, Spain), where it is coofficial with Spanish and where the language is officially named Valencià (Valencian).
- North Catalonia or Roussillon (Catalunya Nord, France), where Catalan has no official status.
- An adjacent strip of Aragon, Spain (La Franja), in particular the comarques of Baixa Ribagorça, Llitera[?], Baix Cinca[?], and Matarranya[?], where it has no official status, but has gained some recognition by Aragonese laws since 1990.
- The Sardinian city of l'Alguer (Alghero, Italia), where it is coofficial with Italian.
- A small region in Murcia, known as el Carxe, where Catalan has no official status.
All these areas are informally called Països catalans (or Catalan countries[?]), a denomination based originally on cultural afinity and common heritage, that has been later interpreted politically by some (pro and con, that is.
Catalan developed by the 9th century from Vulgar Latin in both side of the Pyrenees mountains (counties of Rosselló, Empuries, Besalú, Cerdanya, Urgell, Pallars and Ribagorça). It shares features with Gallo-romanic and Ibero-romanic, and it could be said to be in its beginnings no more than an eccentric dialect of Occitan (or of western romanic).
The language was spread to the south by the Reconquesta
in several phases: Barcelona and Tarragona, Lleida and Tortosa, the ancient Kingdom of Valencia, and transplanted to the Balearic Islands and l'Alguer.
Several characteristic features of Catalan as a Romance language (SAMPA phonetic scheme used):
- Like Occitan, losing of Latin final unstressed vowels, except -A; and then after some of the resulting consonantic groups a support vowel [@] appears. eg. FAME > fam (hunger); BUCCA > boca (mouth); NOSTRU > nostre (ours, masc. sing.)
- Loss of final -n after the demise of final unstressed vowels. eg. MANU > *man > mà (hand)
- In Oriental dialects: Latin short E > closed [e], and Latin long E > neutral vowel [@] and then later > open [E]; so the result of Latin short and long E is reversed in relation to other romances.
- Unlike Occitan and other galic romances, Catalan preserves the three degrees for rounded back vowels /O, o, u/, and /u/ is not centralised to /y/.
- Unlike Spanish and other Iberian Romance languages, betacism or loss of B/V distinction seems to be in Catalan an innovation since the modern era, although non-betacist dialects are still preserved in some areas.
- Like Asturian, palatalization of Latin word initial L-; e.g. LUNA > lluna (moon); LUPU > llop (wolf)
- Vocalization to [w] of final -d of diverse origins and the Latin verbal ending -TIS: PEDE > peu ['pEw] (foot); CREDIT > creu ['krEw] (he believes, present 3rd singular); MIRATIS > miratz > mirau > mireu [mi'rEw] (you watch, present 2nd plural)
- Consonantic palatalizations, similar to most romances:
- C+e,i,yod > *[ts] > [s]; e.g. CAELU > cel ['sEl] (sky, or heaven).
- G+e,i,yod > *[dZ] > [Z]; e.g GELU > gel ['ZEl] (ice).
- -Ly-,-LL-,-c'l-,-t'l- > ll [L]; e.g. MULIERE > muller (wife); CABALLU > cavall (horse), but confer other cases like VILLA > vila (town) where the geminate has been simplified; AURICULA > *oric'la > orella (ear); VETULUS > *vet'lu > vell (old man)
- -Ny-,-GN-,-NN- > ny [J]; e.g. LIGNA > llenya (wood)
- Consonantic lenition, similar to most of western romances:
- intervocalic voiced oclusives become fricatives ones or are lost. E.g. CABALLU > cavall (horse), VOLEBAT > volia (wanted, imperfect 3rd sing.), PAVORE > pahor > por (awe).
- intervocalic voiceless oclusives become voiced ones. E.g. VITA > vida (life).
- intervocalic geminated voiceless oclusives are simplified, but intervocalic geminated voiceless fricatives are preserved. E.g. BUCCA > BOCA (mouth), PASSARE > passar (pass).
See also specific articles on: Ribagorçan, Valencian, Alguerese
A summary of the phonemes of contemporary Catalan, their graphemes and sounds (SAMPA phonetic scheme used):
Plosives in final position become voiceless.
- /p/ 'p'
- /b/ 'b','v' (see /v/ below), articulated as fricative [B] between vowels or liquides; [p] in final position
- /t/ 't'
- /d/ 'd', articulated as fricative [D] between vowels or liquides; [t] in final position
- /k/ 'c' before 'a,o,u'; 'qu' before 'e,i', 'qu' for /kw/ before 'a,o,u'; 'qü' for /kw/ before 'e,i'
- /g/ 'g' before 'a,o,u'; 'gu' before 'e,i', 'gu' for /gw/ before 'a,o,u'; 'gü' for /gw/ before 'e,i', articulated as fricative [G] between vowels or liquides, [k] in final position
Affricates in final position become voiceless.
Word final /ts,tS/ followed by a vowel become voiced (liaison[?]).
- /ts/ 'ts' (not considered a separate phoneme but t+s, by most authors).
- /dz/ 'tz' (not considered a separate phoneme but t+z, by most authors). In Ribagorçan and Apitxat[?] Valencian (comarques around Valencia city), /dz/ has merged with voiceless /ts/.
- /tS/ 'tx'; sometimes 'ig' in word final position; many exceptions.
- /dZ/ 'tj' before 'a,o,u'; 'tg' before 'e,i'; many exceptions. In Ribagorçan and Apitxat[?] Valencian (comarques around Valencia city), /dZ/ has merged with voiceless /tS/.
Fricatives in final position become voiceless.
Word final /s,S/ followed by a vowel become voiced (liaison[?]).
- /f/ 'f'
- /v/ 'v'. In most modern Catalan dialects /v/ has merged with bilabial plosive /b/. /v/ is still a separate phoneme in Balearic, Alguerese, Valencian (except the comarques around Valencia city), and the comarques around Tarragona city.
- /s/ 's'; 'ss' between vowels; also 'c' before 'e,i' and 'ç' elsewhere.
- /z/ 'z'; 's' between vowels. In Ribagorçan and Apitxat[?] Valencian (comarques around Valencia city), /z/ has merged with voiceless /s/.
- /S/ 'x'; 'ix' after vowel or in word final position. In Occidental variants (Lleida, Valencian), the written form -ix- is pronounced [jS] or [js]. In Barcelona city, /S/ in initial position or after nasals is pronounced as affricate [tS].
- /Z/ 'j' before 'a,o,u'; 'g' before 'e,i'; many exceptions. In Barcelona city, /Z/ in initial position or after nasals is pronounced as affricate [dZ]. Some 'j' from standard correspond to [j] in Pallarese[?] or Ribagorçan, and then the rest of 'j' from standard correspond to [tS] in Ribagorçan. Most 'j' of standard correspond to [dZ] in Valencian, and then in Apitxat[?] Valencian (comarques around Valencia city) /dZ/ has merged with voiceless /tS/.
Nasals in final position retain distinct point or articulation, unlike in Spanish or French.
- /m/ 'm'
- /n/ 'n'
- /J/ 'ny', palatal nasal, as in Hungarian
- velar nasal [N], which is written as 'nc' or 'ng' in final position, is not considered a separate phoneme, but n+k or n+g, by most authors
- /l/ 'l', 'l·l' (this is 'ele geminada', a Catalan characteristic grapheme). Catalan /l/ has a distinctive velar resonance, unlike Spanish or French ones.
- /L/ 'll', palatal lateral. Standard Catalan /L/ has not merged with /j/, unlike Spanish or French ones. Some 'll' from standard correspond to [j] or to nothing at all in Balearic; e.g. VETULA > 'vella' (old woman), Balearic 'vea'
- /r/ Simple alveolar flap. 'r' in all positions but word initial.
- /rr/ Multiple alveolar trill. Word initial 'r'; 'rr' between vowels.
The Standard vocalic system has seven different vowels in stressed position /A,E,e,i,O,o,u/, but only [@,i,u] can appear in unstressed positions.
In most of Balearics, /@/ (written 'e','è') can be a distinct phoneme as well in stressed position.
In Valencian and Nordoccidental Catalan [e,o] can appear as well in unstressed positions.
In fact these differences in the vocalic systems are one the main criteria used to diferentiate between the major dialects:
- Central (Girona province, Barcelona province, Tarragona province but the Ebre bassin)
- Septentrional (Roussillon)
- Balearic (Balearic Islands)
- Alguerese (L'Alguer)
- Nordoccidental (Andorra, Lleida province, Ribagorça, Ebre bassin of Tarragona province)
- Valencian (Eastern half of País Valencià, and Carxe in the Murcia province)
- /A/ 'a'; 'à'. Catalan /A/ is tenser and more open than the Spanish or French ones. Only in stressed position. When unstresssed coalesces to [@], but not in Occidental variants (Lleida, Valencian).
- /E/ 'e'; 'è'. Only in stressed position. When unstresssed coalesces to [@], but in Occidental variants (Lleida, Valencian) to [e].
- /e/ 'e'; 'é'. Only in stressed position. When unstresssed coalesces to [@], but not in Occidental variants (Lleida, Valencian).
- /i/ 'i'; 'í'; 'ï'.
- /O/ 'o'; 'ò'. Only in stressed position. When unstresssed coalesces to [u], but in Occidental variants (Lleida, Valencian) and Majorca to [o].
- /o/ 'o'; 'ó'. Only in stressed position. When unstresssed coalesces to [u], but not in Occidental variants (Lleida, Valencian) and Majorca.
- /u/ 'u'; 'ú'; 'ü'.
Unlike Spanish or French, contiguous vowels normally form 'decreasing' diphthongs and not 'increasing' ones. Examples:
- mai (never) ['mAj] (1 syllable)
- noi (boy) ['nOj] (1 syllable)
- rei (king) ['rej] (1 syllable)
- vuit (eight) ['bujt] (1 syllable)
- pau (peace) ['pAw] (1 syllable)
- bou (ox) ['bOw] (1 syllable)
- neu (snow) ['new] (1 syllable)
- diu (he says) ['diw] (1 syllable)
- dia (day) ['di @] (2 syllables)
- cua (tail) ['ku @] (2 syllables)
- deia (he said) ['dE j@] (2 syllables)
- diuen (they say) ['di w@n] (2 syllables)
Some common phrases
- Catalan: Català /k@t@'lA/
- hello: hola /'Ol@/
- good-bye: adéu /@'DEw/
- please: si us plau /sis'plAw/
- thank you: gràcies /'grAsi@s/; merci /'mErsi/
- sorry: perdó /p@r'Do/
- that one: aquest /@'kEt/ (masc.); aquesta /@'kEst@/ (fem.)
- how much?: quant val? /'kwAm'bAl/; quant és? /'kwAn'tes/
- yes: sí /'si/
- no: no /'no/
- I don't understand: No ho entenc /'no w@n'teN/
- where's the bathroom?: on és el bany? /'on'ez@l'BaJ/; on és el lavabo? /'on'ez@l'l@'BABu/
- generic toast: salut! /s@'lut/;
- Do you speak English?: Que parla anglès? /k@ 'parl@ @n'glEs/
- Do you speak Catalan?: Que parla català? /k@ 'parl@ k@t@'lA/
Bibliography to learn Catalan:
- Digui, digui... Curs de català per a estrangers. A catalan Handbook .-- Alan Yates and Toni Ibarz .-- Generalitat de Catalunya. Departament de Cultura, 1993 .-- ISBN 84-393-2579-7.
- Teach Yourself Catalan .-- McGraw-Hill, 1993 .-- ISBN 0844237558.
There is a Catalan Wikipedia (http://catalan.wikipedia.com).