A friend of mine recently visited Barcelona. Before travelling, he proudly told me that he had been brushing up on his Spanish. When I asked him whether he had also been practising his Catalan, I received only a blank stare in return.
Upon further investigation, it seems that many people are unaware of the existence of Catalan, which is astonishing given its 7.2 million native speakers. Spoken in parts of Andorra, France, Spain and Italy, Catalan originated in Catalonia (where north eastern Spain meets France).
A Romance language evolved from common Latin, Catalan was used widely across the Mediterranean during the Low Middle Ages, but political issues led to its decline and by the 18th Century Catalan had actually been banned in both Spain and France.
The next century saw a lifting of the ban and attempts to revive the language, which have carried through to the modern day, with the Generalitat of Catalunya funding promotion of the language each year and free basic Catalan courses are available to those living in Barcelona.
Catalan and Spanish have some distinct similarities but also some vast differences. Many listeners find that Catalan sounds closer to Portuguese or Italian than it does to Spanish, while others liken it to a blend of French and Spanish. Not all Spanish speakers can understand Catalan – and vice versa.
Some similar phrases between the two languages include (Spaniah-Catalan):
Thank you: Gracias
How are you: ¿Comó estás? - Com estàs?
How much is it: ¿Cuánto es? - Quant és?
Meanwhile, some notable differences include (Spaniah-Catalan):
Goodbye: Adiós - Adeu
Please: Por favour - Si us plau
You´re welcome: De nada - De res
How´s it going?: ¿Qué tal? - Com va?
What time is it?: ¿Qué hora es? - Quina hora és?
Even this small snapshot demonstrates the variation that exists between Catalan and Spanish. A key difference is the tendency for masculine words in Catalan to drop their final vowels, meaning that many words that end with an ‘e’ or ‘o’ in Spanish end with a consonant in Catalan. Pronunciation differences are also notable, with Catalan containing a wider range of vowel sounds than Spanish.
For those planning a trip to Catalonia, the politest approach would be to learn a few phrases of both Catalan and Spanish. Both are spoken with the region, but visitors who have taken the time to learn Catalan expressions as well as Spanish ones tend to be extremely well received by the locals.
After all, Catalan may not have been widely heard of, but those who speak it are passionate about its preservation.
Which other common languages are unknown to the majority of people? Let us know by leaving a comment in the box.