When its democratic constitution was ratified in 1978, Spain ceased to be a centralised unitary state and was divided, in political terms, into 17 autonomous communities, each regulated by an autonomy statute. Autonomous communities are political entities similar to the units that make up federal states (called "länder" in Germany and Austria; "gemeenschappen/communautés" and "gewesten/régions" in Belgium; "provinces" in Canada; "states" in the United States and Australia; and "kantone" in Switzerland). The autonomy statutes are like the constitutions of these political entities.
Several of these 17 communities were already autonomous during the Second Spanish Republic (1931-1939) or even sovereign states at some stage in the past. Catalonia established itself as an independent state between the ninth and twelfth centuries. From the thirteenth to the fifteenth century, it was the nucleus of the Kingdom of Aragon, a Mediterranean confederation that lasted until the eighteenth century. In Spain, autonomous communities of this type are called "historic communities" or "nationalities".
Catalonia, which comprises 6% of the area of Spain (32,000 km² out of 500,000 km²) and 15% of the population (6.5 million out of 42 million), is one of these "nationalities". Its most characteristic feature is the fact that it has its own language: Catalan.
In Catalonia, the main languages used for communication are Catalan and Spanish (in some regions of Spain, the latter is also called "castellano" or Castilian).
Catalan is the native language of Catalonia, although it later spread to other regions, and was the only language spoken by most of the population until well into the nineteenth century. Spanish became a part of Catalonia's linguistic heritage much later. The literary prestige of Castilian (starting in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries), its strict legal imposition (starting in the eighteenth century) and especially the immigration of many Spaniards from poorer regions (in the twentieth century) are the main reasons for it being present in Catalonia.
In addition to Catalan, another historical language is also used in Catalonia. Aranese, a variety of Occitan, is spoken by around 5,000 people in the Val d'Aran in the northeast corner of the autonomous community. In recent years, the linguistic heritage of Catalonia has been further enriched by languages brought by immigrants from many parts of the world, including Arabic, Berber, Chinese and Urdu, and the languages of more traditional European residents, such as French, English and German.
Catalan is a Romance language, which means it stems from Latin, just like Spanish, French, Italian, Occitan, Galician, Portuguese, Romanian and other, less common languages. Because of this shared origin, Catalan is similar to other Romance languages, although it is recognised by linguists as a separate language.
Close to 80 percent of all Catalan words have a Latin origin common to all Romance languages. Some of the remaining 20 percent resemble corresponding words in Spanish, Galician and Portuguese, while others are more similar to French, Occitan or even Italian. For example, the Catalan word "mantega" has the same origin as the Spanish word "manteca", but is different from the French "beurre" and the Italian "burro". However, the Catalan verb "menjar" has the same origin as the French "manger" or the Italian "mangiare", but is different from the Spanish "comer".
Catalan appeared at around the same time as the other Romance languages (probably in the eighth or ninth century) and the earliest known document written entirely in Catalan is from the twelfth century. This "delay" is a logical consequence of the fact that classical Latin was the prevailing written language in the Late Middle Ages.
Catalan is not just a language and an instrument for communication between people, it is also the main symbol of Catalan nationality.
Catalan is spoken in Catalonia, the autonomous communities of Valencia and the Balearic Islands, a strip of the autonomous community of Aragon along the border with Catalonia, and in certain parts of the autonomous community of Murcia that are on the border with Valencia. The variety of Catalan spoken in Valencia is normally called "Valencian". A similar phenomenon occurs with Dutch, which is called Flemish in Flanders (Belgium), and Serbo-Croatian, which the Serbs call Serbian and the Croats call Croatian.
Like other European languages, such as German, Slovenian, French, Hungarian, English, Italian, Dutch, Serbo-Croatian and Swedish, Catalan is spoken in more than one country. Although most of its speakers live in Spain, Catalan is also spoken in Andorra (a microstate located between France and Spain, where it is, in fact, the official language), the French county of the Pyrénées-Orientales (which was part of Catalonia until 1659) and the city of Alghero, on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Altogether, these regions cover 60,000 km² and are home to more than 11 million people.
Like many other languages, Catalan also has its diaspora. There are groups of people who speak Catalan in Madrid, Latin America and many other parts of the world
Unlike other languages, there is no linguistic census that keeps track of how many people use Catalan as their main language of communication.
However, the people who understand and know how to speak Catalan in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands are counted periodically. In Catalonia, nearly 100 percent of the population understands the language, and over 75 percent knows how to speak it. Among young people, especially university students, the proportion of people who know how to speak Catalan is close to 100 percent.
Overall, we could say that of the 11 million people who live in the Catalan-speaking regions, , about 10 million use it at least passively, more than 7 million know how to speak it, and at least 5 million use it as their main language of communication. Depending on the figure used, Catalan ranks differently among the European languages. In the worst-case scenario, Catalan has more speakers than Danish, Slovak, Slovenian, Estonian, Finnish, Latvian, Lithuanian and Norwegian. According to the most optimistic calculation, it is demographically comparable to Greek, Portuguese and Swedish. In any event, Catalan is not an endangered language like Breton in France or Frisian in the Netherlands; it has a considerable number of speakers who use it every day in all spheres of society .
Catalan is just as important to the Catalans as any other language is to its speakers.
Catalans know how to speak Spanish, but many of them prefer to use Catalan. Why? Normally, people prefer to speak the language that they feel most comfortable with, and many Catalans feel more comfortable speaking Catalan (the language they grew up speaking) than Spanish (a language they learned later in life). The same thing happens with the members of the European Parliament: they know how to speak English and probably French, but they prefer to use their own language-German, Danish or Italian, for example-when speaking before the parliament, for the simple reason that it is easier for them to speak than any other.
However, even if the German, Danish or Italian MEPs spoke perfect English, they would probably still want to use their own language, which they consider a symbol of their cultural identity. The same goes for the Catalan people. Their language is the most visible symbol of Catalan nationality. There are other symbols, such as historical memory and political institutions, but none as important as the language. Despite being a major language of communication, Spanish is not symbolic in this way. In fact, it sometimes symbolises the opposite-many Catalans still remember the long period during which Catalan was banned and Spanish was imposed, which was especially harsh during the Franco dictatorship (1939-1975).
In Spain, the law says that Catalan shares official status with Spanish in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands.
While both Catalan and Spanish are official languages in Catalonia, the statute of autonomy declares Catalan the region's own language. This implies that Catalan is used preferentially (and sometimes exclusively) in certain spheres determined by law.
Place names are a clear example. The towns and cities of Catalonia are named only in Catalan. Catalan is the main working language of the Catalan autonomous government. It is also the language used by the region's public radio and television stations. The television channel TV3 (http://www.tvcatalunya.com/) and the radio station Catalunya Ràdio (http://www.catradio.com/), broadcast in Catalan and are ratings leaders in their respective fields. Catalan is also the language used at all levels of the educational system, including university level.
The law says that university students have the right to express themselves verbally and in writing in whichever official language they prefer (Catalan or Spanish). However, lecturers have the same right, so it is safe to assume that many of them will exercise this right by teaching their classes in Catalan!
As Catalonia's own language, Catalan is the language of the educational system, including the university system. In accordance with this principle, all universities in Catalonia explicitly recognise Catalan as the working language.
Without a doubt, it is the main language used in the administration of Catalan universities. Obvious examples of this include the signposts on university buildings, enrolment forms and the websites of the different university institutions. In certain cases, Catalan is the only working language.
In terms of teaching, the use of Catalan is widespread, although it does vary from one university to the next. Generally speaking, the percentage of classes taught in Catalan at Catalan universities ranges from 60 to 80 percent. Naturally, each university's average percentage may reflect variations related to the degrees it offers. At the University of Girona, for example, the average is above 80 percent, but the percentages for the different degree programmes range from 60 percent for law to 100 percent for nursing. There are also major differences between academic levels. For third cycle courses (postgraduate, master's and doctoral degrees), the percentage of classes taught in Catalan tends to drop in favour of Spanish and sometimes English.
Catalan universities are not divided by linguistic criteria. They do not work like a university in Brussels, Belgium that split into two: one that operates entirely in French and one that operates entirely in Flemish. Nor do they work like universities in Quebec, Canada, some of which only use French and some of which only use English.
Catalan students usually take most of their classes in Catalan and some in Spanish. Catalan universities expect foreign students to accept this situation and adapt to it. Some courses with more than one group are offered in both Catalan and Spanish, but this is not always the case. It is therefore important to prepare yourself either before or after moving here , for taking classes in Catalan. This is not hard to do!
Naturally, if a lecturer teaches a class in Catalan, this does not mean that the students are obliged to use it. According to the law, university students have the right to express themselves verbally and in writing in whichever official language they prefer. Therefore, any student-native or foreign-may speak in class and answer test questions in either Catalan or Spanish.
Some lecturers even allow other languages to be used in class, but it is more common for Catalan-or to a lesser extent, Spanish-to be the main language of communication.
The law says that university students may express themselves verbally and in writing in whichever official language they prefer (Catalan or Spanish). It does not say that students must know how to speak Catalan (or Spanish). However, since the universities use Catalan and Spanish as the languages of communication, students are expected to be competent in both languages. This situation could be summarised in a single sentence: speaking Catalan (and Spanish) is not a requirement for studying at a Catalan university, but it is necessary. This should not worry you, first of all, because it is relatively easy to gain enough of a grasp of the language to follow a class taught in Catalan; secondly, because there are many ways to learn Catalan before and after moving to Catalonia; and thirdly, because universities provide resources to help foreign students follow classes in Catalan.
Catalan universities work like most universities all over the world. Italian universities, for example, do not force their students to speak Italian, but they do operate on the assumption that the students know how to speak it. The only difference is that Catalan universities have two languages of communication. Foreign students do not always understand this, so we've created this list of frequently asked questions to try to clear things up!
Learning Catalan is neither harder nor easier than learning any other language. People who want to learn a language can do so relatively easily. For people who speak one or more Romance languages, Catalan is very easy to understand. This is especially true for written and scientific language, which is what we use most at this university. Even if you don't know any Catalan, you could probably decipher "àcid desoxiribonucleic" and "revolució industrial" correctly. It may be a little harder to learn to understand the spoken language, but this is not an insurmountable task. There are a handful of complex pronunciation rules, but in terms of grammar and vocabulary, Catalan is very similar to other Romance languages.
Most foreign students who come to Catalan universities already speak Spanish. This knowledge of Spanish provides an excellent base for learning a little Catalan. You might not earn an advanced certificate in the language, but you will surely learn enough to understand classes taught in Catalan.
When learning a language, practice is what really matters. The opportunities for you to practice Catalan outside of class are endless. Catalan is not an isolated language in danger of extinction-it is present in all spheres of society!
We must admit that it's not easy to communicate in Catalan with the Spanish police, the army and the judicial system, but you probably won't have to deal with these institutions while you're living in Catalonia. In daily life, however, you will have many chances to witness the vitality of Catalan and practise speaking it. Catalan is used in all spheres of society, to a greater or lesser extent.
If you go to a bookstore, you will see some of the 6,000
books published in Catalan every year. At newsstands, you can buy
Catalan newspapers such as the "Avui" (http://www.avui.com/) and "El Periódico" (http://www.elperiodico.es/),
as well as sports newspapers and general magazines in Catalan. At home,
you can listen to public and private radio stations and watch public
television in Catalan. And when you get your water, gas, electricity
and telephone bills, you'll see that they are in Catalan. If you take
the metro, the bus or the train, you'll see that all the
information-both written and spoken-is offered at least in Catalan. At
the bank, you can a sk the cash machine to speak to you in Catalan. In
general, Catalan is present in all spheres of activity. Naturally,
people also use Catalan in their social lives. Like any other language,
Catalan can be used for all kinds of social interaction!