Catalan originated in Catalonia, in north-eastern Spain and areas of the southernmost part of France. Today, there are 4.1 million native speakers of Catalan, with a further 5.1 million people speaking it as a second language, many of them based in Spain. Yet only seven Spanish universities (outside of Catalonia) teach Catalan, compared to 24 in the US, 22 in the UK and 20 in France.
Catalan’s political past
The roots of this seeming lack of Spanish interest in teaching and researching Catalan lie in the language’s troubled political past. There have been various attempts to supress Catalan in favour of Spanish, most notably under Francisco Franco. Under his authority, Catalan was banned from public places. It was also banned in schools, resulting in many of the tools and resources used for teaching Catalan being lost.
Catalan’s political present
With the possible secession of Catalonia very much in the public consciousness at present, Catalan is still a very emotive and political language within both Catalonia and Spain. At present, Catalan is the sole official language of Andorra, as well as being a co-official language in Catalonia, the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands. Unofficially, it is also spoken in other autonomous communities within Spain, as well as in parts of France and on the Italian island of Sardinia.
The determination of Catalan speakers to continue using their language at home, rather than switching to Spanish, has meant that the language has been preserved despite the attempts at suppression. This fierce pride is also extremely influential in the current discussions around Catalonian independence.
Interest from overseas
Being a fair distance removed from the ongoing debate between Spain and Catalonia has allowed interest in the Catalan language to flourish in other countries, notably in England and the US, though it also receives due attention in France.
In terms of speaker numbers, Catalonian is the 16th most spoken language in Europe (according to Wikipedia). It has more speakers than Portuguese, Danish, Swedish or Finnish.
Whatever happens regarding Catalonian independence, Catalan is an important part of Europe’s history. Its influence can even be felt in English, with words such as barracks, surge, cucumber and aubergine all deriving from Catalan roots.
Are you a Catalan speaker? Use the comments section to tell us why the language is so important to you.