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Si us plau, parla’m en català! – Please, speak to me in Catalan!

Catalan evolved from Vulgar Latin in the Pyrenee mountains around the 9 th century. It became the language of culture and trade in the Mediterraean in Middle Ages when Catalonia formed part of the great empire of the Crown of Aragon. Catalan also saw a fifty-year- long literary revival in the 19 th century referred to as Renaixença. Despite its bold and expansionist beginnings, the use of the language was banned many times in history. When Spain ceded Northern Catalonia to France in 1659, French became the only fully recognised language in the region, and so it remains until this day, to the frustration of Catalan speakers in the region. Catalan was also banned during a long part of Franco’s dictatorship (1939-1946). The culture repressed, local institutions dissolved, local press abolished- the francoist times saw speakers of Catalan imprisonned, exiled or even executed. Children could not have Catalan names. Catalan has been recognised as an official language after Spain’s post- Franco transition to democracy (1975-1982). Speakers of Catalan actually form the largest bilingual non- state speech group in the whole of Europe.

Speakers of Catalan actually form the largest bilingual non- state speech group in the whole of Europe. Wait…bilingual? Yes.
Wait…bilingual? Yes, according to the linguistic census carried out in 2013 by the Catalan Government which interviewed a large group of those registered as having lived in Catalonia for more than 15 years. Out of them, almost 47% claim Spanish to be their first language, with Catalan being spoken as the first language by 37% of the population and with almost 12% of the interviewees claiming to use both daily in equal measure. Castillan Spanish is more prominent in the Barcelona metropolitan area and Catalan is more widely spoken in smaller towns and rural areas. Why? Spain experienced an economic boom in the 1960s and with Catalonia historically being the most industralised region of the country, thousands of Castillan-speaking workers came to Barcelona in search for a better life. The boom was so significant all over Spain it saw TV ownership rocket from 1% to 90% of the population in ten years and it changed Barcelona’s linguistic map forever. The district of Poblenou were most factories were located was even given a new nickname in the 1960s: Catalan Manchester. The Catalan language has common traits with Romance languages such as Italian, Spanish and Sardinian. Linguists point out though that the vocabulary, pronunciation and grammar all suggest a closer relationship with Occitan and French. One great example of this is the word Please:

Por favor – Spanish

S’il vous plaît – French

Si us plau – Catalan

The vocabulary and grammar clearly points to closer links with French than Spanish here, but what is also important is the pronunciation- like in French and unlike in Spanish, there is no lisp in Catalan! Think Manuel from Fawlty Towers- he said he was from Barthelona, not Barselona. It’s likely to say Manuel’s family have been Castilian immigrants. Well, as long as he doesn’t mention the war! For the last thirty years, democratic Catalan institutions have attempted to protect and promote the use of Catalan. This linguistic normalisation signified a multitude of campaigns and initiatives encouraging the use of the language. You can even go to free classes in the summer now! They organise them just down the road from the Bicilona city centre base, on Carrer d’Avinyó or -in Castilian Spanish- Calle d’Avinyó.

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