Languages of Catalonia

Originating in the historic territory of Catalonia (an Autonomous Community of Spain), Catalan is one of the three official languages and has enjoyed special status since the approval of the Statute of Autonomy of 1979 which declares it to be the language "proper to Catalonia". [ [ Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (Article 6)] ] The other languages with official status are Spanish, which is the official language throughout Spain, and Aranese (a dialect of Occitan spoken in the Aran Valley).

According to the most recent linguistic census elaborated by the Government of Catalonia, 53.4% of citizens declared Spanish as their native language, although a plurality claims Catalan as "their own language" (48.8% Catalan compared to 44.3% Spanish), and in most everyday uses, people who use exclusively Catalan or both languages equally are in the majority. [ IDESCAT 2003] ]

Finally, since the Statute of Autonomy of 1979, Occitan, in its Aranese variety (a dialect of Gascon), has been official and subject to special protection in the Aran Valley. This small area of 7,000 inhabitants was the only place where Occitan (spoken mainly in France and some Italian valleys) received full official status. However, on 9 August 2006, when the new Statute came into force, Occitan became official throughout Catalonia.

As a result of the ongoing linguistic policies favouring Catalan, implemented in various degrees by the autonomous government during the last 20 years, knowledge of Catalan has advanced significantly in all these areas, with the ability to write it having experienced the most pronounced increase, from 31.6% of the population in 1986 to 49.8% in 2001.

By age groups, those between 10 and 29 have the highest level of Catalan-language literacy (e.g., 98.2% aged 10–14 understand it, and 85.2% can write it); this is attributed to these individuals having received their education in Catalan.

Geographically, Catalan is understood in northwest Catalonia (High Pyrenees, Aran Valley), at 97.4%, followed by south and western Catalonia, whereas Barcelona's metropolitan area sees the lowest knowledge, at 93.8%. The situation is analogous for written-language skills, with central Catalonia scoring the highest percentages (61.4%), and Barcelona the lowest (46.4%).

Barcelona is one of the main centres of the Spanish publishing industry for both Spanish-language and Catalan-language publishing.

ocial use

According to a study carried out in 2003 by the Generalitat de Catalunya, [ [ Estadstica d'usos lingstics a Catalunya, 2003 ] ] Catalan is used by 50.1% of the population in everyday situations.

Over 55% of respondents use Spanish to address their parents (versus 42% who choose Catalan). This is attributed to extensive migration from other areas in Spain during the second half of the 20th century, as a consequence of which many Catalans have one or both parents born outside Catalonia. However, a majority (52.6%) use Catalan with their children (compared to 42.3% for Spanish). This can be attributed to some Spanish-speaking citizens shifting from their mother tongue to Catalan at home.

Outside the family, 48.6% of the population indicate that they address strangers exclusively or preferentially in Catalan, while the proportion of those who use Spanish is 41.7%, and 8.6% claim to use both equally.


The Spanish language developed from Vulgar Latin, with influences from Basque, Arabic and (to a lesser extent) Celtiberian, in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, between Biscay and Cantabria. Most closely related to Leonese, it contains a higher degree of Basque influence than the latter.


According to the 2001 Aranese Linguistic Census, [ [ Cens linguistic der arans de 2001 ] ] knowledge of Aranese in the Occitan-speaking territory of Aran is as follows:
Infobox Language
name = Spanish
nativename = _es. Español, _es. Castellano
pronunciation =/espaˈɲol/, /kasteˈʎano/ - /kasteˈʝano/
familycolor = Indo-European
script = Latin (Spanish variant)
region = Spanish speaking countries and territories: flag|Argentina,
flag|Costa Rica,
flag|Dominican Republic,
flag|Equatorial Guinea,
flag|El Salvador,
flag|Puerto Rico,
and a significant number of the populations of
and the
flag|United States.
speakers = First languagea: 322 [ [ Encarta-Most spoken languages] ] – c. 400 million [ [ Ciberamerica-Castellano] ] [ [ El Nuevo Diario] ] [ [ Terra Noticias] ] Totala: 400–500 million [ Universidad de México] Verify credibility|date=March 2008subst:Sup|(cached URL)] Instituto Cervantes ( [ "El Mundo" news] )] [ [ Yahoo Press Room] ]
aAll numbers are approximate.
rank = 2 (native speakers)cite web|url=|title=Spanish|publisher=ethnologue] [ [ Most widely spoken languages by Nations Online] ] [ [ Most spoken languages by Ask Men] ] [ [ Encarta Languages Spoken by More Than 10 Million People] ]
3 (total speakers)
fam2 = Italic
fam3 = Romance
fam4 = Italo-Western
fam5 = Gallo-Iberian
fam6 = Ibero-Romance
fam7 = West Iberian
script = Latin (Spanish variant)
script = Latin (Spanish variant)
nation = 20 countries, United Nations, European Union, Organization of American States
agency = Association of Spanish Language Academies ( _es. Real Academia Española and 21 other national Spanish language academies)
iso1 = es
iso2 = spa
iso3 = spa

Compared to previous data from 1996, the number of those able to understand Aranese has declined slightly (90.5% in 1996), while at the same time there has been a marginal increase in the number of those able to write it (24.97% in 1996).

By age groups, the largest percentage of those with knowledge of Aranese is in the 15-19 and 65-69 groups (both above 96%), while those aged 30-34 score lowest (just over 80%). Literacy is higher in the 10-19 group with over 88% declaring themselves able to read, and 76% able to write Aranese. Those over 80 are the least literate, with only about 1.5% of them being able to write the language.

It is significant to note that in the Aran Valley, those born outside Spain outnumber Spaniards born outside Aran and Catalonia in the active use of Aranese (17% of non-Spaniards can write Aranese, while the percentage for Spaniards excluding Catalans is 10%).

Political issues

Under the Franco dictatorship Catalan was, until the 1970s, excluded from the state education system and all other official and public use, including the prohibition of baptizing children with certain Catalan names. Rural-urban migration originating in other parts of Spain reduced the social use of the language in urban areas. Lately, a similar sociolinguistic phenomenon has occurred with foreign immigration. In an attempt to reverse this, the re-established self-government institutions of Catalonia embarked on a long term language policy to increase the use of Catalan [ [ Multilingualism in Spain: Sociolinguistic and Psycholinguistic Aspects of Linguistic Minority Groups] ] and has, since 1983, enforced laws which attempt to protect, and extend, the use of Catalan. Some groups consider these efforts a way to discourage the use of Spanish, [ Diario El Mundo, Spanish Only] [ Diario El Imparcial, Spanish Only] [ Diario Periodista Digital, Spanish Only] [ Diario Periodista Digital, Spanish Only] while some other, including the Catalan government [ [ Page 13: Catalan Minister of Education Ernest Maragall declares respect from the Catalan Government to Spanish language and to everyone's rights. Catalan only] ] and the European Union [ [ EU takes Basque Country, Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia as examples of bilingualism.] ] consider the policies not only respectful, [ [ The President Montilla promises to look after the use and respect both for Spanish and Catalan languages.] ] but also an example which "should be disseminated throughout the Union". [ [ Report from the European Union in which Catalan immersion is taken as an example which "should be disseminated throughout the Union" (page 18)] ]

Today, Catalan is the language of the Catalan autonomous government and the other public institutions that fall under its jurisdiction. Basic public education is given in Catalan other than two hours per week of Spanish medium instruction. Businesses are required to display all information (e.g. menus, posters) in Catalan under penalty of legal fines; there is no obligation to display this information in either Aranese or Spanish, although there is no restriction on doing so in these or other languages. The use of fines was introduced in a 1997 linguistic law [ [ Catalonia's linguistic law] ] that aims to increase the use of Catalan. According to the law, both Catalan and Spanish – being official languages – can be used by the citizens without prejudice in all public and private activities [ [ Second article of Catalonia's linguistic law] ] even though the Generalitat usually uses Catalan only in its communications and notifications addressed to the general population. The citizens can also receive information from the Generalitat in Spanish if they so request. [ [ Ninth article of Catalonia's Linguistic Law] ]

The language policy favouring Catalan consistently implemented by the successive governments ruling the regional government of Catalonia since the 1980s has become increasingly contentious and controversial during the 2000s, especially in the public education.

In this context, Catalan is the teaching language. Thus, pupils are immersed in Catalan while Spanish is reduced to two hours a week. The draft of the forthcoming regional Education Law increases the hegemony of Catalan and the displacement of Spanish.

Some political parties and civic organizations denounce this situation in which a co-official language like Spanish is barred from public education, claiming that this is a severe breach of civic rights and against the spirit of free circulation of people within Spain. In September 2008 a demonstration was held in Barcelona to support full coexistence of both languages without linguistic discrimination of any [ [] ] .


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