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Spanish Regional Languages - Catalan

By Mr Grumpy - Tue 15th Dec 2009

Having just spent the last weekend in Barcelona made me realise exactly how much regional languages play an important part of everyday life in Spain. In my neck of the woods, Valencian is obviously spoken and understood, but seem to be a language that sits comfortably alongside Spanish. The road signs and most official publications are printed in both languages which makes things easier for those of us that struggle with Castilian, let alone the regional language.

Not so in Barcelona! – Being the Regional and Provincial Capital – and Spain’s second city and a major tourist destination I would have expected that the National Language would have been more prominent, but this was certainly not the case. I was surprised to see almost all of the Shops, the road signs and the menus in restaurants in Catalan as opposed to Castilian, and it was only my Familiarity with Valencian that allowed me to hazard a guess at what they meant most of the time.

I have heard it said on more than one occasion that Valenican and Catalan are almost the same language, and so I decided that I would make this Blog about the Regional Language of Cataluña and find out some more...

In Addition to being the National language of Catalonia and "Considered as being spoken" in Valenica, it is also the language of choice in the Balearics, the Roussillon are of Southern France, Andorra and the city of Alghero on Sardinia. Latest data suggests that worldwide there are almost 8 Million Catalan speakers with almost 11 Million who Understand Catalan.

Having recently written a blog about Valencian being considered a regional language in it’s own right I was naturally confused to find that many Catalan’s consider Valencian to be a dialect of Catalan as opposed to a totally separate language. Even the Spanish Authorities it seem are reticent on rocking the boat too much and instead claim that the difference between a language and a dialect is "a matter of cultural and political beliefs". In other words it could be that the Valencians naturally wish to keep "their" language for themselves and as part of their regional identity ( Maybe also to distance themselves from the call for Catalan Independence, which they see as being centred around Barcelona ). Or maybe it could be that the Authorities don’t want to get involved and risk offending anybody in either camp by declaring Valencian to be a separate language, or not.

If we include Valencian under the Catalan umbrella, specialists note 24 separate and distinguishable dialects throughout the Region(s) which all have stress on different accents and syllables, so it is truly a diverse and complicated language !

As with all regions it is certainly useful to know and use some of the vocab to help and integrate with the local community, so here are a few key words and phrases that it may be useful to be aware of ...

English Spanish Catalan
Goodbye Adios Adeu
Thankyou Gracias Merces / Merci
Sorry Lo Siento Perdo / Em Sap Grew
I don't understand No entiendo No ho entec
Coffee (with milk) Cafe con Leche Caffe amb lette
Petrol Gas Gasolina / Benzina
Wine Vin Vi
Car Coche Cotxe
School Escuela Escolar
Please Por Favor Si et Plau

Comment on this Blog

Serra : In very broad and general terms I would agree that 90% of expats are lazy when it comes to languages. However, in addition to our inherent laziness, we have 2 further obstacles to overcome : One is that the UK education system does not embrace the teaching of foreign langauges like Spain does, and a Second is that it is (in my experience at least) VERY difficult to learn one of the regional languages as an adult.
Mr Grumpy - Mon, 11th Jun 2012
I didn't know that outsiders coming to Spain had such problems with the languages! Maybe that is one of the major problems here? We are just not aware that it is such a struggle, perhaps because we find it relatively easy due to being familiar with many languages from an early age. Most of the time I have to admit, we percieve you as lazy - sorry :( I know that I am perhaps an unusual case, but I am 16 and speak Catalan, Spanish, Portuguese, Greek and English fluently, and my current endeavours are Arabic and German - I also speak basic Italian (though I understand perfectly) and Hindi. This is rare, yes, but my friends all tend to speak Catalan, Spanish, and English at least; and many of them German and French or Portuguese as well. Perhaps it is a problem with the education system in England? You don't have any regional dialects to learn (except in Wales), and foreign languages are not introduced early enough - as by the age of 14/15, most would be disheartened. I wish you luck
Serra - Mon, 11th Jun 2012
vino=wine, not "vin" (which, incidentally is the french)
Locísimo - Tue, 19th Jul 2011
you will find as your daughter progresses that she will help with the understanding - i find valenciano a more "suave" version of catalan....people argue that these languages are a waste of time, but for children, it allows them the facility of learning other languages with much more ease.....I do feel that us "guiris" (how i hate that word) should make an effort to learn at least enough to make conversation, we have such a bad press most of the time, and we live in beautiful parts of the world where communicating in the local language is appreciated. These languages (and they ARE languages, not dialects as some would have us believe) are part of the heritage of catalunya/ comunidad valenciana and they should be recognised always as such. there, rant over.....maybe i should change my name too!
Lisa Hall - Tue, 22nd Feb 2011
I agree about the 3 languages being an advantage - my 3 year old daughter's first language is Valencian, which we find almost impossible to keep up with. Well done on spotting my entirely intentional mistakes on the above translations - I think that perhaps prooves my point as to how difficult it can be to get a grasp of a regional language as a Guiri.
Mr Grumpy - Tue, 22nd Feb 2011
i have lived in catalunya for over 15yrs and love that there is a regional language....yes it's a bit daunting at first, but when you have kids aswell, and they speak 3 languages from a really young age, what an advantage! Not being rude, but there are some of your translations a touch wrong... thankyou is also with milk - cafe amb llet, please - si us plau.... Lisa
Lisa Hall - Tue, 22nd Feb 2011
Speaking as an outsider, my only 'problem' with Catalan (aswell as other Spanish regional languages) is the fact that us "Guiris" often struggle to differeniate between when the local language is being used or if we are just misundertsanding Castilian. The opprtunities to learn the Regional languages (either via phrasebooks or formal lessons) are in most cases closed, as the language is often only taught at school.
Mr Grumpy - Mon, 8th Nov 2010
excuse my poor english: First of all I wanna make sure to you that when we're talkin' about catalan language, we are talkin' about the same one, the same language wich is talked by catalan, valencian and balearic citizens. A high portion of the language specialists says that them are the same one, but with important differences in pronuntiation and local words. In fact spanish government allways look the catalan language as something "against the spanish nation and identity"...when we simply want keep our personality, using the local law to protect the language and our traditions. maybe for a tourist could be funny or even "ridicolous", but it's just necessary to come here to check about us. Modern people who doesn't want become a simply region of spain. Catalunya pay more than the rest of regions in spain....For that reason we should be the most loved and respected of spain. But nothing farest than reality. Tv, government, the spanish lobbys are aginst us. Visca catalunya!!!
James The First - Mon, 8th Nov 2010

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