Catalan is a Romance language spoken primarily in the Eastern and Northeastern regions of Spain, mainly Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Isles. It is the official language of Andorra, a landlocked country located in the Eastern Pyrenees (mountains bordered by Spain and France), and the second official language of Spain. The Catalan language was nearly wiped out completely in the early 1700s only to experience a renaissance beginning in the early 20th century. What is the origin of this remote language and what saved it from near extinction?
The Catalan language derives from the Vulgar Latin (a form of Latin from which the Romance languages developed) spoken in the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. By the end of the 10th century, Catalan had become a fully formed language distinct from its Latin roots. There are two dialect groups in modern Catalan: Occidental and Oriental with at least eighteen known subdialects. All are mutually intelligible. The first documented text written originally in Catalan is the Homilies of Organya, a collection of medieval Catalan prose, written in the late 12th or early 13th centuries. Romon Llull, a Majorcan writer and philosopher, is thought to be the first true Catalan poet.
Throughout the 13th and 14th centuries, Catalan was spoken, usually as a second language, in five states around the Mediterranean. Following the War of the Spanish Succession in 1715, Phillip V of Spain dissolved the Catalonian government and implementing laws forbidding the use the Catalan language.
Due to an economic boom in Catalonia during the early 20th century, Catalan experienced a rebirth, primarily within Catalonia’s literary culture. During the Second Republic (1931-1939), the Catalan language was re-established as an official language only to be abolished once again as a result of the Spanish Civil War.
A second slow rebirth began in 1944 with the introduction of a course in Catalan philology at the University of Barcelona, followed by a course in Catalan language and literature at that same university in 1961. Since the fall of the Franco dictatorship and the return to democracy, work to re-establish the Catalan language has been ongoing.