How to tell a Catalan from a Castillian
While watching a television show set in Barcelona, I mentioned that the street signs in that Spanish city were not in the Spanish language. “They’re in Catalan, an entirely different language.” My fellow viewer, who had never heard of the Catalans, suggested I write a piece about the distinct language and culture of this population.
“The Catalans,” said the Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Culture, “generally have a reputation for being hard-working, ambitious and conservative. In contrast to the passionate flamenco, their native dance is the stately sardana. They tend to regard themselves as Europeans rather than Spanish …” In 1996, there were 6,472,828 Catalans in Spain with 194,500 others in the Balearic Islands, Alghero (Sardinia), France, Switzerland and the Americas. Catalan is also the official language of the tiny mountain nation of Andorra, landlocked between Spain and France (population 71,201).
Their homeland of Catalunya on the northeastern coast of Spain became an autonomous region in 1979. During the middle ages, the Catalans were a major Mediterranean power. According to Andrew Dalby in the Dictionary of Languages, the forces of the County of Catalonia and Aragon joined in 1137, enriched by a culture unsurpassed elsewhere in Europe. Writers Ramon Llull (1235 - 1315) and Ausias March (1397-1459) were international superstars in their day.
After Queen Isabella married King Ferdinand in 1469, the center of power shifted to the Spanish-speaking realms of Castille and Leon. Catalan culture sank into a dark age that lasted until the death of dictator Francisco Franco in 1975. Franco had suppressed Catalan autonomy following his victory in the Spanish Civil War.
The world has known many famous Catalans simply as “Spanish.” Consider this list drawn from Reference.com and the Gale Thomson Biography Resource Center:
ISAAC ALBENIZ (1860-1909), composer; CARMEN AMAYA (1913-1963), Flamenco dancer; VICTORIA DELS ANGELS, Spanish name “de los Angeles” (1923 - 2005), soprano; FACUNDO BACARDI (1816-1886), founder of Bacardi rum distilleries; IGNASI BARRAQUER, Spanish name “Ignacio” (1916-), pioneer corneal surgeon; RICARDO BOFILL (1939-), architect; MONTSERRAT CABALLE (1933-), soprano; JOSEP CARRERAS, Spanish name “José” (1946-), tenor; PAU CASALS, Spanish name “Pablo” (1876-1973), cellist; XAVIER CUGAT (1900-1990), bandleader; SALVADOR DALI (1904-1989), artist; SALVADOR ESPRIU (1913-1985), writer; PAU GASOL (1980-), NBA basketball player; ANTONI GAUDI, Spanish name “Antonio” (1852-1926), architect; JOAN MIRO (1893-1983), artist; FREDERIC MOMPOU , Spanish name “Federico” (1893-1987), composer; TETE MONTOLIU (1933 - 1997), jazz pianist; NARCIS MONTURIOL I ESTARRIOL(1819-1885), inventor of the submarine; SAINT JOSEPH ORIOL (1650-1702), biologist; ARANTXA SANCHEZ VICARIO (1973-), tennis player.
As for the Catalan language, it is a Romance (Latin-derived) language whose characteristics place it roughly halfway between its sister languages, Spanish and French.
This is how Catalans count from one to ten: un, dos, tres, quatre, cinc, sis, set, vuit, nou, deu (compare with Spanish uno, dos, tres, cuatro, cinco, seis, siete, ocho, nueve, diez). Barcelonans say vi (wine), ma (hand), dit (finger), ull (eye), be (sheep) and platja (beach), whereas their compatriots in Madrid say vino, mano, dedo, ojo, oveja and playa. “Welcome” is benvinguts in Catalan (Spanish bienvenidos), “good night” is bona nit (Spanish buenas noches), “The United States” is els Estats Units (Spanish los Estados Unidos) and “please” is si us plau (Spanish por favor).
In Catalan, “Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our trespasses” is Dona’ns avui el nostre pa de cada dia i perdona’ns les nostres ofenses. In Spanish, it’s Danos hoy nuestro pan de cada día y perdona nuestras ofensas.
Browse Avui ("Today"), an online Catalan newspaper, at avui.cat.