Catalan 101

Catalan developed by the 9th century from Vulgar Latin on both sides of the eastern part of Pyrenees mountains (counties of Roussillon, Empuries, Besalú, Cerdagne, Urgell, Pallars and Ribagorça). It shares features with Gallo-romance and Ibero-romance, and it could be said to be in its beginnings no more than an eccentric dialect of Occitan (or of Western Romance). The language was spread to the south by the Reconquista in several phases: Barcelona and Tarragona, Lleida and Tortosa, the ancient Kingdom of Valencia, and transplanted to the Balearic Islands and l'Alguer (Alghero).

Catalan was exported in the 13th century to the Balearic Islands and the newly created Valencian Kingdom by the Catalan and Aragonese invaders (note that the area of Catalan language still extends to part of what is now the region of Aragon). During this period, almost all of the Muslim population of the Balearic Islands were expelled, but many Muslim peasants remained in many rural areas of the Valencian Kingdom, as had happened before in the lower Ebro basin (or Catalunya Nova).

During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries the Catalan language was important in the Mediterranean region. Barcelona was the pre-eminent city and port of the so-called Aragonese Empire, a confederation nominally ruled by the King of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Roussillon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and — later — Sardinia and Naples). All prose writers of this era used the name 'Catalan' for their common language (e.g. the Catalan Ramon Muntaner, the Majorcan Ramon Llull, etc.) The matter is more complicated among the poets, as they wrote in a sort of artificial Langue d'Oc in the tradition of the troubadors. Italian resentment of this Catalan dominance appears to have been one of the wellsprings of the so-called "Black Legend".

During the 15th and 16th centuries the city of Valencia gains pre-eminence in the confederation, due to several factors, including demographic changes and the fact that the royal court moved there. Presumably as a result of this shift in the balance of power within the confederation, in the 15th century the name 'Valencian' starts to be used by writers from Valencia to refer to their language.

In the 16th century the name 'Llemosí' (that is to say, "the Occitan dialect of Limoges") is first documented as being used to refer to this language. This attribution has no philological base, but it is explicable by the complex sociolinguistic frame of Catalan poetry of this era (Catalan versus troubadoresque Occitan). Ausias March himself was not sure what to call the language he was writing in (it is clearly closer to his contemporary Catalan or Valencian than to the archaic Occitan).

Then, during the 16th century, most of the Valencian elites switched languages to Castilian Spanish, as can be seen in the balance of languages of printed books in Valencia city: at the beginning of century Latin and Catalan (or Valencian) were the main languages of the press, but by the end of the century Spanish was the main language of the press. Still, rural areas and urban working classes continued to speak their vernacular language.

During the first half of the 19th century Catalan and Valencian experienced a major revival among urban elites due to the Renaixença, a romantic cultural movement. The effects of this revival persist to this day.

According to language politics in Francoist Spain (1939-1975), the use of Castilian over Catalan was promoted, though thousands of books were published in Catalan. Following the death of Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy, the use of Catalan increased and the Catalan language is now used in politics, education and the media, including the newspapers Avui ('Today'), El Punt ('The Point') and El Periódico de Catalunya (sharing content with its Spanish release and with El Periòdic d'Andorra, printed in Andorra; El Periódico de Catalunya has Spanish-language and Catalan-language editions, with identical content) and the television channels of Televisió de Catalunya (TVC): TV3 and Canal 33/K3 (culture and cartoons channel) as well as a 24 hour news channel 3/24; there are also many local channels available in region in Catalan, such as BTV and City (Barcelona), Canal L'Hospitalet (L'Hospitalet de Llobregat) and Canal Terrassa (Terrassa).

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