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Barcelona Spain Guide

Catalan: The Official Government Language of Barcelona

Catalan is the official government language of Barcelona (and all of Catalonia). A mixture of French, Spanish, and the other Romance languages, Catalan is spoken by roughly seven million people, most of them being from Catalonia. While visiting Barcelona, one will inevitably encounter this colorful language. Many street signs, landmarks, and public facilities are marked in both the national language of Castilian as well as the Cataloniansí own regional language. In some neighborhoods of the city it may even seem impossible to get a menu in Spanish. However, nearly all Catalonians speaks both languages fluently, and most probably speak a third or fourth as well.

The language of Catalan came on to the scene as early as the 10th and 11th centuries, appearing in official documents as early as the second half of the 12th century. However, the real introduction of the language came in the late 13th through the mid 14th centuries, when Catalan began to appear in such literary works as the Book of Deeds (also known as the Chronicle of James I) and the Chronicle of Peter the Ceremonious. This was also a period of great expansion for the language. Catalan not only spread throughout the Iberian Peninsula, but around the Mediterranean as well. In fact, Catalan is recorded as having been one of the most widespread languages of the 14th century.

The Catalan language continued to prosper into the 15th century with what is considered the Gold Age of Catalan literature. It was during this century that a Valencian poet, Ausias March, founded Catalan poetry, and Janot Matorell completed the first modern novel in European literature, Tirant lo Blanc. However, with the War of the Spanish Succession at the beginning of the 18th century, Catalanís prosperity came to a grinding halt. The language went through various periods of prohibition and repression.

Soon after, with the onset of the Renaissance in the early 19th century, Catalan, like everything else economic, cultural, and artistic, once again began to flourish. It was at this time that the Institute of Catalan Studies was founded, and the language experienced a period of important technical growth. Long overdue rules on unified spelling were established and the first Catalan dictionary and grammar books were published.

During the early 20th century, however, war would once again take its toll on the progress of Catalan. Following the civil war and the coming to power of Franco, any threats to the new state were immediately and severely suppressed, including the autonomous region of Catalonia. Through the fifties, the use of Catalan language was prohibited and punishable by law. By the beginning of the sixties, however, small protest movements began to gradually loosen such harsh restrictions. People began to fill out official forms in Catalan, hum Catalan tunes, and even ask policemen for directions in Catalan. Then in 1975, with the death of Franco and the crowning of King Juan Carlos, Spain was lead back into democracy. The region of Catalonia once again gained autonomy statute, and the official language was declared to be Catalan.

Click here to learn some Catalan phrases useful when travelling to Barcelona



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