What is the lesser-known language millions of people speak in Spain?

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.


  1. Simon -  September 4, 2013 - 10:22 am

    The languages that remain relevant to our world for next 500 years or so are English, French, Spanish and Mandarin so pay more attention to these ones. Anyway you can still continue speaking in your own dialects and pass it on to your children.

  2. Donna -  January 27, 2012 - 5:58 pm

    I has a catalán friend and he speak spanish and catalán perfect!!

  3. Eugènia -  January 22, 2012 - 5:48 pm

    Thank you for spreading the word about Catalan. However, one of the dates mentioned in this article is incorrect. The Generalitat (the Catalan government) was dissolved in 1714, not 1715. José Patiño was appointed to take its place on September 15, 1714, after Barcelona was forced to surrender on the 11.

  4. Salvi -  April 17, 2011 - 4:54 pm

    Hi everybody! Excuse me for my too bad English, all corrections will be wellcomed. I arrived to this page googling “Catalan language”. I’m from Barcelona and I speak the Catalan language as my mother tongue, I just want to clarify some things which I am not sure that are clear just form reading this post, and to give my personal sight of it:
    1) Catalan is not a residual language: aprox. 40% of the population from the Catalan Countries speak it also as their mother tongue, which are about 6 milion people in an area much wider than just Catalonia.
    2) The Catalan language was speaked by nearly 100% of the population in the Catalan Countries 100 years ago. Spanish immigration of many people and the absence of political support in the last century has forced its use to decrease.
    3) The Catalan Countries have its own Catalan culture. We are a nation different of Spain or France. Just that we don’t have an state. Spanish politicians, supported by the threting army, wouldn’t allow us to independence.
    4) Our culture consists on its own language, cuisine, history, art, dances, celebrations, way of life, names of people, typycal sports, folklore, music, literature, clothes and all this types of things that define a nation, I cannot list everything now. Of course, the globalization makes all these type of things decrease, but they still exist and have good health.
    5) Catalan comes from the latin. It appeared around the eastern Pyrenees in the 10th century. It was not “nearly wiped out completely in the early 1700s”, as the article says, because in the 1700s almost everybody in the Catalan countries spoke Catalan, just like in the 1900. It is true, nevertheless, that it has cultural prestige and its official use disappeared in the 1700′s when the Castilian kingdom was merged with the Catalan-Aragonese kingdom.
    6) Catalan is a different language of French and Spanish (other latin languages in contact with it are Occitan, Aragonese, Sard and Italian). This is the logical consensus among the linguists and the people who say that its is a dialect of Spanish use to be people from Spain that hate the Catalan language and Cultural differences. However, I’m afraid that nowadays it is increasing its similitude with Spanish in Barcelona, as it is fully crowded of Spanish constructions or constructions that exist similarly in Catalan and Spanish, but lacking the words, phonetic sounds and grammar constructions that make Catalan very different of Spanish. There is being too influence from the Castilian (Spanish) language, and also because some Catalan speakers have the Spanish as their mother tongue and don’t use the Catalan most peculiar and own expressions. And I’m not an old man, I feel these things at my 18 years old, just that I’m a native speaker.

    Well, if you are interested on knowing more about the Catalan languege, email me at salvisola(.( at ).)hotmail.com I’ll be happy to hear from someone interested.

  5. Forsythia -  March 7, 2011 - 10:19 pm

    My cousin and her family lived in the Barcelona area for a number of years while her husband was there on business. I know they learned quite a bit of Spanish, but if they found the Catalan as different from it as I did, they might not have learned too much of it.

    I personally took two trips through the area, once on my way south, the next on my way to Andorra. I couldn’t really understand any of it, and reading wasn’t any better. However, I’d have loved to learn more of the language.

  6. Lando -  March 4, 2011 - 5:15 am

    Whoops! I meant Melody, not Molly. I guess you just didn’t sound like a Melody to me.

  7. louis paiz -  March 3, 2011 - 10:43 am

    with that name, melody, mussic, the sound of the forest,mother nature, you are suppost to enchant not to insult. thanks

  8. Lando -  March 3, 2011 - 6:54 am

    Wow, Molly, you really flew off the handle there. Maybe I can clarify.

    You asserted that the Spanish don’t really like Catalan. Belén gave a counterexample of a Spaniard who does like Catalan. He didn’t claim that you said anything about him.

    You did say Spanish was brutal (“It was replaced with that brutal Spanish…”). I suggest you re-read your comment a thirteenth time and see what you come up with.

    I’m not going to address the rest of your rant, but I thought Belén should have some words in his defense. He is not the idiot here, Molly.

  9. Melody -  February 28, 2011 - 1:44 am

    Uh…EX-cuse me Belen? I never mentioned anything about you (Melody, you’re wrong, I’m Spanish…) I never said that you weren’t Spanish or anything. In fact, I didn’t even know about you. And I like Catalan too. I actually stated that! Stop being rude!

    Belen, I didn’t say Spanish was brutal. I just said I was sick of all the posts related to Spain. SERIOUSLY! READ! (I hardly write in uppercase, which means I’m SUPER angry since you’re accusing me of things I didn’t do or mention!) I re-read my comment like twelve times and nowhere did it mention that Spanish was brutal, or anything you put in your first comment. So just be quiet and careful for once, read your writing before publishing, also try not to accuse righteous people who didn’t do stuff you say they did! OKAY??!!

    I’m pretty upset with you Belen. Don’t think you can get away. BECAUSE YOU ARE ACCUSING ME OF STUFF I DID NOT DO, WRITE, IMPLY OR MENTION! READ WHAT YOU’RE WRITING! OKAY??!!

    Bye. (not to you, you idiot Belen!)

    PS. I’m a mother of four so I know what to do

  10. German Sueiro -  February 26, 2011 - 1:30 am

    I was all over Europe for 40 days in 2007, ofcourse in Spain. One nigth in Barcelona, asking to two ladys for a restaurant in spanish, the first they said ” Tu hablas Catalan ?” “Do you speak Catalan?” I said NO I speak spanish. Catalan and Barcelona they have their owen flag.

  11. Isabella -  February 25, 2011 - 12:53 am

    Are there any Basque speakers out there reading this website? What about having a sort of Rosetta Stone effort – English, Spanish and Basque side-by-side. And the wonder of it is that Basque is not a dead language like the Egyptian of the hieroglyphics. Is the Bible translated into Basque? What is the religion of the Basque people? I ask that from the linguistic point of view – people say the same prayers in different languages.

  12. hksche2000 -  February 24, 2011 - 9:42 pm

    Not to worry, catalan will be spoken as long as there are Catalonians, the proudest of the proud Spanish. Where were the Olympic Games, in Spain? No, in Barcelona, Catalonia. Remember midnight on Las Ramblas. And whence did Christopher Columbus (né Genovese) venture out to discover America. From Spain? No, from Barcelona, Catalonia. Vive la difference!
    Wish we could have our differences and cherish them w/o hating “the other guys”. That would really be a great thing for our shrinking little world.

  13. Belén -  February 24, 2011 - 1:39 pm

    And Svenjamin (almost forgot!), Euskadi is not the language, but the region. The Basque language is called euskera.

  14. Al azar noveno grado -  February 24, 2011 - 1:35 pm

    Y el catalán es un idioma muy romántico. No estoy de acuerdo con John Smith. Él tiene que cerrar la boca y superarlo. Estoy de acuerdo contigo Nautica!

  15. Belén -  February 24, 2011 - 1:33 pm

    And Melody, Spanish is not brutal, you know? I’m sorry but I found your comment quite offensive.

    It’s just not that I love my mother tongue -which I do, of course -but I just think that ALL languages are beautiful because they express the spirit, history and culture of a people, a community. Just because you don’t speak Spanish and some people around you is related to it somehow, you don’t have to look down on it.

    Long life to the languages! :)

  16. ruru -  February 24, 2011 - 1:28 pm

    i agree w ed. if u can speak spanish or french (mostly spanish) you can easily understand catalan. they are in fact chauvinistic as he says. bc by this rule then there are literally hundreds of arabics that are spoken. but ppl generally consider morocco to the arabian gulf to be all arabic, and they are, but small differences, like dialects, not individual languages upon themselves.

  17. Belén -  February 24, 2011 - 1:23 pm

    Melody, you’re wrong: I’m Spanish, I’m from Madrid actually, and I DO like Catalan.
    And I agree with Berto. Basque is less known than catalan. In fact, there are languages in Spain even less known than Basque or Catalan such as Aragonese, Asturian, Fala or Galician for example.

  18. Sue -  February 24, 2011 - 1:22 pm

    How about the Galician language?

  19. Pontevedra -  February 24, 2011 - 1:05 pm

    I hope there will be something on Gallego next!

  20. sonia -  February 24, 2011 - 12:59 pm

    Thank You! dictionary.com

  21. Sara -  February 24, 2011 - 12:50 pm

    I am a Catalan living back in Catalonia after having lived in the US 10 years. I am glad to see this discussion.

    Catalan is distinct language from Spanish, actually many people from other parts of Spain that have lived in Catalonia all their lives don´t speak it. That tells you you can live and work in Catalonia without speaking the language, something you could not do in the US (unless you don´t leave little Cuba, Miami).

    Catalan is tightly linked to the national/patriotic feelings some people here have for their little country. So is the fiscal deficit that Catalonia has had with the rest of Spain for at least the last 30years. In an economic crisis like today´s, that is why people might appear chauvinistic about their language and heritage. They feel oppressed by the Spanish government and treated unfairly.

    I recommend you read the works of Merce Rodoreda (novel), an icon of catalan literature, that has been translated into many languages. Read also Josep Pla, both from the XXth century.

  22. julian -  February 24, 2011 - 12:49 pm

    aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhbigfoot I am a 10 year old kid

  23. wordjunkie -  February 24, 2011 - 12:48 pm

    Very interesting. Are there other countries with overlooked or forgotten languages?

  24. Rei -  February 24, 2011 - 12:37 pm

    You should tell people about the Basque language…not Catalan. Catalan’s well known, while Basque is on the brink of being wiped out.

  25. Seattle traveler -  February 24, 2011 - 12:12 pm

    Many people have heard of Basque. I had never heard of Catalan until I went to Spain and many people in Barcelona were speaking it.

  26. nadinucca -  February 24, 2011 - 11:44 am

    Although it’s a bit strange for an English dictionary website, I’m happy to see someone paying attention to the Catalan language. I’m American, although I’ve been living in Catalonia since 1996.

    And no, Catalan is NOT a dialect. Please look up the meaning of “dialect” and then look up “language”. The truth is that Catalan itself has a few dialects.

    As for the situation nowadays, I speak Catalan with all my friends. At work I speak either Catalan or English. I studied Catalan at school and at university, and it pains me to see just how influenced it is by Spanish. It’s understandable, though, because the two languages are always in contact – but because Spanish has so many more speakers not just worldwide but in Spain, Catalan is always in a losing battle. I think it’s normal for the Generalitat to try to strengthen the territory’s language, because with so few speakers it will always be vulnerable to the Spanish stampede. Aren’t we supposed to protect the weaker and help them thrive?

    As for that BS John Smith mentions on Catalan being imposed on shoolchildren… I came here when I was 12 and I learned both Catalan and Spanish. As of today, I teach English to children who are studying both Catalan and Spanish at school. Comments like Mr. Smith’s are the type that cause senseless harm, and only someone who doesn’t live in Catalonia would say something like that.

  27. Alehousiki -  February 24, 2011 - 9:47 am


  28. John Smith -  February 24, 2011 - 9:30 am

    You might add that Catalan has been imposed on millions of Spanish speakers resident in Catalonia. The most striking aspect of this imposition is legislation that requires all children to be educated exclusively in Catalan. The only exception is granted to those children whose parents are wealthy enough to afford entirely private schooling. Many parents are currently fighting in the courts for the right to educate their children in Spanish.

  29. random 9th grader! -  February 24, 2011 - 9:05 am

    That’s interesting.

    • catness -  November 16, 2016 - 6:32 am

      RAD YAH

  30. Isabella -  February 24, 2011 - 8:56 am

    What about the Basque language? It is a wonderful mystery – an ancient language within Europe that is not Indo-European. Please tell more about that if you can. Most language books seem to sweep it quietly under the carpet. How “not Indo-European” is it? What are its basic family words? Is it distantly related to any other language elsewhere in the world? How did it survive?

  31. Svenjamin -  February 24, 2011 - 8:55 am

    Let’s not forget the even more elusive Basques up there in the North East of Spain. I’d be intersted to read more about their language and culture. Catalan is strongly reminiscent of Castillano and can be mutually understood if both speakers are mildly patient. La lengua del pais vasco no tiene relaciones a las lenguas romanas, germanicas, o ningun otras. “Euskadi”, as the Basque language is called, seems to be a language all to itself with no direct link to any other language. Catalan is uncommon, but THIS is fascinating!!!

  32. JfromI -  February 24, 2011 - 8:37 am

    This kind of stuff is very interesting. The fact that I’ve never heard of this reinforces (to me at least) how ethnocentric we are in the U.S.

    Thank you for a great article!

  33. Peg Hausman -  February 24, 2011 - 8:36 am

    Typo: the poet-philosopher’s name is Ramon Llull, not Romon Llull. Nice you mentioned him, though.

  34. David -  February 24, 2011 - 7:58 am


  35. Ed -  February 24, 2011 - 5:45 am

    Catalan is merely a dialect, median between French and Spanish, and easily understandable for non-speakers. It is remarkable how backwardly chauvinistic the Catalans are; if you want a job in that area, you are required to speak that dialect, and e.g. in the museum in Barcelona all the texts are only in Catalan. Ridiculous.

  36. A Pair O' Docs -  February 24, 2011 - 5:36 am

    An interesting article, but seriously guys, what is up with all of the Spanish-related headlines lately? Was getting a Spanish-language dictionary on this site THAT big of deal? I’m confused.

  37. Taimis -  February 24, 2011 - 5:35 am

    Sad, I hope this will be prevented. These people created this language that evolve from generations… The cultures and traditions that was created by this language will vanish if Spain will not do anything to save this language.
    As what our national Hero Jose Rizal said…
    “Ang hindi marunong magmahal sa sariling wika ay mas mabaho pa sa malansang isda.”

    in literal translation, it means … “A person who don’t know how to love their own language is stinkier than a fish.”

    (I find it funny in english though… LOL)

  38. Fermin Sanchez de Medina -  February 24, 2011 - 5:24 am

    Many things to be discussed here, but mostly one. This is not the second official language of Spain. It is one co-official language in a certain region. Many people say Catalan, Valenciano and Mallorquin are different languages, I don’t know about that.

  39. louis paiz -  February 24, 2011 - 5:11 am

    i would like to know where i can find poetry from that era or in general books to read, in catalan or extint spanish.thanks

  40. Melody -  February 24, 2011 - 2:02 am

    Interesting, Hot Word…very interesting. I have a friend called Carla from Spain who has ancestors who once spoke Catalan! It was amazing. But sadly we don’t really hear Catalan anymore… This kind of saddens me! It was replaced with that brutal Spanish…but then again, the Spanish didn’t really like Catalan…

    Meanwhile, while we’re talking Spanish stuff, would you provide a reason as to the many blog topics on Spanish? There are so many, I want a change! When I go to the Dictionary.com home page, all I see is blog posts related to Spanish! Please Dictionary.com! Even if you’ve just gotten a new Spanish feature, 1 post is enough bragging. Most of them are just advertising your new little feature! Even when you’re looking up a word, the background is all Spanish Dictionary.com advertisements! Seriously, we want a twist! Carla is my Spanish friend, my other friend Linda is learning Spanish, I have another friend named Isabella who is half-Spanish, AND Sarah, my other friend, has visited Spain twice, planning to visit again this year! So, my life is Spain-full…please Hot Word! Provide some other topic!

    Keen reader of your Hot Word posts and keen Dictionary.com user – but that’s bound to change if you keep on advertising and posting about your Spanish feature!

  41. catalan -  February 24, 2011 - 2:01 am

    so is catalan a language for cattle huh!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!??????????????

  42. Benedict Giger -  February 24, 2011 - 12:08 am

    Hi There

    love this site. Also find the Spanish language interesting. But I’m a bit curious about this Spanish frenzy as of lately. I usually log onto dictionary.com to get some fresh English expressions for my writer’s vocab. What’s up?

    Best, Ben

  43. Bob Erty -  February 23, 2011 - 9:55 pm


  44. Bob Erty -  February 23, 2011 - 9:54 pm

    Basque is a language that is a lesser known language in spain not catalon.BASQUE

  45. Bob Erty -  February 23, 2011 - 9:52 pm

    what about basque?

  46. Katrina -  February 23, 2011 - 9:06 pm

    I never even heard of this language! Awesome!!!


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