What is Catalan?
Catalan is a Romance language spoken by approximately 10 million people across four European states: Spain, France, Andorra, where it is the only offical language, and Italy. Most Catalan speakers are bilingual as Catalan co-exists with three major European languages: Castilian (Spanish), French, and Italian. Like other Romance languages, Catalan derives from Latin and as such it shares many characteristics with French, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. Students with a thorough grounding in one or more of these languages will, with dedication, have little trouble in obtaining a good working knowledge of Catalan in a relatively short period of time.
Catalan is spoken in the following areas:
- Catalonia (Barcelona, Tarragona, Girona, and Lleida)
- The Autonomous Community of Valencia (Valencia, Castelló and Alacant [Alicante])
- The Balearic Islands (Mallorca, Menorca and Eivissa [Ibiza])
- La Franja del Ponent (a zone in eastern Aragon)
- The Co-Principality of Andorra
- The French Department des Pyrénées
- The city of Alghero in Sardinia, Italy
Catalan has been spoken since the Middle Ages, when it was the language of Catalonia’s extensive seaborn empire which included parts of what is now southern France, Corsica, almost half of modern day continental Italy, Sardinia, Sicily, as well as substantial parts of Greece. As a minority language within Spain, France and Italy, it has been threatened by laws and practices which sought to reduce its use and promote the state language. Despite the decline in the use of Catalan and the repressive practices, the language underwent a cultural renaissance in the nineteenth century such that, unlike many regional languages, Catalan is not limited to rural areas, but is a vibrant language of the middle and upper classes, particularly in Catalonia itself. Thus, unlike many minority languages, Catalan is a language of prestige of all social classes, and it is the language of social mobility for the hundreds of thousands of monolingual Castilian speakers who have migrated to Catalonia since the 1950s.
With the return to democracy in 1975 the Catalan-speaking regions within Spain have regained a limited degree of political and administrative autonomy which they had been denied since 1939. For almost forty years Catalan language and culture was brutally suppressed by the Franco regime which tried to impose on all of Spain the Castilian (Spanish) language and a homogenous Castilian-centred culture. Following Franco’s death, the Catalan language was granted co-official status (with Castilian) in the Catalan-speaking regions which has resulted in a dynamic resurgence in the use and social relevance of the language in education, the media, administration, and in cultural production. This has occurred not only in Catalonia itself, but also in the autonomous communities of Valencia and the Balearic Islands which share a common language and historical, literary and cultural tradition.
Catalan Studies are an exciting field of academic research, particularly in the areas of linguistic normalisation, bilingualism, sociolinguistics, second-language acquisition, cultural maintenance and reconstruction, post-colonialism, regionalism and nationalism, ethnicity and multiculturalism. In particular, the successful development in the maintenance and promotion of Catalan linguistic and cultural identities puts Catalan Studies at the forefront of European studies of stateless nations.
Catalan has a long and distinguished literary tradition from the Middle Ages, with writers such as Ausiàs March, the greatest lyric poet in the Iberian Peninsula before Garcilaso de la Vega, until the current day, with writers such as Mercè Rodoreda, whose La plaa del Diamant [The Time of the Doves] was described by the Colombian Nobel Prize-winning author, Gabriel García Márquez, as the best novel of the Spanish post-war period. Other important contemporary writers include Carme Riera, Jess Moncada, Pere Gimferrer, Maria-Antònia Oliver, Quim Monzó and Sergi Belbel.
Monash University, in conjunction with the Institut Ramon Llull, will offer two units of introductory Catalan language and culture from 2013. These units will be taught by a Catalan Lector and by Dr Stewart King, an internationally recongised scholar of contemporary Catalan literature. In addition, Monash University offers Higher Degrees by research (PhD and Masters only) in Catalan literary and cultural studies. If you are interested in undertaking a PhD or Masters program in Catalan Studies, please contact Dr King directly atStewart.King@monash.edu or on 9905-2118.
The Spanish and Latin American Studies Program has a strong commitment to research in the field of Catalan Studies. Currently there are three Catalan specialists working in or associated with the program: Dr Stewart King, Adjunct Senior Research Fellow Dr Peter Gerrand, and Dr Victòria Gras. Dr King has published articles on Catalan postcolonial studies, multiculturalism, women’s writing and crime fictions. His book Escribir la catalanidad. Lengua e identidades culturales en la narrativa contempornea de Catalua (London: Tamesis, 2005) explores cultural identities in narrative from Catalonia written in Catalan and Castilian. For a comprehensive list of Dr King’s publications, please visit his homepage. Dr Gerrand researches minority languages on the Internet, with special focus on the Catalan, Basque and Galician language nationalism movements in regional Spain – comparing their tactics with those used to promote the major languages of Europe around the world (Dr Gerrand’s homepage). Dr Gras is a linguist working in the field of language maintenance and Catalan sign language.
In addition to the introductory Catalan language and culture units offered from 2013 onwards, several units contain substantial Catalan Studies modules, including ATS3206 Contesting Cultures and Identities in Modern Spain and the culture component of ATS1191 Spanish Introductory 1.
The Sir Louis Matheson Library and the School of Languages, Cultures and Linguistic Library at the Clayton campus contain many self-study Catalan courses, which can be used in the “Student space for language learning” (Room S322). There are also several “teach yourself” Catalan language courses available via the web links provided below.
Monash has strong links to Melbourne’s very active Catalan community:the Casal Català de Victòria (Catalan Centre of Victoria), 247-251 Flinders Lane, Melbourne 3000. Visitors are welcome to come along to practice their Catalan or to find out more about Catalan culture. For further details please visit the Casal Català de Victòria website:
Grants to study Catalan overseas
There are several Catalan cultural organisations which offer grants to students to undertake Catalan language courses in Catalonia. If you are interested in applying for one of these grants, please contact Dr King.
- Departament de Cultura, by the Generalitat de Catalunya
- Information on Catalan history, language and symbols (in English), by the Generalitat de Catalunya
- Anglo-Catalan Society
- Associació d’Escriptors en llengua catalana
- Institució de les Lletres Catalanes
- Institut d’Estudis Catalans
- Institut Ramon Llull
- Journal of Catalan Studies
- North American Catalan Society
- AulaCat (Catalan language course on-line via the Universitat Politcnica de Catalunya)
- Leaning Catalan on the web
- SALC – Servei d’Autoformació en Llengua Catalana
- Learn Catalan
- Catalan Grammar (in English)
- Catalan Grammar (in Spanish)
- Catalan-English vocabulary
- On-line Catalan-English dictionary
Catalan media services
- Ara (the main Catalan daily newspaper)
- Alguer Internacional
- Avui (newspaper)
- Catalunya Ràdio
- Diari de Balaers
- Radiotelevisió valenciana
- Televisió de Catalunya en xarxa (Online)
- Ajuntament de Barcelona
- Generalitat de Catalunya
- Generalitat Valenciana
- Govern de les Illes Balears
Other sites of interest
- FC Barcelona “Barça”
- Fundació Congrés de Cultura Catalana
- Mary Martin’s Catalan home page
- Ómnium Cultural
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