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The Catalan Language


While Catalan is not as famous nor as well known as her sister languages of Castilian (Spanish) or Portuguese, the Catalan language is spoken by nearly 10 million people, which makes it one of the most spoken romance languages. It is spoken in three autonomous communities of Spain: Catalonia, Valencia, and the Balearic Islands, In France in the Pyrénées-Orientales department, and in the small country of Andorra. Furthermore, it has a long, rich heritage that rivals that of her linguistic sisters.


In order to better explain the special characteristics of this language, this page uses phonetic transcriptions between brackets [ ]. To learn more about this notation system see the International Phonetic Alphabet, or to hear what the symbols represent see the Interactive IPA Chart.

Dialects of Catalan

Catalan/Catalan-Dialect Map_Catalan-An-Essential-Grammar.PNG

As with any language, Catalan has various dialects. There are five main dialects that are recognized which are generally divided into two main groups: west and east.

These dialects are the following:

  1. North Catalan: is generally comprised by the Catalan-speaking regions of France.
  2. Central Catalan: comprises the Catalan heartland and what is sometimes referred to as Old Catalonia (Catalunya vella).
  3. Northwestern Catalan: the region that roughly correspond to the territories added to Catalonia by the twelfth-century by conquering the Arabic Taifas of Tortosa and Lleida. This also includes a part of the autounous region of Aragon which is often called La Franja or 'the strip.'
  4. Valencian: is the areas around the city of Valencia; however, while this is recognized as a dialect of Catalan more broadly, many Valencianos consider it to be a distinct language.1
  5. Balearics: comprises the various islands that where conquered during the expansion of the Kingdom of Aragon into the mediterranian in the 13th & 14th centuries and currently comprise the islands of Ibiza, Majorca, Minorca, and the city of Alghero (L'Alguer) in Sardinia.


While Catalan uses the Latin script, there are a few added symbols and digraphs. It is helpful to be aware of these writing conventions as they might otherwise lead to confusion. For a more in depth discussion of the Catalan writing system see Catalan an Essential Grammar by Nicolau Dols and Richard Mansell.

Along with the typical Latin Alphabet, Catalan uses the Cedilla ⟨ç⟩ or the Ce trencada and the Middot or the Punt volat ⟨ŀl⟩.

  • The Cedilla ⟨ç⟩ is used before letters a, u, o, and at the end of words to represent a soft c or s sound /s/, much like in Portuguese or French. For example: braç ['bɾas] arm.
  • The Middot ⟨ŀl⟩ is only used between two l's to signify a germinated (or lengthened) l sound [l:]. It is also used to help differentiate it from the double l digraph ⟨ll⟩, which represents the palatal l sound [ʎ]. For example: síŀlaba ['si.l:ə.βə] a syllable.

A digraph is a linguistic term that refers to when two letters are used to represent one sound. For example, English uses the digraphs th, sh, ch, & wh to refer to the sounds [θ], [ ʃ ], [], & [ʍ], respectively. Similarly, Catalan has a series of digraphs it uses to represent several sounds.
The Catalan diagraphs, according to the Central Catalan Dialect, are:

  • ig
>/ch/ or [] at the end of a wordpasseig [pə.'sɛtʃ] walk
vaig ['batʃ] I go
  • ix
>/sh/ or [ ʃ ]així [ə.'ʃi] like this
maduixa [mə.'ðu.ʃə] strawberry
  • ll
>[ʎ] in all positionsvermell [bəɾ.'mɛʎ] red
llibre ['ʎi.bɾə] book
  • ny
>[ɲ] like Spanish /ñ/any ['aɲ] year
estrany [əs.'tɾaɲ] strange
  • ss
>/s/ used between vowelspassat [pə.'sat] past
bressol [bɾə.'sɔl] cot
  • tg, tj
>[]desitjar [də.zi.'dʒa] to wish
formatge [fuɾ.'ma.dʒə] cheese
  • tx
>/ch/ or [] cotxe ['ko.tʃə] car
bretxa ['bɾe.tʃə] divide
  • tz
>[dz]localitzar [lu.kə.li.'dza] to locate
tretze ['tɾe.dzə] thirteen
  • x
>/sh/ or [ ʃ ] in most places
>between vowels:
-/gz/ before stresses
-/ks/ unstressed
xinxilla [ʃin.'ʃi.ʎə] Chinchilla
èxit ['ɛg.zit] success
annex [ən.'neks] annex

Apart from the different symbols and digraphs, like other romance languages, Catalan uses diacritics on its vowels to show changes in pronunciation. Catalan uses four main ones: the acute ◌́, the grave ◌̀, the diaeresis ◌̈, and the circumflex ◌̂.

  • The acute is used to show that the syllable is stressed; furthermore, on ⟨é ó⟩, it shows that the vowel is stressed and close-mid ([e],[o]).
  • The grave on ⟨à⟩ shows that the syllable is stressed, while on ⟨è ò⟩ indicates that the vowel is stressed and open-mid ([ɛ],[ɔ]).
  • The diaeresis is used on ⟨ï, ü⟩ to show a hiatus or that it does not combine with another vowel, and on ⟨ü⟩, it is further used to show that it is not silent in the groups ⟨gü, qü⟩.
  • The circumflex is not often used in modern Catalan, but it has been used to show a contraction or a silent letter.


While Catalan is very similar to other romance languages, the language has a number of features that make it unique and can cause confusion for those who are unfamiliar with these traits.

Gender and Number: Unlike the other romance languages, Catalan has a
habit of dropping vowels and ending its words with consonants. This has a noticeable effect on the gender inflection system that all the romance languages share. While there are exceptions, as is always the case in human languages, the general rules are as follows:

Nen "child" Noun
Vermell “red” AdjectiveFeliç "happy" Adjective
El nen "the boy."La nena, "the girl."VermellVermellaFeliçFeliç
Els nens
"the boys."
Les nenes "the girls."VermellsVermellesfeliçosfeliçes

Like Spanish and Portuguese, Catalan has a series of determiners ('the' & 'a' in English) that match in gender and number.

Definite Article "the"

Indefinite Article "a/an."















Along with these determiners, there are a series of contractions that can form between a preposition and a definite article:














The Catalan verb system is very similar to other romance languages, and a basic understanding of romance verb inflections will all one to quickly understand Catalan verbs. For more help with Catalan verbs, go to for complete conjugation charts.

One note on Catalan verbs that is essential for researchers to understand is the unique use of a paraphrastic past conjugation. Catalan is unique in that it uses the verb anar "to go" combined with an infinitive verb to make a past conjugation which Bart Jacobs called the go-past conjugation - which is the reverse of nearly all European languages. To make matters more complicated, the Catalan system can use anar + a + infinitive to make a future conjugation, much like the Spanish construction ir + a + infinitive. However, this second construction is much less used in Catalan to avoid confusion with the very similar go-past conjugation. Therefore:

The go-past
anar "to go" + menjar "to eat" = vaig menjar "I ate."
anar "to go" + dormir "to "sleep" = vas dormir "you slept"

The auxiliary future
anar "to go" + a "to" + menjar "to eat" = vaig a menjar "I will eat"
anar "to go" + a "to" + dormir "to "sleep" = vas a dormir "you will sleep"

This is useful to know when working with genealogical records that are recording past events. For example, it is not uncommon to phrase like the following:

Jo Rt. Miguel Boxeda Pbrẽ y Vicari vaig batejar segons....
I, Reverent Miguel Boxeda, Presbyter and Vicar, baptized according to...

For more detailed information about this idiosyncratic verb form in Catalan, see "Present and Historical Perspectives on the Catalan go-past" by Bart Jacobs.

Catalan is a unique and fun language. With patience and practice, you can quickly come to read and understand this amazing language.
Remember: "Tu ho pots fer!" You can do it!

  1. "Casi el 65% de los valencianos opina que su lengua es distinta al catalán, según una encuesta del CIS". La Vanguardia (in Spanish). Europa Press. 9 December 2004.
  • Map 1: Martí8888, Catalan language in Europe, Map, digital image, Wikimedia Commons ( : accessed 20 July 2023). under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share alike 4.0 International license.
  • Map 2: Dols, Nicolau & Richard Mansell. Map of the Catalan-speaking areas and dialects. 2017. In Dols, Nicolau & Richard Mansell, Catalan an Essential Grammar (Oxford: Routledge, 2017), 4.

Paleography Introduction