Catalan: Adéu! (The end of Part One!)

So, it’s time to say so long to Catalan! And with that, a farewell to part one of the 37 Languages project. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Before we say goodbye for good and skip on over to the final six, here are my final thoughts on the last, but certainly not least, language.

SUMMARY: Catalan is a Romance language spoken by over nine million in the autonomous region of Catalonia in Spain, Andorra (where it is an official language) and parts of southern France. It first came into being around the 900s and 1000s and saw its zenith in the Valencian Golden Age in the 15th century. The language subsided until a revival during a movement called La Renaixença in the 1800s. It’s a descendant of Vulgar Latin, like Spanish and Portuguese.

FINAL IMPRESSIONS: Even though Catalan seems to be a mix of French and Spanish, it’s a lot closer to the latter. The vocabulary between both languages is somewhat identical. We can pick a random word in each (like help, which is ayuda in Spanish and ajuda in Catalan) and they’re both likely to resemble each other. You can observe it in this sentence (Animals are prohibited in the building, but my neighbors have a cat anyway):

CATALAN: Els animals estan prohibits a l’edifici, però els meus veïns tenen un gat de totes maneres.
SPANISH: Los animales están prohibidos en el edificio, pero mis vecinos tienen un gato de todos modos.

But not so much with French:
Les animaux sont interdits dans l’immeuble, mais mes voisins ont un chat de toute façon.

French seems to appear every now and then. I noticed it in the numbers, e.g., vuit (Catalan) vs.  huit (Frenc) which means eight and vint (Catalan) vs. vingt (French) which means twenty. But they only look the same and are pronounced quite differently.

Also, the more I listened to it, the more it just seemed to resemble Spanish. I heard a lot of trilled Rs and its pace reminded me a lot of Castillian Spanish. I was kind of disappointed (and I also passed on Spanish). I was also expecting it to sound a bit like Portuguese, but I didn’t think it did at all.

Grammar-wise, it’s just like its Romance language neighbors: modifiers tend to come after the words they modify, nouns come with definite articles el, els, la and les, it’s a Subject-Verb-Object language, except when personal pronouns are used in place of the object and generally come before the verb. Speaking of verbs, Catalan has -ar, -er/-re and -ir ones. Here’s how regular verbs are conjugated in the present form, which I acquired from Learning Catalan on the Internet:

AR – Cantar (to sing)
canto – I sing
cantes – you sing
canta – he/she/it sings
cantem – we sing
canteu – you all sing
canten – they sing

ER/RE – Perdre (to lose)
perdo – I lose
perds – you lose
perd – he/she/it loses
perdem – we lose
perdeu – you all lose
perden – they lose

IR – Sentir (to hear)
sento – I hear
sents – you hear
sent – he/she/it hears
sentim – we hear
sentiu – you all hear
senten – they hear

It was actually my wonderful friend Oscar Alvarenga-Maldonado, a native Spanish speaker from Honduras, who confirmed my notions about Catalan. He said that it was the “Romance language most associated with Spanish.” To him, it sounds like “Spanish with deliberate mistakes.” He pointed out the lexical similarity, specifically that some Catalan words resemble Spanish ones but are missing a final “n” (e.g., televisió in Catalan vs. televisión in Spanish; cancó (song) in Catalan vs. the Spanish version, canción). The degree of mutual intelligibility with the written form was high (over 90 percent).

Oscar was also able to understand the spoken version quite well (80-90 percent). He said it reminded him of Spanish with a funky accent, with a slight hint of French. He did, however, point out the guttural sounds that French and even Portuguese have don’t occur in Spanish or Catalan.

Catalan doesn’t really seem to resemble Portuguese at all, though. I went back to my friend Rui who helped me in my Portuguese post and he said that it was phonetically similar, but more foreign to him than Spanish and even French. He stated that the mutual intelligibility was 40-50 percent written and 20-30 percent spoken.

So … fractured Spanish? Funky Spanish? Whatever one would call it, it is too similar to Spanish for me, so I’m going to pass. Sorry, I guess it just wasn’t in the cards for us, Catalan.

I absolutely loved this song in Catalan, though! Sent to me by my friend Miguel Santana-Gil!


Intelligibility: 3
Complexity: 3
Resonance: 2
Continuation: 2

And that does it! This is the end of part one. After nearly a year, the longest part of the blog is over. I will reveal the final six languages on Friday, March 19 and once they are revealed, part two will begin immediately. As I mentioned before, I won’t be blogging regularly, but will post a video summary at the end of the week for each language. There won’t be any evaluations like in part one, just lots of reviewing, listening and learning.

And now a fun part — here are the scores for each language! But this won’t determine my decision entirely:

  1. Romanian – 10
  2. Macedonian – 13
  3. Spanish – 13
  4. Vietnamese – 11
  5. Norwegian – 17
  6. Bulgarian – 12
  7. Slovenian – 10
  8. Malagasy – 8
  9. Japanese -12
  10. Moldavian – 8
  11. Hindi – 12
  12. Finnish – 9
  13. Azeri – 11
  14. Arabic – 11
  15. Czech – 8
  16. Albanian – 15
  17. Cambodian – 9
  18. Serbian – 13
  19. Chinese – 8
  20. Xhosa – 7
  21. Portuguese – 17
  22. Armenian – 10
  23. Korean – 13
  24. Croatian – 15
  25. Afrikaans – 15
  26. Greek – 11
  27. Swedish – 17
  28. French – 9
  29. Thai – 9
  30. Turkish – 14
  31. Dutch – 9
  32. Hebrew – 10
  33. Danish – 14
  34. Filipino – 7
  35. Polish – 8
  36. Lao – 6
  37. Catalan – 10

Lao is the lowest with six and Swedish, Portuguese and Norwegian are the highest, tied with 17. What will I select? It may surprise you, actually. Stay tuned!

Learning Catalan on the Internet – A Brief Catalan Tutorial
Omniglot’s Page on Catalan
Wikipedia – Catalan Grammar

7 thoughts on “Catalan: Adéu! (The end of Part One!)

  1. Hi Keith,
    I know your time is limited on each language but I think if you had time to dig a bit deeper, you would see that Catalan is more different to Spanish than you have stated here.
    The ‘animals’ sentences you picked are indeed very similar, but this is possible to do even between say English and German if you really try.
    English: She is my friend
    German: Sie ist mein Freund

    What I mean is that you could have picked this sentence (‘I want to eat eight small apples’) to compare Catalan and Spanish and people would think that they are very different languages:
    Catalan: vull menjar vuit pomes petites
    Spanish: quiero comer ocho manzanas pequeñas

    I know that Catalan and Spanish are of course closely related (and closer than English and German) but I believe they are more different than you think!

    Anyway, I am looking forward to seeing what six languages you select.


  2. Hello there!

    I didn’t know Macedonian is an official language, could you check again your sources , it might be coming from Bulgarian. 😉

    Good luck !

  3. Well, I was surprised to find this article. It contains a whole lot of info, but I was really dissapointed to read some biased mistakes, no doubt based on the nature of the fonts from where you get the info. before continuing writing I want to make clear that the apparent “agressive” tone this message may have, it is not really my intention, but my general ignorance of the english language that make it appear as if it was, so sorry beforehand ;). I just thought that if you want to write an article about a language, it will be nice to ask some native speaker, or, if you think that it may be biased, then you can aprouch someone who is from your cultural background-country who is already acquinted with it. For example, all this topic of the mutual intelligibility between casillian spanish and catalan; I definitely do not agree; spanish people cannot understand a standard catalan conversation, much less a song or movie, assuming the catalan the speaker is using is “correct”, wich is a real issue for us, now, I’ts really interesting to learn how my language sounds to you, but I doubt your honduran friend will be able to understand a conversation with a catalan person, he using spanish and the other speaking catalan. Of course, if I speak english using only the “latin” origined words, i may make the mistake of assuming english is so understandable for an italian or spanish speaker. The closest language to spanish is not (I reapeat IS NOT) catalan, but gallician, astur, aragonese, and a whole lot of languages related to them, speaked by millions of people, in different countries; and as you just said, portuguese is just more proper to spanish than to catalan, add those few. The closest language to the catalan is the occitan language, a nowadays french region which was renown for the “trobadour” culture and later would redefine the culture of the german frank-normans to that of the refined french. It seems you just focused on the words which are similar and not on the differences, as the random examples of chair= cadira in catalan and silla in spanish, or grapes= raïm in catalan and uva in spanish or red=rojo in spanish and vermell in catalan. Also, on the fonetic aspect, both languages are definitely different, as we have in catalan a lot of sound non existent in spanish like the “s” of “masia”, which sounds like the english “z” or the “vocal atona” (infinite more examples follow), in fact fonetics are one of the aspects of most divergence between our languages. Even the origin of the languages are not correlated. Off course in a short message like this one I do not have enough time or space to lenghten my opinion, and do not have the software resources to add some fonts and bibliography that supports all I’m writing here. I’m aware that your page has a whole lot of languages reviewed, and I can only speak about mine, and your review contains, to me, some generalisations that does not correspond with the actual reality. Please feel free to contact me, for I will be very glad to know your answer to my message,


    1. Hello Oriol, thanks for your comment.

      It was not my intention to cause any misunderstandings with my post about Catalan; I apologize for any that have occurred. I think the biggest problem is that I compared it heavily to Spanish, instead of recognizing it as a language in its own right.

      I asked my friend Oscar, a native Spanish speaker from Honduras who can understand Catalan, for help and he gave me his impressions. Along with my own, I made my own deductions about Catalan. I do not consider this biased but perhaps faulty, especially as I was not familiar with the language at all before starting the blog. However, it would have been helpful to have had a native speaker to avoid possible generalizations, especially with consideration to the status of Catalan in Spain and other areas.

      However, as someone who can understand Spanish to a degree, I noticed there were quite a few similarities. Vocabulary-wise, both languages share a high degree of intelligibility. And again, it sounded like Spanish in some ways to me, listening to it for the first time. But I do agree that Galician could be more related to Spanish than Catalan, although it seems to share quite a strong history with Portuguese as well, due to the history of that language (as I made note of in my posts about Portuguese).

      I’m also very glad you pointed out the phonetic difference between Spanish and Catalan with the “s”. This was something I noticed a lot, but couldn’t articulate.

      Again, thank you for your feedback; I will take note of it in the future. I still think Catalan is quite wonderful, despite not selecting it in the long run! I’d rather learn it than Spanish. 🙂

      1. Well Keith, thanks for your gentle answer, please note that I was not at all “infuriated”, or, if the word souns perhaps too strong, annoyed by your comment about the Catalan language, but certainly I thought there where some possible misunderstandings; as like you said, the similarities with the spanish language. This is a point which I hasn’t stressed in my prior message,but that has a great importance. Of all the languages you have reviewed in your “37 marathon” the catalan language is the only one that has not a “state” structure to give it support, and is, also the most endangered off them all (in the list, that is). The root of this problem is a phenomena called “diglossia”, which means that two languages that share morphosyntactical and phonetical similarities may become more alike if a practical situation of one of them became stronger, to the detriment of the “weaker” one. Now, this situation is happening to the catalan, but it would have happened to any other romance language, say italian or french, have the same political situation developed in their respective places. Sadly nowadays the situation of the catalan language is too defined by politics even more than by cultural initiaves. Hopefully,since the last few years independentism has experimented a dramatic surge, as people begin to realise that the only option left to mantain the catalan identity and language is by going by our own. Let me finish by thanking you for answering so sincerely and again stating than what I’ve written here is only my own individual opinion, not negating anyone’s else.

        Thanks again


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s