Institut Ramon LLull



Cultura catalana

Àmbits d'actuació

31/08/2020. Catalan featured in The Languages of Berkeley: An Online Exhibition

This online library exhibition celebrates the magnificent diversity of languages that advance res...

18/12/2019. CAFÈ CATALÀ returns to Columbia University this Fall

Join the group of enthusiastic Catalan students, plus other members of the community, for a weekl...

10/11/2019. ALTA42 translates from the Catalan!

Each year, nearly 500 ALTA members, literary translators, writers, students, readers, teachers, p...


Catalan: a thousand-year-old voice of its own

Forged from Vulgar Latin, it was consolidated in the eighth and ninth centuries in and around the eastern Pyrenees in the counties that formed the Carolingian Empire’s ‘Hispanic March’. The first texts written in Catalan appear in the twelfth century in a Catalan version of the Liber iudiciorum (compilation of Visigothic laws) and in the collection of sermons of the Organyà Homilies.

Owing to the Catalan-Aragonese Crown’s territorial conquests of Valencia, Majorca and later much of the Western Mediterranean as far as Greece, the Catalan language expanded in these territories and was eventually present in all areas of knowledge: law, religion, history, philosophy, science. Major figures like Ramon Llull brought the perfection of a cultured and cohesive language to Catalan.

The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries represent the golden age of Catalan literature with works of international renown like the four great Chronicles, the work of Bernat Metge, the poetry of Ausiàs Marc or Joanot Martorell’s Tirant lo Blanc, considered the first modern novel in Western literature. It also became the language of the great legal treatises of the period, like for example the Furs (Laws) of Valencia, or the Llibre del Consolat de Mar, a law code that regulated maritime trade in the Mediterranean until the eighteenth century, the forerunner of the legislation of the British Commonwealth of Nations, four centuries later.

Despite the moment of absolute splendour that Catalan experienced during the Middle Ages, the centuries of the Renaissance and the Baroque signal the onset of decline in the sphere of cultured literary creation. Even so, Catalan continued to be a living language in the administration and in everyday use. It was not until the signing of the Treaty of the Pyrenees, after the end of the Reapers’ War (1640-1659), that Catalan was prohibited for the first time in the institutions and schools of Northern Catalonia, now under French control. Later, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, the defeat of the Catalan-Aragonese Crown, which supported Archduke Charles of Austria in the War of Spanish Succession (1704-1714), signified a second setback for the language. The Nueva Planta Decrees (1716) put an end to Catalan institutions and legal rights. Despite all this, the language managed to survive.

In the nineteenth century, at the height of the boom in Romanticism and European nationalisms, Catalan culture experienced a rich literary renaissance (Renaixença) that strengthened the Catalans’ distinct identity. La Renaixença led to the cultural boom of Modernisme at the turn of the century, visible in the architectural exuberance of Gaudí or Domènech i Montaner, in sharp contrast to the collapse of the Spanish overseas empire, with the loss of the last colonies. The poetry of Jacint Verdaguer and Joan Maragall, the prose of Víctor Català and Narcís Oller, or the plays of Àngel Guimerà returned Catalan to its position as a literary language. At the same time, people began studying the Catalan language and dictionaries and spelling rules were created that are the immediate forerunners of the modern set of rules.

At the threshold of the twentieth century, the Institut d’Estudis Catalans (1907) was created, with the goal of promoting and developing research in the different areas of Catalan culture. Some years later the Philological Section (1911) was founded, with figures like Pompeu Fabra or Antoni Maria Alcover. The studies done by these two philologists have been of utmost importance for establishing the rules of the Catalan language. The current rules of Catalan were set definitively in the early decades of the twentieth century, with the establishment of Pompeu Fabra’s modern orthography and the Spelling Rules (1913) and the Spelling Dictionary (1917), and the publication of the Catalan Grammar (1918) and the Dictionary of the Catalan Language (1932).

After the years of Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship (1923-1930), when the Second Republic was established, the Generalitat passed the first Charter of Autonomy (1932), in which it stated that Catalan was the official language in Catalonia. The cultural and political project of those years was brought to a violent end by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), the victory of the national side and the ensuing dictatorship of General Francisco Franco until 1975. During this period persecution and repression of the Catalan language was systematic, and its use was prohibited in all areas. Despite everything, writers like Mercè Rodoreda, Josep Carner, Pere Calders, Josep Vicenç Foix, Llorenç Villalonga, Josep Pla or Josep Maria de Sagarra continued to write in Catalan during those years, in Catalonia and abroad. In family circles, the language of transmission continued to be Catalan and it stayed this way until democratic freedoms were regained. Once the transition to democracy had begun, after 36 years of dictatorship, the new Spanish Constitution of 1978 recognised Spain’s linguistic plurality and stipulated that the other languages of Spain could be official in their respective autonomous communities in accordance with their charters. From the 1980s onwards the use of Catalan was normalized in schools, the media, the financial world and the Catalan public authorities.

Mare de Deu del Mont
Mare de Deu del Mont, where Verdaguer wrote some parts of the poem Canigó.
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  • Generalitat de Catalunya Govern Illes Balears Ajuntament de Barcelona

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