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Languages of Catalonia

Languages of Catalonia
OfficialCatalan, Spanish, Aranese
IndigenousCatalan, Aranese
ImmigrantBerber, American Spanish, Maghrebi Arabic, Romanian, British English, Urdu
ForeignEnglish, French
SignedCatalan Sign Language (official)
Keyboard layout
Spanish QWERTY

There are four languages with official status in Catalonia (an autonomous community of Spain): Catalan; Spanish, which is official throughout Spain; Aranese, a dialect of Occitan spoken in the Aran Valley; and Catalan Sign Language.[1] Many other languages are spoken in Catalonia as a result of recent immigration from all over the world.

Catalan has enjoyed special status since the approval of the Statute of Autonomy of 1979 which declares it to be the language "proper to Catalonia".[2] Spanish had been the only official language for most of the period between the 18th century and 1975.

Social use

First habitual language, 2018 Demographic Survey[3]
Language Identification language Habitual language
Spanish 2 978 000 (46.6%) 3 104 000 (48.6%)
Catalan 2 320 000 (36.3%) 2 305 000 (36.1%)
Both languages 440 000 (6.9%) 474 000 (7.4%)
Other languages 651 000 (10.2%) 504 000 (7.9%)
Arabic 114 000 (1.8%) 61 000 (0.9%)
Romanian 58 000 (0.9%) 24 000 (0.4%)
English 29 000 (0.5%) 26 000 (0.4%)
French 26 000 (0.4%) 16 000 (0.2%)
Berber 25 000 (0.4%) 20 000 (0.3%)
Chinese 20 000 (0.3%) 18 000 (0.3%)
Other languages 281 000 (4.4%) 153 000 (2.4%)
Other combinations 96 000 (1.5%) 193 000 (3.0%)
Total population 15 year old and over 6 386 000 (100.0%) 6 386 000 (100.0%)

According to a 2008 survey,[4] in everyday use, 45.9% of the population usually spoke Spanish, while 35.6% usually employed Catalan, and 12% of the population used either language habitually.[5]

Over 45% of respondents used Spanish to address their parents (versus 36% who choose Catalan).[4] This is attributed to extensive migration from other areas in Spain during the second half of the 20th century, as a consequence of which many Catalans have one or both parents born outside Catalonia. However, a majority (52.6%) used Catalan with their children (compared to 42.3% for Spanish). This can be attributed to some Spanish-speaking citizens shifting from their native language to Catalan at home.[citation needed]

Outside the family, 48.6% of the population indicated that they addressed strangers exclusively or preferentially in Catalan, while the proportion of those who used Spanish was 41.7%, and 8.6% claimed to use both equally.[citation needed]

Social origin of the language diversity

The main cause of Spanish and Catalan social bilingualism in modern Catalonia was large-scale migration from the rest of Spain during the 20th century, as Catalonia started a significant industrialization which demanded an increased workforce from elsewhere.[6] Spanish has historically been spoken among a minority of civil servants born in other regions in Spain and among segments of the wealthiest bourgeoisie. Spanish has also been spoken as a second language by most Catalans, as it has been the only official language over long periods since the eighteenth century.

It has been calculated that the total population of Catalonia with no migration would have grown from 2 million people in 1900 to just 2.4 million in 1980,[7] 39% of the real population of 6.1 million for that date, which was over 7.5 million in 2016. As a consequence, there exists a somewhat different identity for those whose native language is Catalan and those whose native language is Spanish,[8] though it has been increasingly difficult to delineate the two groups; furthermore, there is a small but growing number of Catalans who consider both to be their mother tongue.[9] According to anthropologist Kathryn Woolard, who has studied these identities, Catalans tend to classify anyone as either castellà (that is, having Spanish as their native language) or català (that is, having Catalan as their native language).[10]

The claim that the population would have only increased 20% from 1900 to 1980 is disputable since the population of Spain as a whole doubled from 18 to 37 million even allowing for high levels of emigration from the province to the Western Hemisphere and Europe.

Many signs in Catalonia are in Catalan only.


Proportional distribution of native languages in Catalonia 2008.[4]

According to the linguistic census elaborated by the Government of Catalonia corresponding to 2008, 45.92% of citizens over 15 years old declared Spanish as their [only] habitual language of use, versus 35.64% for Catalan, with 11.95% of complete bilinguals; a larger number claims Catalan as "their own language" (37.25% Catalan compared to 46.53% Spanish and 8.81% bilinguals).[4]

Lastly, since the Statute of Autonomy of 1979, Aranese—a Gascon Occitan dialect—has been official and subject to special protection in the Aran Valley. This small area of 7,000 inhabitants was the only place where Occitan (spoken mainly in France and some Italian valleys) received full official status. However, on 9 August 2006, when the new Statute came into force, Aranese became official throughout Catalonia.


According to the government of Catalonia, Spanish, locally known as Castilian, is currently the most spoken language in Catalonia (45.9% daily users of Spanish vs. 35.6% daily users of Catalan vs. 11% daily users of both Spanish and Catalan) and especially in the Barcelona metropolitan area, as well as native language and usual language of many Catalan citizens. This language is widely prevalent in the press, cinema and in daily life.

Spanish is the language that Catalan citizens can read and write the most, due to the fact that until the 1980s it was the only language used in school and in all official communications.

The Spanish language in Catalonia (2009)
Knowledge Individuals Percentage
Can understand 6,973,500 99%
Can speak 6,793,900 96.4%
Can read 6,440,300 91.4%
Can write 6,258,200 88.8%
Population over 2 years old 7,049,900 --

The Spanish language developed from Vulgar Latin in the North of the Iberian Peninsula, expanding quickly to the South. It has lexical influences from Arabic and possible substrate influences from Basque and (to a lesser extent) Celtiberian. It has been the only official language in Spain for most periods since the eighteenth century.


According to the official government of Catalonia, Catalan is the second most spoken language of the region, after Spanish (over 35% of Catalans use exclusively Catalan as their first language, while 11% of Catalans use equally both Catalan and Spanish). It is the most spoken language in many comarques of Catalonia, with the exception of the Barcelona metropolitan area (Barcelonès plus surrounding comarques) and Camp de Tarragona. Catalan is a compulsory subject in schools and enjoys equals rights with Spanish throughout Catalonia.

Since the death of Franco (1975) and the approval of a new democratic Constitution in Spain, Catalan has experienced a new revival in its usage, first, due to the liberalisation and devolution of the Catalan linguistic and cultural institutions, and second, to their promotion. However, some political activists claim that Catalan-speaking people continue suffering some types of discrimination, as explained in the European Parliament on January 29, 2014.[citation needed]

Catalan, a Romance language, is regarded by some Iberian linguists as belonging to the Iberian Romance[11] sub-family (which also includes Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, and Aragonese), while others (especially Occitanists) classify it within the Gallo-Romance[12] sub-family (which includes French, Occitan and Gallo-Italian) languages. It shares attributes with both linguistic groups.


According to the 2018 Linguistic Census,[13] about 6,030,000 people in Catalonia (over 94% of the population) understand the Catalan language. The percentage of people aged fifteen and older who can speak, read and write Catalan is as follows:

Knowledge of Catalan (Total population: 6,385,613)
Ability Individuals Percentage
Understands 6,028,019 94.4%
Speaks 5,187,117 85.5%
Reads 5,463,121 81.2%
Writes 4,170,454 65.3%

As a result of the ongoing linguistic policies favouring Catalan, implemented in various degrees by the autonomous government during the last 30 years, knowledge of Catalan has advanced significantly in all these areas, with the ability to write it having experienced the most pronounced increase, from 31.6% of the population in 1986 to 65.3% in 2018.

By age groups, those between 10 and 29 have the highest level of Catalan-language literacy (e.g., 98.2% aged 10–14 understand it, and 85.2% can write it); this is attributed to these individuals having received their education in Catalan.

Geographically, Catalan is understood in northwest Catalonia (High Pyrenees, Aran Valley) by 97.4% of residents, followed by south and western Catalonia, whereas Barcelona's metropolitan area had the lowest knowledge, at 93.8%. The situation is analogous for written-language skills, with central Catalonia scoring the highest percentages (61.4%), and Barcelona the lowest (46.4%).

Barcelona is one of the main centres of the Spanish publishing industry for both Spanish-language and Catalan-language publishing.


According to the 2001 Aranese Linguistic Census,[14] knowledge of Aranese in the Occitan-speaking territory of Aran is as follows:

Knowledge of Aranese (in Aran Valley)
Ability Individuals Percentage
Understand 6,712 88.88%
Speak 4,700 62.24%
Read 4,413 58.44%
Write 2,016 26.69%

Compared to previous data from 1996, the number of those able to understand Aranese has declined slightly (90.5% in 1996), while at the same time there has been a marginal increase in the number of those able to write it (24.97% in 1996).

By age groups, the largest percentage of those with knowledge of Aranese is in the 15-19 and 65-69 groups (both above 96%), while those aged 30–34 score lowest (just over 80%). Literacy is higher in the 10-19 group with over 88% declaring themselves able to read, and 76% able to write Aranese. Those over 80 are the least literate, with only about 1.5% of them being able to write the language.

In everyday use, according to 2008 data, Spanish is the main language in the Aran valley, habitually spoken by 38% of the population, then followed by Aranese, spoken by 23.4% of the population. In Aran, Catalan is the third language, habitually spoken by 16% of the population.[5]

Catalan Sign Language

According to Ethnologue, about 18,000 deaf Catalans use Catalan Sign Language (LSC, Llengua de signes catalana). Since, like other deaf sign languages, LSC has no generally used written form, there is no literacy data.

Immigrant languages in Catalonia

As a part of the intense immigration process which Spain in general and Catalonia in particular have experienced over the last decade, there is a large number of immigrant languages spoken in various cultural communities in Catalonia, of which (Maghrebi) Arabic and Urdu are the most common[5] if Spanish-speaking migrants are not taken into account.

From all four Provinces of Catalonia, the largest number of habitual foreign language speakers are located in Girona.[5]

Political and social issues

In Francoist Spain Catalan was, until the 1970s, excluded from the state education system and all other official and governmental use, including the prohibition of baptizing children with certain Catalan names. Rural-urban migration originating in other parts of Spain reduced the social use of the language in urban areas. Lately, a similar sociolinguistic phenomenon has occurred with foreign immigration. In an attempt to reverse this, the re-established self-government institutions of Catalonia embarked on a long term language policy to increase the use of Catalan[15] and has, since 1983, enforced laws which attempt to protect, and extend, the use of Catalan. Some groups consider these efforts a way to discourage the use of Spanish,[16][17][18][19] while some other, including the Catalan government[20] and the European Union[21] consider the policies not only respectful,[22] but also an example which "should be disseminated throughout the Union".[23]

Today, Catalan is the language of the Catalan autonomous government and the other public institutions that fall under its jurisdiction.[24] Following Catalan Government rules, businesses are required to display all information (e.g. menus, posters) in Catalan under penalty of legal fines; following Spanish Government rules,[25] there's the same obligation to display this information in Spanish; there is no obligation to display this information in Aranese, although there is no restriction on doing so in these or other languages. The use of fines was introduced in a 1997 linguistic law[26] that aims to increase the use of Catalan. According to the law, both Catalan and Spanish – being official languages – can be used by the citizens without prejudice in all public and private activities[26] even though the Generalitat usually uses only Catalan in its communications and notifications addressed to the general population. The citizens can also receive information from the Generalitat in Spanish if they so request.[27] The various media belonging to Catalan government public broadcasting are monolingual in Catalan.[28] However, except for a few hours in Catalan on La 2 and on some radio station, all the media belonging to the Spanish government are Spanish monolingual in Catalonia, as in the rest of Spain. The language policy favouring Catalan consistently implemented by the successive governments ruling the regional government of Catalonia since the 1980s has become increasingly contentious and controversial during the 2000s, especially in public education.

In this context, Catalan was the only language of instruction between 1979 and 2012. Thus, pupils were immersed in Catalan except for three hours per week of Spanish medium instruction. However, the most recent Spanish Education Law and some judicial sentences aim at increasing the time of instruction in Spanish for other subjects, if only one child per class asks it, even if the other families don't agree, because of complaints that current policies hinder the right to an education in Spanish.[29]

Some political parties and civic organizations denounce this situation in which a co-official language like Spanish is barred from public education, claiming that this is a severe breach of civic rights and against the spirit of free circulation of people within Spain. In September 2008 a demonstration was held in Barcelona to support full coexistence of both languages without linguistic discrimination of either.[30] In June 2012 the Supreme Court of Spain ruled that schools must also use Spanish as a medium of instruction, if parents wish it, and cannot force Catalan-language education on the entire population, citing the disadvantage of the inability[clarification needed] to be educated in the national language and the necessity of maintaining the ability for citizens to move from one part of Spain to another without learning the local language.[31]

Pro-Catalan language activists claimed that, by 2009, some activities could not be carried out in Catalan because of the existence of 500 different regulations ensuring the preeminence of the Spanish language.[25]


  1. ^ Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (2006) Archived 2013-08-26 at the Wayback Machine, Article 50, paragraph 6. Retrieved 2012-08-24. "The public authorities shall guarantee the use of Catalan sign language and conditions of equality for deaf people who chooses to use this language, which shall be the subject of education, protection and respect."
  2. ^ [1] Archived May 28, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  3. ^ "Idescat. Demographic Survey. Població de 15 anys i més segons llengua inicial, d'identificació i habitual. Catalunya". Retrieved 2021-02-21.
  4. ^ a b c d Usos lingüístics. Llengua inicial, d'identificació i habitual. Institut d'Estadística de Catalunya.
  5. ^ a b c d "Árabe y urdu aparecen entre las lenguas habituales de Catalunya, creando peligro de guetos" (in Spanish). 2009-06-29. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  6. ^ Fishman, Joshua (1991). Multilingual Matters (ed.). Reversing language shift: theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. Multilingual Matters. p. 298. ISBN 978-1-85359-121-1. "While the repressive policy of the central authorities had an undeniably negative impact on Catalan use and even on Catalan competence (e.g. an entire generation went through school without any opportunity to acquire or polish Catalan literacy, a limitation that has very recognizable consequences to this very day among most older Catalans), an indirect development of those same years has had even more massive and more devastating consequences for the language. Catalonia had long been one of the most economically advanced areas of Spain and, as a result, its cities (most particularly Barcelona) had long attracted unemployed Spaniards from the rest of the country. These immigrants came in numbers that did not demographically swamp the indigenous (or indigenized) Catalans, and within a generation or more the latest newcomers too were recurringly Catalanized. [...] However, the immigration that transpired between 1950 and 1975 was so huge, relative to Catalonia's absorptive capacity, that the rather effortless and rapid ethnolinguistic transformation of its members that had formerly been the rule was no longer possible. The economic consequences of the rapid addition of nearly one and a half million unskilled immigrants to the previous two and a half million 'native Catalans' were not seriously problematic ones for the host population. [...] However, the cultural and intercultural consequences became doubly problematic as social class differences compounded the ethnolinguistic differences separating the two populations. Even now, decades after the end of massive immigration (an immigration that would have been even larger had not whole trainloads of newcomers been turned back prior to their arrival) only slightly more than half of the adult population of Catalonia habitually speaks Catalan, a percentage which is halved again in the immigrant 'industrial belt' surrounding Barcelona where Spanish-speaking newcomers and their children, many of the latter born in Catalonia, are overwhelmingly concentrated."
  7. ^ Anna Cabré: Immigration and welfare state (in Catalan) Archived 2020-09-20 at the Wayback Machine (PDF)
  8. ^ "...una societat que, en encetar-se el procés, es trobava escindida entre la població d’origen autòcton, de primera llengua catalana quasi sense excepcions, i la d’origen immigrant, molt majoritàriament monolingüe hispanòfona." (translation: a society that, when the process [of schooling in Catalan language] began, was divided between a native population, with Catalan as first language almost without exceptions, and one of immigrant origin, with a large majority of Spanish-only speakers). De llengua oprimida a centre de gravetat. L’"admirable inversió" del català a les escoles de Catalunya (in Catalan)]
  9. ^ "I és que els dos grups lingüístics majoritaris són avui força més permeables que 30 anys enrere: hi ha més gents capaç de parlar les dues llengües, i també han crescut els sectors socials intermedis (bilingües familiars, bilingües d’identificació, etc.) i les pràctiques bilingües, sobretot entre els més joves". (translation: ... The two majority linguistic groups are today quite more permeating than 30 years ago: there is more people capable of speaking both languages, in addition the intermediate social sectors (family bilinguals, identification bilinguals, etc.) and bilingual practices have increased, especially among the youngest.) De llengua oprimida a centre de gravetat. L’"admirable inversió" del català a les escoles de Catalunya (in Catalan)
  10. ^ Woolard, Kathryn (2007). "Bystanders and the linguistic construction of identity in face-to-back communication". In Auer, Peter (ed.). Style and social identities : alternative approaches to linguistic heterogeneity. Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-019081-6.
  11. ^ "Hemos renovado nuestra página y este fichero ya no existe, pero estamos redirigiéndole a la nueva ubicación". Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  12. ^ "Catalan Language". 1990-12-11. Archived from the original on 2008-09-13. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  13. ^ "2018".
  14. ^ [2] Archived June 26, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  15. ^ Teresa Turell, M. (1994-07-30). Multilingualism in Spain: Sociolinguistic and Psycholinguistic Aspects of ... Multilingual Matters. ISBN 9781853594915. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  16. ^ Belen Parra. "Campaña de la Generalitat para que los inmigrantes rechacen el español :: Observatorio la Diversidad de Mugak". Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  17. ^ "La Generalitat quiere que los niños estudien sólo un curso en castellano | El Imparcial". 2008-07-26. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  18. ^ "Última Hora - Intentan disuadir al padre de Cataluña que exige una educación en castellano para su hija". Archived from the original on December 2, 2007. Retrieved August 26, 2008.
  19. ^ [3] Archived December 7, 2008, at the Wayback Machine
  20. ^ Page 13: Catalan Minister of Education Ernest Maragall declares respect from the Catalan Government to Spanish language and to everyone's rights. Catalan only
  21. ^ Retrieved August 14, 2008. ((cite web)): Missing or empty |title= (help)[dead link]
  22. ^ "Buscador online de noticias -". Retrieved 2015-04-10.[permanent dead link]
  23. ^ Report from the European Union in which Catalan immersion is taken as an example which "should be disseminated throughout the Union" (page 18) Archived 2009-03-25 at the Wayback Machine (PDF)
  24. ^ "How much is enough?". The Economist. 6 November 2008.
  25. ^ a b "500 lleis que imposen el castellà", Plataforma per la Llengua, 2009 (In Catalan) (PDF)
  26. ^ a b "Ley 1/1998, de 7 de enero, de política lingüística". Retrieved 2015-04-10. "Act No. 1, of 7th January 1998, on linguistic policy". Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  27. ^ "Ley 1/1998, de 7 de enero, de política lingüística". Retrieved 2015-04-10. "Act No. 1, of 7th January 1998, on linguistic policy". Retrieved 2017-10-04.
  28. ^ "Sólo los anunciantes de TV3 pueden hablar en castellano". 2008-11-19. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  29. ^ "2009 Human Rights Report: Spain". 2010-03-11. Archived from the original on 2010-03-14. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
  30. ^ "Unas 4.000 personas se manifiestan en Barcelona contra de la inmersió…". Archived from the original on 2008-10-01.
  31. ^ "La lengua catalana, bajo presión" (in Spanish). 2012-06-30. Retrieved 2015-04-10.
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Languages of Catalonia
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