Catalan (Català, Valencià) is a Romance language spoken by approximately 12 million people in a territory called the Catalan countries which spans portions of Spain, France, Andorra and Italy, although the majority of Catalan speakers are in Spain.
Catalan is a Romance language. According to the Ethnologue, it's specific classification is a member of the East Iberian branch of the Ibero-Romance branch of the Gallo-Iberian branch of the Western branch of the Italo-Western branch of the Romance branch of the Italic branch of the Indo-European language famiily.
Main article: Catalan countries
Estimates of the number of Catalan speakers vary from four to twelve million.  (http://www.caib.es/conselleries/educacio/dgpoling/user/catalaeuropa/reduides/tripticangles.pdf) (pdf),  (http://www.brazilbrazil.com/roman.html),  (http://18.104.22.168/SALTMIL/history/review.htm),  (http://www.scbwi.org/pubs/bulletin/bull_archives/jan_feb_2003/intl_news.htm),  (http://www.ethnologue.com/show_language.asp?code=CLN).
Catalan is spoken in:
All these areas are informally called Catalan countries (Catalan Països catalans), a denomination based originally on cultural affinity and common heritage, that some have subsequently interpreted politically.
Catalan is the official language of Andorra. It is co-official in the Catalonia, Balearic Islands, and Valencia regions of Spain, and in The Sardinian city of Alghero, in Italy. It has it has no official status in the parts of Aragon where it is spoken, but has gained some recognition by Aragonese laws since 1990. It has no official status in the other places where it is spoken.
In 1861, Manuel Milà i Fontanals purposed a dialectal division of Catalan in two major blocks: Eastern Catalan and Western Catalan.
There is no precise linguistic border between one dialect and another because there is nearly always a dialect transition zone of some size between pairs of geographically identified dialects, (except for dialects specific to an island). In addition, each dialect isn't completely homogenous: any dialect can be subdivided into several subdialects. Catalan can be subdivided in two major dialectal blocks and those blocks into individual dialects:
The status of Valencian
The issue, as with Serbian and Croatian of whether Catalan and Valencian constitute different languages or merely dialects has been the subject of political agitation several times after the Franco era by extreme right wing parties in the area of the city of Valencia. Curiously, the people claiming Valencian as a separate language have often been Spanish monoglots or people unwilling to allow any public presence of Valencian.
Most current (21st century) Valencian speakers and writers use spelling conventions (Normes de Castelló, 1932) that allow for several diverse idiosyncrasies of Valencian, Balearic, North-Western Catalan, and Eastern Catalan.
All universities teaching Romance languages, and virtually all linguists, consider these all to be linguistic variants of the same language (similarly to Canadian French vs. Metropolitan French). The criterion used by most linguists to decide whether two language varieties are a separate language is the criterion of mutual intelligibility; by this criterion Valencian and other varieties of Catalan are dialects of the same language. Consider also the web sites of the Valencian universities: Universitat Jaume I de Castelló or Universitat de València.
Nevertheless, differences do exist: the accent of a Valencian is recognisable, there are differences in subjunctive terminations, and there are a large number of words unique to Valencian; but those differences are not any wider than among North-Western Catalan and Eastern Catalan. In fact, Northern Valencian (spoken in the Castelló province and Matarranya valley, a strip of Aragon) is more similar to the Catalan of the lower Ebro basin (spoken in southern half of Tarragona province and another strip of Aragon) than to apitxat Valencian (spoken in the city of Horta, in the province of Valencia).
Main article: Catalan phonology and orthography
Main article: Catalan grammar
Main article: Catalan phonology and orthography
Catalan developed by the 9th century from Vulgar Latin on both sides of the Pyrenees mountains (counties of Rosselló (Roussillon), Empuries, Besalú, Cerdanya, Urgell, Pallars and Ribagorça). It shares features with Gallo-romance and Ibero-romance, and it could be said to be in its beginnings no more than an eccentric dialect of Occitan (or of Western Romance). The language was spread to the south by the Reconquista in several phases: Barcelona and Tarragona, Lleida and Tortosa, the ancient Kingdom of Valencia, and transplanted to the Balearic Islands and l'Alguer (Alghero).
Catalan was exported in the 13th century to Balearic Islands and the newly created Valencian Kingdom by the Catalan and Aragonese invaders (note that the area of Catalan language still extends to part of what is now the region of Aragon). During this period, almost all of the Muslim population of the Balearic Islands were expelled, but many Muslim peasants remained in many rural areas of the Valencian Kingdom, as had happened before in the lower Ebro basin (or Catalunya Nova).
During the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries the Catalan language was important in the Mediterranean region. Barcelona was the pre-eminent city and port of the so-called Aragonese Empire, a confederation nominally ruled by the King of Aragon (Aragon, Catalonia, Roussillon, Valencia, the Balearic Islands, Sicily, and — later — Sardinia and Naples). All prose writers of this era used the name 'Catalan' for their common language (e.g. the Catalan Ramon Muntaner, the Majorcan Ramon Llull, etc.) The matter is more complicated among the poets, as they wrote in a sort of artificial Langue d'Oc in the tradition of the troubadors. Italian resentment of this Catalan dominance appears to have been one of the wellsprings of the so-called "Black Legend".
During the 15th and 16th centuries the city of Valencia gains pre-eminence in the confederation, due to several factors, including demographic changes and the fact that the royal court moved there. Presumably as a result of this shift in the balance of power within the confederation, in the 15th century the name 'Valencian' starts to be used by writers from Valencia to refer to their language.
In the 16th century the name 'Llemosí' (that is to say, "the Occitan dialect of Limoges") is first documented as being used to refer to this language. This attribution has no philological base, but it is explicable by the complex sociolinguistic frame of Catalan poetry of this era (Catalan versus troubadoresque Occitan). Ausias March himself was not sure what to call the language he was writing in (it is clearly closer to his contemporary Catalan or Valencian than to the archaic Occitan).
Then, during the 16th century, most of the Valencian elites switched languages to Castilian Spanish, as can be seen in the balance of languages of printed books in Valencia city: at the beginning of century Latin and Catalan (or Valencian) were the main languages of the press, but by the end of the century Spanish was the main language of the press. Still, rural areas and urban working classes continued to speak their vernacular language.
During the first half of the 19th century Catalan and Valencian esperienced a major revival among urban élites due to the Renaixença, a romantic cultural movement. The effects of this revival persist to this day.
During the Franco regime (1939-1975), the use of Catalan was banned, along with other regional languages in Spain such as Basque and Galician. Following the death of Franco in 1975 and the restoration of democracy, the ban was lifted and the Catalan language is now used in politics, education and the media, including the newspapers Avui ('Today') and El Periódico de Catalunya (sharing content with its Spanish release and with El Periòdic d'Andorra, printed in Andorra; El Periódico de Catalunya has Spanish-language and Catalan-language editions, with identical content) and the television channel Televisió de Catalunya (TVC).
Some common Catalan phrases:
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