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There are three languages with official status in Catalonia (an Autonomous Community of Spain):

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".[1] Also with official status are Spanish (which, from all three official languages, is the one with the most comprehensive linguistic competence among Catalan citizens) and Aranese.


Social use

Over 55% of respondents use Spanish to address their parents (versus 36% who choose Catalan). 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%) use Catalan with their children (compared to 42.3% for Spanish). This can be attributed to some Spanish-speaking citizens shifting from their mother tongue to Catalan at home.

Outside the family, 48.6% of the population indicate that they address strangers exclusively or preferentially in Catalan, while the proportion of those who use Spanish is 41.7%, and 8.6% claim to use both equally.

According to an official 2008 poll, in everyday use, 45.9% of the population usually speaks Spanish to 35.6% who usually employs Catalan, while 12% of the population uses either language habitually[2].


Social origin of the language diversity

The main cause of Spanish and Catalan social bilingualism in modern Catalonia is a large scale immigration process from the rest of Spain which occurred over the 20th century, as Catalonia started a significant industrialization which demanded an increased workforce from elsewhere [3]. 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 migrations would have grown from 2 million people in 1900 to just 2.4 millions in 1980,[4] 39% of the real population of 6.1 millions for that date, which is over 7,4 millions in 2009. As a consequence, there exists a somewhat different identity for those whose mother tongue is Catalan and those whose mother tongue is Spanish, [5] though it's increasingly difficult to draw clear-cut limits between both groups; furthermore, there is a small but growing number of Catalans who consider both languages mother tongues. [6] According to anthropologist Kathryn Woolard, who has studied these identities, Catalans tend to classify anyone as either castellà (that is, of Spanish mother tongue) or català (that is, of Catalan mother tongue). [7]


According to the most recent linguistic census elaborated by the Government of Catalonia corresponding to 2008, 54.99% of citizens over 15 years old declared Spanish their only native language, versus 31.64% for Catalan, with 3.84% of complete bilinguals; a larger number claims Catalan as "their own language" (46.06% Catalan compared to 55.34% Spanish, including bilinguals), while in everyday uses, people who use either exclusively Catalan (35.64%) or both languages (11.95%) slightly overnumber those that only use Spanish (45.92%). [8]

Finally, 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 official government of Catalonia, Spanish is currently the most spoken language in Catalonia and especially in the Barcelona metropolitan area, as well as mother tongue and usual tongue of many Catalan citizens. This language is widely prevalent in the press (88%), cinema (97%) and in daily life (45.9%, plus 12% bilinguals).

Spanish is the language that Catalan citizens can read and write the most, due to the fact that until the 1980's 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 99,0%
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 7.049.900 100%

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.


Catalan, a Romance language, is regarded by many linguists as belonging to the Iberian Romance[9] sub-family (which also includes Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, and Aragonese), while others classify it within the Gallo-Romance[10] sub-family (which includes French, Occitan and Gallo-Italian) languages. It shares attributes with both linguistic groups.


According to the 2001 Linguistic Census,[11] about 5,900,000 people in Catalonia (nearly 95% of the population) understand the Catalan language. The percentage of people aged two and older who can speak, read and write Catalan is as follows:

Knowledge of Catalan (Total Population: 6,215,281)
Ability Individuals Percentage
Understands 5,872,202 94.5%
Speaks 4,630,640 74.5%
Reads 4,621,404 74.4%
Writes 3,093,223 49.8%

As a result of the ongoing linguistic policies favouring Catalan, implemented in various degrees by the autonomous government during the last 20 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 49.8% in 2001.

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), at 97.4%, followed by south and western Catalonia, whereas Barcelona's metropolitan area sees 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,[12] knowledge of Aranese in the Occitan-speaking territory of Aran is as follows:

Knowledge of Aranese
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[13].

Foreign 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 foreign languages spoken in various cultural communities in Catalonia, of which Arabic and Urdu are the more common[14].

From all four Provinces of Catalonia, the largest number of habitual foreign language speakers are located in Girona[15].

Political and social issues

Under the Franco dictatorship 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[16] 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,[17][18][19][20] while some other, including the Catalan government[21] and the European Union[22] consider the policies not only respectful,[23] but also an example which "should be disseminated throughout the Union".[24]

Today, Catalan is the language of the Catalan autonomous government and the other public institutions that fall under its jurisdiction[25]. Businesses are required to display all information (e.g. menus, posters) in Catalan under penalty of legal fines; there is no obligation to display this information in either Aranese or Spanish, 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[27] even though the Generalitat usually uses Catalan only 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.[28] The various media belonging to Catalan government public broadcasting are monolingual in Catalan[29]. Should notice, however, that except for a few hours in Catalan in La 2 and in some radios, 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 the public education.

In this context, Catalan is the teaching language. Thus, pupils are immersed in Catalan other than two hours per week of Spanish at medium instruction. The most recent Education Law tried to increase the time of instruction of Spanish language in one more hour, however, it was finally rejected.[30].

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 any[31].

Foreign correspondents from media such as The Economist have noted that "in Catalonia, the official policy of the Generalitat (the regional government) (...) is one of 'bilingualism'. In practice, this means that all primary and secondary schooling is conducted in Catalan, with Spanish taught as a foreign language. Catalan is also the language of regional government. A Spaniard who speaks no Catalan has almost no chance of teaching at a university in Barcelona"[25]. These informations were backed by other foreign correspondents in Barcelona.[32]


  1. ^ Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia (Article 6)
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Fishman, Joshua (1991). Multilingual Matters. ed. Reversing language shift: theoretical and empirical foundations of assistance to threatened languages. p. 298. ISBN 1853591211, 9781853591211.   "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."
  4. ^ Anna Cabré: Immigration and welfare state (in Catalan)
  5. ^ "...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)
  6. ^ "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)
  7. ^ Woolard, Kathryn (2007), "Bystanders and the linguistic construction of identity in face-to-back communication", in Auer, Peter, Style and social identities : alternative approaches to linguistic heterogeneity, Mouton de Gruyter, ISBN 9783110190816  
  8. ^
  9. ^ Lengua Catalana
  10. ^ Catalan Language
  11. ^
  12. ^ Cens linguistic der aranés de 2001
  13. ^ [2]
  14. ^ [3]
  15. ^ [4]
  16. ^ Multilingualism in Spain: Sociolinguistic and Psycholinguistic Aspects of Linguistic Minority Groups
  17. ^ Diario El Mundo, Spanish Only
  18. ^ Diario El Imparcial, Spanish Only
  19. ^ Diario Periodista Digital, Spanish Only
  20. ^ Diario Periodista Digital, Spanish Only
  21. ^ Page 13: Catalan Minister of Education Ernest Maragall declares respect from the Catalan Government to Spanish language and to everyone's rights. Catalan only
  22. ^ EU takes Basque Country, Galicia, Catalonia and Valencia as examples of bilingualism.
  23. ^ The President Montilla promises to look after the use and respect both for Spanish and Catalan languages.
  24. ^ Report from the European Union in which Catalan immersion is taken as an example which "should be disseminated throughout the Union" (page 18)
  25. ^ a b [5]
  26. ^ Catalonia's linguistic law
  27. ^ Second article of Catalonia's linguistic law
  28. ^ Ninth article of Catalonia's Linguistic Law
  29. ^ [6]
  30. ^ [7]
  31. ^ [8]
  32. ^ [9]


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