Aprèn català!

Catalan is a Romance language (i.e. derived from Latin) spoken by over 9 million people in four European countries. It is a close cousin of Occitan, spoken in France, and has many similarities to French and Italian, and is also close to Spanish. Most speakers of Catalan live in Spain, particularly in the regions of Catalonia, the Valencian Community and the Balearic Islands. Catalan is an official language in two countries: Andorra and Spain, though it is also spoken in a small corner of southeastern France and in the town of l'Alguer (Alghero) on the island of Sardinia in Italy.

This blog focuses primarily on Standard Catalan, which is the dialect spoken in Barcelona.

Benvinguts, i gaudiu-ne! Welcome, and enjoy!
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There are three prepositions in Catalan that get contracted: a (to, at, on, in), de (of, from, about), per (by,for, through, along).  They only contract with the masculine definitive article (el, els) and they form al/als, del/dels, pel/pels.

És al despatx el senyor Puig?Is Mr. Puig in his office?
Em posa dels nervis.He gets on my nerves.
Vaig anar a la biblioteca i vaig trobar a la Laia pel camí.I went to the library and met up with Laia on the way.
En Carles està lluitant pels drets del poble.Carles is fighting for the people’s rights. 

If the succeeding noun begins with a vowel, then instead of al/del/pel, the article becomes l’:

T’espero a la porta de l’hotel.I’ll wait for you at the hotel door.

De also gets contracted when preceeding a word beginning with a vowel:

Tinc por d’allò.I’m afraid of that (over there).

Lesson 6 // Days and Months

Here are the days of the week in Catalan:

(el) dilluns (Monday)
(el) dimarts (Tuesday)
(el) dimecres (Wednesday)
(el) dijous (Thursday)
(el) divendres (Friday)
(el) dissabte (Saturday)
(el) diumenge (Sunday)

In Catalunya, the week starts on Monday, and ends on Sunday.  They are also represented by using lowercase letters at the beginning.  If we want to talk about something that we want to do on Saturday, we’ll say Dissabte tinc un partit de futbol.  (On Saturday I have a football match.)  When referring to something we do every Saturday, for example, we’ll add the article: El dissabte tinc partits de futbol. (On Saturdays I have football matches.)  Most of the time, it’s not necessary to use the article: Dijous que ve tinc examen de mates. (Next Thursday I have a Math exam.)  

Months are also masculine:

(el) gener (January)
(el) febrer (February)
(el) març (March)
(l’) abril (April)
(el) maig (May)
(el) juny (June)
(el) juliol (July)
(l’) agost (August)
(el) setembre (September)
(l’) octubre (October)
(el) novembre (November)
(el) desembre (December)

Just like with the days of the week, Catalan months are written in lowercase.  El with months is used very similarly to how it’s used for the days of the week.  You’ll have noticed that the months that begin with vowels (abril, agost, octubre) are preceded by l’, and if you go back to Lesson 4, you’ll remember why.

Some examples of using the months:
El maig em caso. I’m getting married in May.
El meu aniversari és en novembre. My birthday is in November.

Lesson 5 - Ser (ésser) and estar (to be)

Catalan, like Spanish and Italian, has two forms of the verb “to be”.  It can be confusing at the start to figure out which verb is used when and where, but once they’re used on a regular basis it becomes much easier.  Ser is generally used to explain things that are permanent, unchanging, inherent.  Estar is generally used to explain things that are temporary and can change, as well as geographical position.  Ser is used to explain what kind of emotions a person displays on a regular basis, while estar is used to explain how he’s feeling at the moment: Antoni és molt alegre, però se li han robat la bicicleta i està trist. / Antoni is a very happy person, but his bike was stolen and he’s sad.

Ser (ésser)

There is no difference between ser and ésser, as they’re both conjugated the exact same way.  But sometimes ésser does appear, so it’s good to know that it means the same thing as ser, which is seen more often.

(jo) sóc — I am
(tu) ets — you (inf.) are
(ell/ella) és — he/she is
(nosaltres) som — we are
(vosaltres) sou — you (pl. inf.) are
(ells/elles) són — they are

Estar

(jo) estic — I am
(tu) estàs — you (inf.) are
(ell/ella) està — he/she is
(nosaltres) estem — we are
(vosaltres) esteu — you (pl. inf.) are
(ells/elles) estan — they are

The pronoun is often removed as the conjugation of the verb determines who the subject of the verb is.  A subject is usually only explicit in cases of emphasis: No, jo sóc de Barcelona. / No, I am from Barcelona.

In Catalan, there are two ways to address someone directly (“you”).  Tu is informal, and is generally used for friends, family, and people in your age group or younger than you.  Vostè is formal, and used for adults in a business setting and for elderly adults.  While Catalan speakers tend to be very informal and use tu with most people they see, it is best to err on the side of using vostè, especially if you do not know the person.  They also have plurals.  Vosaltres is used for a group of friends (similar to “y’all” used in many parts of the USA) and vostès for a group of adults in a formal situation.  Again, most Catalans will usually use the informal forms, but it is best to use the formal addresses if you are unsure.  Vostè is conjugated like ell/ella and vostès like ells/elles.

Lesson 4 // Nouns

Catalan, like the other Romance languages, uses two grammatical genders: masculine (home, llibre) and feminine (dona, casa).  Every single noun will have a gender.

Definite articles, used to point out something in particular, are used as masculine/feminine and singular/plural.  The masculine definite articles are el/l’ and els, and the feminine definite articles are la/l’ and les: el llibre/els llibres (the book/the books); la dona/les dones (the woman/the women).  When a masculine word begins in a vowel or an h, the article before it becomes l’, such as in l’home (the man).  The plural is not contracted: els homes (the men).  When a feminine word begins in a vowel or an h, it becomes l’ unless the vowel is an unstressed i, u or h+ i and u: l’ampolla (the bottle), la història (the story).  Plural articles also have no contraction: les ampolles (the bottles), les històries (the stories).

Indefinite articles are used to talk about any object.  The masculine indefinite articles work like this: un/uns and the feminine: una/unes.  An example: un noi (a boy)/una noia (a girl); uns nois (some boys)/unes noies (some girls).  Plural indefinite articles tend not to be used very often, and alguns/algunes (some) used instead.

All Catalan plurals end in -s.  Usually all you have to do to make a plural in Catalan is to add an -s at the end of a word and you have a plural!  Sometimes though, especially with feminine nouns, there is a slight change.  As you may have noticed in previous lessons, if a word ends in unstressed -a, its plural usually has an -e in it instead.  This does also work for some masculine nouns ending in -a, like el dia (the day), as it becomes els dies (the days) in plural.

The definite article is used when talking about abstract ideas: la vida i la mort (life and death) or els gats són macos aquí (cats are nice here).  It is also used when talking about a person, and en is often used for men whose names begin with a consonant: la Laia, en Pere, l’Enric, l’Eulàlia.

Lesson 3 // Stress and Syllables

In this lesson, we’ll learn where the syllables form in Catalan words as well as look at stress, or “accent”, and which syllables get extra emphasis.

In Catalan, the vowels determine how many syllables a word will have.  A word like temps has one syllable, as do words like sel, cor, and bo.  One vowel, one syllable.  Monosyllabic words (words with one syllable) have no specific stress, and the stress can change based on their position in a sentence or emphasis.

Dipthongs, or vowel pairs, count as one syllable in Catalan.  For example, the word aire (ai-re) has two syllables despite having three vowels.  The dipthongs in Catalan are: ai, ei, oi, ui, au, eu, iu, ou, uu.  In order to split apart a dipthong and create another syllable, we use what’s called a diaresis, which are two dots placed on top of the second vowel to separate it.  It is also the symbol that’s used in  and  to separate the u (in fact, ua, üe, üi and uo after q and g are also considered dipthongs [aigua (ai-gua)]).  When the word has two syllables, an accent mark, called a tilde, is used.  For example, look at the noun pairs veí (ve-i) and veïna (ve-i-na).

Here are how we split words into syllables in Catalan:

  1. One consonant between two vowels forms a separate syllable: petita (pe-ti-ta), telèfon (te-le-fon).  Also, unstressed i and u behave like consonants, like in the words joia (jo-ia) and diuen (di-uen).
  2. Two or more consonants between vowels make the last consonant form a syllable with the second vowel: llista (llis-ta), ofendre (o-fen-dre).  If the second consonant is an l or r, the two consonants are not split, like in programa (pro-gra-ma).
  3. Gu, qu, ny and ll are never split: aquelles (a-que-lles), canya (ca-nya).

Now let’s look at stress.

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Lesson 2 // The Catalan “Countries”

We’re going to take a quick detour from the Catalan language and talk about where Catalan is spoken.  The map above shows us where in Europe Catalan is predominantly spoken.

As you can see, it is spoken primarily in Spain along the eastern Mediterranean coast, and in the Balearic Islands (not to mention Andorra!), but it is also spoken in France and Italy!  The areas where Catalan is spoken are known as the “Països Catalans”, or “Catalan Countries" in Catalan.  This does not necessarily mean that all Catalan speakers see their regions as countries, it just means that they have a very clear and strong identity.

Now, the dialects and accents of Catalan are a bit harder to point out, but I think the map up top explains it pretty well.  There are three major dialects of Catalan: occidental, which is mainly spoken in the Valencian Community and in most of Tarragona, Lleida and Andorra, central, which is spoken in parts of Tarragona, Barcelona and most of Girona, and oriental, which is spoken in southeastern France and the Balearic Islands.  L’Alguer has its own unique pronunciation, as it is a small town isolated from the rest of the Catalan-speaking world.

There are also a few sub-dialects, as the Catalan spoken in Lleida is not the same as the Catalan spoken in Valencia, though the accents are somewhat similar, same with the Catalan spoken in Catalunya Nord (which is the name for the region of southeastern France that speaks Catalan) and the Balearic Islands.  Each island also has its own unique dialect, such as eivissenc, which is spoken in Ibiza.

Standard Catalan comes from Central Catalan, and is the dialect and accent spoken in Barcelona.  This is the Catalan that will predominantly be taught and used here.

This is a map showing the major political boundaries of Catalan.  The region called the Franja de Ponent is an area of the region of Aragón that also has a strong history with Catalan.

The truth is, while most of the people in these areas will speak a language other than Catalan, they love it when a foreigner speaks to them in their language.  It’s not something they expect, so it’s always nice to put a smile on their faces.  :)

Lesson 1 - Pronunciation

Let’s start our Catalan lessons with the fundamentals: pronunciation.  Starting with pronunciation is important because it will help us be able to speak what we read.  From here, we can begin to make sense of how the language is spoken and what to do with what we see in print.

// *Note* As mentioned in the blog information, we will be focusing on the Catalan spoken in Barcelona. //

The Catalan alphabet is very similar to the alphabet used in many languages.  It uses the Latin Alphabet, which is used in English, Spanish, French, German and many others.  The main difference is that you will not see the letters k or w very often, as these only tend to appear in words from other languages, like English and German, that use these letters, like Nova York or Washington.  The letter y does not appear very often either, as in Catalan, y only exists when paired with n, like in the word estrany.

Let’s start with the vowels!  For practice, try pronouncing each Catalan word you see.

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