How different is Catalan from Spanish?
Are Catalan and Spanish the same language?
Spanish and Catalan are Western-Romance languages, however, they come from two different “branches”. Spanish comes from the Ibero-Romance branch while Catalan belongs to the Gallo-Romance branch, which at the same time, was divided into two different branches, French and Occitan-Romance.
Spanish is today an official language in:
Spain, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela.
Catalan is recognized as a separate language to Spanish (i.e., it’s not a dialect of Spanish) and having read a bit in Catalan, I can definitely agree with this categorization.
Catalan has a lot of similarities with both French and Spanish but to me having studied it, Catalan is clearly distinct from both other these other Romance languages and easily recognizable as such.
So what are the most significant differences between Spanish and Catalan?
1. Periphrastic preterite – The Catalan past tense is really interesting and unique. It has a past tense like no other Romance language. It is built from the present form of the auxiliary verb anar (to go) and the infinitive form of the verb. So “I sang” is vaig cantar, where cantar is “to sing” and vaig is literally “I go” but together it doesn’t mean “I am going to sing”, but “I sang”. On the other hand vaig a cantar does mean “I am going to sing”. See how just a one-letter word a can make a huge difference!?! 😀
So why so much fuss about speaking Catalan or Spanish in Spain?
The history of Catalonia is a turbulent one which has it win and lose degrees of autonomy in the last 1,000 years. Having visited the region many times, Catalonia growth has a strong regional identity wedded to their unique culture, language and institutions.
Use the following 3 tips to identify whether it is Catalan or Spanish while reading:
- Catalan leaves out the vowels -o, -a, or -e that are commonly used in Spanish; “cat” – “gato” in Spanish and “gat” in Catalan;
- Catalan drops ‘n’s in many nouns, e.g., formación is formació in Catalan and catalán is català in Catalan;
- Catalan swaps o for at in verb ending, like ocupado, which becomes ocupat in Catalan;
- Catalan uses “ny” which corresponds to Spanish “ñ”, Portuguese “nh”, or French/Italian “gn”;
- Catalan uses both grave and acute accents, as á, ò, è: anglès, francès;
- Catalan sometimes uses the middle dot between two L letters, for example in the word paral·lel which is does not exist in Spanish.