Old Catalan
Medieval Catalan
catalanesc, catalanesch, romanç
Pronunciation[katalaˈnesk], [kətələˈnəsk], [roˈmãnt͡s]
RegionPrincipality of Catalonia, Kingdom of Valencia, Balearic islands, Sardinia
Era9th–16th century, evolved into Modern Catalan by the 16th century[1]
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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Old Catalan, also known as Medieval Catalan, is the modern denomination for Romance varieties that during the Middle Ages were spoken in territories that spanned roughly the territories of the Principality of Catalonia, the Kingdom of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and the island of Sardinia; all of them then part of the Crown of Aragon. These varieties were part of a dialect continuum with what today is called Old Occitan that reached the Loire Valley in the north and Northern Italy in the east. Consequently, Old Catalan can be considered a dialect group of Old Occitan,[citation needed] or be classified as an Occitano-Romance variety side by side with Old Occitan (also known as Old Provençal).[2]

The modern separation of Catalan and Occitan should not be confused with a clear separation between the languages in the mindset of their speakers historically. The dialects of Modern Catalan were still considered to be part of the same language as the dialects of Occitan in the 19th century, when Catalans still could call their language Llengua llemosina, using the name of the Limousin dialect as a metonymy for Occitan.



Consonants of Old Catalan[3][4]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar
plain labialised
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
Affricate voiceless ts
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced v z (ʒ)
Approximant central j w
lateral l ʎ
Rhotic r ~ ɾ


It is believed that Old Catalan featured a sequence /jl/ that contrasted with /ʎ/ in non-initial positions. The former came from the Latin groups C'L, G'L, LE, and LI and was written as ⟨yl⟩ and ⟨il⟩, whereas the latter was written ⟨ll⟩. The palatal lateral has remained unchanged in modern Catalan, but the /jl/ sequence has coalesced into /ʎ/ in most dialects (including all the Western bloc and most of Central Catalan) removing the distinction. In a minority of dialects (such as Insular Catalan, where it remains unchallenged and some towns in the provinces of Girona and Barcelona such as Vic and its surrounds and towns in Selva, where it has more or less remained the traditional pronunciation), the /l/ was dropped, yielding a merger with /j/ instead.[5]

Around the 12th century, word-initial /l/ became /ʎ/, but it continued to be spelled as ⟨l⟩ until the 15th century, when it was replaced by the modern ⟨ll⟩ spelling.[6]

Latin words with ⟨ll⟩ would also come to be pronounced /ʎ/ just like in Spanish, but and unlike Spanish /ʎ/ could also appear word-finally.


/v/ began to merge into /b/ in some dialects around the 14th century, a process called betacism.[7] Now, the distinction is maintained only in Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and towns in southern Tarragona.[8]


Like other Western Romance languages, soft ⟨c⟩ (i.e. before either ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩) and ⟨ç⟩ was pronounced /ts/, and it would only later merge into /s/. Likewise ⟨z⟩ was pronounced /dz/, and it would only later merge into /z/ (due to final-obstruent devoicing final ⟨z⟩ was also pronounced /ts/, as ⟨ç⟩). Instances of intervocalic /dz/ would be kept although with the rather different ⟨tz⟩ spelling: compare Catalan/Occitan dotze 'twelve', tretze 'thirteen', setze 'sixteen' with Old French doze, treze, seze. Later instances of intervocalic /z/ from Greek and Arabic would also give the rise of a second /dz/, which would keep the ⟨tz⟩ spelling.

Also due to final-obstruent devoicing, word-final instances of /dʒ/ would deaffricate to /tʃ/ (such as final -⟨ig⟩: puig 'hill', mig 'half'). Other instances of /tʃ/ (mostly borrowed non-native), came to be spelled with the rather different ⟨tx⟩ spelling: fletxa 'arrow' (< Old French fleche, now flèche), botxí 'executioner' ( < Old French bouchier 'butcher'), caputxa 'hood' (< Italian cappuccio), butxaca 'pocket' ( < obscure) and remain with such spelling to this day.


The affricate /dʒ/ originating from soft ⟨g⟩ and nonvocalic ⟨i⟩ would later deaffricate to /ʒ/.

The phoneme /ʃ/, which would initially only appear in intervocalic and word-final positions, would almost unanimously originate from instances of /ks/ (Latin ⟨x⟩), */sts/ (Latin ⟨sc⟩), */ksts/ (Latin ⟨xc⟩), */ks/ from /ps/ (Latin ⟨ps⟩) and more rarely from palatalized /ss/. Due to the abundance of the first group of words, the spelling ⟨x⟩ would be adopted for /ʃ/, including in intervocalic instances (like in Portuguese but unlike Modern Catalan which spells such instances with ⟨ix⟩). Later /ʃ/ would also appear at word-initial position from palatalized /s/.

Non-geminated intervocalic /s/ was voiced and gave the original /z/ sound (later ⟨z⟩ would also merge with the latter sound). Geminated intervocalic instances of ⟨s⟩, as in ⟨ss⟩, would result in /s/, a spelling still retained to this day.

Main article: Phonological history of Catalan


Vowels of Old Catalan[3]
 Front  Central  Back 
Close i   u  
Close-mid e   ə o  
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a  

The system features a modification of the original Proto-Romance /e/ and /ɛ/. First, /e/ was centralized to /ə/ in Eastern Catalan (but remained /e/ in the Western variety) and then, /ɛ/ was raised to /e/.

In Modern Central Catalan (and in the eastern half of the island of Menorca and most towns of Ibiza including Ibiza City), stressed /ə/ has been fronted to /ɛ/, thus partially inverting the original Proto-Romance distribution still found in Italian and Portuguese. Balearic varieties (such as Majorcan, Minorcan in the western half of the island of Menorca and Ibizan in Sant Antoni de Portmany) still keep stressed /ə/.

It is assumed that during the preliterary period, all Catalan dialects featured a weak realization of the pretonic vowels. Around the 13th century, pretonic /a/ and /e/ began to be confused in writing in the Eastern dialects, and the confusion later spread to all unstressed instances of /a/ and /e/, a process that was almost complete by the 15th century.[9][10]

Final post-tonic /e, o/ were lost[3] during the formation of Catalan. According to some historic studies,[11] final nasals were velarised and assimilated before being lost in Modern Catalan: pan [ˈpãŋ][ˈpã][ˈpa] (pa 'bread').


Current Catalan orthography is mostly based on mediaeval practice, but some of the pronunciations and conventions have changed.


Early Middle Ages

Les Homilies d'Organyà (12th century), first written in Catalan.

By the 9th century, the Catalan language had developed from Vulgar Latin on both sides of the eastern end of the Pyrenees mountains (counties of Rosselló, Empúries, Besalú, Cerdanya, Urgell, Pallars and Ribagorça), as well as in the territories of the Roman province and later archdiocese of Tarraconensis to the south.[12] From the 8th century on, the Catalan counts extended their territory southwards and westwards, conquering territories then occupied by Muslims, bringing their language with them.[12]

This phenomenon gained momentum with the separation of the County of Barcelona from the Carolingian Empire in 988 AD.[12] By the 9th century, the Christian rulers occupied the northern parts of present-day Catalonia, usually termed "Old Catalonia", and during the 11th and 12th centuries they expanded their domains to the region north of the Ebro river, a land known as "New Catalonia".[12] During the 13th century, the Catalans expanded to the Land of Valencia and across to the Balearic Islands and Alghero in Sardinia.[12]

Greuges of Guitard Isarn, Lord of Caboet (c. 1080–1095)[13][14]

Hec est memoria de ipsas rancuras que abet dominus Guitardus Isarnus, senior Caputense, de rancuras filio Guillelm Arnall et que ag de suo pater, Guilelm Arnall; et non voluit facere directum in sua vita de ipso castro Caputense che li comannà. Et si Guilelm Arnal me facia tal cosa que dreçar no·m volgués ho no poqués, ho ssi·s partia de mi, che Mir Arnall me romasés aisí com lo·m avia al dia che ad él lo commanné. Et in ipsa onor a Guillelm Arnal no li doné negú domenge ni establiment de cavaler ni de pedó per gitar ni per metre quan l·i comanné Mir Arnall.

Lines 1–4. Passages in Catalan Romance in italics

According to historian Jaume Villanueva (1756–1824), the first attested Catalan sentence is thought to be found in an 8th-century manuscript from Ripoll that has since been lost. It was a whimsical note in 10th- or early 11th-century calligraphy: Magister m[eu]s no vol que em miras novel ("my master does not want you to watch me, newbie").[15]

During the 11th century, several feudal documents (especially oaths and complaints) written in macaronic Latin began to exhibit elements of Catalan, with proper names or even sentences in Romance.[16] Of special historical and linguistic importance is the Memorial of Complaints of Ponç I[17] (c. 1050–1060), featuring whole sentences in Romance.[16] By the end of the 11th century, documents written completely or mostly in Catalan begin to appear, like the Complaints of Guitard Isarn, Lord of Caboet (c. 1080–1095), or The Oath of peace and truce of count Pere Ramon (1098).[16] Catalan shares many features with Gallo-Romance languages, which are mostly located in France and Northern Italy. Old Catalan diverged from Old Occitan between the 11th and 14th centuries.[18]

Late Middle Ages

Catalan lived a golden age during the Late Middle Ages, reaching a peak of maturity and cultural plenitude.[12] Examples of this can be seen in the works of Majorcan polymath Ramon Llull (1232–1315), the Four Great Chronicles (13th–14th centuries), and the Valencian school of poetry which culminated in Ausiàs March (1397–1459).[12]

By the 15th century, the city of Valencia had become the center of social and cultural dynamism, and Catalan was present all over the Mediterranean world.[12] The belief that political splendor was correlated with linguistic consolidation was voiced through the Royal Chancery, which promoted a highly standardized language.[12]

The outstanding[12] novel of chivalry Tirant lo Blanc (1490), by Joanot Martorell, shows the transition from medieval to Renaissance values, something than can also be seen in the works of Bernat Metge and Andreu Febrer.[12] During this period, Catalan was what Costa Carreras terms "one of the 'great languages' of medieval Europe".[12] The flowering of the Renaissance was closely associated with the advent of the printing press, and the first book produced with movable type in the Iberian Peninsula was printed in Valencia in 1474: Trobes en llaors de la Verge maria ("Poems of praise of the Virgin Mary").[12]

See also


  1. ^ Ferrando i Francès, Antoni; Nicolás Amorós, Miquel (2005). Història de la llengua catalana. Barcelona: UOC. pp. 173–177. ISBN 9788490290545. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  2. ^ Juge, Matthew. "The Position of Catalan in the Romance Language Family: Evidence from the Algherese Dialect". Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  3. ^ a b c Rasico, Philip D. (2004). Fundación San Millán de la Cogolla (ed.). "Sobre l'evolució fonològica de la llengua catalana a l'època dels orígens" [On the phonological evolution of the Catalan language in its origins] (PDF). Aemilianense (in Catalan). Vol. 1. pp. 457–480. ISSN 2172-7872. OCLC 758102409.
  4. ^ Wheeler, Max (1977). "Els fonemes catalans: alguns problemes". eLS Marges (9): 7–22.
  5. ^ Rasico, Philip (1982). Estudis sobre la fonologia del català preliterari. Curial/Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat. p. 194.
  6. ^ a b Moll 1993, p. 93.
  7. ^ Recasens 1991, p. 196.
  8. ^ "La /v/ labiovelar" (PDF). IEC. Retrieved 30 March 2019.
  9. ^ Rasico, Philip D. (1986). "Entorn d'una llei fonètica catalana observada fa temps" [Setting of a Catalan phonological rule analyzed some time ago] (PDF). Estudis romànics (in Catalan). Vol. 19. Institut d'Estudis Catalans. p. 9-205. ISSN 2013-9500.
  10. ^ Coromines, Joan (1974). "Les "Vides de sants" rosselloneses". Lleures i converses d'un filòleg (in Catalan). Barcelona: Club Editor. p. 295. ISBN 9788473290012. A l'Edat Mitjana, les abundoses confusions ortogràfiques dels manuscrits demostren que el fet ja estava consumat des d'una data primerenca, pel que fa a la posició pretònica; en final absoluta sovintegen menys les confusions de "a" amb "e" si bé no constitueixen una raresa; en síl·laba posttònica interna, i en la final quan segueix consonant, no es troben confusions abans del segle XV si no és en textos sospitosos i molt excepcionalment.
  11. ^ Alsina, Àlex; Duarte, Carles (1984). Gramàtica històrica del català [Historical grammar of Catalan] (in Catalan). Vol. 1. Curial Edicions Catalanes (published 1998). pp. 206–207. ISBN 9788472562356.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Costa Carreras & Yates 2009, pp. 6–7.
  13. ^ Veny 1997, pp. 9–18.
  14. ^ The source book has reconstructed elided fragments and written out abbreviations in full, like et. Capitalization, the use of u-v, i-j, and c-ç have all been regularized. Accents apostrophes and diaeresis have been added according to the modern orthography. Used punctuation according to modern usage.
  15. ^ Moran 1994, pp. 55–93.
  16. ^ a b c Moran 2004, pp. 37–38.
  17. ^ Memorial de greuges de Ponç I, comte d'Empúries, contra Jofre, comte de Rosselló
  18. ^ Riquer 1964.