Spanish vs Catalan: Similarities and Differences
The historic debate of Spanish vs Catalan dates back to the roots of romance languages in Europe. Recent events and nationalism in Spain continue to feed it with a level of hostility due to independence efforts from the Catalans.
Both languages are deeply connected. As you know, Spanish or Castellano is from Spain and considered the official language, however Catalan is the second most spoken in the nation.
Today, it’s standard practice for most people who speak Catalan to also speak fluent Spanish—but not vice versa.
In this blog post, I’m unraveling the similarities these magnificent languages share and the differences they don’t. Let’s take a look at what’s behind the dilemma of Spanish vs Catalan!
A Brief History of Spanish vs Catalan
Catalan is widely spoken in parts of Spain, but It’s also common to find it abroad, it’s spoken in Andorra, the French Pyrenees, and the island of Sardinia, Italy. An approximate of 10 million people speak Catalan.
Catalan is a romantic language that originated in the northern region of Catalonia between the 8th and 10th centuries. It spread to the rest of Catalonia and the Valencian Country in the 12th and 13th centuries, while also making its way to the province of Alghero in Sardinia, the Balearic Islands, Andorra, France, and the Spanish province of Aragón.
After an astonishing expansion of Catalan to the literary world, arts, and politics; it began to decline. For a variety of reasons, Castellano started to grow in Catalan territories; which started the whole competition of Spanish vs Catalan. The decay of Catalan literature and the different wars and political instability of Spain continued to affect it as well.
Catalonia’s history is somewhat turbulent and it’s affected their autonomy multiple times. During Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, autonomy was abolished. Upon the return of democracy in 1975, Catalonia recovered its autonomy, leading to a growth in pride for Catalan identity, traditions, and culture.
Today, Catalonia continues to be an autonomous region and a wealthy and resourceful part of Spain. Recent events include the holding of a referendum for Catalonia’s independence, that led to a political crisis nationwide which added more spark to the whole Spanish vs Catalan debate.
Irregardless if Catalonia is independent or not from Spain, its strong regional character will prevail, and continues to evolve. Catalan is the official language of majestic cities like Barcelona, Valencia, and Palma de Mallorca. These cities also have Spanish-speaking populations, so both languages inevitably have and continue to coexist.
Similarities: Spanish vs Catalan
When it comes to viewing how these two languages relate to one another, it isn’t a competition, but a fascinating insight to learn how much both languages have in common. It’s a part of the history and exchange they share.
Spelling and Grammar
The spelling and rules of Spanish and Catalan are similar and outweigh the differences.
Let’s take a look at the similarities first:
- Sentence order is fairly similar in both languages.
- Grammatical gender is the same. Subjects are either male or female, there isn’t a neutral word in any of the languages.
- Verb conjugation of verbs is almost equal, as it follows the same patterns and endings –ar, –er, and –ir.
Catalan and Spanish vocabulary are somewhat similar. Many words in Catalan are familiar to native Spanish-speakers. Both are languages derived from Latin, so knowing one or the other gives you an advantage when it comes to learning vocabulary.
Some Catalan words are similar to a word in Spanish that is less used; a perfect example would be the Spanish words rojo and bermellón (color red). While Spanish-speakers rarely use the word bermellón, Catalan uses vermell, a similar word, for defining the color red.
Let’s take a look at this list of vocabulary with examples of words that are similar between Spanish and Catalan.
When it comes to Spanish vs Catalan, the pronunciation is similar to a great extent with a few particularities.
Silent letter “H” and “R” sound
In both languages the letter H is pronounced silently and the letter R has a strong sound and people make a rolling sound when they say it.
The Use of “ny”
As you know, Spanish is the only language that uses the letter “Ñ”. Catalan has the exact pronunciation but with the liaison “ny”. For example in Spanish, you write Cataluña and in Catalan you write Catalunya.
The letter “X”
Many words in Catalan use the letter X, which is pronounced “sh” like in Spanish.
Differences: Spanish vs Catalan
The differences between these two languages are what makes them so unique.
Most differences I’ve uncovered aren’t majorly conceptual but minor. When comparing both languages, the following differences are ideal for you distinguishing one language from another.
The Spanish simple past isn’t used in spoken Catalan and speakers prefer the periphrastic past, where the simple past tense is more literary. If you want to say something in Catalan that happened in the past and already finished, you conjugate it with “anar” at the end.
The use of “hi” and “en”
These place markers in Catalan are used to replace other words and have no Spanish counterpart. “Hi” is used to replace any phrase that has “a” in it. While the marker “en” is used to replace some phrases that have “de” in it.
In Catalan, the object of sentences that are combined with a verb, are joined by a vowel at the beginning. For example:
Español: Te quiero
English: I love you.
Article before names and possessive nouns
Names and nouns in Catalan are normally accompanied with a pronoun before the word. For example:
Español: Mi carro.
Catalan: El meu coche.
English: My car.
Español: Andrea vino ayer a la casa.
Catalan: L’Andrea va venir ahir a la casa.
English: Andrea came to the house yesterday.
”Que” before every question
The majority of questions in Catalan are formed with the preposition “que” at the beginning. For example:
Español: ¿Quieres un café?
Catalan: Que vols un cafè?
English: Do you want coffee?
Spelling and Grammar Differences
Spelling can be quite different since words in Catalan also relate to other Latin-derived languages like French or Italian. This makes it obvious that by simply being a native Spanish speaker, one is not fully equipped to understand Catalan or recognize all of its vocabulary.
Spanish vs Catalan
This list of vocabulary has words that are completely different between Spanish and Catalan.
The Uniqueness of Catalan
You’ll encounter as well that some words are completely Catalan, they don’t connect to French, Italian, Spanish, or any other romance languages.This list of vocabulary has a few words that are unique to Catalan so you can see how extensive the differences can be.
|a little||un poco||una mica|
Differences in Pronunciation
Pronunciation of Catalan can sound very different because of the regional accent native speakers have, this depends on the area where they are from, people from Barcelona have a particular accent and people from Andorra a completely different one, Catalan sounds way stronger than Spanish.
Unlike Spanish, Catalan has more open and closed vowels and a wider range of consonants. Some other major differences in pronunciation that Spanish and Catalan exhibit are:
Stress on syllables
The accent in Catalan is opposite to the accent in Spanish and goes from left to right above a vowel. Unless there’s a written accent, both languages stress the accent on the next to last syllable. For example:
The letter “Ç” sounds like the letter “S”
This consonant is unique to Catalan and the pronunciation is like an “S” in Spanish. A few examples are:
Unstressed “A” and “E”
Short vowels are unstressed in Catalan, while in Spanish they are normally pronounced phonetically. A good example would be the word “entrar” in Spanish, which is spelled the same in Catalan, but it’s pronounced “antrar”.
The letters “J” and “G”
The letters “j” and “g” have a softer pronunciation than in Spanish, where “j” is pronounced heavily.
Compounds “ig”, “tx”, “tz”, “tg”, and “tj”
These are unique to Catalan and aren’t used in Spanish. The pronunciation for each of these compounds sounds completely different to what it would be in Spanish.
Linkage of Words
Unlike in Spanish, Catalan pronunciation changes depending on the syntactical context a word appears. Catalan speakers will link two words together and can produce a different sound that’s not phonetical. For example the Catalan phrase fins aviat (see you soon) is linked in pronunciation and makes a “z” sound in the linkage.
Will Knowing Spanish Help You Learn Catalan?
As you can see from our investigation of Spanish vs Catalan, similar grammatical structures between these languages could make it easier for you to learn Catalan, but on its own, it can’t provide any guarantees.
The differences I’ve listed are way more complex and the only way to fully grasp a new language entirely is by immersing yourself in it. Catalan shares similarities not only with Spanish but with other romance languages, which complicates the learning process for Spanish speakers.
As the debate surrounding Spanish vs Catalan continues, so too does the shifting influences on both languages. Despite punctuated influxes of immigrants into Catalonia—which can certainly threaten the existence of Catalan—the native speakers of this region strongly preserve their identity and encourage visitors to learn their language in order to communicate with locals.
If you want to learn Catalan, I recommend you start watching films and learning about art from Catalonia. If you want to get a more up-close approach, taking a trip to magnificent Barcelona is also worth your while.
Do You Need to Improve Your Spanish?
In the meantime, it seems right that you stay focused on your Spanish fluency for now, before you dive head first into learning Catalan. If you’re ready to have a conversation today, sign up for a free trial class with one of our native, Spanish-speaking teachers from Guatemala. It’ll strengthen your speaking skills and solidify your fluency before you jump on to your next language of choice, like Catalan!
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