Catalan and the national character of Catalonia
Any language generates a kind of national consciousness and acts as a marker of collective and personal identity.
Although Catalan is also spoken in other areas, this section focuses on the Principat of Catalonia, for it summarises its advances and reverses in the course of history.
Catalan is a dynamic characteristic of Catalonia and one of its most distinctive features - you'll hear Catalan being spoken wherever you go in the region.
People have been speaking Catalan since the Middle Ages, but the integrity of the Catalan-speaking lands and the vitality of the language itself have both been repeatedly threatened over the centuries. Examples of this are the Decree of Nova Planta (1716), proclaimed by the Bourbon King Philip V (1683-1746) after the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-14), which abolished the ancient regional privileges or fueros of Catalonia and banned Catalan in all official contexts and the Nationalist dictatorship of General Franco (1939-1975), under which Catalan language and culture were subjected to unprecedented persecution.
The history of the Catalan language has been a constant process of recovery.
In 1970 the General Law of Education first allowed teaching in Catalan and, in 1978, teaching in Catalan was authorised with some restrictions. The Spanish Constitution (1978) and the Statute of Autonomy for Catalonia (1979) mark the restoration of Catalan, recognising it as the true language of Catalonia, and formally establishing it (with Castilian) as one of the two official languages of the region. Consequently, Catalan is now the language of the Generalitat, the autonomous government of Catalonia.
Catalan has an important media presence too: there are two dedicated Catalan TV channels and a Catalan-language national newspaper as well as 5 regional newspapers are published in Catalan.
The Language Act (1983), which was backed by all the political parties in the Catalan parliament, asserts that the recognition of Catalan as Catalonia’s own language is a fundamental right and and a duty which can never be given up by the Catalan people.
As a response to the numbers of Castilian-speakers in Catalonia, the 1983 Language Act also initiated the controversial policy of "linguistic immersion", which required children to be taught primarily in Catalan. Despite political opposition to this policiy, it has been highly effective in promoting the understanding and use of Catalan. According to the 1986 census, more than 90% of the population said they understood Catalan, 64% said they spoke it and 31.5% said they could write it.
Familiarity with the language is growing steadily. The Generalitat has backed various campaigns to extend the use of Catalan in social contexts since 1983 and finally passed a new Language Decree in early 1998. The consequences of this law, which did failed to meet with the approval of parties at both ends of the political spectrum in Catalonia, are as yet, difficult to determine. The policy of the Generalitat was to promote the use of Catalan in a range of social contexts previously dominated by Castilian by means of positive discrimination. The resulting legislation targets public documents, civil servants and government-funded companies as well as imposing linguistic quotas on cinemas, radio stations and local TV productions. Product labels, place names and street or shop signs must also be in Catalan (except in the Aran Valley, a small region in the Catalan Pyrenees, where the native language aranès always prevails).