History of Catalan

Catalan developed from the Vulgar Latin spoken in the Roman province of Hispania Tarraconensis. The disintegration and fall of the Roman Empire brought about several successive invasions. The Visigoths (414 AD) and the Arabs (Moors) (711-717 AD) subjugated the entire peninsula, but their languages had a little impact on Catalan. In 778 the Franks of Charlemagne conquered a narrow strip southward of the Pyrenees with Barcelona and established there the so called Marca Hispanica (Spanish mark) as a buffer state against the muslims. The local Romance idiom since then evolved in close relations with the language of Southern Gaul (see Occitan language). In this period Provençal was considered a language of prestige and was adopted by the Catalonian troubadours also. In spite of the various influences from Gaul, Catalan, however, never assumed the two-case declension system, unique to Old French and Occitan.

By the end of the 10th century Catalan was already a fully-formed language, clearly distinguishable from its Latin origins. It appeared for the first time in written documents in the second half of the 12th century (a charter and six sermons); the Homilies of Organyà, written in the late 12th or early 13th centuries, is the first extant text written originally in Catalan. Catalan poetry flourished from the 13th century, before which time Catalan poets wrote in Provençal. The first true Catalan poet was Ramon Llull (c. 1235-1316), and the greatest Catalan poet was Ausiàs March (1397-1459), a Valencian.

During the 13th and 14th centuries Catalan reached its high point of geographical expansion in the Iberian Peninsula through the conquest of the kingdoms of Valencia and Murcia. The language also spread around the Mediterranean through victory over the kingdoms of Majorca, Sicily, Sardinia (even today there remains a Catalan-speaking popuation in the of Alghero), Naples, Athens and Neopatria in Peloponnese. Catalan came to be spoken, even if not always as a first language, in five states around the Mediterranean which were governed by Catalan dynasties. Due to the Royal Chancellery, whose style was strongly influencing for all Catalan writing, the prose of the 14th and 15th centuries was marked by a high degree of uniformity.

Catalan retained its vigour until the union of the Aragonese and Castilian crowns in 1474. After that, although mainly grammatical works appeared, it gradually entered a period of decline. Following the War of the Spanish Succession (1705-1715), Philip V abolished all the government institutions then existing in Catalonia and implemented Spanish laws. Catalan went through various periods of prohibition and even of repression, beginning with the Decretos de Nueva Planta (Decrees for a New Political Order) of 1716.

The Catalan renaissance (Renaixença) began in the late 19th century with the economic progress of Catalonia. Catalan was reborn as the language of literary culture through the poetry contest known as Jocs Florals (Floral Games). In 1906 the first Catalan Language Congress attracted 3,000 participants, and in 1907 the Institut d’Estudis Catalans was founded. In 1913 it published Normes ortogràfiques (Spelling Rules) and in 1917 the Diccionari ortogràfic (Spelling Dictionary).  The Gramàtica catalana (Catalan Grammar) by Pompeu Fabra appeared in 1918. During the Second Republic (1931-1939), Catalan was restored to its official language status, but this promising development was checked by the Civil War and its consequences. The use of Catalan in public was forbidden and the language retreated into the home. Yet not until 1944 was there a course in Catalan philology at the University of Barcelona; a chair of Catalan language and literature was not founded there until 1961. Ever since the restoration of democratic institutions, there has been a process to re-establish the use of Catalan.

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