In modern and contemporary history, languages in Europe cannot be dissociated from peoples or nations, and nations and peoples cannot be easily dissociated from languages. This association has certain aspects and effects that are currently affecting the sociolinguistic reality, ideological debates as well as social and political life in the Catalan Countries. In modern times, many peoples or societies have become national communities - and ultimately states - primarily because of their survival as linguistic communities and of the consciousness of unity and distinction gained therefrom. Establishing a standard or an accepted codification of the language is usually a strategic objective in affirming a society’s national culture and, because of its very existence and projection, it may also be a decisive factor in the formation of that society. In the Catalan-language territories throughout the Middle Ages, the language community also exhibited a number of shared cultural traits, but it would be a mistake to identify the particular scope of a language and the framework of a culture in overly general terms; the issue is more complex than it seems. However, sharing a basic written-language model means sharing a body of literature and the same pantheon of renowned writers. Many other things go hand in hand with a national literature, including a sense of assumed common identity among the readers and speakers of that language, of belonging to the same mental space and of shared references to the same “moral territory”.
In this chapter the author examines in detail the formation and evolution of Catalan, from its Vulgar Latin origins to the beginning of the 13th century, based upon evidence provided by the earliest written manifestations of the language. Emphasis is given to phonological changes and morpho‑syntactic developments in the transformation of spoken Latin to Catalan. Also considered are contacts with and the possible influence of pre‑Roman languages upon the Latin introduced into the northeastern sector of the Iberian Peninsula in the late 3rd century BC, as well as the later impact of Germanic languages and of Arabic upon the development of emerging Catalan Romance. Evidence of the evolution of Early Medieval Catalan is provided by popular documents from the late 9th century to the beginning of the 13th century.
During the period of three centuries that extends from 1213, the year of King Peter the Catholic’s defeat at Muret, marking the end of the Catalan political presence in Occitania, to 1516 when, with the death of King Ferdinand II, the Crown of Aragon was integrated into a single Hispanic monarchy, the Catalan linguistic community underwent a process of vigorous territorial, political and cultural expansion. Over the course of this time, the Catalan language became clearly separated from Occitan; it came to share the political space with the Aragonese language; it took its place as the primary language of the royal domains; it became the oral and written heritage of all the strata of Catalan-speaking society; it formed an accepted Chancery koine for all spheres of the public administration and for all cultured literary registers; it spread its influence to Italy, and it gave rise to notable works in all literary genres, from the prose of Ramon Llull and the four Great Chronicles to the verse and narratives of the outstanding writers of the 15th century - the Golden Age of Catalan literature -, including Ausiàs March, Joanot Martorell and Joan Roís de Corella.
In the modern era, between the first quarter of the sixteenth century and the first third of the nineteenth century, the political status of Catalan underwent radical changes. Under the Habsburg monarchy, it was a declining language, culturally subordinate to Castilian. Still widely spoken in the former Crown of Aragon, where it preserved its institutions and laws and held its rank in public use, it lost part of its territory in France. Under the Bourbon rule started the political persecution of Catalan. The new dynasty designed a political, social and economic modernization program, which excluded peripheral languages from social use. Cultural production was divided into Enlightenment scholarship - expressed in Spanish, French or Latin - and Catalan popular, mostly oral culture. The Enlightenment had an ambivalent character: while showing low consideration for minority languages, it fostered archaeological scholarship and sowed the seed of Romanticism. Simultaneously, between the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the national language ideology, on which the construction of nineteenth-century nation-states would rely, started to spread. Despite all these struggles, Catalan never lost its status as a literary language - although not comparable with Spanish anymore in terms of output and prestige - and Catalan writers remained aware of the unity of the language. Hence the controversial label Decadence that has been applied to this period. The standard of Catalan was established essentially since then and experienced little changes in modern times beyond dialectalization.
This chapter provides an overview of the Renaixença movement, that is, the revival of Catalan language and literature in the second half of the 19th century. For a better understanding of the linguistic, cultural and socio-political changes associated with the movement, this article also describes the conditions in the early 19th century in terms of break and continuity. This includes the “roofing” of a mainly monolingual Catalan society by Spanish, the prestigious but foreign language, more closely linked with formal and written usage. The construction of the modern Spanish state and its ongoing centralisation are documented through the series of laws restricting the use of Catalan. This chapter’s main focus is the recovery of the language for literary use through the Jocs Florals poetry competition which was reinstated in 1859. The second focus regards the use of Catalan in the press. The late 19th century also saw the emergence of political Catalanism, a key ideological component of which became the nurturing of a separate language. As references to a common writing tradition had been lost over the previous centuries, the reintroduction of Catalan for most written uses triggered a debate over which model should be adopted for standardisation: one concerned with the past or one that took as its reference point the use of spoken Catalan at the time.
The Catalan language reached the end of the 19th century with a wellestablished scripta. The historical subordination of the Catalan language to Spanish or French (or Italian in the town of l’Alguer) contributed to the maintenance of a writing system distinct from the usual forms of the spoken language. Around 1890, Pompeu Fabra and his intellectual circle promoted the task of updating the Catalan corpus based on the most widely spoken dialect, supplemented by elements of the language from before the encroachment of the Spanish, French or Italian languages. The proposed reform was immediately accepted by the majority of the media, though it was above all driven by the most influential local institutions. Resistance to change, based on traditionalism or on dialectalism, ultimately failed. Therefore, Fabra’s teachings ended up generalizing the idea of a flexible and modern “national language” with the arrival of the official status of the Catalan in the 1930s.