I recently went to Barcelona and found that the people there speak Catalan, not Spanish. Although some words seem to be common in both Spanish and Catalan, the accents appeared to be different.

What are the major differences between Spanish and Catalan?

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    They speak Spanish. They just opt not to. – user0721090601 Aug 11 '14 at 15:43
  • Everyone keeps saying that it's closer to French than Spanish. Great, but when I was in Barcelona I noticed that the word blue is blau in catalan as opposed to azul in Spanish. Blau is also how you say blue in German. I found this very interesting especially considering that no one mentioned such a relationship in this thread. – user9241 Jun 19 '15 at 19:40
  • It is indeed interesting. All those languages come from Latin. I think that there are two main derived languages. On one hand those like German and English and on the other Spanish, French, Italian, Catalonian, etc... What you mention is interesting from the point languages evolved, but I don't think that it really provides an answer to this question. – Diego Jun 19 '15 at 20:22
  • Indeed, blau or similar is almost the same in almost all languages in Europe: See it in the Online Etymology Dictionary – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Jun 20 '15 at 9:36
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    A lot of persons in Catalonia will be very angry if some one talks about Catalan like a "diferencia regional" of the Spanish language. Both languages are "brother" languages with Latin as main parent. Differences are strong, even vowels (5 in Spanish, 8 in Catalan) and consonants differ. – user11222 Nov 7 '15 at 20:54

Catalan is definitely a whole separate language, as in not a dialect of Spanish. It is significantly different. It sounds a bit of mix of Spanish, French and Italian, and in fact it's closer to the latter two than to Spanish.

The Wikipedia article for Catalan has a comparison of these languages.

Lexical comparison among Romance languages

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I won't go into details about the linguisitcs (experts in that domain will do a far better job), but just consider my own experience.

I'm French, and I've been living in Barcelona for 10 years. When I arrived here, I knew nothing about Catalan, but I had close to no problem understanding it when written, thanks to the knowledge of both languages (native in Fench and intermediate in Spanish). Some other latin friends of mine (Italian or Portuguese speakers) share more or less the same experience. It's harder for non-latin language speakers.

On the other hand, understanding Catalan when spoken is a totally different thing, and knowing back then French and Spanish was not of much help.

I've not been to any Catalan class, but after 10 years, you get pretty much used to it. I understand it without any issue, and I kind of manage to speak it (but I never found myself in a situation where it was a necessity).

In a nutshell, Catalan and Spanish are totally different languages, specially orally. However, they are close enough for a Spanish/French/Italian/Portuguese speaker to understand without much trouble.

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They are different languages.

Since both come from Latin, they are Romance languages that share words and forms.

To expand on this, there is a very representative table of lexical similarity among Indo-European languages in Wikipedia:

enter image description here

As you can see, Catalan is slightly closer to Italian than to Spanish and Portuguese.

Moreover, I find this article from Velabas quite interesting.

They’re both romance languages. They share vocabularies, grammatical structures, some expressions, etc. If you’re unfamiliar with language families, then read this Wikipedia article about it. (...) All Romance Language share similarities.

It also mentions its principal phonetic differences:

  1. Written Spanish is wholly phonetic while Catalan is not. English, for example is not phonetic. Why? Bekuz.
  2. Catalan shares the ‘L’ of Portuguese.
  3. Final consonants are often silent.
  4. In Spanish, there is no ‘z’ sound, but in Catalan there is.
  5. Catalan uses consonant clusters where Spanish does not.
  6. Catalan employs linkage.
  7. Catalan has stress-marked vowels that change.

And finally, related to the vocabulary, it states that:

Most words that exist in one romance language are recognizable in another. There are always exceptions, and as we’ve seen, languages within a single family tend to be more similar to one or two rather than to all the others equally.

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    Spanish actually has the [z] sound, but only as an allophone (normally when <s> comes in front of a voiced consonant as in mismo) rather than as a phoneme. I'm not sure what linkage is in this context, though. Linkage is more of a interlanguage characteristic (describing relations between languages) rather than something to describe a single language. – user0721090601 Jul 23 '15 at 0:19
  • @guifa note that the [z] sound is this one in "zebra": translate.google.com/#ca/en/zebra (listen to the pronunciation). It is not present in Spanish. Find the equivalents in other languages in ca.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z. – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Jul 23 '15 at 18:59
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    Indeed [z] (but not /z/) does exist in Spanish, through sonorización of the /s/ in certain positions: sites.google.com/a/geneseo.edu/spanish-linguistics/… . It's not something that happens necessarily in every pronunciation (see unioviedo.es/reunido/index.php/RFA/article/download/9246/9097 for one dialect). It only exists as an allophone, so it's not something people do consciously. To test if you do it, you can try esposo and esbozo (non aspirating accent). The /b/ can cause the /s/ to become voiced as an anticipatory thing, and that's [z] – user0721090601 Jul 23 '15 at 19:27
  • @guifa but the Catalan "z" is different. I don't know its technical name but it is kind of a "tz". – fedorqui 'SO stop harming' Jul 24 '15 at 7:14
  • If it's pronounced /ts/ then the best description would probably be preservation of the /ts/ cluster for <z> (incidentally, a pronunciation that Castilian had for a while for <ze> and <zi>. I know you were basing it on the other source — it's just the way they worded things it's confusing. – user0721090601 Jul 24 '15 at 11:55

I'm Spanish. For us Spaniards, Catalan is understandable. The languages are different but pretty close. With a little imagination you can guess the meaning of most words. If you happen to know some French, that will definitely help too.

Problems may arise when it comes to understand native speakers, speaking full-speed, because the accent is very different. But if they speak slowly, you can easily understand them.

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Catalan, to me, is like an Italianized form of French. It shares many similarities with Spanish, likely due to its development on the Iberian Peninsula, but it is more similar to French. It is most similar to a language called "Occitan." It is not to difficult to pick up Catalan if you understand Spanish, and it is a good intermediate if you know Spanish and plan on learning French one day but find it too different.

If you study Old Spanish, you will find even more similarity between Catalan and Spanish, in terms of both vocabulary and pronunciation. For example, "son" in Cataln is "fill" and "hijo" in modern Spanish, but "fijo" in Old Spanish. "To leave" in Catalan is "deixar (pronounced "day-shar)" and "dejar (pronounced de-char)" in Modern Spanish, but "dexar (pronounced de-shar)" in Old Spanish.

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  • Cool insight. +1 – Sam Kauffman Jun 21 '15 at 3:29
  • Catalan diverged from Occitan during the first half of the second millenium. A dialect it is currently used in Vall d'Aran, an area of Catalonia close to France. ethnologue.com/language/oci. Both share a lot of similarities and are mutually intelligible without too much effort. – AlexBcn Jul 24 '15 at 8:16

I would say Catalan is as different from Spanish as Galician is, but not as much as Basque, a language completely incomprehensible to Romance-language speakers due to having different roots. But I can understand why you may have been confused initially.

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  • Where have you read that the Basque language has Celtic origins? I've seen some studies about the Basques (as an ethnicity) being linked to Irish and Welsh, but never any about the language itself. – Alexis Pigeon Jul 1 '13 at 18:14
  • @AlexisPigeon True, you are right. It's actually inconclusive as to the true origins of their language, but there is enough evidence to point out that it is a non-Indo-European language. I guess I got swayed by the people when I was Spain: they always made references to themselves and their language as being of Celtic origins. – Five Points Jul 2 '13 at 3:46

Catalan is probably more closely related to French than Spanish, also it sounds more a mix between Spanish and Portuguese. Grammatically, the structure is almost identical; even someone who only speaks Spanish will be able to understand Catalan if it is spoken slowly and clearly.

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