Wait, That’s Not Spanish

Spain is a country divided into 17 comunidades autonomas (autonomous communities), which are then divided into provinces. For example, the city of Valencia is located in the Comunidad Valenciana (a.k.a. Comunitat Valenciana en valenciano), specifically in the province of Valencia. Barcelona is a city located in the autonomous community of Catalunya (Cataluña en español), specifically in the province of Barcelona. The autonomous communities sort of function like states in the U.S., but they have even more autonomy (from what I understand).


Now, as for the languages spoken in Spain. Obviously, Spanish is one of them. It’s the common language that unites the whole country. It’s also called Castellano, referring to the region of Spain it originated from, but that name is becoming less popular (especially because it’s called Spanish every other country that speaks the language).

You may or may not have noticed, depending on your knowledge of Spanish, that the names of places in my last post were not in Spanish. In Barcelona (and the entire autonomous community of Catalunya), Catalán is an official language in addition to Spanish. Catalán is very similar to Spanish, but it certainly isn’t the same language. (If you didn’t know that they both meant street, you probably wouldn’t think carrer (Catalán) and calle (Spanish) were the same word.)

Now, Catalunya isn’t the only autonomous community with its own co-official language. In the Comunitat Valenciana, Valenciano is also an official language. In Galicia, it’s Galego (gallego en español). And in Euskadi (Pais Vasco en español and Basque Country in English) it’s Euskada (vasco en español and Basque in English; actually, there are about 7 different names for this language in Spanish and Basque combined. I have no idea why).

So in sum, that should be four different languages in addition to Spanish, right? Wrong. Well, kind of. It depends on who you talk to.

Most linguists and a good amount of other people agree that Catalán and Valenciano are actually the same language. Catalán (what most people call the language as a whole) is also spoken in the Balearic Islands (an autonomous community in the Mediterranean Sea), though its name can vary by island, in addition to a few other places in the northeast corner of the Iberian Peninsula. Sure, the language varies somewhat from place to place, but the differences are more dialectal than anything.

So why the different names for the same language? It’s largely cultural/political. Talk to someone from Catalunya and tell them Catalán is the same as Valenciano and they’re probably not going to like your opinion very much. Brief lesson in Spanish politics: Catalunya (I’m using the Catalán spelling of the name for most of the post mainly because it’s easier to type without the ñ) wants to break away from Spain and become its own country, which is basically illegal under the Spanish constitution (just like how it’s illegal for a state to secede in the U.S.). Catalunyan nationalism is strong and Catalán is very widely used in the whole community, both officially (government) and unofficially (between friends/family/etc.). Most people in Catalunya feel more strongly aligned with their autonomous community than the country of Spain as a whole.

In Valencia, for comparison, Valenciano is not so widely used. Walking down the street, you’re much more likely to hear Spanish being spoken than Valenciano. Official names and street signs may be in Valenciano, but most people will still say them the Spanish way. Valenciano is learned in school like Catalán (and vasco and gallego in Pais Vasco and Galicia, respectively), so most people know how to speak it, but it’s just not used as much in everyday situations.

It’s quite obvious if you spend any amount of time in Barcelona that Catalán is preferred over Spanish. If a sign is going to say something in only one language, it will be Catalán (though many things are in Catalán and Spanish). Everyone speaks Spanish, though, and I had no trouble getting around.

Anyways, that’s the end of my mini lesson on Spanish geography and culture.


Hasta luego


2 thoughts on “Wait, That’s Not Spanish

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