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Catalan orthography encompasses the spelling and punctuation of the Catalan language.
The orthographic norms of Catalan were first defined officially in the First International Congress of the Catalan Language, held in Barcelona October 1906. Subsequently, the Philological Section of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans (IEC, founded in 1911) published the Normes ortogràfiques in 1913 under the direction of Antoni Maria Alcover and Pompeu Fabra. Despite some opposition, the spelling system was adopted immediately and became widespread enough that, in 1932, Valencian writers and intellectuals gathered in Castelló de la Plana to make a formal adoption of the so-called Normes de Castelló, a set of guidelines following Pompeu Fabra's Catalan language norms.
In 1917, Fabra published an Orthographic Dictionary following the orthographic norms of the IEC. In 1931-32 the Diccionari General de la Llengua Catalana (General Dictionary of the Catalan language) appeared. In 1995, a new normative dictionary, the Dictionary of the Catalan Language of the Institute of Catalan Studies (DIEC), supposed a new milestone in the orthographic fixation of the language, in addition to the incorporation of neologisms and modern uses of the language.
The Catalan alphabet consists of the 26 letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet:
The following letter-diacritic combinations are used, but they do not constitute distinct letters in the alphabet: À, É, È, Í, Ï, Ó, Ò, Ú, Ü and Ç (though the Catalan keyboard includes the letter Ç as a separate key). K and W are used only in loanwords. Outside loanwords, the letters Q and Y appear only in the digraphs qu, qü and ny. However, Y was used until the official orthography was established in 1913, when it was replaced with I, except in the digraph ny and loanwords.
|Name (IEC)||Pronunciation||Name (AVL)||Pronunciation|
|B b||be, be alta||/ˈbe/, /ˈbe ˈaltə/||be||/ˈbe/|
|F f||efa||/ˈefə/||efe, ef||/ˈefe/, /ˈef/|
|I i||i, i llatina||/ˈi/, /ˈi ʎəˈtinə/||i, i llatina||/ˈi/, /ˈi ʎaˈtina/|
|L l||ela||/ˈelə/||ele, el||/ˈele/, /ˈel/|
|M m||ema||/ˈemə/||eme, em||/ˈeme/, /ˈem/|
|N n||ena||/ˈenə/||ene, en||/ˈene/, /ˈen/|
|R r||erra||/ˈɛrə/||erre, er||/ˈere/, /ˈeɾ/|
|S s||essa||/ˈesə/||esse, es||/ˈese/, /ˈes/|
|V v||ve, ve baixa||/ˈve/, /ˈbe ˈbaʃə/||ve||/ˈve/|
|W w||ve doble||/ˈve ˈdobːlə/, /ˈbe ˈdobːlə/||ve doble||/ˈve ˈdoble/|
|X x||ics, xeix||/ˈiks/, /ˈʃeʃ/||ics, xeix||/ˈiks/, /ˈʃejʃ/|
|Y y||i grega||/ˈi ˈɡɾeɡə/||i grega||/ˈi ˈɡɾeɡa/|
The names be alta ("high B") and ve baixa ("low V") are used by speakers who do not distinguish the phonemes /b/ and /v/. Speakers that do distinguish them use the simple names be and ve.
Sound to spelling correspondences
Catalan is a pluricentric language; the pronunciation of some of the letters is different in Eastern Catalan (IEC) and Valencian (AVL). Apart from those variations, the pronunciation of most consonants is fairly straightforward and is similar to French, Occitan or Portuguese pronunciation.
- Main letters, letters with diacritics and digraphs
- Other letter combinations
|bm||/bm/ or /mː/|
|bv||/bː/ or /bv/||/bv/|
|ch*||/k/, /x/, /ʃ/|
|cn||/ɡn/ or /nː/, /n/|
|cz||/ɡz/ or /ks/|
|dq(u)||/tk/ or /kː/|
|dv||/db/ or /bː/ or /dv/||/dv/ (or */bv/)|
|gg||/ʒ(ː)/ or /dʒ/, /ɡ(ː)/||/dʒ/, /ɡ(ː)/|
|gm||/ɡm/ or /mː/|
|gn||/ɡn/ or /nː/, /n/|
|igj||/idʒ/ or /iʒ(ː)/||/idʒ/|
|igs / (t)jos||/tʃ/ or /(d)ʒus/||/tʃ/ or /dʒos/|
|ld||/ld/, /l/||/ld/, /lt/|
|lt||/lt/, /l/||/lt/, /(l)t/|
|mb||/mb/, /m/, /m(b)/||/mb/, /mp/, /m(b)/|
|nd||/nd/, /n/||/nd/, /nt/|
|ntm||/mː/||/ntm/ or /mː/|
|nv||/mb/ or /nv/||/nv/|
|pm||/bm/ or /mː/|
|pn||/bn/ or /nː/, /n/|
|rs||/ɾs/, /s/||/ɾs/, /(ɾ)s/|
|sc, sch*||/sk/, /ʃk/, /esk/, /s/,/ʃ/|
|sh||/z/, /ʃ/||/z/, /z/ or /s/, /ʃ/|
|st||/st/, /s(t)/, /(s)t/||/st/|
|tb||/db/ or /bː/|
|tl||/dl/ or /lː/|
|tll (tl)||/ʎː/||/l(ː)/, /ʎ/|
|tm||/dm/ or /mː/, /mː/, /m/||/dm/ or /mː/, /m/, /m/|
|tn||/dn/ or /nː/, /nː/||/dn/ or /nː/, /n(ː)/|
|th||/t/, /th/ or /t/, /θ/|
|xh||/ɡz/||/ɡz/ or /ks/|
Acute and grave accents
Catalan also uses the acute and grave accents to mark stress or vowel quality. An acute on ⟨é ó⟩ indicates that the vowel is stressed and close-mid (/e o/), while grave on ⟨è ò⟩ indicates that the vowel is stressed and open-mid (/ɛ ɔ/). Grave on ⟨à⟩ and acute on ⟨í ú⟩ simply indicates that the vowels are stressed. Thus, the acute is used on close or close-mid vowels, and the grave on open or open-mid vowels. For example:
- també [təmˈbe] ('also')
- interès [intəˈɾɛs] ('interest')
- córrer [ˈkorə] ('to run')
- pròxim [ˈpɾɔksim] ('nearby')
- ànima [ˈanimə] ('soul')
- pastís [pəsˈtis] ('pie')
- pallús [pəˈʎus] ('fool')
Standard rules governing the presence of accents are based on word endings and the position of the stressed syllable. In particular, accents are expected for:
- Oxytones ending in a syllabic vowel, a vowel + -⟨s⟩, or -⟨en⟩/⟨in⟩, examples:
- parlà [pərˈɫa] ('he spoke')
- parlés [pərˈɫes] ('that he spoke' past subjunctive)
- entén [ənˈten] ('he understands')
- This does not occur in words like parleu [pərˈɫɛw] ('you are speaking' plural), or parlem [pəɾˈɫɛm] ('we are speaking').
- Paroxytones with any other ending, including non-syllabic -⟨i⟩, -⟨u⟩, examples:
- parlàveu [pərˈɫaβəw] ('you were speaking' plural)
- parlàvem [pərˈɫaβəm] ('we were speaking')
- This does not occur in words like parla [ˈpaɾɫə] ('he is speaking'), parles [ˈpaɾɫəs] ('you are speaking' singular), or parlen [ˈparɫən] ('they are speaking').
- Any proparoxytones, examples:
- química [ˈkimikə] ('chemistry')
- ciència [siˈɛnsiə] ('science')
Since there is no need to mark the stressed syllable of a monosyllabic word, most of them do not have an accent. Exceptions to this are those with a diacritical accent that differentiates some cases of words that would otherwise be homographic. Example: es [əs] ('it' impersonal) vs és [ˈes] ('is'), te [tə] ('you' clitic) vs té [ˈte] ('s/he has'), mes [ˈmɛs] ('month') vs més [ˈmes] ('more'), dona [ˈdɔnə] ('woman') vs dóna [ˈdonə] ('s/he gives'). In most cases, the word bearing no accent is either unstressed (as in the case of 'es' and 'te'), or the word without the accent is more common, usually a function word.
The different distribution of open e [ɛ] vs closed e [e] between Eastern Catalan and Western Catalan is reflected in some orthographic divergences between standard Catalan and Valencian norms, example: anglès [əŋˈɡɫɛs] (Catalan) vs anglés [aŋˈɡɫes] (Valencian) ('English').
The diaeresis has two different uses: to mark hiatus over ⟨ï, ü⟩, and to mark that ⟨u⟩ is not silent in the groups ⟨gü, qü⟩.
- raïm [rəˈim] ('grape')
- taüt [təˈut] ('coffin')
This diaeresis is not used over a stressed vowel that already should have an accent. Examples: suís [suˈis] ('Swiss' masculine), but suïssa [suˈisə] ('Swiss' feminine), suïs [ˈsuis] ('that you sweat' subjunctive) (without the diaeresis, this last example would be pronounced [ˈsujs], i.e. as only one syllable, like reis [ˈrejs] 'kings').
Certain verb forms of verbs ending in -uir do not receive a diaeresis, although they are pronounced with separate syllables. This concerns the infinitive, gerund, future and conditional forms (for example traduir, traduint, traduiré and traduiria, all with bisyllabic [u.i]). All other forms of such verbs do receive a diaeresis on the ï according to the normal rules (e.g. traduïm, traduïa).
- ungüent [uŋˈɡwen] ('ointment')
- qüestió [kwəstiˈo] ('topic')
The verb argüir represents a rare case of the sequence [ɡu.i], and the rules for [gu] and [ui] clash in this case. The ambiguity is resolved by an additional rule, which states that in cases where diaereses would appear on two consecutive letters, only the second receives one. This thus gives arguïm and arguïa, but argüir, argüint and argüiré as these forms don't receive a diaeresis on the i normally, according to the exception above.
Ce trencada (c-cedilla)
Catalan ce trencada (Ç ç), literally in English 'broken cee', is a modified ⟨c⟩ with a cedilla mark ( ¸ ). It is only used before ⟨a u o⟩ to indicate a "soft c" /s/, much like in Portuguese, Occitan or French (e.g. compare coça [ˈkosə] 'kick', coca [ˈkokə] 'cake' and cosa [ˈkɔzə] 'thing'). In Catalan, ce trencada also appears as last letter of a word when preceded by any vowel (e.g. feliç [fəˈɫis] 'happy'), but then ⟨ç⟩ may be voiced to [z] before vowels and voiced consonants, e.g. feliçment [fəˌɫizˈmen] ('happily') and braç esquerre [ˈbɾaz əsˈkɛrə] ('left arm').
Punt volat (middot)
The so-called punt volat or middot is only used in the group ⟨ŀl⟩ (called ela or el(e) geminada, 'geminate el') to represent a geminated sound /lː/, as ⟨ll⟩ is used to represent the palatal lateral /ʎ/. This usage of the middot sign is a recent invention from the beginning of twentieth century (in medieval and modern Catalan, before Fabra's standardization, this symbol was sometimes used to note certain elisions, especially in poetry). The only (and improbable) case of ambiguity in the whole language that could arise is the pair ceŀla [ˈsɛɫɫə] ('cell') vs cella [ˈsɛʎə] ('eyebrow').
Catalan does not capitalize the days of the week, months, or national adjectives.
- dilluns, setembre, anglès
- "Monday", "September", "English"
The Catalan punctuation rules are similar to English, with some minor differences.
- Guillemets (cometes baixes) « » are frequently used instead of double inverted commas. They are used to mark titles of works, or phrases used as proper names.
- In texts containing dialogue, quoted speech is usually set off with dashes, rather than inverted commas.
- ― Què proposes, doncs?
- ― El que hauriem de fer ―s'atreví a suggerir― és anar a...
- 'What do you propose, then?'
- 'What we should do' she ventured to suggest 'is go to and ...'
- Questions are ended with ?, as in English. Before 1993, questions could be enclosed with ¿...?, as in Spanish, but this is no longer recommended by the IEC.
The distribution of the two rhotics /r/ and /ɾ/ closely parallels that of Spanish. Between vowels, the two contrast but they are otherwise in complementary distribution: in the onset, an alveolar trill, [r], appears unless preceded by a consonant; different dialects vary in regards to rhotics in the coda with Western Catalan generally featuring an alveolar tap, [ɾ], and Central Catalan dialects like those of Barcelona or Girona featuring a weakly trilled [r] unless it precedes a vowel-initial word in the same prosodic unit, in which case [ɾ] appears.
In Eastern Catalan and North Western Catalan, most instances of word-final ⟨r⟩ are silent, but there are plenty of unpredictable exceptions (e.g. in Central Eastern Catalan por [ˈpo] 'fear' but mar [ˈmar] 'sea'). In Central Eastern Catalan monosyllabic words with a pronounced final ⟨r⟩ get a reinforcement final consonant [t] when in absolute final position (e.g. final ⟨r⟩ of cor ('heart') in reina del meu cor [ˈrejnə ðəɫ ˈmew ˈkɔrt] 'queen of my heart' vs el cor es mou [əɫ ˈkɔɾ əs ˈmɔw] 'the heart is moving').
In Valencian, most instances of word-final ⟨r⟩ are pronounced.
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