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Old Catalan

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Title: Old Catalan  
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Subject: Catalan language, Catalan verbs, History of Catalan, Catalan nouns, Phonological history of Catalan
Collection: Catalan Language, Occitano-Romance Languages
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Old Catalan

Old Catalan
Català antic
Region Principality of Catalonia, Kingdom of Valencia, Balearic islands, Alghero
Era evolved into Modern Catalan by the 16th century
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Old Catalan (catala, romanz; Modern Catalan català antic) was the Romance language spoken in territories that spanned roughly the territories of the Principality of Catalonia, the Kingdom of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and the city of Alghero in Sardinia; all of them then part of the Crown of Aragon.


  • Phonology 1
    • Consonants 1.1
      • Laterals 1.1.1
      • Labiodentals 1.1.2
    • Vowels 1.2
  • Orthography 2
  • See also 3
  • References 4


Old Catalan was constantly changing and evolving. However, the form in the 13th and 14th centuries, as attested in the four great chronicles, can be considered standard. The writing system at this time was more phonetic than that used nowadays. In particular, all final consonants were pronounced. The phonological system can be summarised as follows:


Consonants of Old Catalan
Bilabial Labio-
Palatal Velar
Nasal m n
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Affricate voiceless ts
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced v z
Trill r
Tap ɾ
Approximant j w
Lateral l ʎ, jl


It is believed that Old Catalan had two lateral palatal phonemes. The first, /ʎ/, was noted with ll, and has remained unchanged until nowadays. The second, reconstructed as /jl/, came from the Latin groups C'L, G'L, LE, LI; and was noted with yl or il. /jl/ never appeared in initial position. This second phoneme has either merged with /ʎ/ in most dialects, or with /j/ in dialects with iodització.[1]

Around the 12th century, word-initial /l/ became /ʎ/, even though it continued to be spelled as l until the 15th century.[2]


/b/ and /v/ began to merge in some dialects around the 14th century, a process called betacism.[3] Nowadays, the distinction is only kept in Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and southern Tarragona.


Vowels of Old Catalan
 Front  Central  Back 
Close i u
Close-mid e ə o
Open-mid ɔ
Open a

The system features a modification of the original Proto-Romance /e/ and /ɛ/. First, /e/ was centralized to /ǝ/, and then, /ɛ/ was raised to /e/. In modern central Catalan, stressed /ǝ/ has been fronted to /ɛ/, thus inverting the original Proto-Romance distribution, still found in Italian or Portuguese. Balearic varieties still keep stressed /ǝ/.

It is assumed that during the preliterary period all the Catalan dialects featured a weak realization of the pretonic vowels. Around the 13th century, pretonic /a/ and /e/ began to be confused in writing in the Eastern dialaects. In these dialects, the confusion would be spread to all unstressed instances of /a/ and /e/, a process that was almost complete by the 15th century.[4][5]


Current Catalan orthography is mostly based on medieval practise, however, some of the pronunciations and conventions have changed.

  • Accents and tremas were rarely used.
  • c in front of e, i; ç and z were realized as /ts/, instead of modern /s/ or /z/. Modern ts was rarely used.
  • -ch at the end of the word was used for /k/, instead of modern c. This convention was kept until the early 20th century.
E.g. modern amic was written amich ("friend")
  • yl, il, were used for the phoneme /jl/. In the modern language, the sound has come to be pronounced /ʎ/ or /j/ depending of the dialect. Both are written as ll.
E.g. modern mirall was written mirail or mirayl ("mirror"). Cf. Latin miraculus.
  • Initial /ʎ-/ (appeared in the 12th century from /l-/) was noted as l- until the 15th century to keep the Latin etymology.[2] In the modern language, it is noted as ll-.
E.g. modern llibre was written libre ("book"). Cf. Latin liber.
  • h was rarely used. Etymological Latin silent /h/ was usually not represented.
E.g. modern haver was written aver ("to have"). Cf. Latin habere.
  • h was sometimes used to mark hiatus.
E.g. modern veí was written vehi ("neighbor")
  • Final unvoiced obstruents were always written as such. In the modern language, the characters for their voiced counterparts may be used to reflect Latin etymology.
E.g. modern fred was written fret ("cold"). Cf. Latin frigidus.

See also


  1. ^ Rasico, Phillip (1982). Estudis sobre la fonologia del català preliterari. Curial/Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat. p. 194. 
  2. ^ a b Moll 1993, p. 93.
  3. ^ Recasens 1991, p. 196.
  4. ^ Rasico, Phillip D. Entorn d'una llei fonètica catalana observada fa temps. p. 9. 
  5. ^ Coromines, Joan. "Vides de Sants" rosselloneses (in Catalan). p. 295. A l'Edat Mitjana, les abundoses confusions ortogràfiques dels manuscrits demostren que el fet ja estava consumat des d'una data primerenca, pel que fa a la posicio pretònica; en final absoluta sovintegen menys les confusions de a amb e si bé no constitueixen una raresa; en síl·laba posttònica interna, i en la final quan segueix consonant, no es troben confusions abans del segle XV si no es en textos sospitosos i molt excepcionalment. 
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