Old Catalan

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Old Catalan
catalanesch, valencianesch, chrestianesch, lemosin, romançar, romans, romana, esplanar, pla, vulgar, sermo plebeius
Region Principality of Catalonia, Kingdom of Valencia, Balearic islands, Alghero
Era evolved into Modern Catalan by the 16th century[citation needed]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Old Catalan was the Romance variety 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.

Old Catalan, classified as an Occitano Romance variety, is grouped with Old Occitan or Provençal.



Consonants of Old Catalan[citation needed]
Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar
plain labialised
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)
Stop voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ ɡʷ
Affricate voiceless ts
voiced dz
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ
voiced v z (ʒ)
Approximant central j w
lateral l ʎ, jl
Rhotic r ~ ɾ


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


/v/ began to merge into /b/ 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.[citation needed]


Vowels of Old Catalan[citation needed]
 Front  Central  Back 
Close i   ĩ u   ũ
Close-mid e   ə o   õ
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a   ã

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 partially inverting the original Proto-Romance distribution still found in Italian and 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 dialects. 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]

Final post-tonic /e, o/ were devoiced[citation needed] and were lost during the formation of Catalan. According to some historic studies,[6] final nasals were velarised and assimilated before being lost in Modern Catalan (e.g. [ˈpãŋ][ˈpã][ˈpa]).


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

  • Accents (such as ⟨´⟩ and ⟨`⟩) and the diaeresis ⟨¨⟩ were used less frequently.
  • The tilde ⟨~⟩ was sometimes used to replace ⟨m⟩ and ⟨n⟩[how?].
  • The interpunct ⟨·⟩ was often used to indicate elision and hyphenation.[examples needed]
  • ⟨c⟩ in front of ⟨e⟩, ⟨i⟩; ⟨ç⟩ and final ⟨z⟩ (also spelled ⟨ç⟩, and ⟨s⟩ after merging with /s/) represented /ts/ instead of modern /s/: Old Catalan /ˈtsɛl/, modern cel /ˈsɛl/
  • ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨rh⟩ and ⟨th⟩ represented /k/, /f/, /r/ and /t/. Mediaeval scribes often confused them with ⟨c⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨r⟩ and ⟨t⟩
  • ⟨ch⟩ represented /tʃ/, especially in the Valencian variant
  • ⟨ch⟩ at the end of the word was used for /k/ instead of modern ⟨c⟩. This convention was kept until the early 20th century 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 on the dialect. Both are now written as ⟨ll⟩: e.g. modern mirall was written mirail or mirayl ("mirror"). Cf. Latin miraculus.
  • Initial /ʎ/ (appeared in the 12th century from initial /l/) was written as ⟨l⟩- until the 15th century to maintain connections with Latin etyma.[2] In the modern language, it is written as ⟨ll⟩: e.g. modern llibre was written libre ("book"). Cf. Latin liber.
  • ⟨h⟩ was frequently omitted: modern haver was written aver ("to have"). Cf. Latin habere.
  • ⟨h⟩ was sometimes used to mark hiatus: e.g. modern veí was written vehi ("neighbour")
  • Final unvoiced obstruents were often written as such. In the modern language, the characters for their voiced counterparts may be used to reflect Latin etymology: modern fred was written fret ("cold"). Cf. Latin frigidus.

See also


  1. Rasico, Philip (1982). Estudis sobre la fonologia del català preliterari. Curial/Publicacions de l’Abadia de Montserrat. p. 194.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 Moll 1993, p. 93.
  3. Recasens 1991, p. 196.
  4. Rasico, Philip D. Entorn d'una llei fonètica catalana observada fa temps. p. 9.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  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 posició 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.CS1 maint: unrecognized language (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Duarte & Alsina (1984:206–207)


  • Duarte i Montserrat, Carles; Alsina i Keith, Àlex (1984), Gramàtica històrica del català, Curial, ISBN 8472562344<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>