Occitan is an official language of Catalonia, where a subdialect of Gascon known as Aranese is spoken in the Val d'Aran. Since September 2010, the Parliament of Catalonia has considered Aranese Occitan to be the officially preferred language for use in the Val d'Aran.
Across history, the terms Limousin (Lemosin), Languedocien (Lengadocian), Gascon, and later Provençal (Provençal, Provençau or Prouvençau) have been used as synonyms for the whole of Occitan; nowadays, "Provençal" is understood mainly as the Occitan dialect spoken in Provence, in southeast France.
Unlike other Romance languages such as French or Spanish, there is no single written standard language called "Occitan", and Occitan has no official status in France, home to most of Occitania. Instead, there are competing norms for writing Occitan, some of which attempt to be pan-dialectal, whereas others are based on particular dialects. These efforts are hindered by the rapidly declining use of Occitan as a spoken language in much of southern France, as well as by the significant differences in phonology and vocabulary among different Occitan dialects.
In particular, the northern and easternmost dialects have more morphological and phonetic features in common with the Gallo-Italic and Oïl languages (e.g. nasal vowels; loss of final consonants; initial cha/ja- instead of ca/ga-; uvular ⟨r⟩; the front-rounded sound /ø/ instead of a diphthong, /w/ instead of /l/ before a consonant), whereas the southernmost dialects have more features in common with the Ibero-Romance languages (e.g. betacism; voiced fricatives between vowels in place of voiced stops; -ch- in place of -it-), and Gascon has a number of unusual features not seen in other dialects (e.g. /h/ in place of /f/; loss of /n/ between vowels; intervocalic -r- and final -t/ch in place of medieval -ll-). There are also significant lexical differences, where some dialects have words cognate with French, and others have Catalan and Spanish cognates (maison/casa "house", testa/cap "head", petit/pichon "small", achaptar/crompar "to buy", entendre/ausir "to hear", se taire/se calar "to be quiet", tombar/caire "to fall", p(l)us/mai "more", totjorn/sempre "always", etc.). Nonetheless, there is a significant amount of mutual intelligibility.
Main cities of Occitania, written in the Occitan language
The name Occitan comes from lenga d'òc ("language of òc"), òc being the Occitan word for yes. While the term would have been in use orally for some time after the decline of Latin, as far as historical records show, the Italian medieval poet Dante was the first to have recorded the term lingua d'oc in writing. In his De vulgari eloquentia, he wrote in Latin, "nam alii oc, alii si, alii vero dicunt oil" ("for some say òc, others sì, yet others say oïl"), thereby highlighting three major Romance literary languages that were well known in Italy, based on each language's word for "yes", the òc language (Occitan), the oïl language (French), and the sì language (Sicilian and Italian). This was not, of course, the only defining characteristic of each group.
The word òc came from Vulgar Latinhoc ("this"), while oïl originated from Latin hoc illud ("this [is] it"). Old Catalan, and now the Catalan of Northern Catalonia also have hoc (òc). Other Romance languages derive their word for "yes" from the Latin sic, "thus [it is], [it was done], etc.", such as Spanish sí, Eastern Lombardsé, Sicilian and Italian sì, or Portuguese sim. In Modern Catalan, as in modern Spanish, sí is usually used as a response, although the language retains the word oi, akin to òc, which is sometimes used at the end of yes–no questions, and also in higher register as a positive response. French uses si to answer "yes" in response to questions that are asked in the negative sense: e.g., "Vous n'avez pas de frères?""Si, j'en ai sept." ("You have no brothers?" "But yes, I have seven.").
The name "Occitan" was attested around 1300 as occitanus, a crossing of oc and aquitanus (Aquitanian).
Other names for Occitan
For many centuries, the Occitan dialects (together with Catalan) were referred to as Limousin or Provençal, after the names of two regions lying within the modern Occitan-speaking area. After Frédéric Mistral's Félibrige movement in the 19th century, Provençal achieved the greatest literary recognition and so became the most popular term for Occitan.
La parladura Francesca val mais et [es] plus avinenz a far romanz e pasturellas; mas cella de Lemozin val mais per far vers et cansons et serventés; et per totas las terras de nostre lengage son de major autoritat li cantar de la lenga Lemosina que de negun'autra parladura, per qu'ieu vos en parlarai primeramen.
The French language is worthier and better suited for romances and pastourelles; but that (language) from Limousin is of greater value for writing poems and cançons and sirventés; and across the whole of the lands where our tongue is spoken, the literature in the Limousin language has more authority than any other dialect, wherefore I shall use this name in priority.
As for the word Provençal, it should not be taken as strictly meaning the language of Provence, but of Occitania as a whole, for "in the eleventh, the twelfth, and sometimes also the thirteenth centuries, one would understand under the name of Provence the whole territory of the old Provincia romana Gallia Narbonensis and even Aquitaine". The term first came into fashion in Italy.
Currently, linguists use the terms "Provençal" and "Limousin" strictly to refer to specific varieties within Occitania, keeping the name "Occitan" for the language as a whole. Many non-specialists, however, continue to refer to the language as Provençal, causing some confusion.
One of the oldest written fragments of the language found dates back to 960, in an official text that was mixed with Latin:
De ista hora in antea non DECEBRÀ Ermengaus filius Eldiarda Froterio episcopo filio Girberga NE Raimundo filio Bernardo vicecomite de castello de Cornone... NO·L LI TOLRÀ NO·L LI DEVEDARÀ NI NO L'EN DECEBRÀ... nec societatem non AURÀ, si per castellum recuperare NON O FA, et si recuperare potuerit in potestate Froterio et Raimundo LO TORNARÀ, per ipsas horas quæ Froterius et Raimundus L'EN COMONRÀ.
In 1903 the four Gospels Lis Evangèli i.e. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were translated into the form of Provençal spoken in Cannes and Grasse. This was given the official Roman Catholic Imprimatur by A. Estellon, vicar general.
The literary renaissance of the late 19th century (which included a Nobel Prize for Frédéric Mistral) was attenuated by World War I, when Occitan speakers spent extended periods of time alongside French-speaking comrades.
Linguistic evolution in southwest Europe from 1000–2000 C.E.
Because the geographical territory in which Occitan is spoken is surrounded by regions in which other Romance languages are used, external influences could have influenced its origin and development. Many factors favoured its development as a language of its own.
Ancient and long-term Roman influence: Julius Caesar once said that the people of Aquitaine could teach the Romans themselves to speak Latin more correctly. According to Müller, "France's linguistic separation began with Roman influence"
Little germanization: "The Frankish lexicon and its phonetic influence often end above the oc/oïl line"
Occitan in the Iberian Peninsula
Catalan in Spain's northern and central Merranean coastal regions and the Balearic Islands is closely related to Occitan, sharing many linguistic features and a common origin (see Occitano-Romance languages). The language was one of the first to gain prestige as a medium for literature among Romance languages in the Middle Ages. Indeed, in the 12th and 13th centuries, Catalan troubadours such as Guerau de Cabrera, Guilhem de Bergadan, Guilhem de Cabestany, Huguet de Mataplana, Raimon Vidal de Besalú, Cerverí de Girona, Formit de Perpinhan, and Jofre de Foixà wrote in Occitan.
At the end of the 11th century, the Franks, as they were called at the time, started to penetrate the Iberian Peninsula through the Ways of St. James via Somport and Roncesvalles, settling on various spots of the Kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon enticed by the privileges granted them by the Navarrese kings. They established themselves in ethnic boroughs where Occitan was used for everyday life, e.g. Pamplona, Sangüesa, Estella-Lizarra, etc. The language in turn became the status language chosen by the Navarrese kings, nobility, and upper classes for official and trade purposes in the period stretching from the early 13th century to late 14th century. These boroughs in Navarre may have been close-knit communities with little mingling, in a context where the natural milieu was predominantly Basque-speaking. The variant chosen for written administrative records was a koiné based on the Languedocien dialect from Toulouse with fairly archaic linguistic features.
Evidence of a written account in Occitan from Pamplona revolving around the burning of borough San Nicolas from 1258 survives today, while the History of the War of Navarre by Guilhem Anelier (1276) albeit written in Pamplona shows a linguistic variant from Toulouse.
Things turned out slightly otherwise in Aragon, where the sociolinguistic situation was different, with a clearer Basque-Romance bilingual situation (cf. Basques from the Val d'Aran cited c. 1000), but a receding Basque language (Basque banned in the marketplace of Huesca, 1349). While the language was chosen as a medium of prestige in records and official statements along with Latin in the early 13th century, Occitan faced competition from the rising local Romance vernacular, the Navarro-Aragonese, both orally and in writing, especially after Aragon's territorial conquests south to Zaragoza, Huesca and Tudela between 1118 and 1134. It resulted that a second Occitan immigration of this period was assimilated by the similar Navarro-Aragonese language, which at the same time was fostered and chosen by the kings of Aragon. The language fell into decay in the 14th century across the whole southern Pyrenean area and became largely absorbed into Navarro-Aragonese first and Castilian later in the 15th century, after their exclusive boroughs broke up (1423, Pamplona's boroughs unified).
Gascon-speaking communities were called in for trading purposes by Navarrese kings in the early 12th century to the coastal fringe extending from San Sebastian to the Bidasoa River, where they settled down. The language variant used was different from the ones used in Navarre, i.e. a Béarnese dialect of Gascon, with Gascon being in use far longer than in Navarre and Aragon until the 19th century, thanks mainly to the close ties held by Donostia and Pasaia with Bayonne.
Usage in France
"Speak French, Be Clean" written across the wall of a Southern French school
This bilingual street sign in Toulouse, like many such signs found in historical parts of the city, is maintained primarily for its antique charm; it is typical of what little remains of the lenga d'òc in southern French cities.
Though it was still an everyday language for most of the rural population of southern France well into the 20th century, it is now spoken by about 100,000 people in France according to 2012 estimates.
According to the 1999 census, there were 610,000 native speakers (almost all of whom are also native French speakers) and perhaps another million persons with some exposure to the language. Following the pattern of language shift, most of this remainder is to be found among the eldest populations. Occitan activists (called Occitanists) have attempted, in particular with the advent of Occitan-language preschools (the Calandretas), to reintroduce the language to the young.
Nonetheless, the number of proficient speakers of Occitan is dropping precipitously. A tourist in the cities in southern France is unlikely to hear a single Occitan word spoken on the street (or, for that matter, in a home), and is likely to only find the occasional vestige, such as street signs (and, of those, most will have French equivalents more prominently displayed), to remind them of the traditional language of the area.
Occitans, as a result of more than 200 years of conditioned suppression and humiliation (see Vergonha), seldom speak their own language in the presence of foreigners, whether they are from abroad or from outside Occitania (in this case, often merely and abusively referred to as Parisiens or Nordistes, which means northerners). Occitan is still spoken by many elderly people in rural areas, but they generally switch to French when dealing with outsiders.
Occitan's decline is somewhat less pronounced in Béarn because of the province's history (a late addition to the Kingdom of France), though even there the language is little spoken outside the homes of the rural elderly. The village of Artix is notable for having elected to post street signs in the local language.
Midi-Pyrénées – including one of France's largest cities, Toulouse. There are a few street signs in Toulouse in Occitan, and since late 2009 the Toulouse Metro announcements are bilingual French-Occitan, but otherwise the language is almost never heard spoken on the street.
In Monaco, Occitan, imported by immigrants coexisted in the 19th and 20th centuries with the Monégasque dialect of Ligurian. French is the dominant language.
Poitou-Charentes – Use of Occitan has declined here in the few parts it used to be spoken, replaced by French. Only Charente Limousine, the eastern part of the region, has resisted. The natural and historical languages of most of the region are the langues d'oïlPoitevin and Saintongeais.
Limousin – A rural region (about 710,000 inhabitants) where Limousin is still spoken among the oldest residents.
Auvergne – The language's use has declined in some urban areas. The department of Allier is divided between a southern, Occitan-speaking area and a northern, French-speaking area.
Occitan Valleys (Piedmont) – Italian region where Occitan is spoken only in the southern and central Alpine valleys.
Val d'Aran – part of Catalonia that speaks a mountain dialect of Gascon.
Number of speakers
The area where Occitan was historically dominant has approximately 16 million inhabitants. Recent research has shown it may be spoken as a first language by approximately 789,000 people in France, Italy, Spain and Monaco. In Monaco, Occitan coexists with MonégasqueLigurian, which is the other native language. Some researchers state that up to seven million people in France understand the language, whereas twelve to fourteen million fully spoke it in 1921. In 1860, Occitan speakers represented more than 39% of the whole French population (52% for francophones proper); they were still 26% to 36% in the 1920s and fewer than 7% in 1993.
Supradialectal classification of Occitan according to Bec
Supradialectal classification of Occitan according to Sumien
Occitan is fundamentally defined by its dialects, rather than being a unitary language. That point is very conflictual in Southern France, as many people do not recognize Occitan as a real language and think that the next defined "dialects" are languages. Like other languages that fundamentally exist at a spoken, rather than written, level (e.g. the Rhaeto-Romance languages, Franco-Provençal, Astur-Leonese, and Aragonese), every settlement technically has its own dialect, with the whole of Occitania forming a classic dialect continuum that changes gradually along any path from one side to the other. Nonetheless, specialists commonly divide Occitan into six main dialects:
Vivaro-Alpine (vivaroaupenc), also known as "Alpine" or "Alpine Provençal", and sometimes considered a subdialect of Provençal
Gascon is the most divergent, and descriptions of the main features of Occitan often consider Gascon separately. Max Wheeler notes that "probably only its copresence within the French cultural sphere has kept [Gascon] from being regarded as a separate language", and compares it to Franco-Provençal, which is considered a separate language from Occitan but is "probably not more divergent from Occitan overall than Gascon is".
There is no general agreement about larger groupings of these dialects.
Max Wheeler divides the dialects into two groups:
Southwestern (Gascon and Languedocien), more conservative
Northeastern (Limousin, Auvergnat, Provençal and Vivaro-Alpine), more innovative
There are two main linguistic norms currently used for Occitan, one (known as "classical"), which is based on that of Medieval Occitan, and one (sometimes known as "Mistralian", due to its use by Frédéric Mistral), which is based on modern French orthography. Sometimes, there is conflict between users of each system.
The classical norm (or less exactly classical orthography) has the advantage of maintaining a link with earlier stages of the language, and reflects the fact that Occitan is not a variety of French. It is used in all Occitan dialects. It also allows speakers of one dialect of Occitan to write intelligibly for speakers of other dialects (e.g. the Occitan for day is written jorn in the classical norm, but could be jour, joun, journ, or even yourn, depending on the writer's origin, in Mistralian orthography). The Occitan classical orthography and the Catalan orthography are quite similar: They show the very close ties of both languages. The digraphs lh and nh, used in the classical orthography, were adopted by the orthography of Portuguese, presumably by Gerald of Braga, a monk from Moissac, who became bishop of Braga in Portugal in 1047, playing a major role in modernizing written Portuguese using classical Occitan norms.
The Mistralian norm (or less exactly Mistralian orthography) has the advantage of being similar to that of French, in which most Occitan speakers are literate. Now, it is used mostly in the Provençal/Niçard dialect, besides the classical norm. It has also been used by a number of eminent writers, particularly in Provençal. However, it is somewhat impractical, because it is based mainly on the Provençal dialect and also uses many digraphs for simple sounds, the most notable one being ou for the [u] sound, as it is in French, written as o under the classical orthography.
There are also two other norms but they have a lesser audience. The Escòla dau Pò norm (or Escolo dóu Po norm) is a simplified version of the Mistralian norm and is used only in the Occitan Valleys (Italy), besides the classical norm. The Bonnaudian norm (or écriture auvergnate unifiée, EAU) was created by Pierre Bonnaud and is used only in the Auvergnat dialect, besides the classical norm.
Provençal Totei lei personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e li cau (/fau/) agir entre elei amb un esperit de frairesa.
Provençal Tóuti li persouno naisson liéuro e egalo en dignita e en dre. Soun doutado de rasoun e de counsciènci e li fau agi entre éli em' un esperit de freiresso.
Niçard Provençal Toti li personas naisson liuri e egali en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadi de rason e de consciéncia e li cau agir entre eli emb un esperit de frairesa.
Niçard Provençal Touti li persouna naisson liéuri e egali en dignità e en drech. Soun doutadi de rasoun e de counsciència e li cau agì entre eli em' un esperit de frairessa.
Auvergnat Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en dreit. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chau (/fau/) agir entre elas amb un esperit de frairesa.
Auvergnat Ta la proussouna neisson lieura moé parira pà dïnessà mai dret. Son charjada de razou moé de cousiensà mai lhu fau arjî entremeî lha bei n'eime de freiressà. (Touta la persouna naisson lieura e egala en dïnetàt e en dreit. Soun doutada de razou e de cousiensà e lour chau ajî entre ela am en esprî de freiressà.)
Vivaro-Alpine Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotaas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chal agir entre elas amb un esperit de fraternitat.
Vivaro-Alpine Toutes les persounes naisoun liures e egales en dignità e en drech. Soun douta de razoun e de counsiensio e lour chal agir entre eels amb (/bou) un esperit de freireso.
Gascon Totas las personas que naishen liuras e egaus en dignitat e en dreit. Que son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e que'us cau agir enter eras dab un esperit de hrairessa.
Gascon (Febusian writing) Toutes las persounes que nachen libres e egaus en dinnitat e en dreyt. Que soun doutades de rasoû e de counscienci e qu'ous cau ayi entre eres dap û esperit de hrayresse.
Limousin Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor chau (/fau/) agir entre elas emb un esperit de frairesa.
Languedocien Totas las personas naisson liuras e egalas en dignitat e en drech. Son dotadas de rason e de consciéncia e lor cal agir entre elas amb un esperit de frairesa.
French Tous les êtres humains naissent libres et égaux en dignité et en droits. Ils sont doués de raison et de conscience et doivent agir les uns envers les autres dans un esprit de fraternité.
Franco-Provençal Tôs los étres homans nêssont libros et ègals en dignitât et en drêts. Ils ant rêson et conscience et dêvont fâre los uns envèrs los ôtros dedens un èsprit de fraternitât.
Catalan Totes les persones neixen/naixen lliures i iguals en dignitat i en drets. Són dotades de raó i de consciència, i han de comportar-se fraternalment les unes amb les altres.
Spanish Todos los seres humanos nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y, dotados como están de razón y conciencia, deben comportarse fraternalmente los unos con los otros.
Portuguese Todos os seres humanos nascem livres e iguais em dignidade e direitos. Eles são dotados de razão e consciência, e devem comportar-se fraternalmente uns com os outros.
Italian Tutti gli esseri umani nascono liberi ed uguali in dignità e in diritti. Sono dotati di ragione e di coscienza e devono comportarsi fraternamente l'uno con l'altro.
English All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.
Note that Catalan version was translated from the Spanish, while the Occitan versions were translated from the French. The second part of the Catalan version may also be rendered as "Són dotades de raó i de consciència, i els cal actuar entre si amb un esperit de fraternitat", showing the similarities between Occitan and Catalan.
Debates concerning linguistic classification and orthography
The majority of scholars think that Occitan constitutes a single language. Some authors, constituting a minority, reject this opinion and even the name Occitan, thinking that there is a family of distinct lengas d'òc rather than dialects of a single language.
Many Occitan linguists and writers, particularly those involved with the pan-Occitan movement centred on the Institut d'Estudis Occitans, disagree with the view that Occitan is a family of languages and think that Limousin, Auvergnat, Languedocien, Gascon, Provençal and Vivaro-Alpine are dialects of a single language. Although there are indeed noticeable differences between these varieties, there is a very high degree of mutual intelligibility between them; they also share a common literary history, and in academic and literary circles, have been identified as a collective linguistic entity—the lenga d'òc—for centuries.
Some Provençal authors continue to support the view that Provençal is a separate language. Nevertheless, the vast majority of Provençal authors and associations think that Provençal is a part of Occitan.
This debate about the status of Provençal should not be confused with the debate concerning the spelling of Provençal.
The classical orthography is phonemic and diasystemic, and thus more pan-Occitan. It can be used for (and adapted to) all Occitan dialects and regions, including Provençal. Its supporters think that Provençal is a part of Occitan.
The Mistralian orthography of Provençal is more or less phonemic but not diasystemic and is closer to the French spelling and therefore more specific to Provençal; its users are divided between the ones who think that Provençal is a part of Occitan and the ones who think that Provençal is a separate language.
For example, the classical system writes Polonha, whereas the Mistralian spelling system has Poulougno, for [puˈluɲo], 'Poland'.
The question of Gascon is similar. Gascon presents a number of significant differences from the rest of the language; but, despite these differences, Gascon and other Occitan dialects have very important common lexical and grammatical features, so authors such as Pierre Bec argue that they could never be considered as different as, for example, Spanish and Italian. In addition, Gascon's being included in Occitan despite its particular differences can be justified because there is a common elaboration (Ausbau) process between Gascon and the rest of Occitan. The vast majority of the Gascon cultural movement considers itself as a part of the Occitan cultural movement. And the official status of Val d'Aran (Catalonia, Spain), adopted in 1990, says that Aranese is a part of Gascon and Occitan. A grammar of Aranese by Aitor Carrera, published in 2007 in Lleida, presents the same view.
The exclusion of Catalan from the Occitan sphere, even though Catalan is closely related, is justified because there has been a consciousness of its being different from Occitan since the later Middle Ages and because the elaboration (Ausbau) processes of Catalan and Occitan (including Gascon) have been quite distinct since the 20th century. Nevertheless, other scholars point out that the process that led to the affirmation of Catalan as a distinct language from Occitan started during the period when the pressure to include Catalan-speaking areas in a mainstream Spanish culture was at its greatest.
The answer to the question of whether Gascon or Catalan should be considered dialects of Occitan or separate languages has long been a matter of opinion or convention, rather than based on scientific ground. However, two recent studies support Gascon's being considered a distinct language. For the very first time, a quantifiable, statistics-based approach was applied by Stephan Koppelberg in attempt to solve this issue. Based on the results he obtained, he concludes that Catalan, Occitan, and Gascon should all be considered three distinct languages. More recently, Y. Greub and J.P. Chambon (Sorbonne University, Paris) demonstrated that the formation of Proto-Gascon was already complete at the eve of the 7th century, whereas Proto-Occitan was not yet formed at that time. These results induced linguists to do away with the conventional classification of Gascon, favoring the "distinct language" alternative. Both studies supported the early intuition of late Kurt Baldinger, a specialist of both medieval Occitan and medieval Gascon, who recommended that Occitan and Gascon be classified as separate languages.
Jules Ronjat has sought to characterize Occitan by 19 principal criteria, as generalized as possible. Of those, 11 are phonetic, five morphologic, one syntactic, and two lexical. Close rounded vowels are rare or absent in Occitan. This characteristic often carries through to an Occitan speaker's French, leading to a distinctive méridional accent. Unlike French, it is a pro-drop language, allowing the omission of the subject (canti: I sing; cantas you sing). Among these 19 discriminating criteria, 7 are different from Spanish, 8 from Italian, 12 from Franco-Provençal, and 16 from French.
Features of Occitan
Most features of Occitan are shared with either French or Catalan, or both.
Features of Occitan as a whole
Examples of pan-Occitan features shared with French, but not Catalan:
Latin ū [uː] (Vulgar Latin /u/) changed to /y/, as in French (Lat. dv̄rvm > Oc. dur).
Vulgar Latin /o/ changed to /u/, first in unstressed syllables, as in Catalan (Lat. romānvs > Oc. roman [ruˈma]), then in stressed syllables (Lat. flōrem > Oc. flor [fluɾ]).
Examples of pan-Occitan features shared with Catalan, but not French:
Stressed Latin a was preserved (Lat. mare > Oc. mar, Fr. mer).
Intervocalic -t- was lenited to /d/ rather than lost (Lat. vitam > Oc. vida, Fr. vie).
Examples of pan-Occitan features not shared with Catalan or French:
Original /aw/ preserved.
Final /a/ becomes /ɔ/ (note in Valencian (Catalan), /ɔ/ may appear in word-final unstressed position, in a process of vowel harmony).
Low-mid /ɛ/ and /ɔ/ diphthongized before velars. /ɛ/ generally becomes /jɛ/; /ɔ/ originally became /wɔ/ or /wɛ/, but has since usually undergone further fronting (e.g. to [wœ], [œ], [ɛ], etc.). Diphthongization also occurred before palatals, as in French and Catalan.
Various assimilations in consonant clusters (e.g. ⟨cc⟩ in Occitan, pronounced /utsiˈta/ in conservative Languedocien).
Features of some Occitan dialects
Examples of dialect-specific features of the northerly dialects shared with French, but not Catalan:
Examples of dialect-specific features of the southerly dialects (or some of them) shared with Catalan, but not French:
Latin -mb-,-nd- become /m, n/.
Betacism: /b/ and /v/ merge (feature shared with Spanish and some Catalan dialects; except for Balearic, Valencian and Alguerese Catalan, where /v/ is preserved).
Intervocalic voiced stops /b d ɡ/ (from Latin -p-, -t, -c-) become voiced fricatives [β ð ɣ].
Loss of word-final single /n/ (but not /nn/, e.g. an "year" < ānnvm).
Examples of Gascon-specific features not shared with French or Catalan:
Latin initial /f/ changed into /h/ (Lat. filivm > Gasc. hilh). This also happened in medieval Spanish, although the /h/ was eventually lost, or reverted to /f/ (before a consonant). The Gascon ⟨h⟩ has retained its aspiration.
Change of -ll- to ⟨r⟩ /ɾ/, or ⟨th⟩ word-finally (originally the voiceless palatal stop/c/, but now generally either /t/ or /tʃ/, depending on the word). This is a unique characteristic of Gascon and of certain Aragonese dialects.
Examples of other dialect-specific features not shared with French or Catalan:
Merging of syllable-final nasals to /ŋ/. This appears to represent a transitional stage before nasalization, and occurs especially in the southerly dialects other than Gascon (which still maintains different final nasals, as in Catalan).
Former intervocalic /ð/ (from Latin -d-) becomes /z/ (most dialects, but not Gascon). This appears to have happened in primitive Catalan as well, but Catalan later deleted this sound or converted it to /w/.
Palatalization of /jt/ (from Latin ct) to /tʃ/ in most dialects or /(j)t/: lach vs lait (Gascon lèit) 'milk', lucha vs luta (Gascon luta) 'fight'.
Weakening of /l/ to /r/ in the Vivaro-Alpine dialect.
Comparison with other Romance languages and English
Common words in Romance languages, with English (a Germanic language) for reference
A comparison of terms and word counts between languages is not easy, as it is impossible to count the number of words in a language. (See Lexicon, Lexeme, Lexicography for more information.)
Some have claimed around 450,000 words exist in the Occitan language, a number comparable to English (the Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged with 1993 addenda reaches 470,000 words, as does the Oxford English Dictionary, Second ion). The Merriam-Webster Web site estimates that the number is somewhere between 250,000 and 1 million words.
The magazine Géo (2004, p. 79) claims that American English literature can be more easily translated into Occitan than French, excluding modern technological terms that both languages have integrated.
A comparison of the lexical content can find more subtle differences between the languages. For example, Occitan has 128 synonyms related to cultivated land, 62 for wetlands, and 75 for sunshine (Géo). The language went through an eclipse during the Industrial Revolution, as the vocabulary of the countryside became less important. At the same time, it was disparaged as a patois. Nevertheless, Occitan has also incorporated new words into its lexicon to describe the modern world. The Occitan word for web is oèb, for example.
One interesting and useful feature of the Occitan language is its virtually infinite ability to create new words through a number of interchangeable and embeddable suffixes, giving the original terms a whole array of semantic nuances.
Differences between Occitan and Catalan
The separation of Catalan from Occitan is seen by some as largely politically (rather than linguistically) motivated. However, the variety that has become standard Catalan differs from the one that has become standard Occitan in a number of ways. Here are just a few examples:
Standard Catalan (based on Central Eastern Catalan) is unique in that Latin short e developed into a close vowel /e/ (é) and Latin long e developed into an open vowel /ɛ/ (è); that is precisely the reverse of the development that took place in Western Catalan dialects and the rest of the Romance languages, including Occitan. Thus Standard Catalan ésser[ˈesə] corresponds to Occitan èsser/èstre[ˈɛse/ˈɛstre] 'to be;' Catalan carrer[kəˈre] corresponds to Occitan carrièra[karˈjɛɾo̞] 'street', but it is also carriera[karˈjeɾo̞], in Provençal.
The distinctly Occitan development of word-final -a, pronounced [o̞] in standard Occitan (chifra 'figure' [ˈtʃifro̞]), did not occur in general Catalan (which has xifra[ˈʃifrə]). However, some Occitan varieties also lack that feature, and some Catalan (Valencian) varieties have the [ɔ] pronunciation, mostly by vowel harmony.
When in Catalan word stress falls in the antepenultimate syllable, in Occitan the stress is moved to the penultimate syllable: for example, Occitan pagina[paˈdʒino̞] vs. Catalan pàgina[ˈpaʒinə], "page". However, some varieties of Occitan (such as around Nice) keep the stress on the antepenultimate syllable (pàgina), and some varieties of Catalan (in Northern Catalonia) put the stress on the penultimate syllable (pagina).
Diphthongisation has evolved in different ways: Occitan paire vs. Catalan pare 'father;' Occitan carrièra (carrèra, carrèira) vs. Catalan carrera.
Some Occitan dialects lack the voiceless postalveolar fricative phoneme /ʃ/, but south-western Occitan has it: general Occitan caissa[ˈkajso̞] vs. Catalan caixa[ˈkaʃə] and south-western Occitan caissa, caisha[ˈka(j)ʃo̞], 'box.' Nevertheless, some Valencian dialects like Northern Valencian lack that phoneme too and generally substitute /jsʲ/: caixa[ˈkajʃa] (Standard Valencian) ~ [ˈkajsʲa] (Northern Valencian).
Occitan has developed the close front rounded vowel/y/ as a phoneme, often (but not always) corresponding to Catalan /u/: Occitan musica[myˈziko̞] vs. Catalan música[ˈmuzikə].
The distribution of palatal consonants/ʎ/ and /ɲ/ differs in Catalan and part of Occitan: while Catalan permits them in word-final position, in central Occitan they are neutralised to [l] and [n] (Central Occitan filh[fil] vs. Catalan fill[fiʎ], 'son'). Non-central varieties of Occitan, however, may have a palatal realization (e.g. filh, hilh[fiʎ, fij, hiʎ]). However, Alguerese Catalan neutralizes palatal consonants in word-final position as well.
Also, many words that start with /l/ in Occitan start with /ʎ/ in Catalan: Occitan libre[ˈliβɾe] vs. Catalan llibre[ˈʎiβɾə], 'book.' That is perhaps one of the most distinctive characteristics of Catalan amongst the Romance languages, shared only with Asturian, Leonese and Mirandese. However, some transitional varieties of Occitan, near the Catalan area, also have initial /ʎ/.
While /l/ is always clear in Occitan, in Catalan it tends to be velarized[ɫ] ("dark l"). In coda position, /l/ has tended to be vocalized to [w] in Occitan, while remained dark in Catalan.
Standard Eastern Catalan has a neutral vowel[ə] whenever a or e occur in unstressed position (passar[pəˈsa], 'to happen', but passa[ˈpasə], 'it happens'), and also [u] whenever o or u occur in unstressed position, e.g. obrir[uˈβɾi], 'to open', but obre[ˈɔβɾə], 'you open'. However, that does not apply to Western Catalan dialects, whose vowel system usually retains the a/e distinction in unstressed position, or to Northern Catalan dialects, whose vowel system does not retain the o/u distinction in stressed position, much like Occitan.
Verb conjugation is slightly different, but there is a great variety amongst dialects. Medieval conjugations were much closer. A characteristic difference is the ending of the second person plural, which is -u in Catalan but -tz in Occitan.
Occitan tends to add an analogical -a to the feminine forms of adjectives that are invariable in standard Catalan: for example, Occitan legal / legala vs. Catalan legal / legal.
Catalan has a distinctive past tense formation, known as the 'periphrastic preterite', formed from a variant of the verb 'to go' followed by the infinitive of the verb: donar 'to give,' va donar 'he gave.' That has the same value as the 'normal' preterite shared by most Romance languages, deriving from the Latin perfect tense: Catalan donà 'he gave.' The periphrastic preterite, in Occitan, is an archaic or a very local tense.
The writing systems of the two languages differ slightly. The modern Occitan spelling recommended by the Institut d'Estudis Occitans and the Conselh de la Lenga Occitana is designed to be a pan-Occitan system, and the Catalan system recommended by the Institut d'Estudis Catalans and Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua is specific to Catalan and Valencian. For example, in Catalan, word-final -n is omitted, as it is not pronounced in any dialect of Catalan (Català, Occità); central Occitan also drops word-final -n, but it is retained in the spelling, as some eastern and western dialects of Occitan still have it (Catalan, Occitan). Some digraphs are also written in a different way such as the sound /ʎ/, which is ll in Catalan (similar to Spanish) and lh in Occitan (similar to Portuguese) or the sound /ɲ/ written ny in Catalan and nh in Occitan.
Occitano-Romance linguistic group
Despite these differences, Occitan and Catalan remain more or less mutually comprehensible, especially when written – more so than either is with Spanish or French, for example, although this is mainly a consequence of using the classical (orthographical) norm of the Occitan, which is precisely focused in showing the similarities between the Occitan dialects with Catalan. Occitan and Catalan form a common diasystem (or a common Abstandsprache), which is called Occitano-Romance, according to the linguist Pierre Bec. Speakers of both languages share early historical and cultural heritage.
The combined Occitano-Romance area is 259,000 km2 and represents 23 million speakers. However, the regions are not equal in terms of language speakers. According to Bec 1969 (pp. 120–121), in France, no more than a quarter of the population in counted regions could speak Occitan well, though around half understood it; it is thought that the number of Occitan users has decreased dramatically since then. By contrast, in the Catalonia administered by the Government of Catalonia, nearly three-quarters of the population speak Catalan and 95% understand it.
According to the testimony of Bernadette Soubirous, the Virgin Mary spoke to her (Lourdes, 25 March 1858) in Gascon saying: Que soy era Immaculada Councepciou ("I am the Immaculate Conception", the phrase is reproduced under this statue in the Lourdes grotto with a Mistralian/Febusian spelling), confirming the proclamation of this Catholic dogma four years earlier.
Inscription in Occitan in the Abbey of Saint-Jean de Sorde, Sorde-l'Abbaye: "Blessed are those who die in the Lord."
One of the most notable passages of Occitan in Western literature occurs in the 26th canto of Dante's Purgatorio in which the troubadour Arnaut Daniel responds to the narrator:
Tan m'abellís vostre cortés deman, / qu'ieu no me puesc ni voill a vos cobrire. / Ieu sui Arnaut, que plor e vau cantan; / consirós vei la passada folor, / e vei jausen lo joi qu'esper, denan. / Ara vos prec, per aquella valor / que vos guida al som de l'escalina, / sovenha vos a temps de ma dolor.
Modern Occitan: Tan m'abelís vòstra cortesa demanda, / que ieu non-pòdi ni vòli m'amagar de vos. / Ieu soi Arnaut, que plori e vau cantant; / consirós vesi la foliá passada, / e vesi joiós lo jorn qu'espèri, davant. / Ara vos prègui, per aquela valor / que vos guida al som de l'escalièr, / sovenhatz-vos tot còp de ma dolor.
The above strophe translates to:
So pleases me your courteous demand, / I cannot and I will not hide me from you. / I am Arnaut, who weep and singing go;/ Contrite I see the folly of the past, / And joyous see the hoped-for day before me. / Therefore do I implore you, by that power/ Which guides you to the summit of the stairs, / Be mindful to assuage my suffering!
Another notable Occitan quotation, this time from Arnaut Daniel's own 10th Canto:
"Né provençal, il s'était facilement familiarisé avec tous les patois du midi. Il disait: — E ben, monsur, sètz saget? comme dans le bas Languedoc. — Ont anaratz passar? comme dans les basses Alpes. — Pòrti un bon moton amb un bon formatge gras, comme dans le haut Dauphiné. [...] Parlant toutes les langues, il entrait dans toutes les âmes."
"Born a Provençal, he easily familiarized himself with the dialect of the south. He would say, E ben, monsur, sètz saget? as in lower Languedoc; Ont anaratz passar? as in the Basses-Alpes; Pòrti un bon moton amb un bon formatge gras as in upper Dauphiné. [...] As he spoke all tongues, he entered into all hearts."
E ben, monsur, sètz saget?: So, Mister, everything's fine?
Ont anaratz passar?: Which way will you go?
Pòrti un bon moton amb un bon formatge gras: I brought some fine mutton with a fine fat cheese
The Spanish playwright Lope de Rueda included a Gascon servant for comical effect in one of his short pieces, La generosa paliza.
The French composer Joseph Canteloube created five sets of folk songs entitled Songs of the Auvergne, in which the lyrics are in the Auvergne dialect of Occitan. The orchestration strives to conjure vivid pastoral scenes of yesteryear.
^ abcBernissan, Fabrice (2012). "Combien l'occitan compte de locuteurs en 2012?". Revue de Linguistique Romane (in French). 76: 467–512.
^ abMartel, Philippe (December 2007). "Qui parle occitan ?". Langues et cité (in French). No. 10. Observation des pratiques linguistiques. p. 3. De fait, le nombre des locuteurs de l'occitan a pu être estimé par l'INED dans un premier temps à 526 000 personnes, puis à 789 000 ("In fact, the number of occitan speakers was estimated by the French Demographics Institute at 526,000 people, then 789,000")
^Enrico Allasino; Consuelo Ferrier; Sergio Scamuzzi; Tullio Telmon (2005). "Le Lingue del Piemonte"(PDF). IRES. 113: 71 – via Gioventura Piemontèisa.
^Anglade 1921, p. 10: Sur Occitania ont été formés les adjectifs latins occitanus, occitanicus et les adjectifs français occitanique, occitanien, occitan (ce dernier terme plus récent), qui seraient excellents et qui ne prêteraient pas à la même confusion que provençal.
^Camille Chabaneau et al, Histoire générale de Languedoc, 1872, p. 170: Au onzième, douzième et encore parfois au XIIIe siècle, on comprenait sous le nom de Provence tout le territoire de l'ancienne Provincia Romana et même de l'Aquitaine.
^Charles Knight, Penny Cyclopaedia of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, Vol. XXV, 1843, p. 308: "At one time the language and poetry of the troubadours were in fashion in most of the courts of Europe."
^Pierre, Bec. (1995) La langue occitane, coll. Que sais-je? n° 1059, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
^Arveiller, Raymond. (1967) Étude sur le parler de Monaco, Monaco: Comité National des Traditions Monégasques, p. ix.
^Klinkenberg, Jean-Marie. Des langues romanes, Duculot, 1994, 1999, p. 228: "The amount of speakers is an estimated 10 to 12 millions... in any case never less than 6 millions."
^Baker, Colin; and Sylvia Prys Jones. Encyclopedia of bilingualism and bilingual education, 1997, p. 402: "Of the 13 million inhabitants of the area where Occitan is spoken (comprising 31 départements) it is estimated that about half have a knowledge of one of the Occitan varieties."
^Barbour, Stephen and Cathie Carmichael. Language and nationalism in Europe, 2000, p. 62: "Occitan is spoken in 31 départements, but even the EBLUL (1993: 15–16) is wary of statistics: 'There are no official data on the number of speakers. Of some 12 to 13 million inhabitants in the area, it is estimated 48 per cent understand Occitan, 28 per cent can speak it, about 9 per cent of the population use it on a daily basis, 13 per cent can read and 6 per cent can write the language.'"
^Anglade 1921: La Langue d'Oc est parlée actuellement par douze ou quatorze millions de Français ("Occitan is now spoken by twelve or fourteen million French citizens").
^Backer 1860, pp. 52, 54: parlée dans le Midi de la France par quatorze millions d'habitants ("spoken in the South of France by fourteen million inhabitants").
^Gaussen 1927, p. 4: ...défendre une langue, qui est aujourd'hui la mère de la nôtre, parlée encore par plus de dix millions d'individus... ("protect a language, which is today the mother of ours, still spoken by more than ten million individuals")
^ abDomergue Sumien (2006), La standardisation pluricentrique de l'occitan: nouvel enjeu sociolinguistique, développement du lexique et de la morphologie, Publications de l'Association Internationale d'Études Occitanes, Turnhout: Brepols
^Jean-Pierre Juge (2001) Petit précis – Chronologie occitane – Histoire & civilisation, p. 25
^Philippe Blanchet, Louis Bayle, Pierre Bonnaud and Jean Lafitte
^Kremnitz, Georg (2003) "Un regard sociolinguistique sur les changements de la situation de l'occitan depuis 1968" in: Castano R., Guida, S., & Latella, F. (2003) (dir.) Scènes, évolutions, sort de la langue et de la littérature d'oc. Actes du VIIe congrès de l'Association Internationale d'Études Occitanes, Reggio di Calabria/Messina, 7–13 juillet 2002, Rome: Viella
Ronjat, Jules (1913), Essai de syntaxe des parlers provençaux modernes (in French), Macon: Protat, p. 12: Mais les différences de phonétique, de morphologie, de syntaxe et de vocabulaire ne sont pas telles qu'une personne connaissant pratiquement à fond un de nos dialectes ne puisse converser dans ce dialecte avec une autre personne parlant un autre dialecte qu'elle possède pratiquement à fond. (But phonetic, morphological, syntactical and lexical differences are not such that a person quite perfectly fluent in one of our dialects would not be able to have a conversation with another person speaking another dialect with an equally perfect fluency).
^Stephan Koppelberg, El lèxic herari caracteristic de l'occità i del gascó i la seva relació amb el del català (conclusions d'un analisi estadística), Actes del vuitè Col·loqui Internacional de Llengua i Literatura Catalana, Volume 1 (1988). Antoni M. Badia Margarit & Michel Camprubi ed. (in Catalan)
^Chambon, Jean-Pierre; Greub, Yan (2002). "Note sur l'âge du (proto)gascon". Revue de Linguistique Romane (in French). 66: 473–495.
^Baldinger, Kurt (1962). "La langue des documents en ancien gascon". Revue de Linguistique Romane (in French). 26: 331–347.
^Baldinger, Kurt (1962). "Textes anciens gascons". Revue de Linguistique Romane (in French). 26: 348–362.
^Modern loanword from Italian or Greek (Iordan, Dift., 145)
^Avner Gerard Levy & Jacques Ajenstat: The Kodaxil Semantic Manifesto[permanent dead link] (2006), Section 10 – Modified Base64 / Kodaxil word length, representation, p. 9: "the English language, as claimed by Merriam-Webster, as well as the Occitan language – are estimated to comprise over 450,000 words in their basic form."
^Bec, Pierre. (1995). La langue occitane, coll. Que sais-je? nr. 1059. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France [1st ed. 1963]
Kremnitz, Georg (2002). "Une approche sociolinguistique". In Kirsch, Fritz Peter; Kremnitz, Georg; Schlieben-Lange, Brigitte (eds.). Petite histoire sociale de la langue occitane: Usages, images, littérature, grammaires et dictionnaires (in French). Chabrant, Catherine trans. Canet, France: Trabucaire. ISBN978-2-912966-59-9.
Smith, Nathaniel B.; Bergin, Thomas Goddard (1984). An Old Provençal Primer. New York: Garland. ISBN0-8240-9030-6.