Old Catalan

Old Catalan
RegionPrincipality of Catalonia, Kingdom of Valencia, Balearic islands, Sardinia
Eraevolved into Modern Catalan by the 16th century[1]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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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 island of Sardinia; all of them then part of the Crown of Aragon.

Old Catalan, classified as an Occitano-Romance variety, is grouped with Old Occitan (also known as Old Provençal).[2]



Consonants of Old Catalan[3][4]
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. One, /ʎ/, was written as ⟨ll⟩ and has remained unchanged. The other, reconstructed as /jl/, came from the Latin groups C'L, G'L, LE, and LI; written as ⟨yl⟩ and ⟨il⟩, it never appeared in initial position. It has merged into /ʎ/ in most dialects but into /j/ in a few dialects.[5]

Around the 12th century, word-initial /l/ became /ʎ/, but it continued to be spelled as ⟨l⟩ until the 15th century.[6]


/v/ began to merge into /b/ in some dialects around the 14th century, a process called betacism.[7] Now, the distinction is maintained only in Valencia, the Balearic Islands, and southern Tarragona.[8]


Vowels of Old Catalan[9]
 Front  Central  Back 
Close i   u  
Close-mid e   ə o  
Open-mid ɛ ɔ
Open a  

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

It is assumed that during the preliterary period, all 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, and the confusion later spread to all unstressed instances of /a/ and /e/, a process that was almost complete by the 15th century.[10][11]

Final post-tonic /e, o/ were lost[12] during the formation of Catalan. According to some historic studies,[13] final nasals were velarised and assimilated before being lost in Modern Catalan: [ˈpãŋ][ˈpã][ˈpa]).

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