The Occitan language While Occitan is sometimes associated with Spanish , it’s actually a language spoken in a part of Catalonia and is more closely related to French and Catalan. In Spain, it’s referred to as Aranese, and those who speak Occitan are primarily from a small region called Val d’Aran. Occitan has six major dialects, all of which are identified as endangered or severely endangered by UNESCO.
The Occitan language is one of the official languages in Catalonia, but the region where it is spoken straddles southern France, Italy, and Spain. In Spain’s Val d’Aran, where it is the mother tongue, 89% of the locals understand it, and 62% speak Occitan. Occitan (Aranese), Catalan, and Spanish are all spoken in daily life in the Val d’Aran. Because they are both Latin languages, Catalan and Occitan share many similarities in vocabulary and grammar. While the pronunciations of words do differ, most speakers of Catalan can understand Occitan (Aranese) and vice versa.
The Occitan language is considered a Romance language and has a rich history as the lingua franca of Southern France. In fact, the language was once widely recognized among European nobility as the tongue in which troubadours, who frequently came to court, sang and wrote poetry. However, in 1539, King François signed an edict to make Francien the official language of France.
While official documents and government business were conducted in French from that point, Occitan continued to be spoken in homes and villages throughout southern France. In 1863, after three centuries of suppression by the government, more than 90% of the population in the French region of Dordogne still spoke Occitan.
In 1904, the Occitan poet Frédéric Mistra was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and his work kicked off a revival of the language. In the early 20th century, however, the French government launched a campaign to standardize language across the country, and as a result, Occitan was not permitted to be taught in schools.
Today, while Occitan has been an official language alongside Catalan since 2007, it is still very much at risk in France. Only a handful of publications still use the language, and it’s taught alongside French in only about 40 primary and secondary schools in Southern France.
Occitan is spoken primarily in rural areas of Southern France, Monaco, the Val d’Aran region in Spain, and the Occitan Valleys in Italy. There may be as many as 200,000 speakers who consider this Romance language their mother tongue. The majority of native speakers, however, are part of the older generation who often refuse to speak Occitan with visitors because of centuries of shame and suppression. The Occitan language has six recognized dialects:
As a Latin language, spoken Occitan does have sounds that are familiar to English speakers with one notable exception. Occitan pronunciation includes a sound borrowed from French—the [y]. To pronounce this sound, you must pucker your lips while leaving a small hole, and keep them rounded while saying “ee.” The Occitan language doesn’t have nasal vowels like French or any tonal or pitch issues that would make pronunciation difficult for non-native speakers.
In addition to the main areas of Europe in which Occitan is spoken, there are vestiges of the language in scattered communities of immigrants in Germany, the United States, Canada, Argentina, and Mexico. Most speakers of Occitan also speak Spanish , French, or other languages of the region in which they reside. If you’re traveling to areas in Spain such as Val d’Aran, it makes sense to be aware of Occitan and the history of the language but speaking Spanish or Catalan will be more useful in navigating everyday situations.
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