Catalan dialects

The dialects of the Catalan language feature a relative uniformity, especially when compared to other Romance languages;[4] both in terms of vocabulary, semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology.[5] Mutual intelligibility between its dialects is very high,[6][7][8] estimates ranging from 90% to 95%.[9] The only exception is the isolated idiosyncratic Alguerese dialect.[4]


In 1861, linguist Manuel Milà i Fontanals split Catalan into two main dialects: Western and Eastern.[8][5] The most obvious phonetic difference lies in the treatment of unstressed a and e, which have merged to /ə/ in Eastern dialects, but remain distinct as /a/ and /e/ in Western dialects.[4][8] There are a few other differences in pronunciation, verbal morphology, and vocabulary.[6] Western Catalan comprises the two dialects of Northwestern Catalan and Valencian; the Eastern block comprises four dialects: Central Catalan, Balearic, Rossellonese, and Alguerese.[8] Each dialect can be further subdivided in several subdialects.

There are two spoken standards for the language based on the Eastern and Western dialects respectively:

Valencians are only surpassed in number of Catalan-speakers by Catalans themselves, representing approximately a third of the whole Catalan-speaking population.[10] Therefore, in the context of linguistic conflict, recognition and respect towards the dual standard, as well as the dual Catalan–Valencian denomination,[11] pacifies the tense central–periphery relations between Catalonia and the Valencian coumunity.

Main dialectal divisions of Catalan[8][12]
Dialect NorthwesternValencianCentralBalearicNorthern/RosselloneseAlguerese
Area SpainFranceItaly
Provinces of Lleida, western half of Tarragona, La FranjaAutonomous community of ValenciaProvinces of Barcelona, eastern half of Tarragona, most of GironaBalearic islandsRoussillon/Northern CataloniaCity of Alghero in Sardinia



Catalan has inherited the typical vowel system of Vulgar Latin, with seven stressed phonemes: /a ɛ e i ɔ o u/, a common feature in Western Romance, except Spanish, Asturian, and Aragonese.[13] Balearic has also instances of stressed /ə/.[14] Dialects differ in the different degrees of vowel reduction,[15] and the incidence of the pair /ɛ e/.[16]

In Eastern Catalan (except Majorcan), unstressed vowels reduce to three: /a e ɛ/ → [ə]; /o ɔ u/ → [u]; /i/ remains distinct.[17] There are a few instances of unreduced [e], [o] in some words.[17] Alguerese has lowered [ə] to [a].

In Majorcan, unstressed vowels reduce to four: /a e ɛ/ follow the Eastern Catalan reduction pattern; however /o ɔ/ reduce to [o], with /u/ remaining distinct, as in Western Catalan.[18]

In Western Catalan, unstressed vowels reduce to five: /e ɛ/ → [e]; /o ɔ/ → [o]; /a u i/ remain distinct.[19][20] This reduction pattern, inherited from Proto-Romance, is also found in Italian and Portuguese.[19] Some Western dialects present further reduction or vowel harmony in some cases.[19][21]

Central, Western, and Balearic differ in the lexical incidence of stressed /e/ and /ɛ/.[16] Usually, words with /ɛ/ in central Catalan correspond to /ə/ in Balearic and /e/ in Western Catalan.[16] Words with /e/ in Balearic almost always have /e/ in central and western Catalan as well.[16] As a result, Western Catalan has a much higher incidence of /e/.[16]

Different incidence of stressed /e/, /ə/, /ɛ/[16]
except Majorcan
set ("thirst") /ˈset//ˈsət//ˈsɛt/
ven ("he sells") /ˈven//ˈvən//ˈbɛn/
General differences in the pronunciation of unstressed vowels in different dialects[8][22]
WordWestern CatalanEastern Catalan
mare ("mother")/ˈmaɾe//ˈmaɾə/
cançó ("song")/kanˈso//kənˈso/
posar ("to put")/poˈza(ɾ)//puˈza(ɾ)/
ferro ("iron")/ˈfɛro//ˈfɛru/
Detailed Examples of vowel reduction processes in different dialects[23]
Word pairs:
the first with stressed root,
the second with unstressed root
gel ("ice")
gelat ("ice cream")
pera ("pear")
perera ("pear tree")
pedra ("stone")
pedrera ("quarry")
banya ("he bathes")
banyem("we bathe")
Majorcan: banyam("we bathe")
cosa ("thing")
coseta ("little thing")
tot ("everything")
total ("total")


In verbs, the 1st person present indicative ending is -e (∅ in verbs of the 2nd and 3rd conjugation), or -o.
E.g., parle, tem, sent (Valencian); parlo, temo, sento (North-Western). In verbs, the 1st person present indicative ending is -o, -i or ∅ in all conjugations.
E.g., parlo (Central), parl (Balearic), parli (Northern), ('I speak').

First person singular present indicative endings in different dialects
Eastern CatalanWestern CatalanGloss
First parloparliparlparle or parloparlo"I speak"
Second temotemitemtemtemo"I fear"
Third sentosentisentsentsento"I feel"/"I hear"

In verbs, the inchoative desinences are -isc/-ixo, -ix, -ixen, -isca. In verbs, the inchoative desinences are -eixo, -eix, -eixen, -eixi.

In nouns and adjectives, maintenance of /n/ of medieval plurals in proparoxytone words.
E.g., hòmens 'men', jóvens 'youth'. In nouns and adjectives, loss of /n/ of medieval plurals in proparoxytone words.
E.g., homes 'men', joves 'youth'.


Despite its relative lexical unity, the two dialectal blocks of Catalan (Eastern and Western) show some differences in word choices.[24] Any lexical divergence within any of the two groups can be explained as an archaism. Also, usually Central Catalan acts as an innovative element.[24]

Selection of different words between Western and Eastern Catalan
Gloss"mirror""boy""broom""navel""to exit"
Eastern Catalan mirallnoiescombrallombrígolsortir
Western Catalan espillxiquetgranerameliceixir


  1. Feldhausen 2010, p. 6.
  2. Wheeler 2005, p. 2.
  3. Costa Carreras 2009, p. 4.
  4. 1 2 3 Moll 1958, p. 47.
  5. 1 2 Enciclopèdia Catalana, pp. 634–635.
  6. 1 2 Wheeler 2005, p. 1.
  7. Costa Carreras & Yates 2009, p. 5.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Feldhausen 2010, p. 5.
  9. Central Catalan has 90% to 95% inherent intelligibility for speakers of Valencian (1989 R. Hall, Jr.), cited on Ethnologue.
  10. 1 2 Xarxa Cruscat de l'Institut d'Estudis Catalans
  12. Wheeler 2005, pp. 2-3.
  13. Enciclopèdia Catalana, p. 630.
  14. Wheeler 2005, pp. 37,53-54.
  15. Wheeler 2005, p. 37.
  16. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Wheeler 2005, p. 38.
  17. 1 2 Wheeler 2005, p. 54.
  18. Wheeler 2005, pp. 53-54.
  19. 1 2 3 Wheeler 2005, p. 53.
  20. Carbonell & Llisterri 1999, pp. 54–55.
  21. Recasens 1996, pp. 75–76,128–129.
  22. Melchor & Branchadell 2002, p. 71.
  23. Wheeler 2005, pp. 53-55.
  24. 1 2 Enciclopèdia Catalana, p. 632.


  • Carbonell, Joan F.; Llisterri, Joaquim (1999). "Catalan". Handbook of the International Phonetic Association: A Guide to the Usage of the International Phonetic Alphabet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 54–55. ISBN 978-0-521-63751-0. 
  • Feldhausen, Ingo (2010). Sentential Form and Prosodic Structure of Catalan. John Benjamins B.V. ISBN 978 90 272 5551 8. 
  • Wheeler, Max (2005). The Phonology Of Catalan. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-925814-7. 
  • Costa Carreras, Joan; Yates, Alan (2009). The Architect of Modern Catalan: Selected Writings/Pompeu Fabra (1868–1948). Instutut d'Estudis Catalans & Universitat Pompeu Fabra & Jonh Benjamins B.V. ISBN 978 90 272 3264 9. 
  • Moll, Francesc de B. (2006) [1958]. Gramàtica Històrica Catalana (in Catalan) (Catalan ed.). Universitat de València. ISBN 978-84-370-6412-3. 
  • Recasens, Daniel (1996). Fonètica descriptiva del català: assaig de caracterització de la pronúncia del vocalisme i el consonantisme català al segle XX (2nd ed.). Barcelona: Institut d'Estudis Catalans. ISBN 9788472833128. 
  • Melchor, Vicent de; Branchadell, Albert (2002). El catalán: una lengua de Europa para compartir (in Spanish). Bellaterra: Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona. ISBN 84-490-2299-1. 
  • Ferrater; et al. (1973). "Català". Enciclopèdia Catalana (in Catalan). 4 (1977, corrected ed.). Barcelona: Enciclopèdia Catalana. pp. 628–639. ISBN 84-85-194-04-7. 
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