While the nature of the European Union means that Catalan (ca 4 million mother tongue speakers) isn’t likely to become an official language in the foreseeable future, Maltese (approximately 400,000) will achieve that status when Malta accedes on May 1st. Worried about Maltese language costs outweighing Malta’s financial contribution to the Union? Don’t: they’re still severely short of qualified translators and interpreters.

(In a comment to this post I suggested the following:

So native speakers = 4M is probably a credible estimate, breaking down roughly as follows: 3M in Catalonia, 850K down Valencia way (see the 2001 census and Querol Els valencians i el valencià (2000)), Balearics maybe 200K (1991 census said ca 25% could write it).

If you don’t agree with this, don’t flame – which just makes you look stupid – but do try coming up with a better way of adding up the number of native speakers. The oft-quoted 10/11 million figure seems to be based on the notion that everyone who lives in the area described by nationalists as the Catalan Countries is a Catalan speaker. I think that’s even sillier than classifying the population of Sant Agustí de Lluçanès as Spanish speakers.)

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  1. Trevor, you are the one throwing around made-up statistics that belittle Catalan, so why don’t you offer a guide to your reasoning instead of leaving the burden on your handful of readers? For starters, how about a good definition of what makes someone a “native speaker”? And what about the idea of a “mother language”? What’s more, you won’t be able to find anyone raised (over the last 30 odd years) anywhere in Catalonia, Valencia or the islands who could truthfully say they are not a speaker of Catalan—no matter what language they may have spoken at home to one or both of their parents, and no matter how much anti-Catalan hatred they have been ingrained with. More than that, you should reconsider your assumption that it’s only self-described “native speakers” of Catalan who would like to see its use promoted.

  2. The problem with the statistics cited by the Catalan language activists is that they are used to create the impression among foreigners that they refer to people whose primary language is Catalan, when in fact they refer to just about anyone who has come into contact with the language. I think this is what Trevor’s getting at.

    What does native language mean? I think the Canadians come up with the most practical definition for practical application, saying that it is the first language you learn to speak. In that case there are probably about 4 million Catalan native speakers. What’s your definition?

  3. Nic, you talk about anti-Catalan hatred, but schoolkids hear get taught anti-Castilian hatred.

  4. I’ve looked it up. The standard definition of mother tongue seems to be that laid down by the 1951 Conference on Mother-Tongue Education held by UNESCO in Paris: “the language which a person acquires in early years and which normally becomes his natural instrument of thought and communication.” So UNESCO would say that there are roughly 4 million Catalan mother tongue speakers in the world.

  5. Most censuses on the other hand ask people whether they think they can speak a language. I haven’t got time to check the census questions & data, but I assume the the higher figures are based on including everyone who answered yes on the form to a question to the effect of: “Can you order a beer in Catalan?” On that basis Spain probably contains about 10 million English speakers. Saying you can speak a language is one thing – it’s not so much a question about ability as about attitudes. Being able to speak a language, and actually doing so are very different.

  6. Nick, I haven’t seen big protest marches in Baix LLobregat shouting ‘We want more Catalan!’

  7. As statistics goes, this should get pretty close:

    Population 6,472,828 mother tongue speakers (1996), plus 5,000,000 second or third language speakers in Spain (1994 La Generalitat de Catalunya). Population total all countries 6,565,000 or more. Including second language users: 10,000,000 (1999 WA).
    Region Northeastern Spain, around Barcelona; Catalonia, Valencia Provinces

    Population 31,000 in Andorra (1990), 61% of the population (1990).
    Alternate names CATALÀ, CATALÁN, BACAVÈS
    Comments National language. Literacy rate in first language: 75% to 100%. Literacy rate in second language: 75% to 100%. Christian. Bible 1478-1993. See main entry under Spain.

    France Language name CATALAN-VALENCIAN-BALEAR
    Population 100,000 in France (1996).
    Comments Population given above may be the ethnic group, not mother tongue speakers. Bible 1478-1993. See main entry under Spain.

    Italy Language name CATALAN-VALENCIAN-BALEAR
    Population 20,000 in Alghero (1996).
    Dialects ALGHERESE.
    Comments Italian or Logudorese Sardinian are used as second language by many. Bible 1478-1993. See main entry under Spain.

  8. Thanks David. I know Ethnologue but I’m afraid that, like many statistics in Spain, the numbers provided to them by the Generalitat (or by someone else on behalf of the G) just don’t seem to add up. Everyone agrees that Catalonia is split roughly 50/50, the Valencia data I quote seem seems fairly clear, and there’s no way the Balearics and Roussillon can bump the number of mother tongue speakers up to any where near 6.5 million, unless they’re all living in a cave under Sant Llorenç. If anyone can dig up a good detailed analysis, I’m all ears.

    A couple of people who comment here seem determined to believe that I’m on a crusade to suppress minority languages. In fact the opposite is true – otherwise I surely wouldn’t have made an attempt to learn Catalan. However, I think that a much better case can be made if people elsewhere feel they can trust the numbers issued here. One obvious step would be to give the official stats organisations achieved a greater measure of independence from government. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s on the agenda.

  9. Wow, Trevor, after moving to another country you actually “made an attempt” to learn the local language? Hey, hey, give that man a medal! I take back anything I might have suggested. You are a true saint. Sant Trevor, a charitable man who kindly goes out of his way—who makes an effort—for the sake of the token languages.

  10. Where have you got your data for the Balearics and the Valencia area from, Trevor?

    I’m under the impression you fall short of a few hundred thousand native speakers for the Balearics, since you seem to count in as such only those with writing skills. Besides, according to most “neutral” estimates I’ve been able to sample, native speakers in Valencia amount to roughly 1.5 m, ie also 50% of the overall population -same as up North- which altogether gives credence to the figures taken from the ethnologue.

  11. David, re Valencia: The 2001 census says there were then 4.16M people living in the region, so if half the population did indeed have Valencian Catalan as their mother tongue, you’d be well on the way. The census figures unfortunately don’t provide that information, merely asking whether people can read, speak and write. If we assume for the sake of argument (and you may want to make different assumptions) that half of those who say they can speak and read it are native speakers who went to school before Catalan was introduced in the education system, you get to around 1.25M. The Querol thing cited above is much more informative (I’m sorry, I’ve lost the online reference), and I think it would be difficult to accuse him of working from an anti-Catalan perspective. He comes to the conclusion that even amongst schoolkids in the traditionally Catalan-speaking areas, only 25.2% use it as their primary language and that even among their parents only 28.8% of fathers and 29.9% of mothers use Catalan as their primary language. I’m skimming now, but here’s a bit where the suggestion is that only 18.9% of couples in the community as a whole are both Catalan native speakers, while 18.2% are mixed. I think that that suggests that my estimate is closer than yours, but I hope you will feel free to disagree.

    I’ll try to do the Balearics, as it were, tomorrow, hangover permitting. Any chance of a source for those neutral figures?

  12. (To anyone who gets annoyed easily: please note that I am attempting to be descriptive, not prescriptive. In other words, I’m not saying it’s a good thing that kids down south are slowing shifting to Spanish, just that it’s happening.)

  13. You need to be careful with Querol. I think his Valencian study only used about 500 people.

  14. None of you googled very hard. This EU linguistic survey is from 2004 when EU25 population was 456.4 million.

    Unfortunately the results are rounded to integers, but 1% mother tongue Catalan speakers (D48a) means a figure somewhere between 2.3 and 6.8 million narrowed down to 3.9 million in Spain (country specific info on page 8). So the Generalitat was probably more than doubling the true numbers with its 6,472,828 figure for 1994.

    Second language speakers for EU25 by the same token are > 2.3 million.

    So a true figure for total mother tongue speakers in France, Spain and Italy then was probably 4 million, with perhaps 2 million second language speakers. That’s 6 million total – about half the Generalitat/Ethnologue numbers – and about 1.2% of EU27 population.

    Adapt or die!

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