Catalan orthography

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Like those of many other Romance languages, the Catalan alphabet derives from the Latin alphabet and is largely based on the language’s phonology.[1] The Catalan alphabet consists of the twenty-six letters of the ISO basic Latin alphabet:

Majuscule Forms (also called uppercase or capital letters)
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Minuscule Forms (also called lowercase or small letters)
a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z

The following letter-diacritic combinations are used, but they do not constitute distinct letters in the alphabet: À, É, È, Í, Ï, Ó, Ò, Ú, Ü and Ç.

Letter names and pronunciations[edit]

Catalan is a pluricentric language, the pronunciation of some of the letters is different in Eastern Catalan (IEC) and Valencian (AVL). Apart from these variations, the pronunciation of most consonants is fairly straightforward, and similar to French, Occitan or Portuguese pronunciation.

Letter Catalan Valencian
Name (IEC) Pronunciation Phonetic values Name (AVL) Pronunciation Phonetic values
A a a /ˈa/ /a/, /ə/ a /ˈa/ [a]
B b be (alta) /ˈbe (ˈaltə)/ /b/, /β/, /p/ be (alta) /ˈbe/ [b], [β], [p]
C c ce /ˈse/ /k/, /s/, /ɡ/ ce '/ˈse/ [k], [s], [ɡ]
Ç ç ce trencada /ˈse trenkadə/ /s/ ce trencada /ˈse trenkadə/ [s]
D d de /ˈde/ /d/, /ð/, /t/ de /ˈde/ [d], [ð], [t]
E e e /ˈe/ /ɛ/, /e/, /ə/ e /ˈe/ [e], [ɛ]
F f efa /ˈefə/ /f/, /v/ efe or ef /ˈef(e)/ [f], [v]
G g ge /ˈʒe/ /ɡ//ɣ//k//ʒ///// ge /ˈdʒe/ [ɡ][ɣ][k][dʒ][tʃ]    
H h hac /ˈak/ hac /ˈak/
I i i /ˈi/ /i/, /j/ i /ˈi/ [i], [j]
J j jota /ˈʒɔtə/ /ʒ/ jota /ˈdʒɔta/ [dʒ]
K k ca /ˈka/ /k/ ca /ˈka/ [k]
L l ela /ˈel/ /ɫ/, /ʎ/ ele or el /ˈel(e)/ [l], [ɫ], [ʎ]
M m ema /ˈemə/ /m/ eme or em /ˈem(e)/ [m]
N n ena /ˈenə/ /n/, /m/, /ɲ/, /ŋ/ ene or en /ˈen(e)/ [n], [m], [ɲ], [ŋ]
O o o /ˈo/ /ɔ/, /o/, /u/, /w/ o /ˈo/ [ɔ], [o]
P p pe /ˈpe/ /p/, /b/ pe /ˈpe/ [p], [b]
Q q cu /ˈku/ /k/ cu /ˈku/ [k]
R r erra /ˈɛrə/ /r/, /ɾ/ erre or er /ˈɛre/, /ˈɛɾ/ [r], [ɾ]
S s essa /ˈesə/ /s/, /z/ esse or ess /ˈes(e)/ [s], [z]
T t te /ˈte/ /t/, /d/ te /ˈte/ [t], [d]
U u u /ˈu/ /u/, /w/ u /ˈu/ [u], [w]
V v ve (baixa) /ˈbe ˈbaʃə/, /ˈve/ /b//β/ ~ /v//f/[2] ve (baixa) /ˈve/ [v], [f]
W w ve doble /ˈbe ˈdobːlə/, /ˈve ˈdobːlə/ /w/, /b/, /β/ ~ /v/ ve doble /ˈve ˈdoble/ [w], [v]
X x ics, xeix /ˈiks/, /ˈʃeʃ/ /ʃ/, /ʒ/, ks, ɡz ics, xeix /ˈiks/, /ˈʃeiʃ/ [tʃ], [ʃ], [ʒ], [ks], [ɡz]
Y y i grega /ˈi ˈɡɾeɡə/ /i/, /j/ i grega /ˈi ˈɡɾeɡa/ [i], [j]
Z z zeta /ˈzetə/ /z/, /s/ zeta /ˈzeta/ [z], [s]

K, W, and Y are only used in loanwords, or in the case of Y, the digraph ny.

Digraphs[edit]

Digraphs
Grapheme Pronunciation Usage
ll /ʎ/ initial, intervocalic & syllable-final position
ny /ɲ/ initial (rare), intervocalic & syllable-final position
rr /r/ intervocalic position
ss /s/ intervocalic position
ix /ʃ/ intervocalic & syllable-final position
tx // initial (in loanwords), intervocalic & syllable-final position
ig syllable-final position[3]
ds /ts/ intervocalic & syllable-final position
ts initial (in loanwords), intervocalic & syllable-final position
tz /dz/ intervocalic position
dj // intervocalic position
tg intervocalic position before front vowels
tj intervocalic position before central & back vowels
gu /ɡ/ initial & intervocalic position before front vowels
qu /k/ initial & intervocalic position before front vowels
ch syllable-final position
 
Compound letters
Grapheme Pronunciation Usage
l·l /lː/ intervocalic position
tl intervocalic position
tll /ʎː/ intervocalic position
tm /mː/ intervocalic position
tn /nː/ intervocalic position

Diacritics[edit]

Acute and grave accents[edit]

Catalan also uses the acute accent (é í ó ú) to mark stressed close vowels and the grave accent (à è ò) to mark stressed open vowels,[4] examples:

  • també [təmˈbe] ('also')
  • pastís [pəsˈtis] ('pie')
  • córrer [ˈkorə] ('to run')
  • pallús [pəˈʎus] ('fool')
  • ànima [ˈanimə] ('soul')
  • interès [intəˈɾɛs] ('interest')
  • pròxim [ˈpɾɔksim]('nearby')

Standard rules governing the presence of accents are based on word endings and the position of the stressed syllable. In particular, accents are expected for:

  • Oxytones ending in a syllabic vowel, a vowel + -s, or -en/in, examples:
    • parlà [pərˈɫa] ('he spoke')
    • parlés [pərˈɫes] ('that he spoke' past subjunctive)
    • entén [ənˈten] ('he understands')
  • This doesn't occur in words like parleu [pərˈɫɛw] ('you are speaking' plural), or parlem [pəɾˈɫɛm] ('we are speaking').
  • Paroxytones with any other ending, including non-syllabic -i, -u, examples:
    • parlàveu [pərˈɫaβəw] ('you were speaking' plural)
    • parlàvem [pərˈɫaβəm] ('we were speaking')
  • This doesn't occur in words like parla [ˈpaɾɫə] ('he is speaking'), parles [ˈpaɾɫəs] ('you are speaking' singular), or parlen [ˈparɫən] ('they are speaking').
  • Any proparoxytones, examples:
    • química [ˈkimikə] ('chemistry')
    • ciència [siˈɛnsiə] ('science')

Since there is no need to mark the stressed syllable of a monosyllabic word, most of them do not have an accent. Exceptions to this are those with a diacritical accent that differentiates some cases of words that would otherwise be homographic. Example: es [əs] ('it' impersonal) vs és [ˈes] ('s/he is'), te [tə] ('you' clitic) vs [ˈte] ('s/he has'), mes [ˈmɛs] ('month') vs més [ˈmes] ('more'), dona [ˈdɔnə] ('woman') vs dóna [ˈdonə] ('s/he gives'). In most cases, the word bearing no accent is either unstressed (as in the case of 'es' and 'te'), or the word without the accent is more common, usually a function word.

The different distribution of open e vs closed e between Eastern Catalan and Western Catalan is reflected in some orthographic divergences between standard Catalan and Valencian norms, example: anglès [əŋˈɡɫɛs] (Catalan) vs anglés [aŋˈɡɫes] (Valencian) ('English').

Diaeresis[edit]

The diaeresis has two different uses: to mark hiatus over ï, ü, and to mark that u is not silent in the groups gü, qü.

If a diaeresis appears over an i or u that follows another vowel, it denotes a hiatus, examples:[5]

  • raïm [rəˈim] ('grape')
  • taüt [təˈut] ('coffin')

This diaeresis is not used over a stressed vowel that already should have an accent. Examples: suís [suˈis] ('Swiss' masculine), but suïssa [suˈisə] ('Swiss' feminine), suïs [ˈsuis] ('that you sweat' subjunctive) (without the diaeresis, this last example would be pronounced [ˈsujs], i.e. as only one syllable, like reis [ˈrejs] 'kings').

In addition to this, ü represents [w] after a velar velar consonant /ɡ/ or /k/ and a front vowel (gu and qu are used to represent a hard (i.e. velar) pronunciation before i or e).[6]

  • ungüent [uŋˈɡwen] ('ointment')
  • qüestió [kwəstiˈo] ('topic')

Ce trencada (c-cedille)[edit]

Catalan ce trencada (Ç ç), literally in English 'broken cee', is a modified c with a cedilla mark ( ¸ ), it is only used before a u o to indicate a "soft c" /s/, much like in Portuguese, Occitan or French (e.g. compare coça [ˈkosə] 'kick', coca [ˈkokə] 'cake' and cosa [ˈkɔzə] 'thing'). In Catalan, ce trencada also appears as last letter of a word when preceded by any vowel (e.g. feliç [fəˈɫis] 'happy'), but then ç may be voiced to [z] before vowels and voiced consonants, e.g. feliçment [fəˈɫizmen] ('happily') and braç esquerre [ˈbɾaz əsˈkɛrə] ('left arm').

Punt volat (middot)[edit]

The so-called punt volat or middot is only used in the group l·l (called ela or el(e) geminada, 'geminate el') to represent a geminated sound /lː/, as ll is used to represent the palatal lateral /ʎ/. This usage of the middot sign is a recent invention from the beginning of twentieth century (in medieval and modern Catalan, before Fabra's standardization, this symbol was sometimes used to note certain elisions, especially in poetry). The only (and improbable) case of ambiguity in the whole language that could arise is the pair cel·la [ˈsɛɫɫə] ('cell') vs cella [ˈsɛʎə] ('eyebrow').

Capitalization[edit]

Catalan does not capitalize the days of the week, months, or national adjectives.[7]

dilluns, setembre, anglès
"Monday", "September", "English"

Punctuation[edit]

The Catalan punctuation rules are similar to English, with some minor differences.[8]

  • Guillemets (cometes baixes) « » are frequently used instead of double inverted commas. They are used to mark titles of works, or phrases used as proper names.[8]
  • In texts containing dialogue, quoted speech is usually set off with dashes, rather than inverted commas.[8]
Què proposes, doncs?
El que hauriem de fer‒s'atreví a suggerir‒és anar a...
'What do you propose, then?'
'What we should do' she ventured to suggest 'is go to and ...'
  • Questions are ended with ?, as in English.[8] Before 1993, questions could be enclosed with ¿...?, as in Spanish, but this is no longer recommended by the IEC.[8]

Other conventions[edit]

The distribution of the two rhotics /r/ and /ɾ/ closely parallels that of Spanish. Between vowels, the two contrast but they are otherwise in complementary distribution: in the onset, an alveolar trill, [r], appears unless preceded by a consonant; different dialects vary in regards to rhotics in the coda with Western Catalan generally featuring an alveolar tap, [ɾ], and Central Catalan dialects like those of Barcelona or Girona featuring a weakly trilled [r] unless it precedes a vowel-initial word in the same prosodic unit, in which case [ɾ] appears.[9]

In Eastern Catalan and North Western Catalan, most instances of word-final r are silent, but there are plenty of unpredictable exceptions (e.g. in Central Eastern Catalan por [ˈpo] 'fear' but mar [ˈmar] 'sea'). In Central Eastern Catalan monosyllabic words with a pronounced final r get a reinforcement final consonant [t] when in absolute final position (e.g. final r of cor ('heart') in reina del meu cor [ˈrejnə ðəɫ ˈmew ˈkɔrt] 'queen of my heart' vs el cor es mou [əɫ ˈkɔɾ əs ˈmɔw] 'the heart is moving').

In Valencian, most instances of word-final r are pronounced.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Wheeler (2005:6)
  2. ^ In many dialects (except Balearic, Alguerese and standard Valencian [see Carbonell & Llisterri (1992:53)]) /b/ and /v/ have merged into just one phoneme.
  3. ^ Note: the digraph ig is pronounced as /itʃ/ after a consonant (e.g. mig [ˈmitʃ], 'middle').
  4. ^ Wheeler (2005:6)
  5. ^ Wheeler (2005:8)
  6. ^ Wheeler (2005:7–8)
  7. ^ Swan 2001, p. 97.
  8. ^ a b c d e Wheeler, Yates & Dols 1999, p. 620.
  9. ^ Padgett (2003:2)

References[edit]

  • Carbonell, Joan F.; Llisterri, Joaquim (1992), "Catalan", Journal of the International Phonetic Association 22 (1-2): 53–56, doi:10.1017/S0025100300004618 
  • Padgett, Jaye (2003). Systemic contrast and Catalan rhotics. University of California, Santa Cruz. 
  • Wheeler, Max W (2005). The Phonology Of Catalan. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-925814-7.