Joan Coromines

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Joan Coromines (on the left) receiving the Gold Medal of the Generalitat of Catalonia from Josep Tarradellas (1980).

Joan Coromines i Vigneaux (Catalan pronunciation: [ʒuˈaŋ kuɾuˈminəs]; also frequently spelled Joan Corominas;[1] Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain, 1905 – Pineda de Mar, Catalonia, Spain, 1997) was a linguist who made important contributions to the study of Catalan, Spanish, and other Romance languages.

His main works are the Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana (1954-1957), in four volumes, first version of his etymological dictionary of Spanish (with an abridged version, Breve diccionario etimológico de la lengua castellana, first published in 1961); the Diccionari etimològic i complementari de la llengua catalana, which investigates the origin of most words in the Catalan language (9 volumes); the Onomasticon Cataloniae, documenting place and person names, old and new, in all the Catalan-speaking territories (8 volumes); and the Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, the most thorough etymological dictionary of Spanish extant today. Following this research, he—along with Koldo Mitxelena—made key contributions to the study of the Basque language's geographical extent across the Pyrenees during the early Middle Ages.


He was born on March 21, 1905 in Barcelona, to politician Pere Coromines i Montanya and pedagogue Celestina Vigneaux i Cibils. His siblings were the mathematician Ernest Coromines and psychologist Júlia Coromines i Vigneaux. From an early age he showed interest in linguistics. He studied at the Faculty of Arts at the Universitat de Barcelona, and completed his studies in multiple European cities. In 1930 he started working at the Institut d’Estudis Catalans and published his doctoral dissertation Vocabulario aranés in 1931. On that same year he started working on the Onomasticon Cataloniae.

When the Spanish Civil War started in 1936, Joan Coromines was in Madrid preparing the state exams for professorship in Occitan Philology. He married Bárbara de Haro on November 11, 1936. His personal and family assets were destroyed by the anarchists at the beginning and during the war (in spite of the efforts made by the Government of Catalonia and specifically by the counsellor Ventura Gassol to prevent it) and by the Francoists, the winning side. After the Civil War he went into exile to several countries until he got the professorship at the University of Chicago in 1948, where he was known as John Corominas. He published the Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana between 1954 and 1957.

From then on, he went back to Barcelona from time to time, and in 1963 he spent some months in the city, when he bought a land in Pineda de Mar and started to build a house. In July 1967 he retired in Chicago and went back to Barcelona, where he established, but started spending long periods in Pineda, where he found a calmed atmosphere to work and where he lived for the last 20 years of his life.

Between 1980 and 1991 he prepared the Diccionari etimològic i complementari de la llengua catalana. In 1994, he finished Onomasticon Cataloniae. He spent the last years of his life in Pineda de Mar, working intensively on it until he died on January 2, 1997.

He lay in repose in the Saló de Sant Jordi, at the Palau de la Generalitat, and was buried in the cemetery of Montjuic (Barcelona).

Joan Coromines acquired his knowledge in linguistics in Barcelona, Montpellier, Madrid, Zurich, Geneva and Paris. In 1939 he went into exile in Argentina and later to the United States, where he published the seminal Diccionario crítico etimológico de la lengua castellana, which brought him international prestige. Once he got settled down in Catalonia after retiring, he started writing the totality of his catalan lexicographic production.

Coromines maintained strong Catalanist positions: he refused a professorship position in Madrid, his appointment as a member of the Real Academia Española and several awards from the Spanish government (such as the Grand Cross of Alfonso X the Wise) because of the mistreatment of the Catalan language in Spain.

Joan Coromines is a referent both in linguistics and in the civic and patriotic fields. His life was driven by the principles of fidelity to the Catalan language, of effort and tenacity to serve these ideals, and the austerity that tied all of these together). Due to his scientific and moral authority, Coromines is still a model for speakers of Catalan in the 21st century.




  1. ^ Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, by Joan Corominas [sic] and José A. Pascual, Editorial Gredos, 1989, Madrid, ISBN 84-249-1362-0.

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