The Valencian language has a past closely intertwined with that of the Catalan language. In fact, most linguists agree that Valencian is a dialect of Catalan. The exact terminology regarding the classification of the Valencian language has been a point of dispute and political friction for decades.
Classification: Relationship to the Catalan Language
Valencian is technically classified as a dialect of the modern Catalan language. A peninsular romance language, Catalan is thought to have developed in the northeastern region of Spain now known as Catalonia. Catalan is divided into two primary dialectical groups, Oriental and Occidental. The Occidental group is further subdivided into West Catalan and Valencian.
Linguists remain uncertain as to the exact origins of Catalan. Some theorists believe Catalan developed from the Occitan (or Provencal) language of France, while others argue for a close relationship between Catalan and Hispanic languages such as Aragonese or Castilian.
Early Valencian History: The Kingdom of Valencia
According to the records of the Roman historian Levy, the city of Valencia (the capital of the modern-day region of Valencia) was taken by Roman soldiers in 138 BC. The area remained in Roman hands until 413 AD, at which point it was taken by the Visigoths.
In 714, Valencia was taken by the Moors, who established it as the capital of the Kingdom of Valencia in 1021. This marked the beginning of a period of immense prosperity for the city and surrounding regions.
Valencia: United with the Catalan Kingdom of Aragon
Valencia flourished as an independent Moorish kingdom throughout the 11th century. In 1094 the kingdom was taken by Christian Spain under El Cid. His death in 1099 resulted in the return of Valencia to the Moors.
In 1238 the kingdom again came under Christian control when it was taken by King James I of Aragon. Established in the 12th century, the Kingdom of Aragon used Catalan as its official language.
The Catalan language consequently gained power in the Valencia region, especially after 1319 when Valencia was officially united with the Kingdom of Aragon. It was not until the 15th century that the power of the Kingdom of Aragon and the Catalan language began to decline.
Modern-day Valencia is comprised of three provinces in southwestern Spain: Valencia, Alicante and Castellon. The city of Valencia serves as the capital of the Valencia Province as well as the regional capital.
The vibrant cultural history of Valencia is still celebrated today. The region is home to a number of noted attractions, including the University of Valencia (established in 1499), the Gothic Silk Exchange dating from the 15th century (which was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site), and the quirky La Tomatina festival – a world-famous tomato-throwing festival held in Bunol each year.
Emergence of a Distinct Valencian Language
Catalan was the language of use throughout the Kingdom of Aragon from the 12th century onward. It is believed that the consolidation of political, cultural and linguistic power exerted throughout the Kingdom of Aragon prevented the development of distinct dialectical offshoots from the Catalan language for centuries.
It was not until the 1500s that a number of distinct dialects, Valencian among them, began to develop within the Catalan language. These new dialects distinguished themselves from the central Catalan dialect based on the region surrounding Barcelona.
Shared Characteristics of the Catalan and Valencian Languages
Virtually all linguists agree that Valencian is technically a dialect of the Catalan language, sharing a relationship much like Canadian French to Metropolitan French. Like other Catalan dialects, Valencian is extremely similar to the primary standard Catalan dialect.
Catalan and Valencian are mutually intelligible and differ only in minor details of pronunciation, vocabulary and verb conjugation. For the most part, these differences are not reflected in the written language.
Theories of Valencian as a Separate Language
Although it is generally agreed that Valencian and Catalan are simply variants of a single language, there are some theories among Valencians supporting the idea that Valencian is a separate language. One such theory suggests that Valencian evolved from Mozarabic, the language spoken by local Muslim inhabitants of what later became Al-Andalus, and later acquired similarities to Catalan due to close contact with Catalonia.
An alternate theory proposes that Valencian and Catalan both originated as distinct languages from the Old Occitan or Provencal language of France. Usually publicized by radical politicians, theories like these are widely discredited within the academic community.
Claiming a Unique Valencian Linguistic Identity
Catalan and Valencian language speakers have a history of friction, and the relationship between the two has been an issue of dispute for decades. While most Catalonians consider the Valencian language to be simply a dialect of Catalan, most Valencian language speakers insist upon the existence of a distinct Valencian language.
Since the end of the Spanish Civil War, the debates as to whether the Catalan and Valencian languages are autonomous or simply variants of a single language have become increasingly bitter. Despite the general classification of Valencian as a dialect of Catalan, Valencians continue to promote what they consider a distinct Valencian language.
Political Issues Surrounding the Valencian Language
The classification and status of the Valencian language proved problematic throughout Spain’s transition to democracy in the second half of the 20th century. Due to the tendency to classify Valencian as a dialect of the Catalan language, Valencian nationalists and radical politicians have often accused Catalans of attempting to suppress any unique Valencian identity by denying the existence of an autonomous Valencian language.
Issues regarding the terminology of a unique Valencian language appeared again in 2004 during the process of approving the European Constitution. Spain provided the European Union with translations of the text in the Basque, Galician, Catalan and Valencian languages – but the Catalan and Valencian texts were identical. Spain’s government defended the action as an obligatory act of respect for Valencia’s autonomous status and its choice of Valencian as its regional language.
Valencian Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: CATALÀ, CATALÁN, BACAVÈS, CATALONIAN
Language Family: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Iberian, Ibero-Romance, East Iberian.
Spoken by Approximately 6,565,000 people
Spoken In: United States
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