The Deià ajuntament — the local council — has been offering free Catalán classes, or Classes de Català since February of this year.
Catalàn classes are on Tuesdays between 1700 and 1900 in the town hall. You can find out more here.
Castellano Spanish and Catalán are the official languages of Mallorca. You’ll learn to hear the differences if you spend any time here.
Castellano is the standard language of all Spain and also of Latin America. Catalán is the official language of Catalonia, the Balearic Islands, Valencia and Andorra.
According to seemallorca.com, ‘Catalán was coined from Vulgar Latin in the Pyrenees Mountains between France and Spain and deviated from the other Romance languages in the 9th century…and became the official language of the kingdom of Aragón between 1137 and 1749.’
Catalán has been severely suppressed during certain periods in Spanish history. Franco’s 1936-1975 dictatorship banned it.
This, apparently, led to ingenious resistance on the part of anti-Fascist Mallorquins. Under Franco, a famous restaurant reviewer for one of the island newspapers nicknamed Gafim used to write reviews in Castellano that contained messages of resistance written in a code that used Catalán. I don’t know if this is actually true but it’s a great story.
You’ll also hear people speaking Mallorquí in Mallorca. This is similar to Catalán but not the same. It’s also regarded as a dialect.
According to one definition, a dialect is a spoken, not written, variety of a language. Many Catalán speakers argue that Mallorquí is just a dialect for this reason.
But I have heard Mallorquins claim that the existence of an ancient recipe book supposedly written in Mallorquí proves that it’s a language. This is important for patriotic Mallorquins and other natives of the Balearic Islands.
English Catalán student Lucy David told me, ‘There are a few differences between Catalán and Mallorquí. Some of the words and grammar aren’t the same. For example, in Catalán, the plural form is “les” and it’s feminine. In Mallorquí it’s “ses”. Also, some Mallorquí words differ from village to village.’
Lucy is English and moved to the island in 1999. She decided to learn Catalán because she wanted to integrate more into island life. Her two children go to school on the island and, as she puts it, ‘have absorbed Catalán and Castellano’.
‘I also wanted to learn Catalán out of respect for the island,’ she told me, ‘and understand more about the culture of the island. It’s also an advantage workwise, dealing with contractors and so on, and I would say a necessity for understanding the local schooling.’
Although she hasn’t got into what she calls ‘the guts of grammar’ yet, Lucy finds Catalán logical. ‘I’d say it’s a pretty easy language to learn,’ she said. ‘I don’t think it’s complicated. And I’m really enjoying learning and making the effort.’
Lucy is very happy she’s started on the path of Catalán, although she still classifies herself as a beginner,
‘When I start speaking Catalán in restaurants and shops, people really do warm to me,’ she explained. ‘They’re appreciative, complimentary and encouraging. I’ve only had a good response.’
Taking Catalán classes has also opened up the possibility for new friendships for Lucy. Particularly with the older population who prefer to speak Catalán rather than Castellano and are less likely to speak a foreign language.
So what would Lucy say to anyone thinking about going along to the free Catalán classes in the Deià town hall?
‘Just go for it. And practice, practice, practice every opportunity. Don’t be embarrassed. Try and use the language as much as you can.’