Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Old Catalan. The beginning of Catalan

After the fall of the Roman Empire and up to the tenth and eleventh centuries, classic Latin was the language of culture and writing, and Romance, the colloquial language. However, over time, archaic Catalan started to be introduced into writing until the appearance of the first texts basically written in this language: ‘Greuges de Guitard Isarn, senyor de Caboet’ [Grievances of Gitard Isarn, master of Caboet] (1080-1095) and ‘Jurament de pau i treva del comte Pere Ramon de Pallars Jussà al bisbe d’Urgell’ [Promise of peace and ceasefire of count Pere Ramon from Pallars Jussà to the Bishop of Urgell].


During the lower Roman Empire period and especially around the time of the fall of the western empire, common Latin began to evolve in a gradual way and to become distanced from the so called classic Latin until giving way to the Romance languages. However, it was not until later that there was an awareness of the fact that the written and spoken languages were two different realities. Classic Latin remained as the language of culture and, therefore, was used for writing. Romance was for the colloquial level.

It was mainly during the Carolingian period when awareness arose of the existence of two differentiated languages. During this stage a cultural renaissance occurred and they tried to recuperate the more cultured Latin level. This wish to recuperate a correct use of Latin and the impossibility of most of the population to use it, were some of the factors which assisted the realisation of these two realities.

Another factor which illustrates this situation of diglossia was the Church’s need to convey their doctrine to all the classes. Faced with the fact that the worshipers no longer understood the ecclesiastical language, in the Tours council of 813 it was established that the Latin homilies had to be translated into the Romance languages – ‘transferre in rusticam Romanam linguam’ –, so that everyone could understand what was being said. This is the first time that the existence of Romance languages was made explicit, although it was not until 842, with the translations of the Strasbourg promise, that we find documents written for the first time with samples of these languages.

Thus, Catalan was born, from the evolution of common Latin, between the end of the seventh and beginning of the eighth century. However, Catalan was not seen to be used in writing until a few centuries later and in a progressive way. The first documents with specific traits of archaic Catalan which have been conserved belong to the ninth and tenth centuries. These Catalan traits, which infiltrated in the texts written in Latin, already show, on the one hand, that a very distinct linguistic system existed and, on the other, that the knowledge of classic Latin had begun to become impoverished as the need to create new concepts born from the consolidation of feudalism arose.

In documents of the eleventh century the use of Catalan elements of a feudal nature, in texts, progressively widens, especially in promises and grievances. Soon after, the first texts appeared, written basically in Catalan, which we conserve: the ‘Grievances of Guitard Isarn, master of Caboet’ (1080-1095) and the ‘Promise of peace and ceasefire of count Pere Ramon from Pallars Jussà to the Bishop of Urgell’ (probably from 1098).

In the twelfth century, the texts written in Catalan are not only of a feudal nature: we find, for example, the first translations or adaptations of a judicial nature, and specifically the ‘Liber iudiciorum’ or ‘Llibre dels judicis’ [Book of judgements], which was a legislative code of Visigoth origin. From the beginning of the thirteenth century we find the ‘Homilies d’Organyà’ [Homilies of Organyà] that have erroneously been considered the oldest document in Catalan because priority was given to ‘literary’ texts – in spite of the relativity of this literary content – and texts from other ambits were not taken into account.

In the thirteenth century, the written use of Catalan started to spread. From the beginning of this century we must point out the oldest known translation to date of the ‘Usatges’ [Uses] of Barcelona.

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