Occitan language

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This article is about the Occitan language. For other uses of the term Provençal, please see Provençal (disambiguation).
Location of Occitania, i.e. the Occitan-speaking territory (in green), with state boundaries

Occitan is a Romance language spoken in a territory called Occitania, which comprises southern France, Monaco, part of Italy (the Occitan Valleys) and part of Spain (the Aran Valley).

Occitan has several different names: Lenga d'Òc or Langue d'Oc or sometimes Provençal (in its own language: occitan,[1] lenga d'òc[2] and sometimes provençau/provençal[3]),

Status and use

This minority language has the status of an official language in Spain (see Aranese Occitan)[4] and of a protected language in Italy.[5] It has no official status in France, nor in Monaco. Its usage is quite limited compared to dominant state languages such as French, Italian and Spanish.

Nowadays, Occitan enjoys a dynamic movement of cultural defense and modern creativity, especially in literature and music. Occitan literature has been famous and uninterrupted since the 10th century,[6] including the troubadours of the Middle Ages, a baroque period, Frederic Mistral's Nobel prize in 1904 and a constant renewal nowadays.[7]

Classification

Among the Romance languages, the closest relative of Occitan is Catalan. According to the linguist Bierre Bec,[8] Occitan and Catalan form a very compact Romance subgroup, and even a common diasystem, called Occitano-Romance. It is an overlap of (or a bridge between) two larger Romance subgroups: Gallo-Romance (including French, Francoprovençal, Romansh, Ladin, Friulian and Northern Italian) and Ibero-Romance (including Aragonese, Spanish, Asturian-Leonese and Galician-Portuguese). It has to be said that Aragonese itself is more and more viewed as a bridge between Occitano-Romance and Ibero-Romance proper.[9]

The term Lenga d'Òc (that is, Occitan; literally, "Language of Yes") is often misleadingly associated with the term Langue d'Oïl (French, similarly, "oïl" being the medieval form that developed into the modern French word for "yes", "oui"). Therefore many people believe erroneously that Lenga d'Òc and Langue d'Oïl must be the two faces of a same, common language which would be "French". In fact, all specialists agree that Occitan is very much closer to Catalan and totally separate from French. The Òc-Oïl false myth is a late misunderstanding (and even a distortion) of a Medieval naming of the three following languages: Italian ("language of sì"), Occitan ("language of òc") and French ("language of oïl").

Dialects and standardization

The main Occitan dialects are:[10][11]

All dialects are integrated into and respected in the ongoing standardization process (which has not been fully implemented yet). Therefore, Occitan tends to work as a pluricentric language: this means that Standard Occitan (occitan estandard), also called Wide Occitan (occitan larg), comprises converging, regional modalities. Between them, the central Lengadocian dialect is the basis of the default modality of Standard Occitan: it is suitable for learners who don't become attached to any particular regional modality. The regional modalities of Standard Occitan are suitable for learners who have special ties with one region; they are just a little more discrepant than the regional modalities of Standard English (as British, American, Canadian, Australian...), so they remain fully and easily understandable for users of all regions.[12][13][14][15]

Spelling and pronunciation

Occitan uses the following version of the Latin alphabet with twenty-three letters:

A B C D E F G H I J L M N O P Q R S T U V X Z

The letter names are the following:

A (a), B (be nauta, be auta), C (ce), D (de), E (e), F (èfa), G (ge), H (acha), I (i), J (ji), L (èla), M (èma), N (èna), O (o), P (pe), Q (cu), R (èrra), S (èssa), T (te), U (u), V (ve bassa, in Gascon ve baisha), X (ixa), Z (izèda).

The letters K (ca), W (ve dobla) and Y (i grèga) have their usual place in the alphabet, but are restricted to words of foreign origin.

Some letters bear the following diacritic marks, which are mandatory on uppercases and lowercases:

  • The acute accent (accent agut), on á, é, ó, í, ú, indicates stressed, close vowels.
  • The grave accent (accent grèu), on à, è, ò, indicates stressed, open vowels.
  • The cedilla (cedilha), on ç, indicates that ç is pronounced [s], not [k].
  • The dieresis (trèma), on ï, ü, indicates that ï and ü are pronounced separately from a previous letter.
  • The interpunct (ponch interior, punt interior), on n·h, s·h, indicates a distinction between n·h and nh or s·h and sh.

Pronunciation rules are explained in the following table.

Occitan letters and pronunciation rules
grapheme standard default
pronunciation
(IPA)
standard default
pronunciation
(English
approximate equivalent)
alternative, standard regional
pronunciations
(IPA)
a - [a]
- [ɔ] after stress, especially when a is final
- father
- song
when final
only [a]
à [a] father
á [ɔ] song [e]
ai [aj] fine [aj] when stressed, [ej] when unstressed
au [aw] house [aw] when stressed, [ɔw] when unstressed
b [b] ([β] in some positions) b only [b]
c - [k]
- [s] before e, i
- car
- city
before e, i
ç [s] before a, o, u and final ss silent when final
ch [tʃ] ch - [ts]
- silent when final
d [d] ([ð] in some positions) d (other in some positions) only [d]
e [e] Close e as in let [ə]
é [e] Close e as in let [ə]
è [ɛ] Open e, nearly a, as in cat [e]
f [f] f
g - [g] ([ɣ] in some positions)
- [dʒ] before e, i
- [k] when final
- [tʃ] when final in some words
- gone
- fragile before e, i
- k when final
- ch when final in some words
- [g]
- [dz], [ʒ]

- silent when final
- silent when final

gu [g] before e, i ([ɣ] in some positions) guess before e, i only [g]
(or gu) [gw] ([ɣw] in some positions) penguin only [gw]
h silent silent pronounced [h] in Gascon
i - [i]
- [j] after vowel
- hit
- boy
after vowel
í [i] hit
ï [i] hit
j [dʒ] j [dz], [ʒ]
l [l] l
lh - [ʎ]
- [l] when final
- million
- tall when final
- [j]
- [ʎ], [j] when final
m - [m]
- [n] when final
- m
- n when final
only [m]
n - [n]
- often silent when final
- n
- often silent when final
pronounced when final
nh - [ɲ]
- [n] when final
- onion
- n when final
- [ɲ]
- [n], [ɲ] when final
n·h - [n]+[h] as in English enhance, only in Gascon
o [u] look
ó [u] look
ò [ɔ] hot [wa]
p [p] p silent when final
q always followed by u, see below -
qu [k] k
(or qu) [kw] queen
r - [r] (tap or flap)
- [rr] (trill) when initial
- often silent when final
- short, rolled Spanish r
- long, rolled Spanish r when initial
- often silent when final
- [r], [ʀ]
- [rr], [ʀ], [r]
- silent or pronounced when final
rr - [rr] (trill) between two vowels long, rolled Spanish rr [rr], [ʀ], [r]
s - [s]
- [z] between two vowels
- s
- z between two vowels
silent when final
sh [ʃ] sh In Gascon, ish is pronounced [ʃ]
s·h - - [s] + [h] as in English dishearten, only in Gascon
ss [s] between two vowels ss
t [t] t silent when final
th - - [t], almost exclusively used in Gascon
tg [dʒ] before e, i j [dz], [tʃ]
tj [dʒ] before a, o, u j [dz], [tʃ]
tl [ll] will look [l]
tm [mm] ham meat [m]
tn [nn] on night [n]
tz - [ts] when final
- [dz] between two vocals
- ts when final
- dz between two vocals
- [s] or silent when final
- [z] between two vocals
u - [y]
- [w] after vowel
- French u (resembles English cure, few)
- shout, low after vowel
ú [y] French u (resembles English cure, few)
ü [y] French u (resembles English cure, few)
uè (ue) [ɥɛ] ([ɥe]) resembles French muette [œ], [we]
[ɥɔ] ([jɔ]) York
v [b] ([β] in some positions) b only [v]
x - [ks]
- [gz] in the prefix ex- before a vowel
- [s] before consonant
- box
- exam in the prefix ex- before a vowel
- s before consonant
[ks/ts], [gz/dz], [s], [z]
z [z] z

There are some particular, regional pronunciation rules.

  • In Lemosin Occitan, a vowel followed by s, at the end of a syllable, produces long vowels or diphthongs, in a lot of words: as [aː], es [ej], is [iː], òs [ɔː], os [uː], us [yː].
  • In Auvernhat Occitan, most consonants (except r) are palatalized when placed before i [i] and u [y]: b [b > bj] — qu(i), c(u) [k > kj] — ch [ts > tʃ] — d [d > dj] — f [f > fj] — gu(i), g(u) [g > gj] — g(i), j(u) [dz > dʒ] — tg(i), tj(u) [dz > dʒ] — l [l > lj] — m [m > mj] — n [n > nj] — p [p > pj] — s [s > ʃ] — ss (between vowels) [s > ʃ] — c(i), ç(u) [s > ʃ] — z [z > ʒ] — s (between vowels) [z > ʒ]. This Auvernhat phenomenon also occurs in English, with the palatal pronunciation of consonants in words such as cute [ˈkjuːt], tube [ˈtjuːb], election [ɪˈlekʃn], picture [ˈpɪktʃə(ɹ)], mission [ˈmɪʃn], sure [ˈʃʊə(ɹ)], pleasure [ˈpleʒə(ɹ)].
  • A nasal consonant such as n, m can nasalize more or less a previous vowel, at the end of a syllable, in some dialects (Lemosin, Auvernhat, Vivaro-Alpine, Provençal): dança [ˈdansɔ > ˈdaⁿsɔ > ˈdãsɔ] “dance”; volèm [vuˈlɛn > vuˈlɛⁿ > vuˈlẽ] “we want”.
  • In Lengadocian Occitan, [ps], [ts] and [ks] are often merged into [ts]: còps [ˈkɔps > ˈkɔts] “times”, sacs [ˈsaks > ˈsats] “bags”, occitan [uksiˈta > utsiˈta], Mexic [mekˈsik > meˈtsik] “Mexico”.

Phonology

In this section, default forms are typical of general, standard Occitan (based on the central, Lengadocian dialect) but main regional variations are also presented.

Stress

The stress has a limited mobility. It can fall:

  • on the last syllable.
  • on the penult.
  • only in some far eastern varieties (Niçard and Eastern Alpine), on the antepenult.

Vocals

front central back
un-
rounded
rounded unrounded rounded
close i, í
/i/
u, ú
/y/
o, ó
/u/
close-mid e, é
/e/
open-mid è
/ɛ/
ò, á, final -a
/ɔ/
open a, à
/a/

In some regional varieties, the phonemes /œ/ and /ə/ are also used.

It is worth of mention that there is vocalic alternation. In an unstressed syllable, and before a stressed syllable, some vocals are impossible and switch to closer vocals:

  • Stressed è /ɛ/ switches to unstressed e /e/.
  • Stressed ò /ɔ/ switches to unstressed o /u/.

After a stressed syllable, in a word ending, the unstressed phoneme /a/ has evolved toward /ɔ/ in modern Occitan. For instance taula ('table') is pronounced [ˈtawlɔ] (only a few local varieties keep /a/ in this position, as in Old Occitan: taula [ˈtawla]).

Consonants

labial labial-palatal labial-velar dental or
alveolar
palatal or
postalveolar
velar
voice-
less
voiced voice-
less
voiced voice-
less
voiced voice-
less
voiced voice-
less
voiced voice-
less
voiced
occlusive p
/p/
b, v
/b/
t
/t/
d
/d/
c, qu
/k/
g, gu
/g/
fricative f
/f/
v
(/v/)
s, ss, ç, c
/s/
z, s
/z/
sh
/ʃ/
affricate tz, ts
/ts/
tz
(/dz/)
ch
/tʃ/
j, g
/dʒ/
nasal m
/m/
n
/n/
nh
/ɲ/
lateral l
/l/
lh
/ʎ/
trill rr, r-
/rr/
tap or flap r
/r/[16]
approximant
(glide)
u
/ɥ/
u
/w/
i
/j/

In some regional varieties, the phonemes /ʀ/, /h/ and /ʒ/ are also used.

Distinction between /v/ and /b/ is general in the northern and eastern dialects (Provençal, Vivaro-Alpine, Auvernhat and Lemosin). In the central and southwestern dialects (Lengadocian and Gascon) the phonemes /b/ and /v/ are merged into /b/ (so /v/ has disappeared).

In the central and southwestern dialects (Lengadocian and Gascon), the phonemes /b/, /d/ and /g/ have various phonetic realizations. They are occlusive by default: [b], [d], [g]. They become fricative, i.e. [β], [ð], [ɣ], when they are in contact with [r], [l] or [z] and when they are between two vowels.

Naming

Occitan is nowadays the most frequently used name for the language. This name appeared between 1290 and 1300,[17] perhaps as early as 1271[18] in texts written in Latin under forms such as occitanus, lingua occitana, simultaneously with the territory name Occitania (Occitania in Latin and English, Occitània in Occitan). It is thought that Occitania was created from òc (that is lenga d'òc) and the ending of the territory name [Aqu]itania. The terms Occitan and Occitania used to belong to a learned register for a long time but they have gained a wide usage since the second half of the 20th century.

The term Lenga d'Òc means “language of òc”, òc being the way of saying “yes”. Note that it may be said in English Lenga d'Òc as in Occitan or, less correctly, Langue d'Oc as in French. Lenga d'Òc is known in texts at least from 1291 on[19] and is the likely etymology of Oc[citan]. Notably, Lenga d'Òc was spread from De vulgari eloquentia (1303-1305), the famous essay by Italian writer Dante Alighieri, where three Romance languages were identified by the way of saying “yes”: Lenga d'Òc (“language of òc” or Occitan), Lingua di Sì (“language of sì” or Italian), Langue d'Oïl (“language of oïl” or French).

The term Provençal (provençau, provençal in Modern Occitan; proençal, proensal in Old Occitan) appeared around 1240.[20] It referred to the medieval remembrance of the large Roman territory called Provincia Romana which encompassed Provence and Languedoc, that is a large part of Occitania. Italian authors, which were influenced by the high prestige of Medieval Occitan, helped the spread of the name Provençal since Provence is the closest region of Occitania from an Italian perspective. In traditional Romance linguistics, Provençal was the most used term for the whole language before it was replaced by Occitan in the second half of the 20th century. A large part of Occitan-speaking people do not live in Provence and therefore can hardly identify themselves as “Provençal-speakers”, so the spread of the term “Occitan” has been viewed as a more neutral naming solution which does not favors any particular region. Nowadays, the term Provençal is mostly used to designate the Occitan dialect of Provence rather than the whole Occitan language.

The following terms are no longer in use to designate Occitan as a whole.

  • Some medieval authors, especially of the 13th century, also called the language roman, lenga romana. It was a way of highlighting the rise of Occitan (“Roman”) as a prestigious, written language in front of “Latin”. Roman underlined the clear consciousness of the Romance origin of Occitan at this time, albeit comparative linguistics did not exist yet.
  • The term Lemosin (lemosin in Modern occitan; lemosin, lemosi in Old Occitan) appeared between 1190 and 1213.[21] It was used mostly during the 13th century because some famous troubadours were originally from Limousin. During the 18th and the 19th century, some learned persons took again the name llemosí in order to call the Catalan language in reference to the role of medieval Occitan in the birth of Catalan literature. Nowadays Lemosin only designates the Occitan dialect of Limousin and northern Périgord.
  • The term Gascon used to designate sometimes the whole Occitan language during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries.[22] At this time, Gascony was a major center of Occitan literature and Gascon people used to represent more or less Southern France (that is Occitania) in the eyes of northern French people. Nowadays Gascon only designates the Occitan dialect of Gascony and Bearn.

Footnotes

  1. Occitan is pronounced [uksiˈta, utsiˈta] or regionally [uksiˈtaⁿ, ukʃiˈtɔ, uksiˈtɔ].
  2. Lenga d'òc is pronounced [ˈleŋgɔ ˈðɔ(k)] or regionally [ˈleⁿgɔ ˈdɔ, ˈleⁿga ˈdɔk, ˈlɪⁿgɔ ˈdɔ].
  3. Provençau or provençal, according to the regions, is pronounced [pʀuveⁿˈsaw] or [pruveⁿˈsaw, pruβenˈsaw, pruβenˈsal, pruveⁿˈsal, pruvɪⁿˈsal].
  4. Act no. 16 of 1990 (Regim especiau dera Val d'Aran / Special Regime of Aran Valley) and Act no. 1 of 1998 (Lei de politica linguistica / Language Policy Act), both in the autonomous region of Catalonia; see here.
  5. Act no. 482 of 1999 in Italy (Norme in materia di tutela delle minoranze linguistiche storiche / Norms Concerning the Protection of Historical Language Minorities), see here.
  6. LAFONT Robert, & ANATOLE Christian (1970) Nouvelle histoire de la littérature occitane, coll. Publications de l’Institut d’Études Occitanes, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 2 vol.
  7. KIRSCH F. Peter, & KREMNITZ Georg, & SCHLIEBEN-LANGE Brigitte (2002) Petite histoire sociale de la langue occitane: usages, images, literature, grammaires et dictionnaires, coll. Cap al Sud, 66140 Canet: Trabucaire.
  8. BÈC Pèire (1995) = BEC Pierre, La langue occitane, coll. Que sais-je? n° 1059, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, p. 6.
  9. See Sociedat de Lingüistica Aragonesa: "The main goals of the SLA are to contribute to a better knowledge of the Aragonese area, in a close, historical interaction with the Catalan and Gascon domains." ["Son finalidaz principals de la SLA contribuir a un millor conoiximiento de l'espácio aragonés, en estreita interaccion historica con los ambitos catalan i gascon."]
  10. BÈC Pèire (1973) = BEC Pierre, Manuel pratique d’occitan moderne, coll. Connaissance des langues, Paris: Picard.
  11. SUMIEN Domergue (2009) “Classificacion dei dialèctes occitans”, Lingüistica occitana 7, available online (PDF).
  12. BÈC Pèire (1972) “Per una dinamica novèla de la lenga de referéncia: dialectalitat de basa e diasistèma occitan”, Annales de l’Institut d’Études Occitanes 4e série, tome II, no. 6 [reed. in BÈC Pèire (2002) = BEC Pierre, Per un país…: écrits sur la langue et la littérature occitanes modernes, Poitiers: Institut d’Études Occitanes de la Vienne, pages 351-369]
  13. LAFONT Robert (1983b) “Problèmes de normalisation dans l’espace occitan” [in: FODOR István, & HAGÈGE Claude (1983) (dir.) Language reform, history and future / La réforme des langues, histoire et avenir / Sprachreform, Geschichte und Zukunft, Hamburg: Buske Verlag]
  14. SAUZET Patric (1990) “La grafia es mai que la grafia”, Amiras 21 (Enseigner l’occitan: le tableau est-il si noir?): pages 35-46, available online.
  15. SUMIEN Domergue (2006) La standardisation pluricentrique de l’occitan. Nouvel enjeu sociolinguistique, développement du lexique et de la morphologie, coll. Publications de l’Association Internationale d’Études Occitanes, Turnhout: Brepols
  16. Note that Occitan linguists usually note /rr/ for the trill and /r/ for the flap. Italian linguists do the same. Another possible notation, especially peferred by Catalan linguists, is /r/ for the trill and /ɾ/ for the flap.
  17. LAFONT Robèrt (1986) "La nominacion indirècta dels païses", Revue des langues romanes 2, vol. XC: 161-171
  18. LODGE R. A. (1993) French, from dialect to standard, London / New York: Routledge, p. 96 — Quoted in: MULJAČIĆ Žarko (1997) “Perché i glottonimi linguaggio italiano, lingua italiana (e sim.) appaiono per indicare ‘oggetti’ reali e non soltanto auspicati molto più tardi di altri termini analoghi che si riferiscono a varie lingue gallo e ibero-romanze?”, Cuadernos de filología italiana 4: 253-264
  19. LODGE R. A. (1993) French, from dialect to standard, London / New York: Routledge, p. 96 — Quoted in: MULJAČIĆ Žarko (1997) “Perché i glottonimi linguaggio italiano, lingua italiana (e sim.) appaiono per indicare ‘oggetti’ reali e non soltanto auspicati molto più tardi di altri termini analoghi che si riferiscono a varie lingue gallo e ibero-romanze?”, Cuadernos de filología italiana 4: 253-264
  20. SCHLIEBEN-LANGE Brigitte (1991): "Okzitanisch: Grammatikographie und Lexikographie", Lexikon der Romanistichen Linguistik V, 2: 105-126 (p. 111) — Quoted in: MULJAČIĆ Žarko (1997) “Perché i glottonimi linguaggio italiano, lingua italiana (e sim.) appaiono per indicare ‘oggetti’ reali e non soltanto auspicati molto più tardi di altri termini analoghi che si riferiscono a varie lingue gallo e ibero-romanze?”, Cuadernos de filología italiana 4: 253-264
  21. SCHLIEBEN-LANGE Brigitte (1991): "Okzitanisch: Grammatikographie und Lexikographie", Lexikon der Romanistichen Linguistik V, 2: 105-126 (p. 111) — Quoted in: MULJAČIĆ Žarko (1997) “Perché i glottonimi linguaggio italiano, lingua italiana (e sim.) appaiono per indicare ‘oggetti’ reali e non soltanto auspicati molto più tardi di altri termini analoghi che si riferiscono a varie lingue gallo e ibero-romanze?”, Cuadernos de filología italiana 4: 253-264
  22. GARDY Philippe (2001) "Les noms de l'occitan / Nommer l'occitan", in: BOYER Henri, & GARDY Philippe (2001) (dir.) Dix siècles d’usages et d’images de l’occitan: des troubadours à l’Internet, coll. Sociolinguistique, Paris: L’Harmattan, p. 43-60