Italy’s Last Bastion of Catalan.

Raphael Minder has a nice NY Times piece on Catalan in Alghero:

The first Catalans reached Sardinia in the 14th century, when troops sailed from the eastern coast of what is now Spain as part of an expansion into the Mediterranean.

After an uprising slaughtered the forces garrisoned in this northern port on the island, King Peter IV expelled many of the locals. In their place, he populated Alghero mostly with convicts, prostitutes and other undesirables, many of them Catalans.

Today, Alghero is a linguistic anomaly. This walled and picturesque city is, quite literally, the last bastion of Catalan in Italy. […]

But while the traditional insularity of Alghero has helped to preserve Catalan, the language is struggling to survive even here.

Only about one-quarter of the 43,000 inhabitants of Alghero speak Catalan as a main language, according to local officials. It is hardly spoken among younger people and barely taught in schools. Nearly a century ago, almost everyone spoke Catalan, according to a census conducted in 1921. […]

After Sardinia was taken over by the Turin-based House of Savoy in 1720, eventually becoming part of what is modern-day Italy, the Catalan language virtually disappeared on the island.

Now, Catalan is not only overshadowed by Italian, but it must also compete for recognition with a handful of other languages and dialects, including the dominant indigenous language, Sardinian.

Catalan is rarely heard on the streets in Alghero, though many signs are written in the language. Restaurants also label some of their dishes as Catalan, including a local version of paella.

There’s more at the link, including a useful map and some photos. Needless to say, I regret the approaching disappearance of Algherese (as the locals call it), but I can’t see much hope for staving it off. (Thanks, Trevor!)


  1. How is it that 25% of the population speak it, but at the same time “is rarely heard on the streets”?

  2. Several possibilities:

    * The old people who speak it stay at home and the young people who don’t lounge around in the streets.

    * People are too ashamed to speak it in the streets any more.

    * People use Algherese at home and Sardinian in the streets.

    Still, the fact that the 25% who do speak it appear to be largely confined to the older generation suggests that it’s in dire straits.

  3. “How is it that 25% of the population speak it, but at the same time ‘is rarely heard on the streets’”

    This is quite common among indigenous languages suffering from low prestige versus the dominant language. I’ve been in communities in Russia where the majority of the population spoke the local language at home, and yet for all interactions in public spaces like shops they used Russian even if they knew that their interlocutors were fellow speakers of the regional language.

  4. “Catalan is rarely heard on the streets in Alghero, though many signs are written in the language. Restaurants also label some of their dishes as Catalan, including a local version of paella.”

    Sounds a bit like parts of Occitania where some enterprising locals are keen to boast of their local heritage (and maybe cash in a bit), but you don’t have a chance in hell of ever using the language or even hearing it spoken around you.

  5. I spent a couple of days in Alghero recently. I left with the impression that Catalan had basically been reduced to a bit of inconsistently spelled ye olde local heritage to bring in tourists with. The fact that the marina seemed to have been taken over by yacht-owners from everywhere else, and the picturesque old town by souvenir shops, only exacerbated this. It was a big contrast to nearby Sassari, where you could hear a clearly non-Italian language that I assume was Sassarese in any bakery.

  6. In the early days of the Aragonese kingdom of Sardinia, Catalan was the language of the cities almost exclusively. The Sardinian-speaking judicatu of Arborea reduced it in 1638 to just two cities, Cagliari and Alghero, but after several reversals of fortune, the Aragonese gained full control of the island in 1420. The fact that Alghero was continuously Catalan-speaking during this critical period probably accounts for its survival to date.

    Riowang blog has several entries on Alguer, as it is known in Catalan, including this cool.comparison of street names in Catalan vs. Italian which are, to keep suspense, VERY different 🙂

  8. Ah yes, I remember that post — thanks for linking it here!

  9. Lameen’s comment on the contrast he observed between Alghero and Sassari fits with what I have heard and read about the language situation in Sardinia today: bilingualism in Italian (admittedly, a distinctive regional variety, influenced by Sardinian) is near-universal, but large-scale shift to Italian is only taking place in Cagliari and other coastal towns/cities.

    John Cowan: one legacy of Cagliari having once been predominantly Catalan-speaking is that the Campidanese dialect of Sardinian (the Southern dialect, i.e. the one spoken immediately outside Cagliari) has a very important borrowed Catalan component in its vocabulary, which is absent from Logudorese dialects (spoken further North), despite these Sardinian dialects being adjacent to Alghero. This can seem somewhat surprising, until you remember that Catalan in Alghero survived much longer than Catalan in Cagliari because the latter is a major center and the former an isolated town. Thus, before the spread of Italian as a lingua franca in Sardinia, speakers of Campidanese Sardinian learned Catalan from city-dwellers in Cagliari, whereas in Alghero the situation was the reverse: as a rule Catalan speakers there learned Sardinian, with their Sardinian-speaking neighbors typically not learning Catalan: as a result Alghero Catalan, in addition to its many conservative features, has a number of Sardinian words and features.

  10. Alon Lischinsky says

    To add a further data point to Lameen’s observation, when I visited Alghero some 10 years ago I found exactly one person who’d speak Algherese to me (the woman who ran the B&B where I stayed, who must have been in her late 50s).

    It doesn’t help that mutual intelligibility between Algherese and other dialects of Catalan is quite limited, of course.

  11. Searching for “Catalan Sardinia Youtube” leads to several videos.


  1. […] Hat links to a report on Alghero, the city that is the heart of a fading enclave of Catalan on the Italian […]

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