When visiting Menorca, you may come across a tongue you’ve never heard before: Catalan. Though Menorca technically belongs to Spain, its traditions, culture, and language are very different from that of the mainland. The flourishing and advancement of this language was the life project of one of Menorca’s most famous figures: Francesc de Borja Moll i Casasnovas. |
A Ground-breaking Linguist
Francesc de Borja Moll i Casasnovas was born in Ciutadella, Menorca’s second-largest city, in 1903. Borja Moll began his formal education at the Seminary of Ciutadella, studying Latin and the humanities – subjects which were taught in Castilian Spanish, the dominant language of the city at the time. However, Borja Moll’s contributions to linguistics were to come not in Castilian, but in the mother tongue of the Balearics: Catalan.
The arrival of Antoni Maria Alcover to the Seminary of Ciutadella marked a turning point in Borja Moll’s budding career. Alcover was visiting Menorca with the intention of learning more about the dialects of the island in order to complete his book, the Catalan-Valencian-Balearic Dictionary. Borja Moll became Alcover’s student, and eventually became co-author of the Diccionari Català-Valencià-Balear. The dictionary was an exhaustive inventory of the Catalan language and etymology, running nearly 10,000 pages with over 160,000 items.
But Borja Moll’s contributions to the Catalan language did not end with the publication of the dictionary. Borja Moll dedicated his life to the study and advancement of Menorca’s mother tongue. Over his long career, Borja Moll published such titles as Catalan Historical Grammar, Mallorcan Orthography, and Language of Two Islands. In 1971, he received the Prize of Honour of Catalan Letters.
The Catalan Language
Though Menorca and the Balearic Islands are part of Spain, the dominant language is Catalan, not Castilian Spanish, as is spoken in most of the mainland. If you’re visiting Menorca with some background in Castilian Spanish, you should still be able to communicate, as most Menorcans know both dialects. Indeed, Catalan and Castilian share status as co-official languages.
Catalan developed in the region of Catalonia, which consists of north-eastern Spain and adjacent parts of France. It is thought to have evolved from Vulgar Latin during the 9th century around the eastern Pyrenees mountains. It peaked as the dominant language of Aragon during the Late Middle Ages, and at one point was spoken widely through the Mediterranean region. After the 15th century, when Aragon was unified with other territories of Spain, the language began to decline and Castilian Spanish took its place.
Throughout history, the fortunes of the Catalan language have risen and fallen. It has been banned twice, once during the 18th century and again during the rule of General Francisco Franco. However, the return to Spanish democracy has restored Catalan as an official language. Today, in part thanks to the efforts of Francesc de Borja Moll i Casasnovas, Catalan has some 4 million native speakers, and 5 million second language speakers.
When visiting Menorca, it’s impossible not to notice the traces of cultural influence left by imperial regimes and invading peoples over the centuries. The Catalan language is just one product of Menorca’s diverse past – and part of what makes this island so unique.
Brenda Jaaback, Managing Director of Bartle Holidays, is a renowned Menorca expert. From its history to its people and from its wildlife to its cuisine - no secret of the island remains hidden to her. Personally selecting the finest properties for her clients, Brenda is the go-to person for anyone visiting Menorca for a relaxing holiday. Bartle Holidays makes no warranty as to the accuracy of information contained in this article and excludes any liability of any kind for the information.
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