Catalunya Barcelona Film team talks to Elisabet Compta about the origins of the Catalan language.


Elisabet Compta

Interviewed June 30, 2017 for Catalunya Barcelona docuseries.

Yes, of course. The best schools were the ones during the republic. They were the most advanced. Extraordinary. I’m not joking, it’s proven.

What happened is that once Franco was in power, he disassembled them all. All the teachers were fired, and banned. They couldn’t practice. Dictatorships work this way.

Everything that sounded Catalan, forbidden. Speak Spanish, you all. Catalan is forbidden.


A chemist who devoted himself to write the first Catalan grammar and rules. Nowadays, it’s still in force in many aspects.


Well, I was looking for a job. I got married when I was 20, therefore I needed authorization of my father in order to do so, because the legal age was 21, and well, never mind. I got married, I finished my degree, and once married, because I studied philosophy and arts,

and I finished university when I was 22, therefore I got married when I was 20 and I finished my degree once married. Once graduated, I got pregnant. I had 4 children

in a short period of time. Later on, because of economical reasons I had to look for a job. I had 4 children, so. I had studied Philosophy and Arts so I didn’t know what to look for. My mother, read the newspaper Avui,

which still existed back then, and told me: “Elisabet! They are looking for Catalan teachers.“ Come on, I don’t know Catalan. I can just speak it because it’s my mother tongue.

She told me: “Yes, yes, your promotion. From 1964 until 1969. You studied Catalan language and literature, so you can become a Catalan teacher.” I was like: for god’s sake, I only had 1 hour of Catalan per week, and the professor hardly ever came.

We didn’t study language, just a bit of literature. I took the exam but I was worried I was going to be examined. My husband told me: “Don’t worry. They’ll ask you your ID in order to hire you, and that’s all.” And I was hired.

I was hired the 18th of January and I started working a few days later. I studied around 3-4 hours per night because my knowledge was limited.

I came across very nice people at my job, and together, we set everything up. As a result of my profession, I became a separatist Catalanist.

All the teachers were pro-Francoism. It was an all-boys school were everyone was against Catalan. The first thing the ones from EGB told me, was: “How long are you going to last? Because you’re the third one this year.”

To which I replied: “Until the end.” It was a daily war, both with teachers and students. I learned a lot of Catalan because of this. I really enjoyed it, moreover, it’s my mother tongue.

I went on, and I retired 10 years ago. At the beginning, they only needed Catalan teachers, and so I taught the language in different years. But Joaquim Arenas, who was in charche of the policy of making the local language official within an autonomous region,

told me: Girl, there are a lot of people who get the title nowadays. Sit the examination for Catalan teachers or you won’t have a proper job.

I sat the examination and I went on teaching Catalan. A lot of people who got the title didn’t love Catalan, and they spoke it poorly, which wasn’t good for the kids.

Anyway, the policy of making the local language official within an autonomous region has been a blessing. Because nowadays, all the kids speak Catalan. They speak Catalan when they need to, because you go to a playground, and you only hear Spanish.

So, when people say that Spanish is being annihilated here… Come on, they should be ashamed. I’m sorry, but it makes my blood boil.


It’s such a pleasure. People haven’t immigrated that much to small towns. There’s a lot of it, nowadays. Small towns from Girona, and other places, don’t have as many immigrants. During the industrialization, a lot of people from the rest of Spain immigrated here.

From Spain, sorry. It was one of Franco’s policies. He wanted immigrants to come here because he wished to annihilate the Catalan language, the Catalan culture,

and the Catalan history. Everything that was Catalan. He thought it was a way of reconquer Catalunya. There have been a lot of problems here, like not allowing people to speak Catalan. And, people from my generation, since

they are used to bilingualism, answer in Spanish when someone speaks to them in Spanish as well. The history repeats itself. I have various groups of friends, and some of them speak Spanish.

What happens, then? Well, that you don’t even notice it, but you speak Catalan to some and Spanish to the rest. This has been the reason for Spanish predominating over Catalan. Catalan is more spoken in some schools, it depends.


Of course. They had just began when I started teaching. There wasn’t a curriculum because Catalan language was the only thing taught. We had to organize it all. You introduced more things in Catalan when you had the chance, such as readings. When Foix passed away, I was still in that school,

and I overheard teachers saying: “And who was that? This man doesn’t matter. He doesn’t write properly”. Horrible things. The worse was that I hadn’t studied it either. I studied Philosophy and Romance and Hispanic language.

Hispanic meant all languages. I had 1 hour per week of Galician, and of Catalan. The rest was Spanish, both language and literature. We went flat out. So, what did you know? Catalan was the only language spoken at my home.

There was a taboo topic in all families: the war. You just didn’t talk about it because people had horrible memories from both sides. Wars are awful, specially the civil ones.

They went through a lot, the Republicans… They kicked up a fuss. In the Republican faction, the FAI and anarchism made a lot of harm. However, we have to keep in mind that it was Franco’s coup. There was a legally elected government here.

It was a coup. They wanted to annihilate everything that sounded Catalan,

everything. We didn’t have history, culture nor language. The thing is people were always on the move, at a level I later found out. Look at me, teaching Catalan so innocently.


Awful. Boys. I taught at an all-boys school. There were only two women: another teacher and I. The rest was, well, eight year had only three groups. They took it badly, very badly. They didn’t care about it. We had to command respect. Do you want to know why?

Because teachers were also against Catalan. There was a constant battle in the lunch room with the teachers. Now I’m old, and more peaceable. But I’m an aggressive person, specially when it came to language.

They looked for trouble everyday. It was a divertimento for me. But not with the children, it was awful with them. Little by little, they started gaining interest. With time, they achieve at a legal level,

sweep aside almost all the teachers in that school. Then, qualified young teachers were hired. It was the same building, but a different school.

We had a great headmistress: ??? Villalonga. Thanks to her, boys and girls could mix. The school changed completely. The first years were difficult, they didn’t even bat an eyelid, as if Catalan was garbage.


Totally. It’s the basis of Catalan identity. Languages shape the mind, and they form the way of thinking. Every language has a series of expressions that mark the nation, the culture.

Our language is ancient, older than Spanish, even if they say otherwise. We’ve had a great, long history. Catalunya, by being next to the Mediterranean, is a corridor. A lot of cultures, and nations, have gone through our region. The Iberians,

the Phoenicians, the Arabs, the Greeks… We have an open mind. Generally speaking, people from the Mediterranean are open-minded. Maybe not people from the South. I’m sorry, but this is how it goes.

People from this island(?) are closed-minded, they don’t much like strangers. On the other hand, people here have always been welcoming. Pay attention. All the people that come here. It’s often said that everybody has to speak Catalan here, when the truth is we speak all the languages. We want to communicate with everyone.

And we accept it. However, there are always extremists who don’t like every culture and every way of being. There’s a clash with some Spaniards because they don’t get this mentality.

My uncle an aunt used to travel a lot, and they always said that once you left Barcelona and Catalunya, you entered another world. This is from a century ago, from almost two centuries ago.


They are all ignorant. Everything is Catalan. The thing is that Valencia was repopulated with people from Lleida, and

Mallorca, Ses Illes, with people from Girona. This is why they have [unfinished]. It’s a dialect. Spanish has dialects too, but it’s the same language. People who say otherwise are completely ignorants.

They try to go into politics, and to set people against, when the truth is, it’s the same language. I always tell them: “Isn’t Andalusian Spanish?” And sometimes you don’t even understand them. It’s a very advanced Spanish dialect. That’s what they told us in college. Languages, the more they evolve,

the shorter they become. Like French. If Andalusian is Spanish, imagine the Catalan from Valencia and from Ses Illes…


It’s very old. It’s a Romance language that comes from Latin. They are all Romance languages: Catalan, Spanish, French, Galician. Not Basque, though. It’s different.

But Catalan is a Romance language. Depending on the settlers, whether they were Iberians or Phoenicians, they adopted one accent or another. All Romance languages came from Vulgar Latin,

and so they adopted pronounced characteristics of many languages. Each region has words from other languages. Valencia, for instance, has many Arabic words because they settled the land during a long period.

Catalan from here doesn’t have as many Arabic words. Andalusia, and other places, use a lot of words that come from Arab. We have from other origins. Of Basque origin, for example: pissarra [blackboard].

And from English as well. They are neologisms. Even though my Catalan feeling, I believe Spanish is very beautiful. I’ve studied it, and I find it stunning, but it’s not my language. Well, I’m lying. I’ve both spoken and studied it a lot

because of bilingualism. It’s a nice language, but it’s not mine.


Alghero, yes, but it’s different, just like Aranese. A completely different language. Only very old people speak it in Alghero, just like in Northern Catalonia. The French government is as centralist as it can be, and they have tried to annihilate it.

In the National day of Catalonia, people from Northern Catalonia come here. They have nothing to do, though. It’s a centralist government, they feel French. A lot of them understand and speak it, but every time older people.

Young people are not using it anymore. Moreover, it has been removed from school.


Well, besides pronunciation, people from Lleida don’t have the schwa, and this marks the pronunciation. Every dialect has different vocabulary, too.

I don’t know, tomàquet, tomata, it’s different. They are dialectal words. The pronunciation is the most important different, besides vocabulary. The schwa

marks the pronunciation. It’s very marked in Girona. We pronounce closed “a” instead of closed “e”, whereas in Lleida… A friend and I always joke and say “Cubelles”.

They talk like this. It’s normal. Which one is better? They are all good. They just have different characteristics.

The thing is that with time, people from Lleida for example, who spend a long period living here, logically modify, well, I’m not sure if logically, but they modify their phonemes.

Their pronunciation is different, it’s more similar to the one here. The same thing happens when Spanish people come here for work. Once they return to their hometowns, people tell them: “Oh, the Catalans”. Even though they speak Spanish.

They have a Catalan accent.


Yes, of course. They sang at my home. Well: “La mare de Déu quan era xiqueta anava a costura.” I don’t know. There were sayings like: “l’àngel de la guarda que fa a déu companyia.” Franco’s Spain was

holy, catholic and apostolic. My father was a Catholic Cristian. Practicing. He went to mass, but he didn’t want to convince anyone. He just believed.

Yes, yes. Well. I saw the prehistory. My students were gobsmacked when I explained them the Holy Weeks I had lived, which, by the way, are still celebrated in some Soria’s towns. I was there and I stayed to watch the procession because

it reminded me of my childhood. It was mind-blowing.


During the Holy Week, one couldn’t listen to music, it was forbidden. You couldn’t sing nor party, and baptisms and weddings weren’t celebrated.

It was boring as hell. You couldn’t eat meat, just fish, well, the ones that could afford it. In order to eat meat on Friday, you had to buy bull in the church.

They made you a bull, and according to it you could eat meat. You had to go to mass. The procession took place on Maundy Thursday, and it was as boring as it could be. You couldn’t sing, you could do anything. It was extremly boring.

On Sunday, which is now called Easter Saturday, which was the day when Christ rose again, you could. People went out

Or with lids. [I don’t know the verb used when you hit two lids in order to make noise]. Happiness, happiness. Very boring, very boring.