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Can someone explain the languages of Southern France and Northern Spain?

I recently learned a bit about Occitan at a French/Spanish course I did last and I'm still confused! These language area fascinates me because the languages are so beautiful but they are so confusing so can someone correct me/inform me!

  • All the languages (except Catalan and Galician are quite small)
  • Occitan is spoken in southern France and is basically about as common as Irish in Ireland
  • Basque is not a romance language
  • In Northern Spain, apart from Spanish they speak Galician, Asturian, Basque, Aragonese (Aranese?), Catalan

But like it still confuses me what languages go where and how common they are and which are dialects and which aren't.

July 25, 2017



In Southern France there is still a decent amount of bilingual schools for Occitan, Catalan and Basque. Most of those regional languages are endangered though.
Languages in Spain and Southern France

Personally I find that Basque is the most interesting of them all because it is so separated from the rest. Romance languages are so similar that they mostly feel like dialects to me (even the differences between Italian, Spanish or French are quite small).


Question is Occitan another way of saying Provencal?


Provençal is the variety of Occitan indigenous to Provence. "Occitan" is the umbrella term of the language / group of dialects that descended from the langue d'oc of southern France (cf. modern region of Languedoc, which is a part of this linguistic region) + the Val d'Aran in Spain. Note that it's distinct from Franco-Provençal.

If I remember correctly, Gascon is a particularly divergent variety of Occitan.


Thanks, I was wondering as I had confused langue d'oc with provencal and now understand that it is just a dialect of langue d'oc.


"Occitan is spoken in southern France and is basically about as common as Irish in Ireland."

There are close to three quarters of a million Occitan speakers, which puts it well ahead of Irish.

"it still confuses me...... which are dialects and which aren't."

This has been a bone of contention among linguists for centuries. There is no real definition of what differentiates a language from a dialect. Your best bet is that if speakers refer to it as a language, then it is one.

The status of 'language' is often a matter of pride and identity, so it's not a good idea to refer to someone's language as a dialect of X if you're unsure.

"Basque is not a romance language."

Correct. Basque is a language isolate, which means that, like Japanese and Korean, it has no known relatives. We don't even know for certain where the language (or the people!) originally came from.

"All the languages (except Catalan and Galician are quite small)"

'Small' is a very subjective term. Lots of languages are 'small' in relation to English, but not to others.

"Aragonese (Aranese?)"

'Aranese' is a form of Occitan. :)


About the first one, I meant in proportion 1% speak Irish as a first language


Language vs dialect: a joke among american linguists is that a language has an army and a navy. Italian linguists are perhaps more realistic, and say that a language has an army and a bank.


Old Occitan is a rather important language for a rather specific branch of medieval studies. Old Occitan (or lengue d'Oc) is the language of the troubadors and has a distinction of being the first Romance language outside of Latin to... something about being written down? I don't remember the exact details. The Romance languages broke from vulgar Latin in three groups, based on the word they used for yes. The languages of si (Spanish, Portuguese and Italian), the languages of oïl (lengues d'oïl, French) and languages of oc (lengues d'Oc, Catalán and Occitan).

Particularly in Spain, there is not so much a single language but a continuum going from west to east. Portuguese is on the continuum and is very closely related to Galician. There is a small language in eastern Portugal very closely related to Asturian called Mirandese. I am not sure if Extremaduran is different enough to be a language rather than a dialect or not? Italian is the same way - Piedmontese, Sicilian, Friulian, Venetian, etc. French has its own dialects, like Walloon, Picardy, Norman, Jerseyan and Guernseyan. In each of these countries and in their own timeframes, the language or dialect of the capital eventually was established as the primary dialect and the prestige dialect within that country. In Spanish, the Madruleño dialect of the capital is called Castillian and slowly choked out most of the other languages spoken in Spain, especially during the Franco era of the 1930s-70s. Napoleon had a lot to do with the Parisian dialect becoming the official French even though he was Corsican (similarly, Alexander mixed the Greek dialects in the 3rd Century BC to make what we today call Koine Greek). Italy was not unified into a single country until the mid-1800s and although Roman is the prestige Italian dialect, it is less firmly considered the main language than the French and Spanish counterparts.

German is similar in Germany. Even today there are still speakers of Low German, a dialect closer to Dutch than High German, what we think of when we think of German.


Standard Italian is based on the historical dialect of Florence, not Rome. The fact Divine Comedy and the Decameron were written in this dialect was inseparable, I think, from this literary variety's rise to prominence.


Wait so do Florence-ers speak the closest "dialect" to standard?


*Florentines ;)

Well, at this point in history with the regional languages of Italy generally in a feeble state, the amount of distinction is greatly diminished, but 50/100/150 years ago I understand the answer to be yes.


Different countries have very different political histories, and therefore the relationship between national language and other languages/dialects will also differ. Northern French became the national language for France under Napoleon. Italy didn't even become a nation until the mid 19th century, and the language of Dante (near Florence) became the national language, but didn't really replace dialects in an important way until radio and television became important. If you want to hear the Roman dialect (which very few still speak) check out some of Passolini's movies. In Spain the reconquest which ended in 1492 moved from north the south, taking language along with it. So in the west you have Galician/Portuguese and in the east (and even out to Sardinia) you have Catalan. Castillano (Spanish) became the dominant language in the center, and eventually throughout much of Spanish territory as Toledo and then Madrid became important political centers.

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Aragonese is not the same as Aranese. Aranese (Aranés) is a dialect of Occitan spoken in the Val d'Aran (a remote valley of the Pyrenees located in the far northwest of the Spanish region of Catalonia. Aragonese is a dialect of Spanish (some consider it a language in its own right) spoken in the region of Aragón.

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