Catalan Language, A Key to New Digital Markets
Spoken by more than ten million people, Catalan represents a major business opportunity. Not only is it a beautiful and rich language, but it is also essential for companies in the digital world.
Strangely similar to French, Spanish and Italian, but distinctly different from all of them, Catalan is a fascinating language. Currently, it extends over an area of more than 68,000 km2, inhabited by 13,740,000 people in four countries: Andorra, Spain, France and Italy.
Its rich history combined with its exciting present and its large number of speakers make it one of the most important European languages. It has more speakers than Lithuanian or Slovenian. So, before analyzing Catalan’s current digital presence, it is well worth getting a peek at Catalan’s past. Where and when was Catalan born?
A super short history of Catalan language
Catalan is a Romance language belonging to the Neo-Latin group. It is believed to have appeared between the 8th and 10th centuries in the territories of the Carolingian Empire that formed the counties of the Spanish March (currently Andorra and Northern Catalonia). Some documents from the 11th century, although written in Macaronic Latin, begin to show Catalan elements.
During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, Catalan began to spread throughout the region. It conquered the rest of Catalonia, most of Valencia, the Balearic Islands, La Franja (Aragon) and the Sardinian town of Alghero and the Carxe county in the region of Murcia. The linguistic borders were established at the end of the reign of James I.
Catalan status throughout the years
Catalan has not always been official throughout history. For example, after the Catalan Revolt (1640-1659), the territories of northern Catalonia were ceded to the French Crown and the Catalan language was immediately banned. It was also banned as a result of the War of the Spanish Succession (1704-1714).
Catalan was prohibited in the twentieth century as well. Between 1939 and 1975, Franco's regime prohibited the use of Catalan in education, in the publication of books, newspapers and magazines, in the transmission of telegrams and even in telephone conversations. When democratic freedoms were restored, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 recognized linguistic plurality. The statutes of Catalonia (1979) and the Balearic Islands (1983) recognized Catalan as the language of these areas and declared it the official language jointly with Spanish. Moreover, Catalan was established as the official language of Andorra in the country’s 1993 Constitution.
In the twenty-first century Catalan has confirmed its place as one of the 100 most widely spoken languages in the world, according to the Generalitat de Catalunya (Government of Catalonia), and one the most influential languages in the world according to the French Ministry of Culture.
Catalan language in the digital world
Catalan is one of the world’s languages with the most content on the Internet, according to Plataforma per la Llengua. The Catalan version of Wikipedia, Viquipèdia, holds 20th place in a number of articles, and Catalan is the 19th most used language on Twitter. Moreover, Catalan also has its own Internet domain (.cat), with a growing number of registrations.
The most popular social networks and global digital brands are committed to using Catalan in their core products as well. For example, Facebook, Twitter, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Tuenti and Badoo all have a Catalan interface. The main operating systems, like Windows, iOS, Android and Lion, are also available in Catalan. Companies that have not localized their products into Catalan are missing a huge business opportunity.
GoogleMaps recently added spoken directions in Catalan. This decision was widely celebrated as it was the result of a strong demand from Catalan speakers.
According to a survey carried out in 2022 and commissioned by Plataforma per la Llengua to the GESOP company, 1.7 million Catalans stated that they would change their GPS navigator to hear spoken directions in Catalan if possible. Just one year later, Catalans can choose their own language in the navigation app.
Catalans demand a more digital presence
Recently, many Catalan-language websites have become less present in search engine results in favor of versions of the same content in other languages, even if the user has Catalan set as the preferred language in the browser. Despite many different informal enquiries made to the search engine companies, the reason for this is unknown.
The main organizations promoting and defending the Catalan language have therefore joined forces to allocate technical resources, knowledge and mobilization capacity to diagnose the problem and help to reverse it.
That’s why a group of professionals started the Aliança per la presència digital del català, i.e. the Alliance for the digital presence of Catalan. This is an agreement between several entities that will ensure the presence of Catalan in the digital world. The aim of the Alliance is to promote the presence of the Catalan language in the different areas of the digital world; in this sense the first concern is the current loss of relevance in web search results.
Brands that do not include Catalan are requested to do so. Catalans have organized different petitions to ensure that their language is present in social media, software and digital content in general.
Young social media users, for example, started an online petition on the platform Change.org in 2022, asking Instagram to include the Catalan language among its interface communication options. Considering that Facebook and WhatsApp are also owned by Meta and display their content in Catalan, their demand will likely be heard.
Localizing digital content into Catalan means reaching new markets
Catalan has a rich history and a vigorous present. As we’ve seen, it is currently spoken by more than 10 million people, most of whom are active in social media and digital platforms.
Internationally, Catalonia is one of the leading regions for digital innovation hubs and tech-based companies. Half of the 50 leading global innovative companies are present in Catalonia, including Microsoft, PepsiCo, Nestlé, HP, and Porsche Digital. Barcelona is the world’s best tech non-capital city and Catalonia is the first best large European region of the future 2022/23 according to the Financial Times fDi Strategy Awards.
Catalan speakers have shown that they know what they want to read and listen to content in their own language and will not settle for less. Any people-based marketing strategy should pay attention to Catalans’ demands and customize messages and products accordingly.
Catalan offers a major business opportunity. The key to reach this market is at hand: We just have to speak Catalan!
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