The four Spanish provinces in the northeast corner of the Iberian Peninsula constitute the principal homeland of the Catalans. The Catalan autonomous community covers about 6.5 percent of Spain's total peninsular land area. The region consists of the provinces of Barcelona, Gerona, Lerida, and Tarragona. Elsewhere in Spain, there were also significant Catalan-speaking populations in the Balearic Islands, along the east coast to the south of Valencia, and as far west as the eastern part of the Aragonese province of Huesca. Outside Spain, the principal Catalan populations were found in France, at the eastern end of the Pyrenees, and in Andorra.
The population of the Catalan region in 1986 was approximately 6.0 million, of which 4.6 million lived in densely populated Barcelona province. The other three provinces were more sparsely populated. As one of the richest areas of Spain and the first to industrialize, Catalonia attracted hundreds of thousands of migrants, primarily from Andalusia and other poor parts of the country. From 1900 to 1981, the net in-migration into Catalonia was about 2.4 million. In the 1980s, over half of Catalonia's working class, and the vast majority of its unskilled or semi-skilled workers, were cultural outsiders.
Catalan was one of five distinct Romance languages that emerged as the Islamic invasion of the Iberian Peninsula began to ebb. The others were Aragonese, Castilian, Leonese, and Galician. By the late Middle Ages, the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, and Valencia had joined together in a federation, forging one of the most advanced constitutional systems of the time in Europe.
After the union of the kingdoms of Aragon and Castile in 1479, the Spanish crown maintained a loose administrative hold over its component realms. Although it occasionally tried to assert more centralized control, in the case of Catalonia its efforts generally resulted in failure. Nonetheless, attempts by Catalans in the seventeenth century to declare their independence were likewise unsuccessful. In the War of the Spanish Succession, Catalonia sided with the English against the Spanish crown, and the signing of the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 opened the way for the conquest of Catalonia by Spanish troops. In September 1714, after a long siege, Barcelona fell, and Catalonia's formal constitutional independence came to an end.
During the latter half of the nineteenth century, Catalonia experienced a dramatic resurgence as the focal point of Spain's industrial revolution. There were also a cultural renaissance and a renewed emphasis on the Catalan language as the key to Catalan cultural distinctiveness. Catalan nationalism was put forward by the nascent Catalan bourgeoisie as a solution that coupled political and cultural autonomy with economic integration in the Spanish market. For a brief period during the 1930s, the freedom of the Second Republic gave the Catalans a taste of political autonomy, but the door was shut for forty years by the Franco dictatorship.
There were, in principle, several different criteria that were used to determine who was, or was not, Catalan. One's place of birth, or the place of birth of one's parents, was often used by second-generation migrants to claim Catalan status, but relatively few whose families had been Catalan for generations agreed with these claims. Biological descent was seldom used among either natives or migrants, because Catalans, unlike Basques, did not usually define their ethnic identity in such terms. Sentimental allegiance to Catalonia was important in separating out from the category those native Catalans who no longer felt any identification with their homeland, but preferred to identify themselves as Spanish. Thus, the most significant and powerful indicator of Catalan identity, for both Catalans and migrants alike, was the ability to speak the Catalan language.
According to one estimate, the population (including those outside Spain) speaking Catalan or one of its variants (Valencian or Majorcan) numbered about 6.5 million in the late 1980s. Within the Catalan autonomous community, about 50 percent of the people spoke Catalan as a mother tongue, and another 30 percent could at least understand the language. In Valencia and the Balearic Islands, perhaps as many as 50 to 70 percent of the population spoke one of the variants of Catalan as a mother tongue, although a great majority used the language only in the home.
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