Saving Spain’s Endangered Minority Languages
In a recent article for Sputnik Mundo, reporter Alejandro Cuevas Vidal wrote about the plight of Spain’s minority languages and the various challenges facing language revitalisation efforts across northern Spain, with a particular emphasis on Asturian-Leonese, Aragonese, and Aranese, all of which are classified as “definitely endangered” in UNESCO’s Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger.
Cuevas Vidal’s article “Se están muriendo delante de nuestros ojos”: la realidad de las lenguas minoritarias de España touches upon the prohibitive language policies of the Franco era (and their lasting impact) and examines each region’s language revitalisation efforts. While some minority languages have been granted co-official status in their respective communities and enjoy significant government support and subsidisation, others have a limited media and web presence and are still in the process of developing standardised orthographies. The marginalisation of the three languages mentioned in the article is further compounded by the lack of children’s programming, teaching materials, and qualified language teachers, depriving younger generations of the right to be educated in their mother tongue and posing a serious threat to those languages’ long-term survival.
But hope is not yet lost. Talented individuals, like singer-songwriter Alidé Sans, use music and art as forms of linguistic activism while various academic institutions and cultural organisations across the Iberian peninsula are taking measures to promote the use of these languages and safeguard Spain’s linguistic diversity. And thanks to their painstaking efforts, an increasing number of online resources are now available to those who would like to learn any of the three minoritised languages in the aforementioned article.
Asturian and its sister dialects Leonese, Mirandese, and Cantabrian are spoken by over half a million people across northwestern Spain, primarily in the autonomous community of Asturias. Unlike most of the other languages spoken in the northern part of the Iberian peninsula, Asturian is not recognised as an official language but it is protected under Article 4 of the Statute of Autonomy of the Principality of Asturias.
Like many of Spain’s minority languages, the Asturleonese dialects suffered a severe loss of prestige in the twentieth century and their use was actively discouraged during the Franco era. Of these, Asturian has made the most successful comeback and is regulated by the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana. The language is now taught across all levels of education and has a small, yet thriving literary culture. Its sister dialect Leonese, however, remains unregulated and its continued survival can be attributed to the diligent efforts of language associations such as the Cultural Association of the Leonese Language El Fueyu.
Resources for learning Asturian are few and far between, especially if you live outside of Spain, but you can get a head-start on your language studies by checking out any of the online resources listed below.
- An Approach to the Asturian Languages – Xavier Frías-Conde’s 1999 guide to Asturian is far from comprehensive but will provide learners with a fairly solid foundation in Asturian grammar.
- Clases d’Asturianu – A series of short lessons on Asturian grammar, phonetics, and vocabulary taught in Spanish. Please note that there were only a handful of lessons available at the time of writing.
- Deprendi Asturianu – This free online course covers basic Asturian grammar and vocabulary. The only downside is that it is taught entirely in Asturian. If you just want to learn some basic phrases, there is a trilingual guide over here.
- Wikipedia – The Asturian edition of Wikipedia boasts over 100,000 articles and is a fantastic resource for those who already have a basic understanding of the language.
Also referred to as fabla aragonesa, Aragonese is a Romance language spoken in the Pyrenees valleys of Aragon and is sadly in rapid decline, despite recent efforts to establish a standardised orthography and promote Aragonese-language literature. There are only an estimated 10,000-15,000 active speakers across the entire region and there are concerns for the survival of the language; only a few hundred children are attending Aragonese language classes and there is a severe shortage of qualified teachers across all levels of education.
Language revitalisation efforts are being led by associations such as Consello d’a Fabla Aragonesa and Academia de l’Aragonés and there are a number of online resources available to those who would like to get to grips with this endangered language.
- Basic Aragonese Grammar – Produced by the Academia de l’Aragonés, this guide to basic Aragonese grammar is comprehensive and jam-packed with examples. The only downside is that it is exclusively in Aragonese and will be of little use to absolute beginners.
- Millor En Aragonés – A series of video lessons on Aragonese taught in Spanish. Sadly, no new lessons have been released since 2014.
- Wikipedia (Biquipedia) – The Aragonese edition of Wikipedia boasts almost 37,000 articles and is a great resource for those who already have a basic understanding of the language.
Spoken by no more than 10,000 people, Aranese is a critically endangered dialect of Occitan that is spoken in the Aran Valley (Val d’Aran) in Catalonia, where it enjoys co-official status alongside Catalan and Spanish. Granted political and administrative autonomy back in the fourteenth century, the valley’s inhabitants consider themselves Aranese first, Spanish second, and have a complicated relationship with the independence-seeking Catalans.
Today, the formerly isolated valley enjoys better transport links to the rest of the country and is home to some of Spain’s most popular ski resorts but these have been mixed blessings. Tourism and the influx of Spanish-speaking migrants into the region have caused a significant language shift, with Spanish becoming the dominant language in just a matter of decades. But the Aran Valley’s strong local identity has played a vital role in revitalising Aranese and local organisations have spared no effort to try and raise a new generation of native speakers.
The future of Aranese remains uncertain but if you would like to indulge your curiosity and learn some basic Aranese, head on over to any of the websites listed below.
- A University Phrase Book – Created by the University of Barcelona, this multilingual conversation guide is ideal for those wanting to learn some basic conversational Aranese (and Catalan).
- En Aranés – The official Twitter account of the Conselh Generau d’Aran shares a lot of useful tidbits about Aranese grammar, vocabulary, and literature. The tweets are exclusively in Aranese so this may not be an ideal resource for absolute beginners but perfect for those wishing to improve their proficiency.
- Useful Aranese Phrases – Perhaps you only want to learn a few useful phrases ahead of your visit to the Aran Valley. If so, Omniglot has got you covered.
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