Asturian (/æsˈtʊəriən/; autonym: asturianu [astuˈɾjanu], or bable [ˈbaβle]) is a Romance language of the West Iberian group, Astur-Leonese subgroup, spoken in Asturias (Spain). Asturian is also known as Astur-Leonese or Asturian-Leonese to refer to the language in its historical and current global expansion. The current number of speakers of Asturian is estimated at about 100,000 first-language speakers and 450,000 second-language speakers. There are three predominant variants in the asturleonese linguistic domain (Western, Central and Eastern), although in the case of Asturias, for historical and demographics reasons, thestandard is based on the Central Asturian. Asturian has a grammar, a dictionary of the Asturian language, and an orthography. It is regulated by the Academy of the Asturian Language, and even though it is not an official language, it is protected under theautonomous statute legislation and is an optional language at schools.
Kingdom of Asturias, circa 910 AD. King Alfonso III of Asturias, (848–910)
Asturian is the autochthonous language of Asturias (Spain) and some parts of the provinces of León and Zamora (Spain) and the area surrounding the city of Miranda do Douro (Portugal).
Like other Romance languages in the Iberian peninsula, it developed out of the break-up of unified Latin in the early Middle Ages. In historical terms Asturian became closely linked with the ancient Kingdom of Asturias (718–910) and the ensuing Asturian-Leonese or Leonese kingdom.
The language developed from Vulgar Latin with contributions from the pre-Roman languages which were spoken in the territory of theAstures, an ancient Hispano-Celtic tribe of the Iberian peninsula, as well as from the post-Roman Germanic languages of the Visigoths andSuevi.
The passage from Latin to Asturian was slow and progressive, and for a long period both co-existed in a diglossic relationship, in the Kingdom of Asturias first and that of Asturias and Leon later. In the 12th, 13th and part of the 14th centuries, the language used in official documents of the kingdom was Asturian. Many examples can be found of agreements, donations, wills, commercial contracts, etc. written in the language from that period onwards. Although there are no extant literary works written in Asturian in this period, it is known that some books, such as the Llibru d’Alexandre, and also Fueru d’Avilés (1155) had Asturian sources.
Castilian (Spanish) came to the area later, in the 14th century, when the central administration sent emissaries and functionaries to occupy political and ecclesiastical offices. Nowadays, Asturian codification of Astur-Leonese spoken in the Asturian Autonomous Community has become a modern language, after the birth of the Academy of the Asturian Language (Academia Asturiana de la Llingua) in 1980. Mirandese is very close to Asturian.
Status and legislation
Asturian areas in North West of Iberian Peninsule. (Ethnologue linguistic map based. See source: http://www.ethnologue.com/map/PTES).
Much effort has been made since 1974 to protect and promote Asturian. In 1994, there were 100,000 first-language speakers, and 450,000 second-language speakers able to speak or understand Asturian. However, the situation of Asturian is critical, with a large decline in the number of speakers in the last 100 years.
Thus, Asturian has an anomalous situation from the legal point of view. The Spanish Constitution, as far as the official recognition of languages in the autonomous communities is concerned, has not been fully applied. The ambiguity of the Statute of Autonomy, which recognises the existence of Asturian, but does not put it on the same level as Spanish, leaves the door open to the de facto lack of protection of Asturian. However, since 1 August 2001, Asturian is covered under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages with the aim to “safeguard and promote” Asturian.
In a research from 1983, the figure of 100,000 speakers of Asturian appeared to be a reasonable estimate. In addition, about 250,000 people declared they were able to understand the language. However, a similar survey was repeated in 1991 and the results were rather different. While in 1983 only 12% of the Asturian population declared they spoke the language, in 1991 the number of speakers within the population was 44% (about 450,000 people). About 80,000 and 60,000 people declare being able to read and write it. In addition to this, another 24% of the Asturian population understand the language. Thus, 68% of the people at least understand Asturian (Source: Llera Ramo, F.: Los Asturianos y la Llengua Asturiana. Conseyería d’Educación, Uviéu, 1994).
At the end of the 20th century, the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana (Academy of the Asturian Language) made efforts to provide the language with most of the tools needed by a language to ensure its survival: a grammar, a dictionary, and periodicals. A new generation of Asturian writers have also championed the language. These developments give the Asturian language a greater hope of survival.
Historical, social and cultural aspects
History of the literature
Idealized portrait ofAntón de Marirreguera (17th century).
Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos, writer, jurist & politic neoclassicalstatesman (1744–1811), who projected the creation of an Academy of the Asturian Language.
Some documents appear from as early as the 10th century containing the clear linguistic features of Asturian. However, it is from the 13th century onwards that it becomes possible to speak of a wealth of documentation in Asturian: writing by notaries, contracts, wills and the like. The importance of the Asturian language in the Middle Ages is revealed, for example, in the Fuero de Avilés (1085) (the oldest Romanic parchment preserved in Asturias) and the Fuero de Oviedo, in the Leonese version of the Fueru Xulgu as well.
All of these 13th century documents were legal in nature and acted as the laws for towns and cities or for the population at large. However, it is of note that by the second half of the 16th century documents were clearly coming to be written in the Castilian language, backed deliberately by theTrastámara Dynasty making the civil and ecclesiastical service of the Principality of Castilian origin. As a result, the Asturian language disappeared from written texts (sieglos escuros ’Dark centuries’) but continued to survive orally by being handed down from generation to generation. The only reference in this time is a work of Hernán Núñez (1555) about Proverbs and adages, “[...] …in a large copy of rare languages, as Portuguese, Galician, Asturian, Catalan, Valencian, French, Tuscan…“
Modern Asturian literature began in the 17th century with the clergyman Antón González Reguera (1605) and continued up until the 18th century when it produced, according to Ruiz de la Peña (1981), a literature that could stand up to the best written in Asturias in the same period in the Castilian language.
In the 18th century, the erudite and intellectual Gaspar Melchor de Jovellanos (1744), was conscious of the historical and cultural value of what he termed “our language” and expressed the urgency for the compilation of a dictionary and a grammar and for the creation of a Language Academy. It took more than a century for the efforts of Asturian politicians to turn this into reality.
Other important writers were: Francisco Bernaldo de Quirós Benavides (1675), Xosefa Xovellanos (1745), Xuan González Villar y Fuertes (1746),Xosé Caveda y Nava (1796), Xuan María Acebal (1815), Teodoro Cuesta (1829), Xosé Benigno García González, Marcos del Torniello (1853),Bernardo Acevedo y Huelves (1849), Pin de Pría (1864), Galo Fernández, Fernán Coronas (1884), etc…
In 1974, which was a symbolic year, a movement for acceptance and usage of the language surfaced once again in Asturias. Based on the ideas of the Asturian association named “Conceyu Bable”, regarding Asturian language and culture, an argument was devised for the acceptance and modernization of the language that led to the development of an official institution for establishing Asturian language norms. In 1980 the Academy of the Asturian Language (1980), created with the approval of the Regional Council of Asturias (the transitory government body of Asturias).
Besides this, there was unprecedented literary activity, a production that breaks away from the system of subordination, of costumbrism and gender limitation: “El Surdimientu” (Awakening). Authors such as Manuel Asur (Cancios y poemes pa un riscar), Xuan Bello (El llibru vieyu), Adolfo Camilo Díaz (Añada pa un güeyu muertu), Pablo Antón Marín Estrada (Les hores), Xandru Fernández (Les ruines), Lourdes Álvarez, Martín López-Vega,Miguel Rojo, Lluis Antón González and dozens more writers appeared, amongst others who wrote in the language of these territories in line with contemporary trends and guidelines, breaking away from the Asturian-Leonese tradition of rural themes, moral messages and dialogue-style writing, to put Asturian language literature on the map.
Nowadays the Asturian language is a living reality within the territory of Asturias, with about 150 annual publications, while small communities speaking Asturian can also be found in areas that do not belong administratively to the Principality.
Use and distribution
The geographical area of Asturian exceeds the administrative framework of the Autonomous Community of the Principality of Asturias so that the language known as Leonese in the Autonomous Community in Castile and León is basically the same as the one known as Asturian in Asturias. The fact that the geographical area is divided in two Spanish autonomous communities makes the recognition and promotion of this language in Asturias, although clearly insufficient, not to be regarded in Castile and León where the language in completely nonexistent in the official educative system, and lack measures of promotion by the autonomous administration.
The Asturian-Leonese linguistic domain covers nowadays approximately most of the principality of Asturias, the north and west of the province of León, the northeast of Zamora (both provinces in Castile and León), western Cantabria, and the region of Miranda do Douro in the east of the Portuguese district of Bragança. However, the main objective of this article is the autonomous community of Asturias.
Traditional and popular place names of the towns of the Principality is enjoying significant progress in recent years, in the context of the “Ley de Uso” (law on usage of Asturian) and the “Principality’s 2003–07 plan for Establishment of the Language“, with the work of the Xunta Asesora de Toponimia, which with its validation of, and research into, the names of those villages, towns, conceyos (municipalities) and cities that have requested it, has been able to achieve official status for them — of which there are 50 out of 78 conceyos at the moment (2012), with a further 28 conceyos at varied stages in the process—. In Leonese areas, there have been no officially recognized Asturian-Leonese names for the towns, and no research has been undertaken into this or any record of possible names has been made.
Linguistic varieties of Asturias, attending only to purely linguistic criteria: Western Asturian,Central Asturian and Eastern Asturian
Asturias has also its own dialectal variation. Asturian is regulated by Academy of the Asturian Language and is mostly spoken in the Principality of Asturias (except for the westernmost part where Galician-Asturian is spoken). The dialects in adjoining areas of Castile and León have continuity with the Asturian dialects; in that area they are referred to as Leonese. Attending only to purely linguistic criteria, the Asturian language is traditionally divided into three dialectal areas, which share their traits with the dialects spoken in León: Western Asturian, Central Asturian, and Eastern Asturian. Intelligibility among the three dialects is adequate. Central Asturian has the most speakers (+80%) and has been taken as the basis for normative Asturian: the first Asturian grammar was published in 1998. The first normative dictionary was published in 2000.
Western Asturian, is a linguistic variety in Western Asturian lands between the rivers Navia and Nalón, and western provinces ofLeón, where is called Leonese as endonym, Zamora and Salamanca. Its area is defined by the following traits:
Area between the Sella river and a full line from the mouth of the Nalón river, in Asturias, and north of León. It has been taken as the model for the written language. Its area is defined by these traits:
Eastern Asturian is a variant spoken between the Sella river and Llanes area, and the limit of Cabrales (Peñamellera Alta). This area is defined by the following traits:
The Asturian language has dialectal continuity with Cantabrian dialect to the east, and with Eonavian to the west:
Asturian belongs to Astur-Leonese linguistic group, which forms part of the Ibero-Romance languages, typologically and phylogenetically close to Galician-Portuguese, Castilian and less to Navarro-Aragonese. It’s a typologically inflecting/Fusional language, head-initial and dependent-marking language and the basic order is SVO (declarative sentences without topicalization).
The transcript is consistent with the rules of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA).
Asturian distinguishes five vowel phonemes according to three degrees of vowel openness (close, mid and open) and backness (front, central and back).
Since the earliest texts, the Latin alphabet was used in the Asturian language. In 1981, the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana (Academy of the Asturian Language) published its orthographic rules. However, in the Terra de Miranda (Portugal) different spelling rules are used.
Asturian orthographic rules in reading and writing practice shows clearly the model pursued in the written language that can be summarized by saying that it is based on a five-vowel system units /a e i o u/ with three aperture degrees and double location. Similarly, it has the following consonant units: /p t tʃ k b d ʝ g f θ s ʃ m n ɲ l ʎ r ɾ/ . The model approaches to a written form where the phenomenon of -u metaphony is not frequent, nor the presence of decrescent diphthongs / ei, ou /, usually in the west area. Although they can be written, ḷḷ (che vaqueira, also represented formerly with spellings such as “ts“) and the eastern ḥ aspiration (also represented as “h.“) corresponding to ll and f don’t appear in this model. Grammatically, the language offers triple gender distinction in the adjective, feminine plurals with -es, verb endings with -es, -en, -íes, íen, absence of compound tenses (or periphrasis constructed with “tener“, etc.).
The model is not arbitrary, since it is provided as a rather common possibility in former writers, although the focus on the central varieties is a fact, the written form does not considers any spoken dialect as a main model. In the same way, the development of any local variety is accepted. In addition, speech with which students are familiar is mindful in teaching, necessary condition to achieving a proper pedagogy.
Asturian also has several digraphs, some of which have their own names.
Furthermore, the letter h and the digraph ll can have their sound changed to represent dialectal pronunciation by underdotting the letters, resulting ḥ and digraph ḷḷ
Dictionary of Academy of the Asturian Language.
The grammar of Asturian resembles that of other Romance languages. Nouns have two genders (masculine and feminine), twonumbers (singular and plural), and no cases. Adjectives can have a third gender (neuter), a grammatical phenomenon widely studied in the Asturian continuum and known as “matter-neutrality”. Verbs agree with their subjects in person (first, second, or third) and number, and additionally are conjugated to indicate mood (indicative, subjunctive, conditional, or imperative), tense (often present or past; different moods allow different possible tenses), and aspect (perfective or imperfective).
Asturian is the only western Romance language that possesses three genders: masculine, feminine and neuter.
The use of neuter is rather complex in Asturian; anyway neuters nouns have no plural (except in some cases, where they are taken metaphorically, in which case the lose this gender, such as in les agües tán fríes (Waters are cold) or when you want to concretise an abstract noun:
Singular and plural
The formation of plural is not simple at all. It is formed according to the following schedule:
Its forms are:
*Only before words beginning by a-: l’aigla (‘the eagle’), l’alma (‘the soul’), but: la entrada (‘the entry’), la islla (‘the island’).
The vast majority of the words of the Asturias, as the other Romance languages, come from the Latin:
To this Latin basis, we must add words that entered in the Asturian lexicon background, from languages spoken before the arrival of the Latin (Substratum) or after (superstratum). To the influence of substratum and superstratum are added subsequent loans from other languages.
Primary and Secondary
Although Spanish (Castilian) is the official language used in all schools in Asturias, in many of them children are allowed to take Asturian language classes from the ages of 6 to 16. Optional classes are offered from ages 16 to 19. The Central area of Asturias (Nalón and Caudal comarcas), has the highest schooling in Asturian language, with almost 80% of students in primary, plus 30% in secondary. Gijón/Xixón comarca, remains with percentages above 52% and 13% in Primary and Secondary zones are continuously growing as Oviedo/Uviéu, Eo-Navia and Oriente (Eastern comarca).
The current charter of the University of Oviedo expressly indicates in Article 6 that: “The University of Oviedo, due to its historical, social and economic links with the Principality of Asturias, will devote particular attention to the cultural aspects and collective interests of Asturias. The Asturian Language will be treated appropriately in accordance with legislation. Nobody will be discriminated against for using it”.
In other words, Asturian can be used at the university in line with the Use of Asturian Act. However, practice shows that this is a minority activity and is preferred for subjects related to the philological study of Asturian (linguistic, socio-linguistic, educational, etc.). The Scientific Memoranda of the University show the increased presence of courses and scientific work that employ Asturian. In the courses based in the Department of Philology and Educational Sciences, there are distinct subjects relating to the Asturian language that show an acceptance and demand among students.
Also, with the new Bologna process people will be able to study Asturian Philology in the same way as Spanish Philology , and school-teachers will be able to do a speciality in the Asturian language. But these two possibilities can only be studied in the University of Oviedo.
Many internet pages use the Asturian language; Government the council’s pages, blogs, music groups’ pages, Social networking services and more.
Ubuntu offers Asturian as a full operating system language. Also Debian and Fedora is offered in asturian language. Supply of software products in Asturian language is large: Firefox, Thunderbird, LibreOffice, VLC, GNOME, Chromium, KDE, etc. (…see more )
Dictionaries and Translators
Published - August 2014
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