The Non-Castilian Languages of Spain

Spanish hit the other languages hard but after the dictatorship things got a lot better. Catalan is the official language of the region. I recently met several mostly Castilian speakers from Catalonia and they told me that they all understood Catalan. Whether they spoke it or not was another man. A young man there was a native speaker.

Basque is actually doing quite well. I think ~20% of the population are native speakers and there are quite a few second language speakers. There are Basque schools, Basque media, Basque signage, on and on. I recently met a young college aged man who was a Basque native speaker. Quite a few children are still being brought up in Basque. I am not sure if there are any Basque monolinguals left.

Native Catalan speakers might be ~35% of the population, and many children are still being brought up in Catalan. There are Catalan schools, Catalan media, Catalan as an official language in the government, etc. There is a huge pool of Catalan second-language speakers. There are probably not any Catalan monolinguals left, but if there are, it is an old lady in a tiny village in the mountains.

There is a form of Catalan spoken in La Franga and the Strip in Aragon that speakers say is a separate language. There are regular calls to have it recognized. However, in spite of the fact that speakers say that they speak a separate language, Catalan speakers say they can understand it just fine.

I think it is called Chapurillo a variation on the term churro, etc. which means more or less broken Spanish or bad Spanish. Many of the languages above are called churros or chapurros, and many Spaniards think they are just forms of broken Spanish spoken by poorly educated people.

Even speakers of these languages often think that they simply speak broken Spanish or bad Spanish, are often ashamed of their speech, and refuse to speak it. Speaking churro also implies ignorance, rural residence, poverty, lack of intelligence, etc.

There is dialect called Churro spoken in this same region around La Franja. It is probably the most diverse Castilian dialect in Spain. It seems to be a form of Aragonese Spanish with a lot of Catalan or Valencian mixed in.

Valencian is spoken in Valencia and the Valencian speakers insist that they speak a different language from Catalan although there is 94% intelligibility between the two. Catalan speakers do not want to break up the language and refuse to recognize Valencian as a separate language.

There is an Institute of the Valencian Language, an official orthography, etc. In particular, Valencians reject the Catalan orthography as they say it does not suit the language that the speak. ~20% of Valencians speak Valencian. It is in much worse shape than Catalan.

There is a form of Catalan that is spoken on the Mallorca Islands in three different dialects. Some have difficult intelligibility with Catalan, and they are probably closer to Valencian. Whether these qualify as separate languages is not known. Mallorcan is one of these dialects of Catalan.

There are forms of speech spoken on the border of Catalonia and Aragon in the very high mountains that are definitely not Catalan and probably not Aragonese. However, the official language institutes of Catalan and Aragon both claim these speech forms. One is called Benasquesque. This is a very remote mountain region. Whether this is a form of Catalan, a form of Aragonese or a separate language altogether it not known. It’s obviously Catalan-Aragonese transitional.

Murcian, spoken in Murcia, is mostly a Spanish dialect called Murcian Spanish, albeit quite a strange one. There are regular calls to have it recognized as an official language, but they go nowhere. However there is a hard form of it called Panocho spoken in the remote mountains in Eastern Murcia that cannot be understood outside the region. Andalusians cannot understand it either. It is probably a separate language. It has 6,000 speakers.

Mantegno spoken in La Mancha is part of a “Southern Castilian” that ranges to Andalucian. When Mantegno speakers go to Madrid, they say they are not understood. This is probably also a separate language. When spoken in rapid speech, intelligibility even with Andalucian Spanish/Extremaduran Spanish is 50%.

Andalusian is mostly a Spanish dialect albeit an extremely divergent one. However, there are a few villages in the mountains where a hard Andalucian is spoken that is not intelligible even to other Andalusian.

Aragonese is still spoken in Aragon. It is not fully intelligible with Castilian, and it is a separate language. This region was under the crown of Aragon, hence a different speech evolved here. It sounds a lot like Spanish. There are 30,000 Aragonese speakers.

It is an official language in the state of Aragon but Spain refuses to recognize it. It was formerly spoken in three forms like Extremaduran, and like that language, only the remote northern form survives. Otherwise Southern and Central Aragonese turned into dialects of Spanish, Aragonese Spanish.

Aragonese is spoken in the very high mountains of the Pyrenees in villages that are often almost totally depopulated. There are still children being brought up in Aragonese though, especially around the Benasquesque-speaking region. The children show up at school as Aragonese monolinguals.

Extremaduran is still spoken in Extremadura by 100,000 speakers. It is a highly Castillianized form of Eastern Leonese that got cut off from the rest of Leonese 400-500 years ago. Otherwise Eastern Leonese is nearly extinct. It is spoken in the mountains in tiny depopulating villages which is where it originated.

I know a Spanish speaker who actually grew up in the region, has been hearing Extremaduran all his life, and he can only understand 17% of it. The accent is wild. There is much confusion as Extremaduran is also called Castuo, and Extremaduran is the northern form of Castuo from the mountains that survived while Southern and Central Castuo turned into dialects of Spanish.

However there may be some “Extremaduran” spoken in the south too, as my friend has a word list from a tiny village in Bajadoz, and he said he could only understand 50% of the lexicon. This may be some far southern form of Extremaduran. Southern and Central Castuo is just a Spanish dialect, albeit an odd one, but it is heavily spoken and often confused with Extremaduran because people refer to both by the same term. Extremaduran is an official language in Extremadura, but Spain refuses to recognize it.

strong>Oliveno is spoken on the border of Portugal, but it’s not Portuguese. It still has ~3,000 speakers. It is spoken in a single village. Officials refuse to recognize this language, and Portugal says it is just Portuguese. It is a sort of heavily Castillianized Portuguese. Portuguese speakers say they can’t understand a word of Oliveno.

Asturian is still very much alive although it is not an official language of Spain. It is an official language of the state of Asturias. ~20% of Asturians speak Asturian and I believe there are children still being brought up in Asturian.

Leonese is the same language as Asturian spoken to the south and is in much worse shape. It is also not an official language of Spain but it is an official language of Castille and Leon where it is spoken. Amazingly, there are still Leonese monolinguals in the high mountains in Northwestern Castille and Leon.

Leonese was their first language and they learned Spanish in school but subsequently forgot Spanish and now speak only Leonese. There are still children being brought up in Leonese in the tiny depopulated villages in the mountains of Southeastern Castille and Leon near the Portuguese border. This form of Leonese is often called Porteno, and it is quite close to the Mirandese language spoken in Portugal.

There is actually a language called Eonavian/Ibino spoken between Asturian/Leonese and Galician. It is a completely separate language but no one will recognize it as such. It is closer to Galician but it is not Galician. There are still native speakers of Ibino, not sure about Eonavian.

Galician is still doing quite well. ~35% of the population of Galicia speak Galician. Almost all also speak Castilian. It is an official language of Galicia and Spain. There are Galician schools. There is some Galician media but not nearly enough. You hear Galician a lot more in the rural areas than in the big cities.

A very Castillianized Official Galician is used in the media, and it has high intelligibility with Spanish of 78%. A much harder Galician is spoken in the villages in the mountains where intelligibility with Spanish is as low as 40%. The form of Galician spoken in the far south on the border with Portugal is not intelligible with Portuguese or the rest of Galician and is not spoken outside the region. It is actually a separate language though no one will recognize it.

Rio de Onoro is a village on the Portuguese border. Rio de Onorese is still spoken, though everyone thinks it is extinct. It is a form of Mirandese spoken in Spain and should be recognized.

Cantabrian is said to be a form of Spanish, but actually it is part of Extremaduran. Extremaduran is nothing less than Eastern Leonese and Far Eastern Asturian that started going over to a form of Old Spanish ~500 years ago. Asturian-Leonese survived in the coastal mountains and in the mountains of Extremadura to the far south, but the rest of it mostly went extinct. Today Eastern Leonese is just about dead.

But Extremaduran speakers say if they go to Cantabria, everyone understands them, and it sounds like they are speaking the same language. These same speakers say that if they go to Oviedo in Central Asturias where people speak Asturian and speak Extremaduran, they are not understood. Therefore Extremaduran and Asturian-Leonese are two different languages, and Cantabrian, instead of being a Spanish dialect, is part of Extremaduran.

Some Cantabrian speakers held out for a long time in the rugged mountainous province where some areas are still reachable only on foot or maybe by donkey. One speaker said his recently deceased grandmother was a Cantabrian monolingual who died in the last 20 years. She had stubbornly refused to learn Spanish as she considered it to be “an imposed language.”

Formerly there was a separate language called Montanes spoken in the mountains, while Cantabrian was spoken on the coast. Half a century ago, they could not understand each other. But now with leveling, the people in the mountains understand the people on the coast just fine.

There are reports that Cantabrian may be going out in Cantabria. But Cantabrian is still spoken and it is children are still being brought up as Cantabrian monolinguals. In the mountains, the children all show up at school speaking only Cantabrian, and the teachers can’t understand the students.

Are There Any Native Born Americans Who Are Monolinguals of a European Language?

SHI: Are there any descendants of European-origin Americans who don’t speak a word of English? Mostly as a result of living in isolated communities.

I’m thinking along the lines of the Amish, Old Order Mennonites, or Canadian French speakers in places like Maine.

It’s a very interesting subject. If you’re determined, no one can impose their linguistic hegemony on you or your families.

Oh I really doubt it. Everyone who grows up here speaks English. I really doubt if there are any US born monolinguals of any European languages. The monolinguals were mostly immigrants, not people who were born here. I know a Jewish gf of mine had a grandmother who was pretty much a Yiddish monolingual. She died maybe 20 years ago but she may have come here on a boat.

A friend of my Mom’s mother was pretty much a Norwegian monolingual. Worse a lot of them had no language at all anymore as they had forgotten their first language and they never learned English well. I know that Paula’s mother used to say,

“I have forgotten all of my Norvegian, and I never learned good the English!”

But that woman came on a boat too. It’s strange if you think about, people who are not fluent in any language anymore. How odd. What language do they think in? Broken whatever?

However, there are some Quebeckers in Canada who are French native speakers, and they just don’t speak English well at all. Whether you would qualify them as monolinguals or not, I am not sure.

I know there are some in Spain. There are still a few Leonese monolinguals and until recently, maybe 20 years ago, there were Cantabrian monolinguals. One man talked about his grandmother who died twenty years ago, a Cantabrian monolingual. She had stubbornly refused to learn Spanish or Castilian as she called it. She said it was an “imposed language.” So there is an example of a person stubbornly hanging on to their linguistic identity and refusing to have Spanish imposed on her. It’s a cool image, I think.

The Leonese monolinguals are old men in the mountains who learned Spanish in school but then forgot all of it and now speak only Leonese. And there are some Eonavian monolinguals too, old women. There are probably no more Catalan monolinguals, or if there are, it’s some old woman in a rural area. There might be a few Basque monolinguals. I doubt if there are any Extremaduran, Asturian, Aragonese, or Galician monolinguals, but you never know.

But those are languages native to Spain, so a corrolary of here would be monolingual speakers of Indian languages of which I doubt there are any. But there was a monolingual speaker of Chukchansi Yokuts until the early 1960’s. But even most of those folks spoke some English. For instance the Chukchansi speaker did speak a broken English.

Answers to the Languages of Spain Post

Map of the languages of Spain.
Map of the languages of Spain.

There are nine languages in the map above.

You folks were not able to answer all nine of them correctly, so I will give you the answers.

Pink – Catalan

Light green – Aranese or Occitan (no one got this one)

Purple – Aragonese (no one got this one)

Aquamarine – Basque

Red – Castillian

Green – Asturian-Leonese

Yellow – Galician

Dark green – Extremaduran (no one got this one)

Brown – Fala (no one got this one)

Aranese is the Aranese dialect of Occitan which is either a separate language or a dialect of Occitan depending on how you look at it. Fala is actually a dialect of Galician but it is considered a language for sociopolitical reasons. There is another part of the dark green Extremaduran language which is typically not recognized. This is Cantabrian, spoken to the east of the green Asturian-Leonese area and to the west of the aquamarine  Basque area.

Mutual Intelligiblility in the Romance Family (Reading)

Just a personal anecdote. I have been reading a lot of Italian lately (with the help of Google Translate). I already read Spanish fairly well. I have studied French, Portuguese and Italian, and I can read Portuguese and French to some extent, Portuguese better than French.
But I confess that I am quite lost with Italian. This is worse than French and worse than Portuguese. A couple weeks of wading through this stuff hasn’t made me understand it any better.
Portuguese and Galician are said to be so close that they are a single language. I don’t agree with that at all, but they are very close, much closer to Spanish and Portuguese. Intelligibility may be on the order of 80-90%.
Nevertheless, the other day I tried to read a journal article on Galician. It looked like it was written in Portuguese, and who would write in Galician anyway? I copied the whole thing into Google Translate and let it ride. I waded through the whole article, and I must say it was a disaster. I had a very hard time understanding many of the main points of the article.
Then I remembered that Translate works on Galician now, so I decided on an off chance that the guy may have written the piece in Galician for some nutty reason. I ran it through Translate using Galician as target. The article went through perfectly. You could understand the whole thing. It was then that I realized how far apart Portuguese and Galician really are.
You can try some other experiments.
Occitan is said to be nearly intelligible with Spanish or maybe even French, better if you know both. There’s no Google Translate for Occitan yet, but I had to deal with a lot of Occitan texts recently. I couldn’t make heads or tails of them despite by Romance reading background. So I tried using Translate to turn them into Spanish or French. French was a total wreck, and there was no point even bothering with that. Spanish was much better, but even that was a serious mess.
Now we come to the crux. Catalan and Occitan are said to be so close that they are nearly one language. Translate now works in Catalan. So I ran the Occitan texts through Translate using Catalan. The result was a serious mess, but you could at least understand some of what the Occitan texts were about. But no way on Earth were those the same languages.
People keep saying that if you can read Spanish, you can read Portuguese. It’s not true, but you can see why people say it. Try this. Take a Spanish text and run it through Translate using the Portuguese filter. Now take a Portuguese text and run it through Translate using the Spanish filter. See what a mess you end up with!
Despite the fact that I can read Spanish pretty well, I have tried to read texts in Aragonese, Asturian, Extremaduran, Leonese and Mirandese. These are so close that some even say that they are dialects of Spanish. But even if you read Spanish, you can’t really read any of those languages, and they are all separate languages, I assure you. Sure, you get some of it, but not enough, and it’s a very frustrating experience.
There are texts on the Net in something called Churro or Xurro. It’s a Valencian-Aragonese transitional dialect spoken around Teruel in Aragon in Spain. It also has a lot of Old Castillian and a ton of regular Castillian in it. Wikipedia will tell you it’s a Spanish dialect. Running it through both the Spanish and Catalan filters didn’t work and ended up with train wrecks. I doubt if Xurro is a dialect of either Catalan or Spanish. It’s probably a separate language.
There is another odd lect spoken in the same region called Chappurriau. It is spoken in Aguaviva in Teruel in the Franca Strip. The Catalans say these people speak Catalan, but the speakers say that their language is not Catalan. Intelligibility with Catalan is said to be good. So effectively this is a Catalan dialect.
I found some Chappurriau texts on the Net and ran them through Translate using Catalan as the output. The result was an unreadable disaster, and I couldn’t really figure out what they were saying. Then I tried the Spanish filter, and that was even worse. I am starting to think that maybe Chappurriau is a separate language as its speakers say and not a Catalan dialect after all.
I conclude that the ability to cross read across the Romance languages is much exaggerated.
Not only that, but many Romance microlanguages, transitional dialects and lects that are supposedly dialects of larger languages may actually be separate languages.

How To Divide Languages from Dialects – Structure or Intelligibility?

There are many ways of dividing languages from dialects. The three general methods are:

1. Historical

2. Structural

3. Intelligibility

The traditional method has tended to utilize structural and sometimes historical, but intelligibility is also often used. For an example of historical, let us look at some lects in France and Spain.

The various “patois” of French, incorrectly called dialects of French, are more properly called the langues d’oil. It is often said that they are not dialtects of French for historical reasons. Each of the major langues d’oil, instead of breaking off from French Proper (really the Parisien langue d’oil) had a separate genesis.

This is what happened. France was originally Celtic speaking. Around 700-800, the Celtic languages began being replaced by vulgar Latin. People didn’t travel around in those days, so a separate form of vulgar Latin + Celtic evolved in each region of France: Gallo and Angevin in the northwest, Poitevin and Saintongeais in the west, Norman and Picard in the north, Champenois, Franche-Compte and Lorrain in the east, Berrichon, Tourangeau and Orleanais in the center. None of these split off from French (Parisien)!

Each one of them evolved independently straight up from vulgar Latin on top of  a Celtic base in their region from 700-1200 or so. The distance between the langues d’oil and French is almost as deep as between English and Frisian.

After French was made the official language of France in 1539, the langues d’oil came under French influence, but that was just borrowing, not genetics.

In addition, in Spain, there are various languages that are not historically related to Spanish. Aragonese is straight up from vulgar Latin on a Basque base, later influenced by Mozarabic. Catalan started evolving around 700 or so. Murcian evolved from vulgar Latin later influenced by Mozarabic, Catalan and Aragonese. Extremaduran, Leonese and Asturian also broke off very early. None of these are historically Spanish dialects because none of them broke away from Spanish!

Of course it follows that langues d’oil, Catalan and Aragonese, evolving independently of French and Spanish from 700-1200 to present, will have deep structural differences between themselves and French and Spanish.

So you can see that the historical way of splitting languages ties in well with the structural method. Where languages have a deep historical split and a millenia or so of independent development, it follows logically that some deep structural differences would have evolved in a thousand years or so. So these two methods are really wrapping around each other.

Now we get to intelligibility. Intelligibility actually ties in well to structural analyses. Linguists who say we divide on structure and not on intelligibility are being silly. Where you have deep structural differences between Lect A and Lect B, it logically follows that you have intelligibility problems. Profound structural differences between two lects makes it hard for one to understand the other. The differential structure really gets in the way of understanding. So once again, one method is wrapping around the other.

As we can see, historical, structural and intelligibility analyses of splitting languages all tend to be part of the same process, that is, they are all talking about the same thing. And they will tend to reach similar conclusions when it comes to splitting languages.

Does Language Learning Carry Over to New Languages?

Not nearly as much as one might think.

For instance, I am relatively well versed in the Romance languages. I can read Spanish quite well, but not fluently. I can read a bit of French. And I have studied reading Italian and Portuguese for a bit.

So one would think that with all that Romance under my belt, I could just jump right into some new Romance languages and read them just like that, right?

Not so fast now.

Lately I have been going through lots and lots of Occitan texts on the Net. Occitan is approximately between Spanish and French. Honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of Occitan. Sometimes I can pick out a bit of information that I am looking very hard for, but mostly I just throw up my hands. My online translator calls Occitan “Catalan” and tries to translate it into English. Some say that Catalan and Occitan are one language. According to my translator, that is not so. Running the Catalan translator through Occitan fixes it up a bit, but it still leaves a gigantic steaming mess on the page. It’s nearly useless.

With Portuguese, Spanish and French, one would think Catalan would be a breeze, right? Think again. My translator is almost always able to grab it, but sometimes it can’t. When it can’t, I am stuck with Catalan and I am well and truly lost. Once again, I just throw up my hands. Obviously, it looks like some kind of Iberian language, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just don’t want to bother with it.

It’s said that Aragonese is nearly a Spanish dialect. Intelligibility is on the order of 80%. But try reading an Aragonese text sometime. It’s clearly derived from something like Spanish, but it’s so screwed up and crazy that you just want to run away from it. Try to read it and you are quickly lost and angry. My online translator thinks that Aragonese is Spanish. Run Aragonese through the Spanish translator and it fixes it up a bit, but it still a crazy mess and you can’t make a lot of sense of it.

Galician is a sort of Portuguese-Spanish hybrid that is often intelligible to many Spanish speakers. But don’t bother with trying to read Galician texts. They’re a frustrating mess. I dipped into it a bit, but it’s so screwed up and confusing that I quickly gave up.

One would think that with a bit of French under the belt, one could pick up on the various French patois of the langues d’oil. Forget it. It looks like a chaotic disaster on the page. The translator calls the various patois French. Running them through a French translator in general doesn’t really improve matters all that much. It’s still a messy disaster.

The moral to the story is don’t think that semi-getting a few languages under your belt is going to help you even with reading closely related languages. Things are not so simple.