The Asturian Language


Area of Distribution and Number of Speakers

Asturian (Asturianu) is a West Romance language mostly spoken in the Principality of Asturias (except for the most western part where Galaic-Asturian language is spoken), but also in northern Castilla y Leon, western Santander province (Asturies de Santillana) and the area surrounding the city of Miranda do Douro in north-eastern Portugal. There is also remains of the language in some parts of Salamanca and Caceres provinces.

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 ethnic-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. Conseyeria d'Educacion, Uvieu, 1994).

The Name and Recognition of the Language

Another name for Asturian is Bable or, in plural, Bables. In the scientific literature, especially when referring to the Middle ages, it is called often Asturo-Leonese or Asturian-Leonese. Since it is linguistically very close to Portuguese, Galician and Spanish, it was often considered a dialect but in fact it is an independent language within the Romance group.

Origin and History

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 Kingdom of Asturies (established in 718) and the ensuing Asturian-Leonese or Leonese kingdom. The Astur tribes who were later to speak Asturian occupied Asturias itself and parts of the surrounding territories of Leon, Zamora and Miranda. Asturian was influenced by the language or languages spoken by the pre-Roman or Celtic peoples inhabiting Asturias before Latin replaced them, Asturian language keeps some vocabulary from this pre-roman speech.

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 extent literary works written in Asturian in this period, it is known that some books, such as the Llibru d'Alexandre, had Asturian sources.

The introduction of Castilian into documents began in the 14th century, as a result of the arrival of non ethnic-Asturian officials and governors, sent there by the Castilian administration to occupy places of political and ecclesiastic power and putting ethic-Asturians out of high power positions. This process accelerated following the defeat of the ethinc-Asturian nobles supporting the pretender Alfonso Enriquez. For the following two centuries no written record in Asturian has been found, and the language became restricted to informal usage. In the 17th century Anton de Marirreguera, the first modern author whose works are known, began the Asturian national literary tradition that has been unbroken ever since. There are other great authors such as Francisco Bernaldo de Quiros, whose only large work is the poem El Caballu (The Horse). In the 18th century the so-called Xeneracion del Mediu Sieglu (Half-century Generation) produced basically poetry. At the same time, the research works by intellectuals such as Gonzalez Posada and Gaspar Melchor de Xovellanos, while largely ignored in their day, paved the way so that later generations could reflect upon the old problem of the Asturian national language. In the 19th century this double process continued: on the one hand, national literature in Asturian was increasingly produced; on the other hand, the reflexion about the Asturian Nation also attracted the attention of many intellectuals. In the early part of the 20th century, the relevance of the writers Xose Garcia Pelaez and Fernan-Coronas should be noted, as well as the popularity that Asturian National Theatre achieved. During this period the famous Spanish Romance linguist Menendez Pidal worked on Asturian; at the same time the first national newspaper written in Asturian (called IXUXU) was released, and the Asturian Academy first appeared. However, despite this regular artistic and intellectual production, by the beginning of the 20th century Asturian had lost most of its previous status and was already regarded as a second class language. As mentioned above, Spanish was the dominant language used for official issues since the 14th century until finally Asturian was not used by authorities at all. For centuries, Spanish has been the language of colonial power in the Asturian Nation and thus the population begun to use it (starting with the ethnic-astuian aristocracy). Since the middle of the 14th century, then, Asturian became a powerless language. Moreover, once massive education started, Spanish was the language taught in schools. Progressively, Asturian had become minorised in its own nation until it was officially considered by the spanish dominant power as a second class language. In the early part of the 20th century, Asturian was already stigmatised by dominant spanish rulers as a primitive, rural and "useless" language. After the Spanish Civil War (1936-39), poetry was primarily folklore, sentimental or festive, although a few writers began to work against the increasing minorisation of the Asturian national language. The weakening and liberalisation of the Spanish dictatorship meant an uprising of Asturian power and local demands. Non-Spanish nationalisms strengthened and the Spanish Government decentralized. Speakers of the languages in the spanish peninsula, other than Spanish, campaigned for an official status. In this context, the Asturian generation of writers and linguists born after the civil war began to make an impact on the Asturian scene: in 1974, the Conceyu Bable (the "Asturian Language Council") was established; they gave a radically new vision to both Asturian national language and Asturian national literature. Thanks to the political conditions in the 1970s, the path was set for the modern linguistic vindication of the language, aiming at its normalisation and defence. However, this body did not achieve official status for the language in the Statute of Autonomy given by the spanish state in 1981, although the existence of the Asturian national language was recognised, and the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana was established as an official academy by the Principality of Asturias (

Up to now, considerable (though insufficient) progress has been made in all fields in order to change the process of minorisation of Asturian. The consciousness of Asturians is attaching more and more importance to safeguarding Asturias' own national language. In recent years the official recognition of Asturian has become a steady more popular vindication, although stigmatisation is still strong and Spanish remains by now as the power dominant language.



The language has three dialects: Western Asturian, Central Asturian and Eastern Asturian. Intelligibility among the three dialects is adequate. Central Asturian has the most speakers and has been taken as the basis for normative Asturian: the first Asturian grammar has been recently published and it is institutionally backed. The Asturian language has also a normative dictionary, the DALLA and tha Academia de la Llingua is also preparing a complete map of the Asturian language territory.


The Present Situation

Socio-demographic Aspects

Asturies is a historical nation located in northern Iberian peninsula and has 1,087,885 inhabitants (1997). Asturies became an autonomous country in 1981, under the name of Principau d'Asturies (Principality of Asturies). Its capital is Uvieu, (Oviedo in Spanish).

This old nation covers an area of 10,564 km2. To the north lies the Asturian Sea, and to the south the Spanish region of Castilla y Leon. There is a natural border between this communities, along the ridges of the Asturian Mountains. Most of the population, industry and agriculture is to be found on the coastal plain.

Among the 450,000 people declaring themselves to be ethnic-Asturian speakers, there are those who use Spanish structures with Asturian lexicon; those who use Asturian structures with Spanish lexicon; and ethnic-Asturian speakers who cannot avoid strong interference from Spanish at both levels. In any case, the proportion of the Asturian population that uses Asturian as their everyday language is closer to 12%, rather than the 44%, although it is impossible to give an exact figure.

In any case, from 1983 to 1991 the percentage of people who declare speaking Asturian has raised from 12% to 44%. These changes in people's answers are no doubt related with the process which has been occurring during the last few years: people are becoming increasingly aware of the situation of the language. In these years, some conscious sectors have led a movement which has thrown the situation of Asturian into relief: while for centuries the Asturian language was not to be found in public life, in the last decades there has been an effort to bring it to the public sphere. As a result of this, and given the similarity between Spanish and Asturian, a few people have learnt to speak or at least to understand it. The revaluation of Asturian may have had two more important effects: on the one hand, people who previously did not admit speaking Asturian now dare doing so; on the other hand, some people who were not conscious of being Asturian speakers (a rather usual situation: many people thought and still think that they speak a "bad Spanish" or a "local speech") are now aware of their linguistic competence. However, this process of revaluing of the Asturian is parallel to its decline: while 51% of the population over sixty years of age consider that Asturian is their childhood language, only 15% of the people between sixteen and seventeen years old do so (in 1991).

Thus, in the following years, as the older sector of the population dies, Asturian language will be spoken less and less. The socio-economic context also influences the situation of the language: Asturian is spoken the most in rural areas (although its use is common in many cities) and the developing migration pattern will probably result in a further loss of speakers: the economical crisis that exists in the Asturian Nation (the increasing difficulties in the agribusiness sector and in the iron and steel industry and the growing importance of the service sector) has meant that people migrate from rural areas to cities. This change of environment from rural areas to urban ones has left many ethinc-Asturian speakers in contexts less advantageous for the language. This process has been occurring for many years and therefore its impact in the language has been deep: since the 1960s, the Asturian Nation has been suffering from an important socio-economic crisis. During the 1950s, under the protectionist policies of the Spanish dictatorship, Asturias seemed to enjoy a healthy economical situation. However, during the 1960s the state Spanish economy was opened up to external influences and, while most of Spain's State economy was growing quickly, this opening was enough for the overprotected Asturian economy to collapse. The traditional strongholds of the Asturian economy (iron and steel industry, mining and agribusiness) were not able to resist external competition. Nevertheless, the government took control of the situation and nationalised some key companies. This did mitigate the impact of the crisis on the population but, in the 1980s when the Spanish state joined the EU and embraced a more liberal economic policy, the Asturian Nation was not ready to face this new context and a new, stronger crisis was started.

The Asturian Nation has not succeed in diversifying its economy and now it has severe socio-economic problems. In this recessive context, the Asturian population growth rate has been -0'6% from 1991 to 1996; the population is ageing, and the working population has also decreased considerably (42% of the total population in 1994). This has prevented large increases in the level of unemployment, although the unemployment rate is very high (about 20%). The economy and the wealth of the population are still subsidised to a large extent and, despite the increasing importance of the service sector, the economy has not diversified and significant improvement is not expected in the short or even medium-term.

Legal Status and Official Policies about Asturian National Language

The Spanish Constitution, in its third article, says: "Castilian [Spanish] is the State official language (...) The other Spanish languages will also be official in their respective Comunidades Autonomas [the State's regions] in accordance with their estatutos de Atuonomia [Statutes of Autonomy]". While in some Spanish Communities their Statutes of Autonomy consider their languages as official (they have the same status as Spanish), the Asturian Statute of Autonomy does not consider Asturian an official language. Nevertheless, the Statute of Autonomy states the following: "Bable will enjoy protection. Its use, its presence in the mass media and in the education system, will be encouraged, respecting in every case local varieties and the voluntary nature of learning it" (Art. 4), and "The Principality of Asturias has full competence in the following fields: (...) m) Promoting of research and culture, with special reference to regional manifestations and to the teaching of local culture. n) Promoting and protecting the different varieties of bable used, as "linguistic modalities", in the territory of the Principality of Asturias". (Art. 10)

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. Nor have European and other international instruments on minority languages been applied. The ambiguity of the Statute of Autonomy, given by Spain, which recognises the existence of Asturian but does not put it on the same level than Spanish, leaves the door open to the de facto lack of protection of Asturian. The Asturian National Parliament has aproved on April 30 the Ley de uso y promocion del bable/Asturiano (Law of use and promotion of bable/Asturian language) but it's not a strong enouth instrument to preserve the language as apears as not much compulsory policy for the running Asturian governments.

On the other hand, the Asturian Administration has encouraged the use of Asturian in various fields: the teaching of Asturian at school and university is given support; there have been several institutional campaigns on behalf of the social and commercial use of the language; and two state institutions, the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana and the Servicio de Ensenanza Linguistica (Linguistic Education Service), are aimed at strengthening the Asturian language in all levels. For example, most of the budget of the Linguistic Policies Service (1,300,000 ECU in 1998) was spent on subsidising Asturian cultural productions and scientific research and promoting the language in the Asturian Nation and internationally . To strengthen this policy, in 1998 a new law developing the article number 4 of the Statute of Autonomy has been accepted by the Asturian National Parliament. This law states that the Asturian Administration will accept documents in Asturian and will answer them in the same language; toponomy will be in Asturian (except in the case of the main cities, where it will be bilingual); and Asturian will be taught as a subject unless the student's parents say the contrary.

At present, eight municipalities have allocated the Asturian national language with the same level of importance than Spanish. This decision has provoked a quick and strong opposition by the spanish nationalists: the Delegacion del Gobierno Espanol (the institution which represents the Spanish State in Asturias) has been in opposition to Asturian language taken this decision to courts. The tribunal has stayed the normative (a rather unusual judicial decision) until there is a definitive sentence. The Statute of Autonomy of Castile and Leon makes no reference to the existence of the Asturian language there, and the awareness of linguistic unity among its speakers has been virtually lost. In Miranda del Douru the Municipal Council does promote the dissemination of Asturian-Mirandese, in contrast. Although the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana considers that Asturian is also spoken both in Castile and Leon, Santander and Miranda del Douru, it only promotes the language within the Asturies itself.

Presence and Use of the Asturian National Language in the Education

One of the main aims of the language recovery movement in the Asturian Nation has always been the access of the language into schools. A campaign in the 1970s plastered the expression Bable nes Escueles (Asturian in schools) on the walls of Asturias. In 1983 Asturian was taught in a school for the first time. In 1985, ten schools of the country joined the first one, plus 20 pilot schools. Since then, the number of schools teaching Asturian has been growing permanently, almost exclusively in the public sector (in 1997-98 only a private school offered the Asturian language subject). In 1997-98, Asturian was taught to 14,790 primary education students in 166 schools, and to 956 secondary education students in 14 schools. Despite these data, Asturian promoters regard the process as slow and insufficient: for example, Asturian is not a compulsory subject but is taught in voluntary basis, and only in the schools that decide offering Asturian lessons. Today, about 70% of the Asturian public schools teach Asturian. In these schools, 70% of the students choose the subject. However, only 30% of the total number of students are taught the language. Two lessons of Asturian are taught every week.

Adult education: The following local councils offer Asturian courses for adults, with the co-operation of the Linguistic Education Service of the regional government: Ayer, Bimenes, Carreno, Castrillon, Corvera, Grau, Llanera, Llanes, Llangreo, Mieres, Samartin del Rei Aurelio, Siero, Valdes and Xixon. Since 1996, the local councils of Corvera and Valdes have also organised some courses for their civil servants. The Academia de la Llingua Asturiana also offers summer courses every year, for teachers and for the general public.

Higher education : At the University, after a long and troublesome process, Asturian can at last be studied. The Universida d'Uvieu offers two specialised courses in Asturian: Asturian Philology (at the Faculty of Philology; it is available for those who have a degree in Philology) with 56 credits (560 hours); and Asturian Philology at the University Teacher Training college (Escuela Universitaria de Maxisteriu) with 42 credits (420 hours) for students studying to become primary school teachers. But unfortunately until now the Spanish Council for universities based in Madrid has denied permission and vetoed the proposal for the Asturian Philology studies in the Uvieu University saying that Asturian is not "a language" but a "dialect" who was the old typical answer of the spanish nationalists in the past times of the General Franco regime for not to recognize and promote properly the Asturian language. This opposition of the Council of Universities in Madrid began a huge strike to this desition in Asturies and in every scientific and linguistic institution, and even has started a political conflict with the Asturian Parlament who has urged several times the studies of Asturian Philology at Universities.

The Asturian Language in Public Authorities and Services

With regard to the Spanish Government Administration, it works contrary to the Constitution: Every spanish language has to be official in its own territory. But Asturian has not yet been given an official status as the spanish Constitution sais, so Spanish is the only language used by the Spanish Government Administration. If a letter in Asturian is sent to this spanish Administration, it is usually returned unanswered. There is no apparent concern given to the Asturian National language by the Spanish Administration in Asturias. The Asturian Administration carries out a different policy. Not only does it have two important institutions which protect and promote the Asturian language (the Academia de la Llingua and the Servicio de Ensenanza Linguistica); moreover, and more importantly, its attitude towards Asturian, even though it is not considered sufficient by some pro-Asturian sectors, shows more respect towards the language: for example, some official institutions have used the Asturian language in their campaigns and signals, and the Asturian Administration usually accepts documents written in Asturian (although up to now the answers are in Spanish). Moreover, most of the Regional Administration's workers are ethnic-Asturians and mostly understand the language, so they use it in informal situations. However, Spanish is largely the most used language in the Administration and Asturian only appears in a few specific cases.

With regard to Conceyos (City Councils), the policies there is not a common attitude; their policies vary depending on each case. However, the Conceyos placed in Asturian regions where Asturian is more widely spoken, obviously tend to protect it more than other cities or villages where Asturian is less widely spoken. As an extreme example, it is worth mentioning a previously quoted case: eight Asturian Conceyos have equated Asturian with Spanish, a decision which has been brought into courts by the Spanish state Government. The policies of the main Asturian cities also vary: while in Uvieu the Conceyu (Council) pays very little attention to Asturian, in Xixon the language is more protected in various ways: texts received in Asturian are answered (although in Spanish), official campaigns often use the language, Asturian adult courses are organised, the use of Asturian in cultural productions (music, literature, theatre, festivals, etc.) is subsidised, 10% of the contents of the Conceyu magazine (105,000 free copies are edited) is in Asturian, etc.

No public services -telephone, gas, water, etc.- are offered through the medium of Asturian. However, it is worth mentioning that, in recent years and due to the recent claims for the recovery of Asturian, some public services have started considering its use. RENFE (the Spanish rail company), for example, offers bilingual maps for their suburban trips and also uses the language in other cases (posters, some advertising). Telefonica (the main telephone company) has also started introducing the language in certain services like instructions and general information. Nevertheless, the use of Asturian in public services is very limited. Police, for example, never uses it. The local Police (it has more Asturian employees than the Spanish Government Police), similarly, will only speak Asturian when replying in informal situations to questions from the public.

Asturian is generally ignored by public authorities and services and so citizens tend to use Spanish when dealing with them: while 42% of the Asturian population declare to use the local language when they are with their families, only half of them usually speak it when Government related issues are at stake: 22% of the population speak Asturian when contacting Conceyos and only 14% use it when addressing other public offices. With regard to signs, traffic signs and toponomy, although they are mostly only in Spanish, in the last few years this situation has started to change slowly. As it has been said, the Asturian Government and the Conceyos are trying to promote Asturian and some actions have been aimed at introducing Asturian names in signs and place-names, besides Spanish ones.

Mass Media and Information Technology in Asturian Language

The use of Asturian National Language in the audio-visual media is rather poor and sporadic. The Asturian centre of the Spanish television used to broadcast some programmes in Asturian but later discontinued them. Some TV channels broadcast partly or totally in Asturian, as the local TV station Xixon-TLG (which broadcasts about two hours per week in Asturian) and the local TV stations Uvieu-TLU (about three hours per week) and Teleasturias. The broadcasted programs consist of local news, magazines and ethnographic and folklore reports, mainly, and very recently some cartoons.

About 20% of programmes produced by the Productora de Programas del Principado (a public body established by the Asturian regional government in order to produce programmes for both radio and TV channels) are in Asturian. There is a project to create an Asturian television, supported by the Autonomic Government, although this process will probably be slow.

Regarding radio broadcasting, Radio Sele is a cultural radio station which broadcasts totally in Asturian; Radio Kras is an independent radio station, part of whose programmes are in Asturian; Antena Norte also offers programs in Asturian. With regard to the main Spanish radio stations, most of them broadcast in Asturian (between twenty minutes and one hour and twenty minutes per week). Asturian can also be found on the Internet, e.g. (a web site which gives information on Asturias) and Asturnews (the first daily electronic newspaper in Asturian) and (the radio in Asturian now on internet). Some newspapers (La Voz de Asturias, La Nueva Espana and El Comercio) have sections and supplements written in Asturian. Finally, a weekly news magazine (Les Noticies) is totally written in Asturian; it was founded in August 1996 and edits five thousand copies. All these activities are financially aid by the Asturian Government.

The Asturian Language in the Arts

There has been an Asturian written literature, both popular and literary, since the 17th century: poetry, traditional ballads and chivalric novels of oral tradition. Today, about 60 books are published in Asturian every year, thanks to six publishing houses. There a re regular literary contests in the field of narrative, poetry, non-fiction and translation. The most relevant publications are issued by the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana (Academy for the Asturian Language), such as Lliteratura, Cultures and Lletres Asturianes. Other cultural publications devoted specifically to literature were Sietestrellu and Zimbru. Other relevant publications are: XyZ (an avant-garde magazine for young people) and Asturias (an ethnographic journal). There was also a comic magazine, El Gomeru (eight pages in Asturian), and several other magazines that use the language regularly. No professional theatre companies exist that give performances in Asturian. However, there are two semi-professional companies that do usually perform in Asturian, both achieving remarkable success. There is litlle cinema in Asturian, although shorts were produced and released since 1997. With regard to music production, nine CDs were edited in 1997 in Asturian, most of them with financial help. Asturian groups mostly produce celtic and folk music, although there are also some rock bands and a successful youth group. There are several Celtic music festivals held around Asturias. La Nuechi Celta (the Celtic Night) is a popular festival that takes place every summer in at least ten cities and towns. There are also performances of Tonada (traditional Asturian music) every Sunday in Uvieu six months of the year. The Biblioteca d'Asturies (Asturias National Library) contains all materials produced in, or related with, Asturian language. The Xunta pola Defensa de la Llingua Asturiana (Board for the Defence of the Asturian National Language) has carried on a number of activities in recent years, such as book publishing, awareness-raising campaigns, translations, meetings, lectures, concerts, etc. in order to obtain an official status for, and the social normalisation of, the Asturian national language. Finally, it is worthnoting that the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana has issued the first modern grammar and diccionary for Asturian.

The Asturian Language and the Business World

Large and medium seized companies do not use Asturian; if they do, it is an exceptional situation. Speaking Asturian is not something companies value when signing new workers. A knowledge of Asturian is not regarded as useful for social or professional advancement; on the contrary: it has been found that Asturian speakers tend to abandon the use of the language when socially and professionally advancing. Some small business, on the other hand, may use Asturian depending on the owner's will. A few advertising, shop signs, restaurant menus and other services are offered in Asturian, although this is rather unusual and, even within the small business, Spanish is largely the dominant language. However, Asturian can be easily found in the business and commercial world: given the similarity between Spanish and Asturian, a general knowledge or understanding of the language is simply supposed and assumed by most people. Thus, even though linguistic competence in Asturian is never valued when employing workers, it is taken for granted that they will be able to understand customers who use Asturian. At this informal level, then, Asturian is spoken frequently, unlike the situations that exist at more formal levels. The Empresarios y Profesionales EPA is an organisation aimed at the promotion of the use of Asturian in the business and commercial world. They have campaigned in several occasions and have been institutionally helped.

Family and Social Use of the Asturian Language

In the last decades there has been a double process: on the one hand, the undermining of Asturian language by Spanish has continued. Today a significant number of Asturian speakers exist that consider their language to be a second class one. On the other hand, there has been a process of empowerment of the linguistic consciousness with regard to Asturian. This process started with the end of the Spanish dictatorship and the growing importance of regional power. Next we will analyse both processes. Family is the context were Asturian is spoken the most. Asturian is most used between relatives, friends and neighbours, while its use decreases progressively when we pass to work, banks, politics, visits to the doctor, studies and public offices. The more "important" and "official" the context is, the less Asturian is used. Asturian is still regarded, both by its speakers and the ones who do not speak it, as a second class language. Different studies show that a significant number of Asturian speakers consider its own language as a "badly spoken Spanish", or as an "incorrect way of talking". Asturian is not considered, by wide sectors of the population, as a full language. In many cases the same Asturian speakers have no consciousness about the fact that they are speaking a different language: on the one hand, there is the example of those people who, once they leave Asturias, keep on talking Asturian and are not understood, unaware of the fact that they are not speaking in Spanish; on the other hand, there are those who are aware of not speaking Spanish, but are not sure about the status of their speech: they freely mix Spanish and Asturian, knowing that they are not speaking in Spanish but not knowing what language they are using. "Amestau" is the word that refers to this mixture and it is considered, by some authors, as a step in the undermining of Asturian by Spanish. Most of Asturian speakers find themselves in this diglossic situation. Thus, we can see that there is a lack of linguistic consciousness, many people considering Asturian as "what we speak in our village" or "in this valley"; variabilities among Asturian are often perceived as insuperable. Even among those who are conscious of being Asturian speakers, Asturian is stigmatised as a second class language. As it has been said, the use of Asturian decreases when we pass from family and affective relationships to public contexts (banks, politics, public offices, etc.). This negative view on Asturian has practical consequences with regard to social mobility: not only are there less Asturian speakers among the middle and higher classes, but within Asturian speakers a tendency to stop using Asturian as they ascend socially has been detected. Asturian, in this sense, is regarded as a negative cultural capital, as something which hinders social mobility. This fact correlates with the previously mentioned absence of Asturian in the business world, as well as in the policies of the large and medium sized companies. The stigma associated with Asturian is both that it is a non-correct language and that it is a rural way of speaking (with all its negative connotations: primitive, non-useful, non-scientific, old fashioned, etc.). This process of minorisation is confirmed by the fact that, while 51% of the Asturian population over sixty years of age consider Asturian as their first language, only 15% of the population between sixteen and seventeen years old (in 1991) consider it to be so.

However, since the last years of the Spanish dictatorship Asturian power has grown and there has been a re-evaluation of what was peculiar. In 1973 the I Asturian Assembly of the Bable was celebrated in Uvieu and marked the beginning of the process of political and social mobilisation on behalf of the Asturian language. Later on the Conceyu Bable (an organisation of university people) was created with the objective of bringing to debate the use of Asturian in places where it was, in practice, excluded (poetry, scientific production, etc.). The movement grew and got institutional support: in 1981 the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana was created; this organisation plays a key role in the process of strengthening the Asturian language. In 1985, the Servicio de Ensenanza Linguistica also appeared. However, social mobilisation has always gone further than its institutional support. Since the mid seventies, the civil society organised adult courses and literary contests, started publishing and editing books, magazines, discs, etc. in Asturian and campaigned for the language to be awarded a legal status (which it was in 1981). They also proposed the teaching of Asturian in schools. Several of these campaigns did have a strong impact on the population.

As a result of these processes, in the last two decades Asturian National Language has received the social recognition which it previously lacked. The most important consequence of this process is that today Asturian speakers tend to recognise themselves as so. There has been an arousal of linguistic consciousness, which itself is a very significant change. This has brought a bigger demand both for official support to Asturian and for an increase in the use of Asturian in everyday life. As it has been mentioned previously, in 1983 only 12% of the population declared they spoke Asturian; in 1991, the percentage reached 44% of the population. Regardless the different interpretations that can be given to these data, the results no doubt show a shift in people's attitudes towards the language. Today, 60% of the Asturian population would like Asturian speakers to teach the language to the following generations; in 1991 the number of people who had no interest in Asturian (35% in 1983), had decreased to 19%; many people have attended Asturian teaching in order to learn to write, read or speak it; Asturian is taught at school and it has become a university special branch; there is a demand for culture and mass media in Asturian, which does not match with a still insufficient supply; and the official policies carried out up to now have been backed by the population.

However, the situation must not be exaggerated: it has not been possible, for example, to raise Asturian to the level of an official language (as other languages in Spain are). In addition, the stigma is still strong not only between the non-Asturian speakers but even between the same speakers of this language. In any case, and despite the fact that 70% of the population from Asturies would like bilingualism to be normal in the future, many observers point out that most of the Asturian people see polemics about language as something political and external to them; controversy is regarded as artificial; linguistic activism has been aroused only in minority sectors, although its influence has been broad.

The use of Asturian in the Spanish Church is rare: a few baptisms and weddings are celebrated in Asturian, but on most occasions and at masses Spanish is used. Church authorities do not want to indulge in polemics about the linguistic conflict and their attitude is quite prudent, they will wait and see. Nevertheless, there is a prolific and relatively successful edition of religious texts in Asturian, which are privately used.

Transnational exchanges. The Asturian Language in other Countries

There are regular contacts with Miranda (Portugal). When new rules were established for written Asturian-Mirandes, the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana was consulted. Studies that concern Mirandes always reach Asturies. At present both Miranda and Asturies are considering promoting the idea of the unity of the Mirandes / Asturian language. The EU aids several projects related with the production of didactic materials and the promotion of Asturian national literature. Courses of Asturian language have been made at Asturian centers abroad for Asturian emigrants mainly.


The overall situation of Asturian Language is delicate. Given that the elderly speak Asturian in a bigger proportion than the younger generations, a loss of ethinc-Asturian speakers is expected over the next years. This situation may get even worse due to the economic crisis, which might increase the migration from villages (where Asturian is spoken the most) to cities. In this context, it is not clear whether the recent social and political valuing of Asturian will be enough to lessen this process. On the one hand, the language is overcoming part of the still strong stigma associated with it: Asturian is now more respected by both those who speak it and those who do not, and by the political sphere. For example, the Pautu pol Autogobiernu d'Asturies y la Oficialida de la Llingua Asturiana (Pact for the Self-government of Asturian Nation and the Official Status of the Asturian National Language) gathers about one hundred civil and political organisations, including some left-wing and nationalist political parties and all trade unions. Every trade union and political Asturian party supports officiality for Asturian language except spanish main ruler parties PP and PSOE. On the other hand, theese two main spanish political parties have not backed this process of promoting Asturian very firmly and in fact hinder and prosecute the arising of Asturian. Moreover, a significant part of the Asturian population (17%) shows few interest in the language and might feel uneasy when it strengthens and becomes more visible. A recent report has been sent and accepted by the United Nations in New York claimming help for violation of linguistic human rights and freedoms in Asturies about the recent attacks on the Asturian language and Asturian speakers made by both spanish and recent Asturian governments. People in Asturies is more and more getting interested in learning and improving Asturian and even expressing being proud of seaking and writing it in general. Courses of Asturian language have been made outside Asturies, in Madrid and in Latinamerica dedicated mainly for Asturian emigrants and followed with great success. Even sons and grandsons of Asturian emigrants abroad come to show great interest in learning Asturian language and Asturian folklore and culture, in order to keep naming themselves as Asturians. There has been a recent success of Asturian language in the Internet and in non-official web pages. In Asturies, within the less instructed people and the lower classes, more than 50% of the poputalion use Asturian frequently; within the more instructed people and the higher classes, only about 20% use the language. Among the lower classes, 13% of the population have no interest in Asturian; this figure increases to 15% among the middle classes and to 22% among the upper. (Source: Llera Ramo, J., op. cit.)



Linguistic Features


Orthography was normalized by the Academy during the 1980s. It follows pretty well the model of the Standard Spanish, especially in the usage of the letters c, b, v, h, ñ and the digraphs gu, qu, ll, as well as in the accentuation rules.


Asturian phonology is now highly influenced by that of Castilian. In the official speech however it is distinguished by the seseo phenomenon, the pronunciation of x as [ʃ] and of ll as [tʃ]. The initial prevocalic f- is also retained, but in in Eastern Asturia and Leon it is replaced by aspirated [h].


Asturian is distinguished by the neuter agreement of the adjectives with the nouns of substance, cf. la lleña seco ?the dry wood?. The official grammar does not permit the usage of compound tenses, but the spoken language has largely adopted them under Castilian influence.


The Asturian vocabulary contains a considerable number of pre-romance words: veiga (vega) 'fertile valley', bedul 'birch', carbayu 'oak' etc. Among the supposed celtisms are listed words like llamarga 'dirt', berciu 'cradle' etc. To the Germanic stock belong roupa 'dress', gadaña 'scythe', rustir 'to roast', blancu 'white' etc. Arabisms like (a)zucre 'sugar' penetrated via Castilian. The number of the Spanish borrowings is permanently growing under circumstances of effective bilingualism.

In general, there are many correspondences between Asturian and Galaic-Portuguese and Aragono-Navarrese areals, cf. Ast. carbayu – Gal. carballo – Port. carvalho 'oak', Ast. emburriar – Gal. / Port. empurrar 'to push' etc.