Leonese is a set of vernacular Romance dialects currently spoken in northern and western portions of the historical region of León in Spain (the modern provinces of León, Zamora, and Salamanca) and a few adjoining areas in Portugal. In this narrow sense, Leonese is distinct from the dialects grouped under Asturian, although there is no clear linguistic division. In the past, it was spoken in a wider area, including most of the historical region. The current number of Leonese speakers is estimated at 20,000 to 50,000. The westernmost fringes of the provinces of León and Zamora are in the territory of the Galician language, although there is dialectal continuity between the linguistic areas.
The Leonese and Asturian dialects have long[when?] been recognized as a single language,[by whom?] currently known as Astur-Leonese or Asturian-Leonese and formerly[when?] known as Leonese. For most of the 20th century, linguists (including Ramón Menéndez Pidal in his landmark 1906 study of the language) 2008? discussed a Leonese language (or historical dialect) descending from Latin and encompassing two groups: the Asturian dialects on one hand, and dialects spoken in the provinces of León and Zamora in Spain and a related dialect in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal, on the other hand. Unlike Asturian, the Leonese dialects of Spanish are not officially promoted or regulated.
Menéndez Pidal used "Leonese" for the entire linguistic area, including Asturias. This designation has been replaced by Ibero-Romance scholars with "Asturian-Leonese", but "Leonese" is still often used to denote Asturian-Leonese by non-speakers of Asturian or Mirandese.
Leonese has two genders (masculine and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural). The main masculine noun and adjective endings are -u for singular and -os for plural. Typical feminine endings are -a for singular and -as for plural. Masculine and feminine nouns ending in -e in the singular take -es for the plural.
The Leonese Romance language expanded into new territories of the Kingdom of León.
Atlas of 20th-century European Romance languages
The native languages of Leon, Zamora, Asturias, and the Terra de Miranda in Portugal are the result of the evolution of Latin introduced by Roman conquerors in the region. Their colonization and organization led to the Conventus Astururum, with its capital at Asturica Augusta (present-day Astorga, Spain, the centre of Romanization for the indigenous tribes).
The city of Astorga was sacked by the Visigoths in the 5th century, and never regained its former prominence. The region remained unified until the seventh-century Islamic invasion. Around the 11th century, it began to be defined as Leonese territory roughly corresponding to the southern conventus. In medieval León, the Romance Galician, Asturian-Leonese, and Castilian languages evolved and spread south.
After the 1230 union of Leon and Castile, Leonese had greater written and institutional use, although at the end of the 13th century Castilian began to replace it as a written language.[full citation needed] Leonese became an oral, rural language with little literary development.
At the beginning of the 20th century, it survived in oral form only in mid-western León and western Zamora provinces. Its scientific study and a nascent cultural movement began in the province of Leon in 1906. During the 1950s and 60s, the number of Leonese speakers and the area in which it was spoken decreased.
Use and distribution
Dialects of Asturian-Leonese
Although the Astur-Leonese linguistic domain covers most of the principality of Asturias, the north and west of the province of Leon, the northeast of Zamora, both provinces in Castile and León, and the region of Miranda do Douro in the east of the Portuguese district of Bragança, this article focuses on the autonomous community of Castile and León.Julio Borrego Nieto, in Manual de dialectología española. El español de España (1996), wrote that the area in where Leonese is best preserved, defined as "area 1", consists of the regions of Babia and Laciana, part of Los Argüellos, eastern Bierzo and La Cabrera; in Zamora, non-Galician Sanabria.
Borrego Nieto describes another geographical circle, which he calls "area 2", where Leonese is fading: " ... It is extended to the regions between the interior area and the Ribera del Órbigo (Maragatería, Cepeda, Omaña ... ). In Zamora, the region of La Carballeda – with the subregion La Requejada - and Aliste, with at least a part of its adjacent lands (Alba [es] and Tábara). This area is characterized by a blur and progressive disappearance, greater as we move to the East, of the features still clearly seen in the previous area. The gradual and negative character of this characteristic explains how vague the limits are".[full citation needed]
Number of speakers
Percentage of Asturleonese speakers, according to Iniciativa pol Asturianu
A "speaker of Leonese" is defined here as a person who knows (and can speak) a variety of Leonese. There is no linguistic census of the number of Leonese speakers in the provinces of León and Zamora, and estimates vary from 5,000 to 50,000.
Number of speakers, according to studies
Number of speakers
II Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón (Identidá, conciencia d'usu y actitúes llingüístiques de la población lleonesa)
El asturiano-leonés: aspectos lingüísticos, sociolingüísticos y legislación
20,000 to 25,000
Linguas en contacto na bisbarra do Bierzo: castelán, astur-leonés e galego.
2,500 to 4,000*
*Refers only to the county of EL Bierzo and the valleys of Ribas de Sil, Fornela and La Cabrera.
2009 linguistic map of Zamora and León
Two sociolinguistic studies, in northern Leon and the entire province (Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón. Uviéu, ALLA, 2006, and II Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón. Uviéu, ALLA, 2008) analysed the prevalence of Leonese and the linguistic attitudes of its speakers. According to the latter, maintenance of the language is the primary wish but opinions differ about how to do so. Almost 37 percent think that the language should be kept for nonofficial uses, and about 30 percent believe it should be on a par with Spanish. Twenty-two percent favour its disappearance. Nearly the population supports granting official status to Leonese by amending the Statute of Autonomy. About 70 percent favour linguistic coordination between León and Asturias, with 20 percent opposing. Leonese in education is favoured by more than 63 percent of the population, and opposed by about 34 percent. Institutional promotion of the dialect, especially by town councils, was favoured by more than 83 percent of respondents.
The Statute of Autonomy of Castile and León, amended 30 November 2007, addresses the status of Spanish, Leonese, and Galician. According to Section 5.2, "Leonese will be specifically protected by the institutions for its particular value within the linguistic patrimony of the Community. Its protection, usage and promotion will be regulated".
On 24 February 2010, a parliamentary group from the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party presented a proposition to the courts of Castile and León to recognize the value of Leonese and implement a plan to protect and promote it. Although the proposition was approved unanimously by the plenary session of the parliament of Castile and León on 26 May, the government's position has not changed.
Ad hoc "translation" into Leonese
UNESCO, in its Atlas of Languages in Danger in the World, lists Leonese in the most at-risk category. The category's criteria are:
without legitimized significant use in the news media
low levels of proficiency and use
poor social prestige
not used as a medium of primary education
not used in official toponyms
The Autonomous Community of Castile and León lacks a government agency to promote minority languages and a nongovernmental agency in an advisory capacity in matters pertaining to minority languages. The Academy of the Asturian Language has sponsored linguistic and sociolinguistic research, which encompasses the non-Asturian dialects of Asturian-Leonese.Two congresses about Leonese have been held, at which the following measures were proposed to move towards language standardization:
Based on articles 5.2 and 5.3 of the Statute of Autonomy, raise the legal status of Leonese to equal that of Galician.
Create an autonomous administrative organ under the Departament of Culture and Tourism responsible for protecting and promoting Leonese and Galician.
Introduce Leonese into adult and childhood education.
Recover native toponymy with bilingual signage.
Support cultural and literary Leonese and its publications and collaborate with associations which base their work on the recovery of Leonese, encourage Leonese in social media, and promote literary contests in the dialect.
Promote study of Leonese through the universities and centres of study and investigation such as the Institute of Studies in Zamora, the Cultural Institute in Leon, the Institute of Studies of El Bierzo and the Marcelo Macías Institute of Studies in Astorga.
Coordinate and cooperate with linguistic institutions, study centres, and administrations in the rest of the Asturialeonese linguistic area.
Require local governments to assume responsibility for the recovery of Leonese.
El Prencipicu, the Leonese version of The Little Prince, was a collaboration of Facendera pola Llengua and La Caleya.
For about 15 years cultural associations have offered Leonese-language courses, sometimes with the support of local administrations in the provinces of Leon and Zamora. In 2001, the Universidad de León (University of León) created a course for teachers of Leonese. The dialect can be studied in the larger villages of León, Zamora and Salamanca provinces as El Fueyu courses, following an agreement between the Leonese provincial government and the organization. The Leonese Language Teachers and Monitors Association (Asociación de Profesores y Monitores de Llingua Llïonesa) was created in 2008 to promote Leonese-language activities.
^ abMenéndez Pidal, R. El dialecto Leonés. Madrid. 1906
^Cruz, Luísa Segura da; Saramago, João and Vitorino, Gabriela: "Os dialectos leoneses em território português: coesão e diversidade". In "Variação Linguística no Espaço, no Tempo e na Sociedade". Associação Portuguesa de Linguística. Lisbon: Edições Colibri, p. 281-293. 1994.
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^ abSánchez Prieto, R. (2008): "La elaboración y aceptación de una norma lingüística en comunidades dialectalmente divididas: el caso del leonés y del frisio del norte". In: Sánchez Prieto, R./ Veith, D./ Martínez Areta, M. (ed.): Mikroglottika Yearbook 2008. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
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