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Endangered languages: Bable, the Asturian language

Katia is a translator turned product designer. She is a digital nomad who loves surfing and is passionate about linguistics and sociology.

This is a serie of articles where I will write about the endangered languages ​​of the world in order to make them known and make people aware of the importance of preserving these languages ​​and their cultural heritage.

In this article I am going to write about the Bable, a Romance Language spoken in some regions of northwest of Spain.


Bable, also known as Asturianu, is the name that refers to the Romance language spoken in the Principality of Asturias and its variants spoken in the provinces of Leon and Zamora, in Spain, and in Miranda do Douro, where it is called Mirandés, in Portugal. The language evolved from the pre-Roman languages spoken by the Astures, the ancient inhabitants of the Asturian region, and the Latin introduced by the Romans.

Despite it not being an official language, it is protected under the autonomous statute's legislation, has its own institution, the "Academia de la Lingua Asturiana", a dictionary, which is based in the central variant, and is taught as an optional language in schools. In 1994, there were 100.000 native speakers, but despite the efforts undertaken by the institutions to preserve and promote the language, it has been in decline due to the actions of the political organizations and their reticence for granting Bable an official recognition; and the lack of presence of the language in the local media, which cause that Bable has been increasingly relegated to rural communities.


The Asturian language descended from Latin in the early Middle Ages. The passage from Latin to Asturian was slow and progressive, and for a long period both co-existed in a diglossic relationship, firstly in the Asturian kingdom, and subsequently in the Asturian-Leonese kingdom. The oldest surviving document written in Bable is the "Nodicia de Kesos" dating from the year 959, and the oldest official document preserved written in Asturian is the "Fueru d'Avilés" from 1085. The language was used in the official documents until the 14th century, when it began to be replaced by Castilian as a result of the arrival of officials and governors sent there by the Castilian administration to occupy places of political and ecclesiastical power.


In the 17th century, literary tradition in Bable reappears with Antón de Marirreguera, the first modern author of literary works written in Asturianu. Such tradition has remained to the present day. Amongst these literary pieces we can find the poem "El Caballu" (The Horse) by Francisco Bernaldo de Quiros, and the works by intellectuals such as Gonzalez Posada, and Gaspar Melchor de Xovellanos who paved the way so that later generations could reflect upon the old problem of the Asturian national language.

Contemporary History

Since the 14th century, Spanish was the dominant language used for official issues and taught in schools, which led the Bable to become in a powerless language. Over time, Asturian had become a minority language and was considered by the Spanish government as a second class language. After the Spanish Civil War, it appears written in folkloric, sentimental, and festive poetry, and some authors such as Llorienzu Novo Mier, Xosefa Canellada or X. Manuel d'Andrés, began to work in the cultural and artistic recovery of Asturias.

In 1974, a new generation of writers appeared with the foundation of the "Conceyu Bable" (Bable Council), the first association in defending the language normalization. The political conditions in the 70's facilitated the linguistic claim to defend the Asturian, and although the official recognition of the language did not succeed, they achieved the normalization and regularization of the Bable, and the foundation of the Academy of the Asturian Language and the dictionary of the language.

In 1984, the Asturian entered in schools as an optional language, and in 1998, the "Llei d’usu y promoción del bable/asturianu" (Law of use and promotion of Bable/Asturian) was approved by the Asturian government, which where legally listed the steps to follow to normalize the language, establishing a sort of semi-officiality, and which so far remain unfulfilled.

Linguistic Variants

There are four main varieties of the Asturian language, which are classified by a geographical criteria.

  • Central Asturian: It is the variant spoken in the centre of Asturias, between the Nalón and Sella rivers, and is in which the standard variant is based. Its main characteristics are the preservation of the initial "f" from Latin, and the changes from -as and -an to -es and -en in the feminine plural and the verbal endings, i.e. moza/ moces, elli baxa/ ellos baxen.
  • Eastern Asturian: Variant spoken in the east of the Sella river. Its differences compared to the standard variant are the lost of the initial "f" from Latin, and the feminine plural -as.
  • Western Asturian: Spoken between the Nalón and Navia rivers and is the variant more extended outside Asturias (León, Zamora and Miranda). It is characterized, in comparison with the standard variant, for its conservation both in vowels and consonants.
  • Mirandese: Is the spoken variant in Miranda do Douro and Vimioso, in the district of Bragança. Such variant was influenced during centuries by the Portuguese language, so its differences regarding with the variants spoken in Asturias are significant. Its main characteristics are the palatalization of the / l-/, /-ll-/, /-nn-/ and /-mn-/; the diphthongization of /e/ in tonic position, and some times of /o/ in the same position. On 29 January 1999, with the law 7/99, the Mirandese variant was recognized as an official language in Miranda do Douro by the Portuguese Parliament.
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Texts and videos in Bable

© 2012 Katia De Juan


Katia De Juan (author) from Inverness, UK on July 30, 2013:

Hi Paul!

I'm sorry for not having answered during this 2 months but I have been really busy between my job and preparing the things to move to the Canary Islands. I would really love to go to the conference, but right on those days I¡ll be starting my journey to the Canary Islands. I hope to go there next year, since I do not only enjoy a great conference but also I'll visit Brazil. ^_^

PaulWDixon on May 17, 2013:

Dear Katia,

Thank you for your reply.

The ProZ Brazilian Conference is held every year, so don't worry, next year you can come over, possibly as a speaker! The advantage this time is that it is in Recife, which is 3 hours less of flying time from Europe compared to Rio or São Paulo - and of course if you're in the Canary Islands that's even less flying time.

You may follow what is happening at

Brazil has lots of regional dialects but (apart from some slang) one region can understand another. Then we have Portuñol, a blend of Portuguese and Spanish spoken close to the borders with Argentina and Uruguay, and Riograndenser Hunsrückisch which is a blend of Portuguese and German, spoken in Rio Grande do Sul and Santa Catarina, areas with strong German influence.

Da próxima vez escreverei em português, tudo bem? (Next time I'll write in Portuguese, OK?)


Katia De Juan (author) from Inverness, UK on May 17, 2013:

Thank you very much Peach for your comment, I'm very happy you liked the article.

Yes, nowadays we are tough that the only languages that matters are English, Spanish, French, Portuguese and/or German (here in Europe there is an obsession in thinking that we all need to learn German to have a better job and future), and specially English, since it has becomes the "universal language". It is sad that we are focusing so much in very few languages, since it causes that every day many languages are disappearing from the societies due to being replaced by other more "useful" languages. There are plenty of different cultures and languages out there, and it is to sad to let them die.

Katia De Juan (author) from Inverness, UK on May 17, 2013:

Hi Kawika!

Thank you very much for your interest in my article, I really appreciate it. (^_^)

I liked to speak about this language because, as Stephanie mentioned above, here in Spain we are tough that we just have four languages, Spanish, Catalan, Basque and Galician, but the truth is that we also have Aranese and Bable, and it is really sad that the country isn't carrying the appropriate linguistic measures to keep them alive. And the same think about all the languages in the world. They provide us many ways of understanding things, and if we lose all this variety of cultures and ideologies, it will be difficult in the future to understand that diferencies aren't bad things but sources from which to learn and growing to be better. :)

Katia De Juan (author) from Inverness, UK on May 17, 2013:

Hi Paul,

muito obrigada, I'm very happy you liked the article. :)

Yes, Bable has many similarities with Portuguese, in fact, its pronunciation is quite similar to Galician, a language very close to Portuguese. ;)

Regarding the conference, I would love to come, specially because I love Brazilian Portuguese and I would love to visit your country, but it is too far and by then I will be moving to the Canary Islands, so I won't be able to assist. I hope I can go to other future conferences to share skills and knowledge. :)


PaulWDixon on May 09, 2013:

Dear Katia,

Just seen your article about the Bable language. I had never heard of it before.

I live in Brazil and can easily see similarities between Bable and Portuguese: "Xunta pola defensa de la Llingua Asturiana" cf. "Junta pela defesa da língua asturiana". I like languages very much and also regional dialects in Brazil.

In August there will be a ProZ Conference in Brazil - maybe you would like to come over and share your skills?

Tudo de bom do Brasil, PAUL

Kawika Chann from Northwest, Hawaii, Anykine place on May 09, 2013:

katia this is a magnificent piece worthy as a reference for anyone needing research. Thank you for bringing the language of Bable and it's struggle for survival to our attention. You really have extensive knowledge in this area, kudos. Upvoted/awesome/following.

peachy from Home Sweet Home on December 31, 2012:

interesting to know there is such language that most people are blinded from the society. Everybody speaks english nowadays. Mother tongue seems to be buried beneath. Wonderful hub

Stephanie Das from Miami, US on November 08, 2012:

Well, there is a great big world out there, and always new things to learn :)

Katia De Juan (author) from Inverness, UK on November 05, 2012:

Hi Stephanie! Thank you very much for your kind words, I'm very happy you liked the article and that I write more hubs about endangered languages, this motivates me a lot. :)

Regarding to your teacher, yes, I thing that there is an obsession with accepting as a language just those that are official. I fact, not only exist those languages here in Spain, but also the Aranese (which is one of the three official languages of Catalonia), a language that is a variety of the Occitan language spoken in the Vall d'Aran, located in he north-west of Catalonia. My next hub will be about this language. :)

Stephanie Das from Miami, US on November 04, 2012:

Ok, so I studied Spanish in school with a Catalonian woman who was obsessed with telling us that there are 4 languages in Spain, yet she never mentioned this one to us! I guess she neglected to just because it isn't official! This was totally fascinating and kind of blew my mind...please write more hubs about endangered languages. I'm voting this way up!

Katia De Juan (author) from Inverness, UK on September 19, 2012:

Hi Mama Kim 8! I'm so happy you liked the article. Thank you so much for your kind words! :)

Aloe Kim on September 19, 2012:

Very interesting! Languages fascinate me... I've never bothered to look into dead languages ^_^ Thank you so much for this introduction! Voting up!

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