Alongside the recent upsurge of
regional policies within the European Union, more attention has been given to
minority languages. Despite controversy connected to the classification of some
languages as minor due to certain criteria, the average citizen is now aware of
the existence of languages such as Frisian, Sámi, Occitan or Ladin.
Another minority language is Mirandese, spoken
in the north-eastern part of Portugal. In granting official status on September
1998, Portugal became one of the European countries with more than one official
Location of Mirandese
of Mirandese number approximately 15,000. The area where it is spoken is around
500 square kilometres and shares a frontier with Spain. It includes the district
of Bragança in the county of Miranda do Douro, a small part of the Vimioso
county and a small number of villages in Spain. In Portugal, namely in Rio de
Onor and Guadramil, a variant of Asturian-Leonese is spoken, which is different
Portuguese is not the mother
tongue of Mirandese speakers, but the contiguousness of Portuguese and Mirandese
has been peaceful. The two languages coexist under conditions of diglossy and
bilinguism. On the one hand, Portuguese is used in most situations of daily life:
employment, schools and public services. On the other hand, Mirandese is used
among peers, family members, neighbours and between people from small villages.
It is also not surprising to find people speaking this minority language even
in an official environment in which Portuguese would be expected.
origins and the history of Mirandese
contrast to the long recognized theory that Portugal has been a unified and homogeneous
country, the most interesting trait of Mirandese is the fact that historically
it does not originate from Portuguese. The origins of Mirandese are directly traceable
to Latin, from which the three main linguistic varieties evolved in the mediaeval
period: Galician-Portuguese, Castilian (Spanish) and Asturian-Leonese, the first
giving origin to Portuguese and the last giving origin to Mirandese. The actual
origin of Mirandese goes back to 1284. Prior to that time in the Iberian Peninsula
a series of romance dialects began making their appearance. Since it is neither
a Portuguese nor a Spanish dialect its preservation has been possible only because
it was in a geographically conservative and peripheral area. The Asturian-Leonese,
language in Spain shares similarities with Mirandese. Yet they should not be regarded
as the same language. In truth, they represent two geographically opposed areas.
Further, the orthography or graphic systems of both languages differ as a consequence
of relevant phonological differences.
was only in the 19th century that the linguist José Leite de Vasconcelos,
who maintained a long friendship with Finnish linguist Tallgren-Tuulio,
referred to Mirandese as an independent language. He was the first linguist ever
to put into writing this "oral language." Up until then, no written
documents were known, although some documented traits can be found in mediaeval
texts of this language. It is remarkable that this language which had to cope
with the presence of the Portuguese language for centuries, survived.
historical facts account for the development of Mirandese. During the Roman occupation
the Iberian Peninsula was divided into dioceses. Miranda do Douro was part of
Asturica Augusta, Spanish territory today, but not part of Bracara Augusta, now
in Portugal. Between the 7th and 12th centuries the territory was part of the
diocese of Astorga, now in Spain. Further, the county of Miranda do Douro was
not part of the original territory that became Portugal, better known as Condado
Portucalense. After the formation of Portugal, it felt the presence of Leonese
intensely, namely due to the monasteries of Santa Maria de Moreruela, San Martin
de Castañeda, the Benedictine monastery of Castro de Avelãs and
farmers from Leon. Historically, the area maintained privileged status with Leon
and was isolated from the rest of the Portuguese kingdom, allowing Mirandese to
thrive in the territory.
in the Middle Ages in Asturian-Leonese include Fueru d'Avilés in the 12th
century, the Cartularios of several monasteries from the 12th to 14th centuries.
Other surviving texts include wills, donations, buying and selling contracts and
town laws. Some linguists have reported that some texts in Spanish (Castilian)
such as El Libru d´Alexandre were originally in Asturian-Leonese,
and later translated into Spanish. It is not the prevailing theory.
Leite de Vasconcelos defined
Mirandese as "the language of the countryside, of home and love." It
has been and still is mainly a language used only among the native people of the
area, excluding all those who migrated there as public servants, military or other.
At present time, Mirandese is taught as an optional subject at high schools in
Miranda do Douro. New projects are planned for educating new teachers and expanding
the teaching of Mirandese from the 5th and 6th grades up to the 9th grade.
short story in Mirandese
tree (in English)
Once upon a time a wife
told her husband:
-Oh my husband, if you ever passed
away, I would perish with sorrow for you.
for God' s sake, you sorry for me?!"
the man pretended to be dead and they went to bury him up in the hills and there
were some chestnut trees and he held on to one tree and he got home and his wife
was singing like a clarion.
[The man] grabbed a stick:
damn, so you were the one who was sorry for me?!"
is said he beat her till he got tired.
year, people say, he died once and for all. The woman told her family friend:
Godfather, save me from the chestnut tree, that it won't do the same as last year."
L Castanho (in Mirandese)
Era una beç una tie que le dezie assi pal tiu:
home, se te morrisses you morrie-me de pena por ti!
balga-me Dius, si habies de tener tanta pena de mi?!
die, l tiu fizo-se muôrto i fúrun-lo a anterrar i iba a las cuôstas
arriba i habie uns castanheiros i agarrou-se i chegou a casa la mulhier staba
a cantar cumu un clarin.
Agarrou nun bargalho:
Ah caragho, tu eras a que tinha pena por mim?!
que lê dou tanta, tanta porrada, até que se cansou.
anho adelantre diç que se morriu de beç. La tieque diç assi
- Ah cumpadre, librai-me l castaño
que nun me faga cumo l outro anho!
a specialist in Mirandese António Bárbolo Alves, lecturer of Instituto
Camões (Portugal) at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis (France) published
a book entitled Mirandese Oral Literature - A Series of Mirandese texts
and Moisés Pires will soon publish a grammar book and a dictionary. Though
many efforts are being made, this language is in jeopardy and is among those languages
running the risk of extinction. Hopefully this will not happen.
de Assis Mira Espada is Visiting Lecturer in Portuguese, Iberoromanic Languages