|Spain (Asturias, northwestern Castile and León)|
Northeastern Portugal (Terra de Miranda)
Some authors include Cantabria and parts of Extremadura
Asturleonese (Asturian: Asturlleonés, Spanish: Asturleonés; Portuguese: Asturo-leonês) is a Romance language spoken primarily in northwestern Spain, namely in historical regions and Spain's modern-day autonomous communities of Asturias, northwestern Castile and León and Cantabria. The name of the language is largely uncommon among its native speakers, as it forms a dialect continuum of mutually intelligible varieties and therefore it is primarily referred to by various regional glossonyms like Leonese, Cantabrian, Asturian or Mirandese (in Portugal). Extremaduran is sometimes included as well.
Phylogenetically, Asturleonese belongs to the West Iberian branch that gradually developed from Vulgar Latin in the Kingdom of León. The Asturleonese group is subdivided into three linguistic variants (Western, Central and Eastern) that form the vertical Asturleonese region, from Asturias, through León, to the north of Portugal and Extremadura. The Cantabrian Montañes in the East and Extremaduran in the South are the variants that contain linguistic signs of transition with the domain of Castilian.
Leonese (used interchangeably with Asturleonese) was once regarded as an informal dialect (basilect) that developed from Castilian Spanish, but in 1906, Ramón Menéndez Pidal showed it developed from Latin independently, coming into its earliest distinguishable form during the Kingdom of León. As is noted by the Spanish scholar Inés Fernández Ordóñez, Menéndez Pidal always maintained that the Spanish language (or the common Spanish language, la lengua común española, as he sometimes called it) evolved from a Castilian base which would have absorbed, or merged with, Leonese and Aragonese. In his works Historia de la Lengua Española ('History of the Spanish language') and especially El español en sus primeros tiempos ('Spanish in its early times'), Menéndez Pidal explains the stages of this process, taking into account the influence Leonese and Aragonese had on the beginnings of modern Castilian Spanish.
Asturleonese is officially recognised by the Autonomous Community of Castile and León (2006). In Asturias, it is protected under the Autonomous Statute legislation. The language is optional at school, where it is widely studied.
In Portugal, the related Mirandese dialect is recognized by the Assembly of the Republic as a co-official language along with Portuguese for local matters, and it is taught in public schools in the areas where Mirandese is natively spoken. Initially thought to be a basilect of Portuguese, José Leite de Vasconcelos studied Mirandese and concluded it was a separate language from Portuguese.
Given the low social and political acceptance of referring to the language in Asturias as Leonese, and the one in other parts of the domain (such as León or Zamora) as Asturian (even though it is virtually the same language), a significant part of the authors and specialists prefer to refer to all the dialects collectively as Asturllionés or Asturleonés, although others continue to use the regional terms (like Leonese, Asturian, Mirandese, etc.).
The language developed from Vulgar Latin with contributions from the pre-Roman languages which were spoken in the territory of the Astures, an ancient tribe of the Iberian peninsula. Castilian (Spanish) came to the area later in the 14th century when the central administration sent emissaries and functionaries to occupy political and ecclesiastical offices.
Much effort has been made since 1974 to protect and promote Asturian. In 1981 Asturian, or Bable, as the language is officially named, was recognized as an area in need of special protection by the local government. In 1994 there were 100,000 first language speakers and 450,000 second language speakers able to speak or understand Asturian. However, the outlook for Asturian remains critical, with a large decline in the number of speakers in the last 100 years. At the end of the 20th century, the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana underwent initiatives designed to provide the language with most of the tools needed to survive in the modern era: a grammar, a dictionary and periodicals. A new generation of Asturian writers has championed the language. These developments have given Asturian greater hope of survival.
Leonese was probably spoken in a much larger area in the Middle Ages, roughly corresponding to the old Kingdom of León. As the Castilian language became the main language in Spain, the linguistic features of the Leonese language retreated progressively westwards. In the late 1990s several associations unofficially promoted Leonese language courses. In 2001 the Universidad de León (University of León) created a course for Leonese teachers, and local and provincial governments developed Leonese language courses for adults. Nowadays Leonese can be studied in the largest towns of León, Zamora and Salamanca provinces.
Leonese's desperate reality as a minority language has driven it to an apparent dead end, and it is considered a Seriously Endangered Language by UNESCO. There are some efforts at language revival aimed at the urban population (the Leonese Council has made campaign to encourage young people to learn Leonese). Some experts think Leonese will be dead in two generations.
In spite of all these difficulties, the number of young people learning and using Leonese (mainly as a written language) has increased substantially in recent years. The Leonese City Council promotes Leonese language courses for adults. Leonese is taught in sixteen schools in Leon.
In the 19th century, José Leite de Vasconcelos described Mirandese as "the language of the farms, work, home, and love between the Mirandese," noting that it was a fully separate language from Portuguese. Since 1986/87 the language has been taught to students between the ages of 10 and 11, and Mirandese is now recovering. Today Mirandese has fewer than 5,000 speakers (but the figure goes up to 15,000 if one includes second language speakers).