Posted by: janecronin | May 28, 2017

Spanish languages

As you perhaps know, there are six official languages in Spain.  The one we generally teach and which is referred to as Spanish (español) is in fact Castilian Spanish (castellano) as it originated in the medieval kingdom of Castile (Castilla) in the north west of the peninsula.  In addition there is Galician (Galego), Basque (Euskera), Catalan, Valenciano and Balear, also referred to as Mallorquín.  In fact the latter three languages are very similar, and are sometimes just referred to as Catalán, but as you can imagine there is a lot of argument about how different they are from each other, which has a lot to do with regional cultural and political identity.

In addition to these languages, there are others which are also recognised as languages, although they do not have the same official status.  One of these is the language of Asturias, called Bable.  My children, who were brought up in Asturias, were taught Bable in primary school.  I always thought it was good fun as a language as the stories they were taught were full of folklore with mythical characters who upset your cows and stole your thimbles.  Of course, Bable also has a serious, sophisticated literature and is spoken in many areas.   One of its characteristics is that the “o” in Castillian is a “u”, so the regional capital Oviedo, is Uvieu.

If you research dialects or languages of Spain you will in fact find a huge and complex number of variations.  In Murcia, where we lived after Asturias, there is a language called Panocho.  It is full of terms connected with local agriculture and traditional ways of life.  However, the most famous Murcian words which people recognise in the rest of Spain are “acho” and “acha” which I believe are abbreviations of “muchacho” (lad) and “muchacha” (lass or maid) and are used as exclamations, along with the word “pijo” which in the rest of Spain means “posh” but in Murcia seems to be some sort of term of endearment.  I say “seems to be” as it’s one of those things that varies according to who says it, to whom and how.

Another very curious localised language is the whistling Silbo Gomero of the Canary island of La Gomera.  As the island is full of deep ravines and valleys, the inhabitants developed a language that could be heard up to 5 kilometres away based on different pitches and lengths of whistle.  I wonder what people do when they get false teeth.   This language is still taught at schools and is spoken, or whistled, by older and younger Gomerans.

As you may imagine, I have only just skimmed the surface of a huge subject, but one thing it does bring home even more is just how diverse and culturally complex Spain really is.  Those people who are still stuck on the flamenco dancing, bull-fighting stereotypes really have no idea.


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