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Unofficial Languages Of Spain

In addition to Spain's four constitutionally protected official languages (Catalan-Valencian-Balear, Castilian [known as Spanish outside Spain], Galician, Basque), the country has a myriad of unofficial languages enjoying little or no support from the central government. Whilst some, such as Aranese, Aragonese, Fala, Leonese and Caló, are spoken by very small groups of people, others, namely Asturian and Extremaduran, have a much stronger base.

It developed from “Vulgar Latin” around the 8th century although it has Basque heritage. Whilst originally the official language of the Kingdom of Aragon, the ultimate fusion of the Kingdoms of Castile and Aragon resulted in the spread of Castilian to the detriment of Aragonese. Its use was subsequently limited to rural areas and combined with active suppression from the central government, the number of native speakers dropped to around 10,000, with an additional 20,000 people claiming to speak it as a second language.

A variant of Gascon, Aranese is spoken by around 4,000 people in the remote Vall d’Aran in the northwest corner of Catalonia, just south of the French border, where it enjoys co-official status. Although obviously in a fragile state due to the low number of native speakers it has nevertheless undergone somewhat of a renaissance in recent times and has even been taught in local schools since 1984.

Whilst fundamentally a romance language it does have pre-Roman heritage. The number of native speakers has dropped dramatically in recent times and currently stands at around 100,000. That said, almost all of the other 450,000 people in the region are able to speak or understand it.

Alternatively known as Spanish Romany, Caló is a fusion of Romany vocabulary and Spanish grammar. Given the nature of the gypsy community, it is almost impossible to put an accurate figure on the number of speakers. Estimates range from around 50,000 to 150,000. There is similarly little practical knowledge about the language outside the gypsy community. Indeed, it is only in recent times that any serious effort has been made by academics to study the language.

The language originally developed around the 12th century when the Kingdom of Leon captured Extremadura from the Arabs. When the Kingdoms of Castile and Leon were united, Castilian slowly became the dominant language in most of the new kingdom with old Leonese (see Leonese below) only surviving in isolated pockets. One such pocket was in Extremadura where the old Leonese gradually developed into what we now call Extremaduran. With 500,000 people able to use the language and 200,000 active speakers, Extremaduran is the leading unofficial minority language. Most of the speakers are in the north of Extremadura, which straddles the Spanish-Portuguese border.

A variant of Galician-Portuguese, Fala is restricted to a single isolated valley nestled on the Spanish Portuguese border, to the north of Extremadura. This valley, Val du riu Ellas, is home to around 5,000 active speakers with a diaspora of around the same number living outside the region.

A romance language that was the official language of the Leonese Kingdom in the middle ages. The language declined significantly in recent centuries with only around 80,000 active speakers remaining. On the UNESCO endangered list, in 2006 the Castile and Leon autonomous region finally decided to restore the language’s official status. The local Leon Provincial government is now actively promoting the language, in particular through education initiatives.

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