Cantabrian dialect

"Montañés" redirects here. For the German footballer, see Joaquín Montañés.
Cántabru, montañés
Native to Spain
Region Autonomous community of Cantabria and Asturian municipalities of Peñamellera Alta, Peñamellera Baja and Ribadedeva.[1]
Native speakers
3,000 (2011)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None

Cantabrian (cántabru, in Cantabrian) is a group of dialects belonging to Astur-Leonese. It is indigenous to the territories in and surrounding the Autonomous Community of Cantabria, in Northern Spain.

Traditionally, some dialects of this group have been further grouped by the name Montañés (that is, from the Mountain), being "La Montaña" (the Mountain) a traditional name for Cantabria due to its mountainous orography.


  Extension of Leonese variants in Spain

These dialects belong to the Northwestern Iberian dialect continuum, and have been classified as belonging to the Astur-Leonese domain by successive research works carried out through the 20th century, the first of them, the famous work El dialecto Leonés, by Menéndez Pidal.[2]

This dialect group spans the whole territory of Cantabria. In addition, there is historical evidence of traits (such as toponyms, or certain constructions) linking the speech of some nearby areas to the Cantabrian Astur-Leonese group:

Some of this areas had historically been linked to Cantabria before the 1833 territorial division of Spain, and the creation of the Province of Santander (with the same territory as modern-day's Autonomous Community).


Dialectal Map of Cantabria according to A. G. Lomas:
  Liébana: Reminiscence of Leonese
  Nansa, Saja, Besaya (Nucleus of Cantabrian): Characteristic mountain phonetic, archaisms, influences of vulgar Latin
  Pas: Substrates of Leonese, characteristic phonetic from Pas, archaisms, influences of vulgar Latin
  Trasmiera, Asón: Own dialectals shades
  Western coast: Substrates of Astur-Leonese and Cantabrian
  Agüera: Tenuous Basque sediments
  Campoo: Old Castilian and Cantabrian reminiscences

Based on the location on where dialects are spoken, we find a Traditional dialectal division of Cantabria, which normally correspondonds to the different valleys or territories:

Traditional Dialects of Cantabria
Autoglottonym Area of usage Meaning of name
Montañés La Montaña, i.e. Coastal and Western parts of Cantabria relative or belonging to the people of La Montaña
Pasiegu Pas, Pisueña and upper Miera valleys relative or belonging to the people of Pas
Pejín Western Coastal Villages from peje, fish.
Pejinu Eastern Coastal Villages from peji, fish.
Tudancu Tudanca relative or belonging to the people of Tudanca

However, based on linguistic evidence, R. Molleda proposed what is today the habitual division of dialectal areas in Cantabria. Molleda proposed to take the isogloss of the masculine plural gender morphology, which seems to surround a large portion of Eastern Cantabria, running from the mouth of the Besaya River in the North, and along the Pas-Besaya watershed. He then proceeded to name the resulting areas Western and Eastern, depending on the location to the West or East of the isogloss. This division has gained strength due to the fact that, even though masculine morphology is not a very important difference, many other isoglosses draw the same line.

Linguistic description

There are some features in common with Spanish, the main of which is the set of consonants which is nearly identical to that of Northern Iberian Spanish. The only important difference is preservation of the voiceless glottal fricative (/h/) as an evolution of Latin's word initial f- as well as the [x-h] mergers; both feature are common in many Spanish dialects, especially those from Southern Spain and parts of Latin America.

The preservation of the voiceless glottal fricative was usual in Middle Spanish, before the /h/ in words like /humo/, from Latin fumus, resulted in Modern Spanish /umo/. Every Cantabrian dialect keeps /f/ before consonants such as in /'fɾi.u/ (cold), just as Spanish and Astur-Leonese do.

Results of Latin initial /f/ in Cantabrian Dialects
Feature Western Dialects Eastern Dialects Gloss
Coastal Valleys Inner Valleys
f+C /f/
f+w /h/
/f/ or /x/
/' or /'
hearth, later fire
f+j /h/
f+V /h/
to do (verb)

The [x - h] merger is typical in most Western and Eastern Coastal dialects, where [x] merges into [h]. However, the Eastern dialects from the Inner Valleys have merged [h] into [x]; moreover, there are older speakers that lack any kind of merger, fully distinguishing the minimal pair /huegu/ - /xuegu/ (fire - game).

[x - h] merger in Cantabrian Dialects
Western dialects Eastern dialects Gloss
Coastal Valleys Inner Valleys
no, or [x]
joke, later game

Other features are common to most Astur-Leonese dialects; some of these are:

Threats and Recognition

In 2009, Cantabrian was listed as a dialect of the Astur-Leonese language by UNESCO's Red Book of the World’s Languages in Danger, which was in turn classified as a definitely endangered language.[3]

Comparative tables

Latin etyma
West. Cantabrian East. Cantabrian
Gloss Latin Asturian Montañés Pasiegu Castilian Spanish Features
"high" ALTUM altu altu altu alto ALTUM > altu
"to fall" CADĔRE [A] cayer cayer cayer caer Before short e, /d/ → /y/.
"to say" DĪCERE dicir dicir/icir dicir/dicer/icir decir Conjugation shift -ERE → -IR
"to do" FACERE facer/facere jacer [D] hacer [D] hacer Western /f/→[h].
Eastern /f/→∅.
"iron" FERRUM fierro jierru yerru hierro Western /ferum/ > [hjeru].
Eastern /ferum/ > [hjeru] > [jeru] > [ʝeru].
"flame" FLAMMAM llama llapa [F] llama [G] llama Palatalization /FL-/ > /ʎ/ (or /j/, due to western yeismo)
"fire" FOCUM fueu/fuegu jueu juigu/juegu [C] fuego Western: FOCUM > [huecu] > [huegu] > [hueu].
Eastern: FOCUM > [xuecu] > [xuegu]/[xuigu] (metaphony).
"fireplace" LĀR llar llar [F] lar [H] lar Western: Palatalization of ll-, yeísmo.
"to read" LEGERE lleer leer leyer [A] leer Eastern: pervivence of -g- as -y-.
"loin" LUMBUM [B] llombu lombu/llombu lumu/lomu [C] lomo Western: conservatino of -MB- group.
Eastern: metaphony.
"mother" MATREM madre/ma madre madri madre Eastern: closing of final final -e.
"blackbird" MIRULUM mierbu miruellu miruilu [C] mirlo Westen: palatalization of -l-. Eastern: metaphony.
"to show" MOSTRARE amosar amostrar [E] mostrar mostrar Western: prothesis.
"knot" *NODUS ñudu ñudu ñudu nudo Palatalization of Latin N-
"ours" NOSTRUM nuestru/nuesu nuestru muistru [C] nuestro Eastern: metaphony and confusion between Latin pronoun nos and 1st person plural ending -mos.
"cough" TUSSEM tus tus tus tos
"almost" QUASI cuasi cuasi casi casi
"to bring" TRAHĔRE[A] trayer trayer trayer traer Conservation of Latin -h- by -y-.
"to see" VIDĒRE ver veer veyer [A] ver Eastern: before short e, /d/ → /y/.
Non Latin etyma
West. Cantabrian East. Cantabrian
Gloss Latin Asturian Montañés Pasiegu Castilian Spanish Features
"photo" -- foto jotu afutu [C][E] foto Western shows [f] > [h], while Eastrn prefers prothesis.
"dog/dogs" -- perru/perros perru/perros pirru/perrus [C] perro/perros Western masculine singular -u, plural -os. Eastern masculine singular -u + metaphony, plural -us.

The following notes only apply for the Cantabrian derivatives, but might as well occur in other Astur-Leonese varieties:

A Many verbs keep the etymological -h- or -d- as an internal -y-. This derivation is most intense in the Pasiegan Dialect.
B Latin -MB- group is only retained in the derivatives of a group containing few, but very used, Latin etyma: lumbum (loin), camba (bed), lambere (lick), etc. however, it has not been retained during other more recent word derivations, such as tamién (also), which comes from the -mb- reduction of también a compound of tan (as) and bien (well).
C In Pasiegan dialect, all masculine singular nouns, adjectives and some adverbs retain an ancient vowel mutation called Metaphony, thus: lumu (one piece of loin) but lomu (uncountable, loin meat), the same applies for juigu (a fire/campfire) and juegu (fire, uncountable) and muistru and muestru (our, masculine singular and uncountable, respectively).
D Most Western Cantabrian Dialects retain the ancient initial F- as an aspiration (IPA [h]), so: FACERE > /haθer/. This feature is still productive for all etyma starting with [f]. An example of this is the Greek root phōs (light) which, through Spanish foto (photo) derives in jotu (IPA: [hotu])(photography).
D All Eastern Dialects have mostly lost Latin initial F-, and only keep it on certain lexicalized vestiges, such as: jumu (IPA: [xumu]). Thus: FACERE > /aθer/.
E Prothesis: some words derive from the addition of an extra letter (usually /a/) at the beginning of the word. arradiu, amotu/amutu, afutu.
F Yeísmo: Most Cantabrian dialects do not distinguish between the /ʝ/ (written y) and /ʎ/ (written ll) fonemes, executing both with a single sound [ʝ]. Thus, rendering poyu and pullu (stone seat and chicken, respectively) homophones.
G Lleísmo: Pasiegan Dialect is one of the few Cantabrian Dialects which does distinguish /ʝ/ and /ʎ/. Thus, puyu and pullu (stone seat and chicken, respectively) are both written and pronounced differently.
H Palatalization: Cantabrian Dialects do mostly not palatalize Latin L-, however, some vestiges might be found in Eastern Cantabrian Dialects, in areas bordering Asturias (Asturian a very palatalizing language). This vestiges are often camuflated due to the strong Yeísmo. Palatalization of Latin N- is more common, and words such as ñudu (from Latin nudus), or ñublu (from Latin nubĭlus) are more common.

Sample text

Central Cantabrian

Na, que entornemos, y yo apaecí esturunciau y con unos calambrios que me jiendían de temblíos... El rodal quedó allá lantón escascajau del too; las trichorias y estadojos, triscaos... Pero encontó, casi agraecí el testarazu, pues las mis novillucas, que dispués de la estorregá debían haber quedau soterrás, cuasi no se mancaron. ¡Total: unas lijaduras de poco más de na![4]


Nada, que volcamos, y yo acabé por los suelos y con unos calambres que me invadían de temblores...El eje quedó allá lejos totalmente despedazado; las estacas quebradas... Pero aún así, casi agradecí el cabezazo, pues mis novillas, que después de la caída deberían haber quedado para enterrar, casi no se lastimaron. ¡Total: unas rozaduras de nada!


  1. El asturiano oriental. Boletín Lletres Asturianes nº7 p44-56 Archived December 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  2. Menéndez Pidal, R (2006) [1906]. El dialecto Leonés. León: El Buho Viajero. ISBN 84-933781-6-X.
  3. UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World’s Languages in Danger Archived February 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine., where Cantabria is listed as a dialect of the Astur-Leonese language.
  4. Extracted from Relato de un valdiguñés sobre un despeño García Lomas, A.: El lenguaje popular de la Cantabria montañesa. Santander: Estvdio, 1999. ISBN 84-87934-76-5


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