Leonese dialect

This article is about the dialects in León, Zamora, and Salamanca provinces. For the wider linguistic area, see Astur-Leonese languages.
Native to Spain, Portugal
Region Provinces of Asturias, León (north and west), Zamora (north-west) in Spain,[1][2][3] and the towns of Rionor and Guadramil in northeastern Portugal;[4][5] Mirandese dialect in Portugal.
Native speakers
20,000–50,000 (2008)[6][7]
Official status
Official language in
As of 2010, has special status in the Spanish autonomous community of Castile and León
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog leon1250[8]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-cc

Leonese is a set of certain vernacular Romance dialects that are spoken in northern and western portions of the historical region of León in Spain (modern provinces of León, Zamora, and Salamanca), and in a few adjoining areas in Portugal. In this narrow sense, Leonese is different from the dialects grouped under Asturian,[9] though there is no clear division in purely linguistic terms. The current number of speakers of Leonese is estimated to be between about 20,000 and 50,000.[6][7][10] The westernmost fringes of the provinces of León and Zamora belong to the territory of the Galician language, though there is dialectal continuity between the linguistic areas.

The Leonese and Asturian dialects have long been recognized as constituting a single language, which is currently called Astur-Leonese (or Asturian-Leonese, etc.) by most scholars, but which used to be called "Leonese". For most of the 20th century, linguists (eminent among them Ramón Menéndez Pidal in his landmark 1906 study of the language)[11] spoke of a Leonese language or historical dialect descending from Latin, encompassing two groups: the Asturian dialects on the one hand, and on the other hand, certain dialects spoken in León and Zamora provinces in Spain, plus a related dialect in Trás-os-Montes, Portugal.[9][12][13]

Among the Leonese dialects are (from south to north) Senabrés, Cabreirés, and Pal.luezu; other Leonese dialects are indicated on the map of dialects below. Outside of Spain, there is also the Mirandese dialect spoken in Miranda do Douro, Portugal, which has experienced separate development and thus has its own standards. Nowadays, however, Mirandese is generally discussed separately from the remaining dialects of Leonese since it is not spoken in Spain.

Toponyms and other vocabulary related to Asturian-Leonese show that its linguistic traits had a larger geographical extension in the past, including eastern parts of the León and Zamora provinces, the Salamanca province, Cantabria, Extremadura, and even the Huelva province.

Unlike Asturian, the Leonese dialects of Spain do not enjoy official institutional promotion or regulation.


Menéndez Pidal used the name Leonese for the whole linguistic area, including Asturias. In recent times, this designation has been replaced among scholars of Ibero-Romance with Asturian-Leonese, but Leonese is still often used to denote Asturian-Leonese by those who are not speakers of Asturian or Mirandese.[4][14] The Dictionary of the Royal Academy of the Spanish Language defines asturleonés (= Astur-Leonese) as a term of linguistic classification: [the] Romance dialect originating in Asturias and in the ancient Kingdom of León as a result of the local evolution of Latin, while it defines Leonese in geographical terms: the variety of Spanish spoken in Leonese territory. The reference to Leonese made in article 5.2 of the Statute of Autonomy of Castile and León has the former, broader denotation.[15]

Linguistic description

Phonology and writing


In Leonese, any of five vowel phonemes, /a, e, i, o, u/, may occur in stressed position, and the two archiphonemes /I/, /U/ and the phoneme /a/ may occur in unstressed position.[16]


The Leonese dialects, unlike the Asturian dialects, do not have an official orthography. Some have proposed the establishment of a standard orthography for these dialects distinct from the official Asturian orthography, while others are content to use the latter.

Sample texts
1st Article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in selected local dialects of Astur-Leonese
(All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood)
Locale Province Asturian-Leonese subdivision Text
Carreño Asturias Central Asturian-Leonese Tolos seres humanos nacen llibres y iguales en dignidá y drechos y, pola mor de la razón y la conciencia de so, han comportase fraternalmente los unos colos otros.
Somiedo Asturias Western Asturian-Leonese: Zone D Tódolos seres humanos nacen ḷḷibres ya iguales en dignidá ya dreitos ya, dotaos cumo tán de razón ya conciencia, han portase fraternalmente los unos conos outros.
Pal.luezu León Western Asturian-Leonese: Zone D Tódolos seres humanos nacen ḷḷibres ya iguales en dignidá ya dreitos ya, dotaos cumo tán de razón ya conciencia, han portase fraternalmente los unos conos outros.
Cabreira León Western Asturian-Leonese: Berciano-Cabreirés Tódolos seres humanos ñacen llibres y iguales en dignidá y dreitos y, dotaos cumo están de razón y concéncia, han portase fraternalmente los unos pa coños outros.
Miranda Trás-os-Montes (Portugal) Western Asturian-Leonese: Mirandese Todos ls seres houmanos nácen lhibres i eiguales an denidade i an dreitos. Custuituídos de rezon i de cuncéncia, dében portar-se uns culs outros an sprito de armandade.

Historical changes

Some changes that occurred in the development of Leonese are given below:


Leonese has two genders (masculine and feminine) and two numbers (singular and plural).

The main masculine noun and adjective endings are -u for the singular and -os for the plural. The typical feminine endings are -a for the singular and -as for the plural. Masculine and feminine nouns ending in -e in the singular take -es for the plural.


Adjectives agree with nouns in number and gender.

Comparative tables

Evolution from Latin to Galician, Portuguese, Astur-Leonese, and Castilian
Gloss Latin Galician Portuguese Astur-Leonese Castilian
Diphthongization of 'o' and 'e'
'door' porta(m) porta porta puerta puerta
'eye' oculu(m) ollo olho güeyu/güechu ojo
'time' tempu(m) tempo tempo tiempu tiempo
'land' terra(m) terra terra tierra tierra
Initial F-
'make' facere facer fazer facer hacer
'iron' ferru(m) ferro ferro fierru hierro
Initial L-
'fireplace' lare(m) lar lar llar/ḷḷar lar
'wolf' lupu(m) lobo lobo llobu/ḷḷobu lobo
Initial N-
'Christmas' natal(is) / nativitate(m) nadal natal ñavidá navidad
pl-, cl-, fl-
'flat' planu(m) chan chão chanu/llanu llano
'key' clave(m) chave chave chave/llave llave
'flame' flamma(m) chama chama chama/llama llama
Rising diphthongs
'thing' causa(m) cousa cousa / coisa cousa/cosa cosa
'blacksmith' ferrariu(m) ferreiro ferreiro ferreiru/-eru herrero
-kt- and -lt-
'made' factu(m) feito feito feitu/fechu hecho
'night' nocte(m) noite noite/n"ou"te nueite/nueche noche
'much' Multu(m) moito muito mue'itu/muchu mucho
'listen' auscultare escoitar escutar escueitare/-chare escuchar
'man' hom(i)ne(m) home homem home hombre
'hunger, famine' faminem fame fome fame hambre
'fire' lum(i)ne(m) lume lume llume/ḷḷume lumbre
Intervocalic -l-
'ice' gelu(m) xeo gelo xelu hielo
'fern' filictu(m) fieito feto feleitu/-eichu helecho
'castle' castellu(m) castelo castelo castiellu/-ieḷḷu castillo
Intervocalic -n-
'frog' rana(m) ra(n) rana rana
'woman' muliere(m) muller mulher muyer/mucher mujer
c´l, t´l, g´l
'razor' novacula(m) navalla navalha ñavaya navaja
'old' vetulu(m) vello velho vieyu/viechu viejo
'tile' tegula(m) tella telha teya teja

Historical, social and cultural aspects

History of the language

Conventum Asturum in the first century BC.
The Leonese Romance language expanded into new territories of the Kingdom of León.
Atlas of Romance languages in Europe during the 20th century.

The native languages of Leon and Zamora, as well as those from Asturias and the Terra de Miranda in Portugal are the result of the singular evolution of Latin introduced by the Roman conquerors in this area. Their colonization and organization led to the establishment of Conventus Astururum, with its capital in Asturica Augusta (what is now Astorga), the city that became the main centre of Romanization of the pre-existent tribes.[17]

The unitary conception of this area would remain until the Islamic invasion of the 7th century with the creation of an astur dukedom and a capital in Astorga, which together with other seven configured the Spanish territory both politically and administratively speaking. Later, about the 11th century, the area started to be defined as a Leonese territory that corresponded in general terms to the southern territory of the ancient convent. The great medieval reign was configured from this space spreading to all the centre and west of the Iberian Peninsula previously led from Cangas de Onís, Pravia, Oviedo and finally in the city of León. In this medieval reign of León the Romance languages Galician, Asturian-Leonese and Castilian were created and spread south as the reign consolidated its domain to the southern territories.

The first text known to have appeared in the Asturian-Leonese Romance language is the document Nodizia de Kesos, between 974 and 980 AD. The document contained an inventory of the cheese larder of a monastery. It was written in the margin on the back of a document that was written in Latin.[18]

Between the 12th and 13th centuries, Leonese reached its maximum territorial expansion. It was the administrative language of the Kingdom of León and a literary language. (Poema de Elena y María, El Libro de Alexandre…),[19][20] in the Leonese court, in justice (with the translation of the Liber Iudicum o Liber Iudiciorum Visigoth to leonés), in the administration and organization of the territory (as stated in the jurisdiction of Zamora, Salamanca, Leon, Oviedo, Avilés, etc.[21] which were written in Leonese from Latin). After the union of the reigns of Leon and Castile in the year 1230 Leonese reached a greater level of written and even institutional usage, although from the end of the 13th century Castilian started to replace Leonese in writing in a slow process not finally adopted until the 15th century.[22] The previous circumstances, together with the fact that the Leonese was not used in institutional and formal affairs, led Leonese to suffer a territorial withdrawal. From this moment Leonese in the ancient kingdom of Leon was reduced to an oral and rural language with very little literary development.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Leonese survived with relative firmness in the north and mid-west of Leon and in the west of Zamora. 1906 was the beginning of the scientific study of Leonese and a timid cultural movement of protest in the province of Leon. But starting in the 1950s and 60s, the number of Leonese speakers drastically decreased and the areas where it was spoken were also outstandingly reduced. This social and territorial withdrawal has not stopped yet, although the 80's were the beginning of a cultural movement of recovery and revalorization of Leonese linguistic patrimony, linguistic protests and promotion of the native language.[23]

Use and distribution

Geographical distribution

Dialects of Asturian-Leonese.

The geographical area of Leonese exceeds the administrative framework of the Autonomous Community of Castile and León such that the language known as Asturian or "bable" in the Autonomous Community in the Principality of Asturias is basically the same as the one known as Leonese in Castile and León. The fact that the geographical area is divided in two Spanish autonomous communities makes the recognition and promotion of this language in Asturias, although clearly insufficient, not to be regarded in Castile and León where the language in completely nonexistent in the official educative system, and lack measures of promotion by the autonomous administration.[24]

The Astur-Leonese linguistic domain covers nowadays approximately most of the principality of Asturias, the north and west of the province of Leon, the northeast of Zamora, both provinces in Castile and León, and the region of Miranda do Douro in the east of the Portuguese district of Bragança. However, the main objective of this article is the autonomous community of Castile and León.

Julio Borrego Nieto, in his work featured in Manual de dialectología española. El español de España (1996), points out that the area where Leonese is best maintained, defined as "area 1", "includes the west part of Leon and Zamora if we exclude those previously mentioned areas in which Galician features either dominate or mix with Leonese ones. Area 1 consists of the regions of Babia and Laciana, perhaps part of Luna and part of Los Argüellos, East Bierzo and the Cabrera; in Zamora, non-Galician Sanabria.

"Area 1" is where the traditional features of the Leonese people thrive (and thus affect a greater number of words) and have greater vitality (and thus are used by a greater number of inhabitants) to the extent that the dialect is perceived as a different code, capable of alternating with Spanish in a kind of "bilingual game". Borrego Nieto points out at last other geographical circle, which he calls "area 2", where Leonese has a fading presence and that: "[...] it is extended to the regions between the interior area and the Ribera del Órbigo (Maragatería, Cepeda, Omaña...). In Zamora, the region of La Carballeda – with the subregion La Requejada - and Aliste, with at least a part of its adjacent lands (Alba and Tábara). This area is characterized by a blur and progressive disappearance, greater as we move to the East, of the features still clearly seen in the previous area. The gradual and negative character of this characteristic explains how vague the limits are".

Use and status

Number of speakers
Percentage of Asturleonese speakers according to "Iniciativa pol Asturianu"

A "speaker of Leonese" is defined here as a person who knows and can speak a variety of Leonese.

There is no linguistic census that accurately provides the real number of speakers of the Leonese in the provinces of Leon and Zamora. The different estimates based on the current number of speakers of Leonese establish run from 5,000 to 50,000 people.

Number of speakers according to various studies
Sociolinguistic study Number of speakers
II Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón (Identidá, conciencia d'usu y actitúes llingüístiques de la población lleonesa).[25] 50,000
Boletín de Facendera pola Llengua's newsletter].[26] 25,000
El asturiano-leonés: aspectos lingüísticos, sociolingüísticos y legislación.[27] 20,000 to 25,000
Linguas en contacto na bisbarra do Bierzo: castelán, astur-leonés e galego.[28] 2,500 to 4,000*

*Referred only to the counties of EL Bierzo, valles de Ribas de Sil, Fornela and La Cabrera.

Perceptions of speakers
Current linguistic map of the provinces of Zamora and León.

In two recent sociolinguistic studies, made respectively in the north of Leon and in the entire province (Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón. Uviéu, ALLA, 2006, and II Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón. Uviéu, ALLA, 2008) and centred on the analysis of the prevalence of the Leonese, conscience of use and linguistic attitudes on the part of the traditional speakers of the Leonese, states:

"People from Leon appreciate their traditional language and are aware that this is a part of what we could refer to as 'Leonese culture.' In this sense, they completely reject the connection between its usage and linguistic incorrection. Although the traditional language is disappearing, fact most of the people in Leon are aware of, there is still a minimum number of users necessary to be able to initiate with guarantee a process of linguistic recuperation. To fight against this possibility of loss, most of the people in Leon are bound to the legal recognition of the traditional language, by collaborating with Asturias in linguistic politics, its presence at school and its institutional promotion."

About the needs and wishes expressed by the society in the province of León about Leonese, some data form the II Estudiu Sociollingüísticu de Lleón (2008) are revealing.

The maintenance of the traditional language is the main wish among people but with different options on how. Thus, almost 37% think that the language should be kept for nonofficial uses, and about 30% state that it should be used as Spanish. On the other hand, the wish that it disappears is expressed just by a 22% of the population.

Almost half of the population supports granting official status to the traditional language, through amending the Statute of Autonomy.

The convenience to establish forms of collaboration to develop proceedings of linguistic politics in a coordinated way between León and Asturias reaches a high percentage among population, so that about 7 out of 10 people are in favour of this idea whereas only a 20% of the people from Leon reject the option.

School study of the traditional language is demanded by more than 63% of the population. The resistance towards this possibility affect about 34% of the population

The positions in favour of the institutional promotion of the traditional language (especially by the town councils) get a percentage of more than 83% of the people's opinions. In fact, the questioning to the promotional labour hardly reaches the 13% of the people from Leon.

Political recognition

The Statute of Autonomy of Castile and León as amended 30 November 2007addresses the status of the Spanish, Leonese, and Galician languages. Section 5.2 provides:

"Leonese will be specifically protected by the institutions for its particular value within the linguistic patrimony of the Community. Its protection, usage and promotion will be regulated."

On 24 February 2010, the parliamentary group in the Courts of Castile and León of the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party presented a Non-Legal Proposition in the Courts of Castile and León to:

This proposition was approved unanimously by the Plenary session of the Parliament of Castile and León on May 26, 2010. Nevertheless, the position of the Government of Castile and León in relation with the promotion of the Leonese language one has not changed, and so no measure or plan has promised to be in order to give fulfillment to the article 5.2 of the Statute of Autonomy.

Reivindicative strikethrough signaling in Leonese language

The UNESCO, in its Atlas of Languages in Danger in the World,[29] includes Leonese among the endangered languages. Leonese is classified within the most at-risk category. This is qualified by attributing the following characteristics to Leonese:


The Autonomous Community of Castile and León lacks a governmental agency to promote the minority languages in the community as well as a nongovernmental agency in an advisory capacity in matters pertaining to minority languages. The Academy of the Asturian Language has sponsored linguistic and sociolinguistic research, which encompasses non-Asturian dialects of Asturian-Leonese.

Two congresses about Leonese have been held from which the following measures have been proposed to move towards language standardization:

Differences in toponymy
Los Argüechos / Argüeyos Los Arguellos
Ponteo Pontedo
Foyyeo Folledo
Sayambre Sajambre
Valdión Valdeón
El Bierzu El Bierzo
Cabreira Cabrera
Maragatos Maragatería
Oumaña Omaña
Ḷḷaciana Laciana
Furniella Fornela
Senabria Sanabria
La Carbayeda La Carballeda
El Prencipicu: the title of the Leonese version of the book The Little Prince made with the collaboration of Facendera pola Llengua and La Caleya

For approximately fifteen years, some cultural associations have offered Leonese language courses, sometimes with the support or collaboration of local administrations in the provinces of Leon and Zamora. The autonomous community of Castile and León has never collaborated in these courses, which, in most occasions, have taken place in precarious conditions, without continuity or by unqualified teachers and, very often, far from the area Leonese is spoken.

At the end of the 1990s, several associations unofficially promoted Leonese language courses. In 2001, the Universidad de León (University of León) created a course for teachers of Leonese, and local and provincial governments developed Leonese language courses for adults. Now Leonese can be studied in the most important villages of León, Zamora and Salamanca provinces in El Fueyu Courses, after the signing of an agreement between the Leonese Provincial Government and this organization. The Leonese Language Teachers and Monitors Association (Asociación de Profesores y Monitores de Llingua Llïonesa) was created in 2008 for the promotion of Leonese language activities.

Leonese language lessons started in 2008 with two schools and were taught in sixteen schools in León city until 2009, promoted by the Leonese local government's Department for Education. TheLeonese language course is for pupils in their 5th and 6th year of primary school (children 11 and 12 years old), where Leonese is taught, along with Leonese culture.

Leonese Language Day (Día de la Llingua Llïonesa) is a celebration for promoting the Leonese language and the advances in its field and was the result of a protocol signed between the Leonese provincial government and the Cultural Association for Leonese Language El Fueyu.[30]


Some examples of written literature:

See also


  1. Herrero Ingelmo, J.L. "El Leonés en Salamanca cien años después"
  2. Llorente Maldonado, Antonio: "Las hablas vivas de Zamora y Salamanca en la actualidad"
  3. Borrego Nieto, Julio: "Leonés"
  4. 1 2 Menéndez Pidal, R. El Dialecto Leonés. Madrid. 1906
  5. Cruz, Luísa Segura da; Saramago, João and Vitorino, Gabriela: "Os dialectos leoneses em território português: coesão e diversidade". In "Variação Linguística no Espaço, no Tempo e na Sociedade". Associação Portuguesa de Linguística. Lisbon: Edições Colibri, p. 281-293. 1994.
  6. 1 2 González Riaño, Xosé Antón; García Arias, Xosé Lluis. II Estudiu Sociollingüísticu De Lleón: Identidá, conciencia d'usu y actitúes llingüístiques de la población lleonesa. Academia de la Llingua Asturiana, 2008. ISBN 978-84-8168-448-3
  7. 1 2 Sánchez Prieto, R. (2008): "La elaboración y aceptación de una norma lingüística en comunidades dialectalmente divididas: el caso del leonés y del frisio del norte". In: Sánchez Prieto, R./ Veith, D./ Martínez Areta, M. (ed.): Mikroglottika Yearbook 2008. Frankfurt: Peter Lang.
  8. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Leonese". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  9. 1 2 Krüger, Fritz (2006): Estudio fonético-histórico de los dialectos españoles occidentales. Zamora: CSIC/Diputación de Zamora. p. 13
  10. García Gil (2008), page 12 : 20,000-25,000
  11. García Gil 2009, p. 10.
  12. Marcos, Ángel/Serra, Pedro (1999): Historia de la literatura portuguesa. Salamanca: Luso-Española. p. 9
  13. Menéndez Pidal, Ramón (1906): El dialecto leonés
  14. Morala Rodríguez, Jose Ramón. "El leonés en el siglo XXI (un romance milenario ante el reto de su normalización)", Instituto De La Lengua Castellano Y Leones, 2009. ISBN 978-84-936383-8-2
  15. Diario de León newspaper.
  16. Pardo, Abel: Linguistica contrastiva italiano-leonese. Mikroglottika.2008
  17. Santos, Juan. Comunidades indígenas y administración romana en el Noroeste hispánico, 1985. ISBN 978-84-7585-019-1.
  18. Orígenes de las lenguas romances en el Reino de León, siglos IX-XII, 2004, ISBN 978-84-87667-64-0
  19. Menéndez Pidal, Ramón. Elena y María. Disputa del clérigo y el caballero. Poesía leonesa inédita del siglo XIII, 1914. ISSN 0210-9174
  20. The Leonese features in the Madrid manuscript of the Libro de Alexandre
  21. Carrasco Cantos, Pilar. Estudio léxico-semántico de los fueros leoneses de Zamora, Salamanca, Ledesma y Alba de Tormes: concordancias lematizadas, 1997. ISBN 978-84-338-2315-1.
  22. Lomax, Derek William. La lengua oficial de Castilla, 1971. Actele celui de al XII-lea Congres International de Lingvistica si Filologie Romanica
  23. "Llionés en marcha", La Nueva España newspaper.
  24. Los apellidos del habla, La Voz de Asturias Newspaper.
  25. González Riaño, Xosé Antón and García Arias, Xosé Lluis. II Estudiu sociollingüísticu de Lleón (Identidá, conciencia d'usu y actitúes llingüístiques de la población lleonesa), 2008. ISBN 978-84-8168-448-3
  26. Facendera pola Llengua's newsletter
  27. García Gil, Hector. El asturiano-leonés: aspectos lingüísticos, sociolingüísticos y legislación, 2010. ISSN 2013-102X
  28. Bautista, Alberto.Linguas en contacto na bisbarra do Bierzo, 2006. ISSN 1616-413X.
  29. Atlas of Languages in Danger in the World
  30. Official new of the signement of the Protocol between the Leonese Provincial Government and Leonese Language Association for developing the Leonese Language Day


Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Leonese language.
Look up Leonese language in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.
Wikibooks has a book on the topic of: Leonese language
Asturian edition of Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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