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1. Origin

The geographic territory of the leonese was populated by preRoman ethnic groups, emphasizing as much in extension as in population the asturs, although also they had its next importance the vadinians, vaccean territories, and to a lesser extent some also neighboring vettons tribes. These ethnic groups maintained narrow social, cultural, economic relations to each other, as they demonstrate to the archaeological rest and chronicles to it of Roman geographers (Estrabon, Carisius…), before the arrival of Rome.

In year 29 a.C the empire of Rome decides to conquer the last territory without dominating of the peninsula, that was the territory astur (also the Cantabrian) and the annexed areas to him, by the abundant presence of mining resources, mainly gold. The war was extended during ten years until the total dominion of the territory.

Indeed the auriferous operation caused a Roman presence very hard with great number of mining operations that reached its greatest representation in the deposit of Las Médulas, of where they almost extracted half of gold of the Roman empire from century I d.C.

With the Roman presence it also arrived the Latin language, in our case, Latin vulgar, spoken by the military and the colonists, that little by little it was assimilated by the preroman settlers making their own variation with characteristics of the original language stayed.

Many studies have investigated what was spoken before the arrival of the Romans, since it is not left any testimony written.We could assumes that it was a language similar to basque language, although the presence of many words and toponyms suggest a kinship with the group of celtic languages. This emptiness causes that today it is not possible to be affirmed with firm if the leonese language is a Latin language with prerroman substrate or if on the contrary it is a particular evolution of the Latin.

Historical Map of preRoman ethnics in Leonese Language Domain

2. Evolution

After the fall of the Roman Empire, Germanic tribes arrive at the peninsula and take the relief in the power from the Romans. Although its presence was relatively long (about 310 years) the linguistic track was poor, taking some words (gerra, ganare, ricu, parra, roupa, sala, rueca, tapa, estaca...) or antroponyms (Bertu, Nandu, Rodrigu, Fonsu) or toponyms (Villafáfila). But the fundamental base of the language is stil Latin.

On 771 a.C. stars the arabian invation in the peninsule, arriving at leonese territory about the year 716. The arabian presence was unstable and in few sites permanent.The arabisms (almugada, alfombra, zucre...) was almost taken trohugh the castlilian language in later stages. From here arises the Kingdom of Leon.

From the Kingdom of Leon and its evolution towards the south, it is settled down the leonese like the official language of the kingdom, evolving from the speech of the Roman time. The first document published in romance language, previous to the total formation of the Leonese, we have the ‘Nodicia de Kesos’ of year 959, where we can find some characters that they make guess the first distinguishing characteristics of the leonese with respect to the Latin.

Already as documents totally in leonese we have the ‘Fueros’ (legislative documents that the kingdom of Leon granted to the populations like own legislative system) from the cities of Benavente, Leon, Zamora or even the own Fueru Xulgu that was the general legal ordering for all the Kingdom of Leon. During the time of maximum splendor of the Kingdom of Leon, in century XIII, the leonese Language arrives its maximum geographic extension. It was in this period when the leonese reaches an own standardization like language in cortesans texts.

In this same century the crown of Castile own to its territory the Kingdom of Leon, beginning a process of linguistic imposition that began Alphonse the X nicknamed “the wise person”. It’s what was known as the Toledan Norm (Norma Toledana). The leonese loses its rank of prestige language and begins to disappear from official texts. To it it is necessary to add that the practical totality of jurists, governors and legislators was solely of Castilian origin or next to the crown of Castile, speaking and writing in Castilian. Of century XV they are left testaments done by notaries where the leonese still is present. Another case of the leonese presence of with norm written is the Llibru d'Alexandre, that in the copy done by the astorgan Xuan Llurienzu d'Estorga (about XIII) uses a great amount of leonesisms in spite of being a work of origin Castilian and written in Castilian.

The Land of Miranda is built-in to the crown of Portugal in 1217, but its territorial location as well as its isolation respect to the rest of the Portuguese territory, as its great proximity to the territories of leonese language, permited that, very linguistically speaking, it maintained its signs of identity quite intact.

From it is here when the leonese loses its force and social prestige in favor of Castilian (or Portuguese in the case of Miranda) the language that prevails in all the social and cultural estates: every civil employees must take formation in Castille and in castilian language. All the reigns fix the castilian language as only valid and the official one for all the administration of, now the, Crown of Castile. The leonese is disappearing very slowly of the leonese society, being the first sites the urban nucleus and leaving put in a corner the most western and northern areas, that they agree with the most isolated regions of the territory, of its primigeny territory, with the passage of time, until the situation that we have today.

At later times the general norm in Literature about the leonese will be to always consider it like own vulgar language of shepherds within the burlesque sort or the comedy. Thus, it appears a literary concept that it was known in Castilian like “sayagués” that was not but the leonese spoken by shepherds and people of the rural world. Poetic compositions, religious plays, comedies and representations will be their thematic one. There will be works written in “sayagués” until the beginning century XX, being the last writers salmantins dramatists.

3. Modern and contemporany Age

Until the century XIX there are neither almost written documentation nor studies or investigations aboute leonese, except appointments across third of the existence of small poems and texts of which remains do not stay.

At the beginning of the century XIX it was reedited the Fueru Xulgu, this moment localizable in the library of State of Bavaria, and it wakes the interest up for the leonese one inside the existing currents of philology in the epoch. Some writers wants to reflect the traditional speech in works authors of novels of manners, with some poem or several mentions.

But in the last quarter of century and beginnings of the XX some people show to an interest by the language being centered in the local varieties of each region and region, as well as philologist and studious college students who see in leonese language a clear case of language of Romance origin. One of the maximum people in charge of the diffusion of the leonese in the modern conception was the German philologist Friedrich Ludwig Christian Hanssen (also called Federico Hanssen) who publishes a work about leonese one and its verbal conjugations in the medieval stage. He was one of the first investigators whom a study made dialectologic peninsular of the medieval period before other investigators who had more historical importance. Almost simultaneously, the Portuguese philologist Leite de Vasconcellos begins its investigations on the mirandesa modality emphasizing the book “Philologia Mirandesa (1901), or the Swedish Erik Staff on leonine medieval Literature “South Étude léonais l'ancien dialecte d'aprés des chartes du Xillé siécie” (1907).

In 1906, Menéndez Pidal publishes in two parts in the “Revista de Archivos, Bibliotecas y Museos” a study on Hispanic dialectology, and more concretely on our language with the title “El Dialecto Leonés”. In this work it offers for the first time a generic vision of the set of diasystem linguistic leonese simultaneously that demonstrates the vitality of the language then, done ignored by the scientific community. Pidal gathered all the dialectologics works, local texts and works of some writers and investigators who, giving a particular vision of which he happened in each region, were Castilian a language own and differentiated from and the Portuguese. The introduction of the work affirms:

"creo además, de utilidad científica el presentar formando un conjunto ciertas particularidades dialectales de todas estas regiones, que hasta ahora se tenían miradas como aislado o independientes, para hacer ver, en lo que puede alcanzarse hoy, la relativa unidad del leonés moderno, especialmente del occidental, desde Miranda hasta Luarca. Los asturianos suelen mirar su bable como cosa muy peculiar, casi exclusiva de ellos; por el contrario un zamorano o un salmantino creerá que el habla vulgar de su tierra es castellana, a veces mal hablado, sin pensar que en ella haya restos de un dialecto de origen y desarrollo diferentes del castellano, y en fin, el lenguaje de Miranda es considerado como un dialecto portugués. Todo esto se explica por falta de un cuadro de conjunto del dialecto leonés."


This gave foot to other philologists to speak directly of the leonese referred the particular speech of leonese regions, case of the German Fritz Krüger or writers like Caitanu Bardón (Cuentos en Dialecto Leonés, 1907), Concha Espina (La Esfinge Maragata, 1914), Aragón Escacena (Entre Brumas, 1921). Written mass media, cultural magazines and publications of literary or scientific character gather with texts the recent discovery.

At that time studies social done by the spanish Ministry of Education gathered data so peculiar because the immense majority of the leonese population spoke leonese (in the information it is reflected that “they spoke bad” or “they demonstrate incultura characteristics”), being significant the data that affirmed that almost 90% of the population of the city of Leon were totally leonese spoken. These studies concluded that an investment in educative and formativa matter was necessary, in Castilian, because it was sign of delay and lack of development.

The coming years were convulsed in the political and social life as much in Spain as in Portugal. Both states were left under dictatorial governments of Franco and Salazar respectively, imposing educative models where single and exclusively it goes to study Castilian or Portuguese like only languages, puting in a corner more if it fits to our language. In addition, laws are approved that prohibited all written work or that not outside in Castilian.

Throughout century XX the leonese becomes marginal language, publishing normative and laws that prohibited the use of the leonese. It happens to consider itself as a Castilian or Portuguese variant of (according to outside Spain or Portugal) badly spoken, the own one of the social classes incultas and poor men. It is why the conscience on the existence of the leonine one, and more between its hablantes, was practically null. Some dialectologics works offer something of light: Cocha Casado “El Habla de la Cabrera Alta” or Guzmán Alvarez with “El Habla de Babia y Laciana”, as well as all the works of Cortés Vázquez on the leonese in Zamora. The rest of investigations was studies on medieval documentation, cases of specific evolutions of the brass or collection of local words.

In the 60’s, but very particularly in the 70’s with the fall of the Franco’s dictatorship in Spain, they appear political leonesist movements with the objective to obtain an autonomy for the Leonese Country within the autonomies in creation process, although no that shows clear supports the leonese. In Portugal, with the fall of Salazar, it allows a development of the opened linguistic investigation more, being born some groups that support mirandese. The Spanish state approves its constitution and establishes the legal officiality of the Castilian only recognizing Galician, Catalan and Basque like the other present languages within the state. The Portuguese state does the same but solely with the Portuguese.

In years 90 they appear leonese collectives that support the leonese as language and work in their development, as well as divided politicians who consider it within their marks of performance, although timidly. They appear also some ethnographic groups and of traditional dances that gather traditional songs in leonese. In this decade the nationalistic leonese movement gets strong between young people and with it, the defense of the language. Also they appear initiatives of literary creation. Organizations as Conceyu Xoven gives to the first steps as much politicians as cultural to recover the conscience of our language.

In 1998 the leonese has recognition legal, although single in the Portuguese state, approving unanimously a proposal in this sense in the congress. From an own norm for the mirandese variant of the leonese language was developed here. In 2007 a reform of the statute of autonomy of Castilla and Leon recognizes the leonese like patrimonial part of the independent community.  The University of Leon recognizes, thanks to the work of the representatives of Conceyu Xoven, in its last statutory reform the existence of the leonese, allowing the university existence of associations, foundations and organizations with names in leonese, as well as to support specially those works and studies directed to the language and leonese culture.  
In 2000 it appears the first mass media written with pages in leonese, La Nuestra Tierra. 

The taking of conscience on the part of the leonese motivates the appearance of many works directed to the knowledge and collection of vocabulary in the different towns and regions although the great majority from them without conscience nor global vision of language. 

In 2001 it appears El Fueyu, Cultural Association of the Leonese Language, that develops some courses of leonese language through agreements of collaboration with the University of Leon and the City council of Leon, as well as projects of education by all the leonese territory thanks to the agreement with the Delegation of Leon. Other cultural associations as La Barda or El Toralín, with scopes of performance trims in Salamanca and El Bierzo respectively, gives more push the leonese.

Cuentos del Sil

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