One of my old favourites:
Spaniards easily understand the Asturias vernacular, but official recognition may further fracture Spain linguistically
In the tiny village of Martimporra (population 16), nestling among the lush green hills and valleys typical of Asturias, Orfelina Suárez, 58, runs a household goods shop.
“If I was only allowed to speak Spanish I’d struggle with some vocabulary because I’m used to speaking Asturian,” she says.
“Without Asturian, life around here would be impossible. It’s not about geography, it’s more of an emotional terrain. You can’t underestimate the importance of a language that you speak and live and feel.”
Martimporra is in Bimenes, a district where the Asturian language has officially enjoyed equal status with Spanish since 1998. Now the regional government proposes to extend this language parity throughout Asturias.
What, exactly, is a language? Sure, linguists have their definitions but they all boil down to, in the end, they know one when they see one.
For, from here in this very south west corner of Europe, you could go off walking, at donkey sorta pace, and not wholly note that the language had changed until you got to Slovenia. Or the Rhine.
Yes, OK, with modern nation states and national educational systems, printing and all, that’s not really true any more. But it’s still sorta and vaguely so. You could do about the same starting at Bratislava and going either north and or east. These “languages” change word and a construction a time, village by village – even family by family. Portuguese to Galician to Asturian to Catalan (Castillian is that exception, state power imposed that) to Balearic to Sardinian to certain of the southern Italians – Pozzuoli comes to mind. The seas and islands are less of a defining boundary than you might think, ports making them more permeable to language than mountain ranges and gorges in many cases.
It’s even true that there’s still not, really, an Italian language in the sense that it’s something spoken at home by all who live in Italy. There’s Florentine which is that national and public language and the reason so many Italians speak it so badly is that it’s a second language to them too.
When is a language a language? The end points are clear, but that’s just a Sorites, isn’t it?