In English Please – Blog

Activity of the Week

(write your answers in a comment)

A language spoken in only one town

In the northeast corner of Portugal, there is a tiny county called Miranda do Douro and in Miranda do Douro many inhabitants do not speak Portuguese, but rather its distant cousin, Mirandese.

This region is geographically divided from the rest of Portugal by two rivers that run on either side of it, and It is actually easier to travel to Spain from Miranda do Douro than it is to get to Lisbon and other parts of Portugal. This geographical isolation is one reason why the region continues to speak a language with only 10,000 speakers.

Many languages developed because of geographic barriers that isolated them from external influence. Geographicbarriers can be very distinct – in the case of oceans – or subtler, like mountain ranges and rivers that inhibit travel and lingusitic exchange. For example, in the mountains of Ghana and Togo, there is a language group that is distinct from its neighbors on the other side of the mountain. The languages are so tied to the geography that they are called Ghana Togo Mountain languages.

Back to the Iberian Peninsula: Mirandese did not descend from Portuguese or Spanish, but rather developed independently from Latin concurrently with those modern languages in the 1100 and 1200s, like Catalan. Spanish and Portuguese became the dominant languages of the Iberian peninsula because of political variables. As Portugal and Spain became the dominant governments of the region between 1200 and the present day, fewer and fewer people spoke other Romance languages, like Mirandese, Extremaduran, and Galician, among others.

In the 1930s, Mirandese was outlawed by the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar, further diminishing the number of native speakers. However in recent years, there has been a growing movement among some young people in Miranda do Douro to ignite interest in this dying language. In 1999, with encouragement from Mirandese speakers, the Portuguese government named Mirandese the second official language of the country. Today, the European Union estimates that about 10,000 people speak the language.

Would you want to learn a rare language like Mirandese?

How many official languages are there in your country?




This entry was published on February 10, 2012 at 11:21 and is filed under Home. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

5 thoughts on “Activity of the Week

  1. The human capacity for creating languages is amazing! When I was in Nigeria, I was told that there were around 70 languages and only 3 main languages!

    In Jordan, we have only one language. However, we have many dialects! Studying language is a preference. I may learn new language which is not very popular if I liked the language itself.

  2. 70 languages in Nigeria?! “Only” three main languages – that still seems like quite a few!

    How different are the dialects in Jordan to standard Arabic – can you understand them easily?

  3. Well, in our daily life, we don’t use Formal Arabic (Fosha). However, it is used in presenting the news and on TV.

    During the day, we use our Arabic Informal (Ammeyeh). However, each city may develop some new words! or prounouce an additional letter at the end of the word or even pronounce certain words as is but with more emphassis on certain parts of the word.

    In Jordan, the north part have different dialect then the south and the center. In Palestine, each city have different way of how words are pronounced.!

    It may be hard for new learners to understand dialects. You need some time to get used to them!

    • Now I’m confused! How different is Fosha from Ammeyeh? Do other countries have their own version of informal Arabic, or is it called Ammeyeh in every Arabic-speaking country?

      • Yes you should be! In Egypt there fosha is different than ours. Same applies to Gulf countries, Libya, Morroco, Algeria, Tunisia and so on!

        It is called Ammeyeh in all but it is different for each country!

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