Last week, we stumbled upon this article from the New York Times’ Frugal Traveler about a language hidden in rural Portugal. 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. Geographic barriers 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 (GTM) 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. (Learn more about Catalan and its contentious political history.) 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.
(Recently a previously unknown language was discovered in India. Learn about it!)
Would you want to learn a rare language like Mirandese?
It would be interesting to learn Mirandese because I am interested in linguistics (historical linguistic to be specific).
Yes, I want to learn obscure languages. I love that
Preserving diversity of languages is essential. It is great to see young people taking interest in preserving their language – well done to them, and best wishes!
Yes! It wold be so cool!
Interesting, I never knew that Mirandese was a language.
More than 2 million people speak Galician (not “fewer and fewer”). Galician and Portuguese were the same Romanic languages, exactly the same, originally. Today there are some differences between them, but some people considere that they are basically the same language, still.
That is very interesting. I know Portuguese so I do not think Mirandese would be hard to learn.
That would be so neat to learn! I would jump at the chance.
i di not know this at all
I wonder how different Mirandese really is from Portugese. Even as a different language, Mirandese may share the same root words or influences as Portugese. Hey, it might even be possible to understand Mirandese if you already know Portugese or Spanish!
It would be so cool to learn Mirandese even though it is only spoken in one town. Yet again, in another perspective, if I knew how to speak that language and I went to that town, I would be so proud to know how to communicate with those people while most people can’t.
Only to get to know Miranda, Oui?
[...] ‘Mirandese’ or Dem dare Eyes or whatever — Da case might be is da Right — To keep silent and get chu a Moutpiece — When recorded from where outa sight. — So Slowly the Promise is Broken — Free expression and stories to cease — Is it better to keep things unspoken. — Or get Pepper Sprayed by the Police. –>>L.T.Rhyme [...]
Yes, because then I can use it to insult people without them knowing it.
I am already studying five languages, but this does intrigue me. Though at the same time, for a language that is only spoke in one town in the entire world, unless it was a partial take on a language rather than a completely unique language would I consider it, otherwise it wouldn’t be very worth while.
Yes. I would. It would be so cool to know a language that no one else knows except for the fact that I would have no one to speak it to. Even though, it still seems cool and exciting.
As I have always toldmy students, if a language dies so does its culture. Then of course I’d love to learn Mirandese just for the pleasure of exploring its popular knowledge.
It would kind of suck to only know Mirandese. Only about a few poeple would be able to understand you..
It also wouldn’t be as useful, but still interesting to learn!
I think it would be interesting but I don’t think I would want to learn Mirandese because other languages would be more useful.
I’d be awesome to speak a language that a few people can understand. I can write my diary without worrying about my parents being able to read it.
The photo is only loosely connected to the story. Its languages are French and Italian.
cool, as a speaker of several European languages I wonder if Mirandese has kept any of the Latin Declensions of nouns, pronoun, and prepositions ?
I also wonder about its conjugations and subjunctive modes how similar they are to the other Romance Languages. Of course the Vocabulary will be quite similar.
Elfdalian has around 3,000 speakers.
Heikki Kauppi is (almost) right. The photo is from Nice (France), and its languages are French and Nissart (the local dialect). This street is located in the old town, where they decided to put bilingual panels few years ago.
I’ve always wanted to learn Gaelic, which I suspect is getting rarer, but it sounds as though this language is far rarer! It would be neat, though I do very well just to have mastered English. My sister, however, has the gift of languages…
While I believe that learning Mirandese would be interesting, it is not high up on my list of priorities. I would first like to master more popular (and useful) languages, like French and Italian.
The photo is actually in French and Occitan.
It depends on the language how it is popular like let’s say ENGLISH or FRENCH and such. Or learning would be futile if the newly learned lang would not be useful.
@ Gibs & Felix…cute usefulness of learning a new lang; true and such as it comes handy @ times, for a very noted politician used once to evade bothering ones upon touring in another place.
Thanks for the informative ariticle
In tiny Swizzerland, 8 Mio people speak 3 different languages like german, french and italian. However, in the swiss Inn valley (the Engadin), there are about 50,000 swiss that speak predominantly
“raetoromanisch” or “romansh”, a latin-based language that preserved its character precisely because of the Engadin’s mountainous seclusion.
YES! And Felix, that’s a great idea!
I think it would be cool to learn Mirandese. I tried learning Latin, and want to know at least a little from all of its daughter languages.
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Ahahaha thats not that rare. There are many types of the chinese language spoken in china. In hoi ping many people speak an their own language that is almost completely different from cantonese and mandrian and it has been around for a long long time, probably longer than mirandese. There are many other different types of chinese languages that are native to the land like hoi ping and szechun. Languages like mirandese are not that rare and im sure there are many different version of other languages that are only spoken by a handful around the world especially races that have history of over 1000 years.
ooohhh yea, I’d love to learn that languge. Mirandese
THIS IS VERY INTRESTING, I NEVER NEW THE NAME MIRANDA COME FORM MIRANDA DO DOURO,NOT TO TALK OF THE LAUNGE MIRANDESE,I WILL LIKE TO LEAN IT,
The birds are not speaking French nor Italian, Heikki! I speak Portuguese and it looks very similar, but I don’t understand a couple of the words. I suppose that, similar to Galician, it’ll have similar words in both Portuguese and Spanish.
Pay attention, DICTIONARY.COM: The word “Portuguese” in the last paragraph is misspelled “Portugese”. A common but still inexcusable mistake.
Yes, I would love to learn a rare language if by doing so I could help prevent it from dying out – perhaps assist in compiling dictionaries, translating works into that rare language, encouraging its native speakers to value it and to create more original works in their language… As someone said above, when a language dies, a culture dies too. And there are thousands of languages on the “endangered” list! Thank you for raising the profile of one I hadn’t heard of.
That would be quite something to put on your resume: Speaks four lanuages, including English, French, Spanish and Mirandese. Funny. Also, I loved how they said “a group of young people” restarted an entire language. Just goes to show what us young people can do!
Our generation isn’t as ignorant as everyone thinks! Take that, stereotypical snobs!
The photo is actually in Mirandese. The difference between that and Portuguese is in fact just “hai” instead of “há” (although the word order is a bit off, and seems to be the prevailing one in Mirandese).
I’d suggest checking out the Wikipedia article for Mirandese language for a comparative passage in Mirandese, Portuguese, English and some other Astur-Leonese languages.
To be honest, I wouldn’t. I’d rather learn Hindi (I already know Mandarin Chinese, Spanish, and English), for it is the fourth or fifth most spoken language in the world. Learning a rare language like Mirandese doesn’t open as many doors as learning Hindi. It’s not about ignoring the language, but rather putting it as a lower priority.
thats cool. totally isolated from the world. they r like aliens….
Sorry, my comment is this:
It would be awesome to learn a language that is spoken in only one town! That seems pretty cool!
I never knew!
Since geographical seperation made so many languages, globalization will make fewer languages, but I am too old to learn another, even more, useful language. I’ll stick to tutoring English to the many who want to learn it.
I thought minderese was a type of canned oranges! Nope, thats manderin. But yes, i would.
Tacos taste good
Boonville CA has a language all its own, too. Look up “Boontling.’
I attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterrey CA almost 30 years ago and over a 26 week period of total immersion “mastered” the Indonesian Language which I subsequently used on Embassy duty at the American Embassy in Jakarta. What I and a good many native Indonesians could not understand was Javanese when spoken in our midst by anyone equipped with that language. I never knew the percentage of people in Indonesia who actually spoke it but I would guess the number has declined over the years since then. It was not a written language at the time which made for difficulty in transmitting it. That may also be the case for Mirandese.
I would be interested to know if any Mirandese words have entered the English language, as words from so many other cultures have.
The language I would want to learn is the one from a village in Nepal with less than 50 speakers.
I would love to learn a language like Mirandese, simply of its uniqueness! I’d love it. I would consider it an honor to be part of its preservation! I agree wholeheartedly with Courtenay’s sentiments! Could not have expressed it better.
I would love to learn dying languages like that. I would feel so special that I know a rare language. I actually really want to learn Welsh which isn’t as endangered, but still limited to a certain small part of the world. It seems like a really interesting language just as Mirandese sounds to be.
fantastic , i made it ..
Very interesting article. There is no reason to stamp out any language (what? you’re one person in one moment of power and you have the arrogance to try to stamp out thousands of years of history). Moreover, even if you’re a dictactor there is no need if you want control; you just say to the people of that region that you support their local culture and language and many will be behind you. So, why would you do it? The chilling answer is that many of those that get to rule over a whole state are psychopaths who cannot bear anything at all that they consider to be ‘opposition’. And us, like sheep, allow those kind of people to take power.
Language is a very interesting thing. I wish I could understand as many of them as I can, since learning all would be so impossible. It is good to know that I can do all my translation through dictionary.com
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i would love to learn that language… its sounds sooo cool!
Man, 10,000 people for one language. Now that’s something to blog about!
Why do “word lovers” so over use the word “cool”? There must be a better word, or perhaps I really would need a jacket to learn an obscure language.
People who learn languages in order to use them would probably not find much use for Mirandese. But for someone with an interest in linguistics, it could be a treasure trove.
I studied German four four semesters in college and barely learned to use it well enough to stutter around as a befuddled tourist. But because it’s so closely related, what I’ve learned has given me many insights into how English (and languages in general) developed and how it works.
While the existence of multiple languages is a fact of human life we must tolerate, and may even have some desirable attributes, separate languages separate people, inhibiting human interaction and comprehension, frustrating commerce, and engendering misunderstandings and conflict.
The mentality of maintaining such needless and costly divisions by artificially ginning up these archaic (and practically useless) languages, and for that matter, cultures, is one that makes no sense to me.
As a person who speaks Portuguese, Spanish and English, I immediately understood the text used in the image for this article (Muitas lhénguas ténen proua). Seems like an interesting mix of both Spanish and Portuguese based on that observation.
I agree that it would be cool to be connected with the language by a family member/ancestor etc. Than it would be cool to know the language.
Erle sue triv don vue si blee und vue se crafte de vue si Mirandese. Stoopidee!
I’m Portuguese (and I live very close to Miranda).
I can speak, write and even think in English, Spanish, French or Mirandese, but I can only feel, dream and cry in Portuguese.
If any language disappears, the knowledge, the history and the feelings of that civilization will lose their voice. Language is not just the way we communicate, is the way we feel.
Putting an end to diversity is the quickest way to end our evolution and to forget our value as individuals. If we want to be united then we should accept our differences and learn something from it.
That is very interesting, i want to learn catalán!
i would love to speak basque. another language suppressed by another dictator in the iberian peninsula.
yes, love speaking historical and perhaps rarer languages, atm I am learning irish gaelic O.o
its sounds so cool!
Mr. Write: you do have a point that in the sense of usefulness and practicality , it’s a little ridiculous to attempt to preserve so many languages. After all, the original point of language was to communicate with others, and having many separate languages inhibits communication.
HOWEVER, a language is so much more than just words and predicate adjectives and conjugations. It is the manifestation of the history, psychology, culture, and so many other things of an entire group of people. It demonstrates those things more thoroughly and with more complexity than any textbook ever could. Why do you think certain words evoke certain emotions? Why do you think it is a respected profession to do nothing but write for a living? Why do you think some song lyrics are so profoundly moving, while others convey a deeply political message?
Language is not just words. It’s a bit of a stretch, but one could say that language is the human species.
Mirandes is an Astur-leonese dialect. Astur-leonese (also called Asturian or Leonese) is still spoken by hundreds of thousands in Spain, namely in the regions of Asturias (300,000), Leon (25,000) and Zamora (?).
However, Mirandes is written following the Portuguese rules, such as nh (ň in A-L from Spain), ‘j’ (x in A-L from Spain), lh (ll in A-L from Spain)
There is a downloadable official grammar (according to the Asturian rules) here:
[...] Words are never one-dimensional. There’s always an interesting story behind them or you can create an interesting one around a word. The Hot Word shows just how interesting the English language is. The blog not only dives into the origins of words, but also discusses their present context. Even a casual read through the blog gives you interesting tidbits like the language that’s only spoken in one tiny part of Portugal. [...]
Wow! I’ld love to learn Mirandese (I’m already learning Portugues)…
…just one problem though…how??
I guess travelling there and learning from total immersion would be the best
Also, it must be so cool to know a language that Google Translate doesn’t know
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