Spanish is an endangered language

New Viejo Bridge, Manila, Philippines

In the 15th century, the kingdom of Aragon experienced a language switch: the Aragonese language used by medieval institutions -mainly notaries and court scribes- was changed into Castilian -currently Spanish- as ordered by the newly arrived dynasty of the Trastámara. Little by little, nobility and higher classes changed their language following the fashion introduced by the new kings, and then the middle classes. In the 16th century, almost every text in the kingdom was written in Castilian, and the old -and now vulgar- Aragonese language was used and preserved just by lower classes, mainly farmers at that time.

This is the basic linguistic history of Aragon usually referred to, and even if it is not false, it is not totally accurate (Tomás, 2020): the Spanish elements in the Aragonese texts appear some centuries before, under the influence of external cultural and political trends like the one offered by the Toledo School of Translators and Alfonso X “The Wise”. In the 14th century and even before, higher classes in Aragon spoke and wrote Aragonese language, but Spanish elements were popular, and that helped the fast language switch that occurred during the following century.

Back to the present, on May 29, 2022, Professor David Fernández Vítores offered a provocative interview about the current role and the future of the Spanish language, plenty of points rare to find out in the academic literature. According to professor Fernández Vítores, Spanish is not that powerful language that will menace the hegemony of English, but rather a declining language that needs to seek out a kind of agreement with English in the international linguistic market. Spanish is almost disappeared in the Philippines, its influence has dramatically decreased in Morocco, and the Hispanic community of the USA, even if proud of being Hispanic, do not always transmit the language to the new generations. And people who state they speak Spanish sometimes do not properly handle the language. In these and other cases, Spanish is residually used as a folk element at specific moments, as the Aragonese language is used in traditional festivities in many Aragonese villages where the settlers hardly use it.

Nowadays, English is the language of science, research, and technicalities, and higher classes handle English, educating their children in the international language: even if most of the peoples speak other languages, English is the language of powers and intellectuals, and the middle classes are imitating the trend. English is also the lingua franca, the one speakers of different languages use at encounters, at short and middle migrations, or to give foreigners basic instructions. In the Aragonese Middle Ages, the powerful language was Latin, and lingua franca was rarely a concern as Romance languages were close enough to allow communication.  

Nowadays, Spanish is the language of leisure. The language of Despacito song, Shakira, J.Lo, Becky G, Daddy Yankee, or Maluma, the language of songs talking about sex, drugs, and alcohol. It is the language to be listened to while drinking cocktails and twerking at ‘Spanish’ night, after an exhausting researching and working serious ‘English’ day. Interestingly, between the 17th and 20th centuries, farm tales called pastoradas were popular in some Aragonese areas, and they were often dramatized in festivities. These tales represented the society at that time, with its powers and peoples, and the mocking and rude dialogs between the mairal and the rapatán (head shepherd and trainee shepherd) were the only ones written and represented in Aragonese (Benítez & Latas, 2022).

Spanish is not experiencing the language switch Aragonese language experienced in the 15th century. Not yet. But powers and peoples are developing the breeding ground to allow such a switch if there is political pressure in the close future, as happened to the Aragonese language. And even if there is not such a political effect in the Spanish case, such a future might be inevitable anyway.


Benítez, M.P., & Latas, Ó. (2022). Sobre la pastorada aragonesa: Estudio filológico de las pastoradas en aragonés del siglo XVII. Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza.

Tomás, G. (2020). El aragonés medieval: lengua y Estado en el reino de Aragón. Prensas Universitarias de Zaragoza.

Villarino, Á. (May 29, 2022). ¿El español va a desbancar al inglés? En realidad está en retirada en todos estos países. ElConfidencial.

Endangered Languages and Territorial Rights. Global Encyclopedia of Territorial Rights

Endangered Languages and Territorial Rights: my first entry at the Global Encyclopedia of Territorial Rights. Springer.

Joven-Romero, M.A. (2020). Endangered Languages and Territorial Rights. Global Encyclopedia of Territorial Rights. New York: Springer.

Languages are commonly associated to territories as they are traditionally spoken by communities living in specific places. Nevertheless, languages do relate to speakers and not always to territories.This difference is highlighted by globalization, and more specifically by the increase and new possibilities of migrations, the development of Information and Communication Technologies and the global tendency to learn new foreign languages. This new context calls for direct association between languages and speakers in order to preserve the rights of the latter and the languages themselves. Small minority languages are even more affected by globalization and speakers require globally recognized rights and measures according to their new reality.

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Os dreitos d’os neofablants

Neofablants d’aragonés (y bell fablant nativo), en l’A.C. Nogará-Religada

Resumen (aragonés): Con a enchaquia d’o diya internacional d’a luenga materna, o pasau 21 de febrero, aquí reflexiono sobre o papel d’os neofablants en luengas minoritarias, que cada vegada pillan más peso, basando-me en as ideyas de James Costa (2015).

Resumen (castellano): Con el pretexto del día internacional de la luenga materna, el pasado 21 de febrero, aquí reflexiono sobre el papel de los neohablantes en lenguas minoritarias, que cada vez tienen más peso, basándome en las ideas de James Costa (2015)

Abstract: On the ocassion of the international mother language day, on February 21, here I discuss the role of the  increasingly significant new-speakers of minorized languages, according to the ideas of James Costa (2015)

L’aprendizache de nuevas luengas ye una tendencia global dende o zaguer sieglo y a más gran parti d’as luengas que s’estudian no gosan d’estar luengas populars en o territorio an que o escolano vive, crebando o vinclo luenga-territorio. As luengas que s’aprenden gosan d’estar luengas mayoritarias, pero cada vegada más personas tamién amuestran intrés por as luengas minorizadas y por o suyo aprendizache. En iste zaguer caso, os escolanos gosan d’estar asociaus a nuevas formas de vida, urbanidat y un fundo compromís politico, a ormino charran atras luengas mayoritarias antiparti d’a materna y a luenga minorizada que aprenden gosa d’estar un estándar de cabo quan acusau “d’artificial” (Costa 2015)

Tanto as caracteristicas d’a más gran parti d’os nuevos fablants -chovens, modernos, urbanos, politizaus- y a luenga que aprenden -estándar- fan esferencias relevants en o tocant a la comunidat tradicional de fablants, y ixas esferencias cheneran controversias y pleitos. En terminos territorials, os fablants nativos gosan de vivir en areas rurals, mientras que os neofablants por un regular viven en grans lugars y ciudatz (O’Rourke y Ramallo 2011). Con tot y con ixo, tamién migrants dende os lugars rurals ent’as ciudatz -y en menor mida, migrants dende as ciudatz ent’os lugars- pueden conectar istas dos comunidatz esferents. Igualment, os neofablants fan un porcentache cada vegada más gran d’o total de fablants d’as luengas minoritarias, como ye o caso de l’aragonés, o guernesiés u l’occitano (Sallabank 2010, Costa 2015).

Luent d’estar categorías purament descriptivas, ‘nativos’ y ‘neofablants’ lechitimizan a os fablants d’esferent trazas (Bourdieu 1977). Por un regular, o principal criterio t’a lechitimazión lingüistica ye o cumplimiento d’una serie de normas ‘correctas’ previament estableixidas por bella autoridat -en procesos que, por un regular, levan continas negociacions y presions. Mientras a comunidat de fablants nativos decreixe, os neofablants creixen, istos zaguers ganan peso sobre os primers en o estableximiento de normas lingüisticas, mesmo quan o termino ‘neofablant’ ye muitas vegadas peyorativo y nomás as solucions lingüisticas emplegadas por a comunidat tradicional son consideradas chenuinas. Asinas, prous neofablants a ormino miran d’estableixer normas lingüisticas basadas en as solucions lingüisticas d’os fablants nativos, lechitimizan a la comunidat de fablants nativos y con isto miran d’estar reconoixius y lechitimaus entre a comunidat de neofablants. Ta istos fablants, a influencia d’a luenga mayoritaria que presiona a la minorizada sobre os neofablants ye muito más criticable que a influencia d’a mesma luenga mayoritaria sobre os fablants nativos, y en iste chuego de lechitimidatz, as solucions lingüisticas d’os nativos -y más que más d’os nativos viellos- tienen más valura mesmo si a suya luenga en o suyo conchunto ye más malmesa por a luenga mayoritaria. Bells autors consideran que istas propuestas u discusions de lechitimidatz responden a intreses no lingüisticos, relacionaus más que más con “custions politicas, socials y morals” (Costa 2015, 133) y a la fin con o estableximiento d’una autoridat. Ista ideya ye refirmada por o feito de que os  neofablants que quieren establir istas normas lingüisticas a ormino mezclan a lechitimidat d’as solucions d’os fablants nativos con atros criterios -luenga historica, etimolochía, potencialidatz en amostranza y aprendizache, solucions lingüisticas trobadas en atras luengas, nivelación dialectal- de trazas prou arbitarias, mirando d’esparricar y imposar as suyas propias formulas lingüisticas. D’atra man, bells fablants nativos tamién pueden considerar variedatz estandar d’a suya luenga como os modelos intelectuals y lechitimos a seguir (Costa 2015). En parolas de Costa (2015):

estar un ‘neofablant’ tien muito que veyer con qui ye un en o mundo, personalment u cara t’atros fablants t’os que uno puede estar o modelo, u cara t’ixos activistas d’a luenga, academicos, profesors, totz ells con os suyos intreses varios en o estableximiento d’una autoridat que indique quála ha d’estar a norma lingüistica. Asinas, as luengas minorizadas son mercaus celosament guardaus, a ormino prou chicotz como ta poder estar controlaus de traza relativament fácil (más que más mientras os fablants tradicionals dispareixen), y que a suya entrada ha d’estar hábilment  negociada (143)


Bourdieu P (1977) ”The economics of linguistic exchanges” Social Science Information 16(6): 645-668.

Costa J (2015) ”New speakers, new language: on being a legitimate speaker of a minority language in Provence” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 231: 127-145.

Sallabank J (2010) ”The role of social networks in endangered language maintenance and revitalization: The case of Guernesiais in the Channel Islands” Anthropological Linguistics 52(2): 184-205.

O’Rourke B, Ramallo F (2011) ”The native-non-native dichotomy in minority language contexts: comparison between Irish and Galician” Language Problems & Language Planning 35(2): 139-159.