Speaking Mirandês

France has Provençal, Britain has Welsh and Gaelic, and Italy has dozens of distinct regional dialects. Portugal, by contrast, is one of Europe’s most monolingual countries, thanks both to its long-stable borders (unchanged since the 13th century) and to the fact that it was conquered and consolidated within a very short period of time (less than 200 years).

The region around Miranda do Douro is a significant exception. Because of its proximity to Spain and long isolation from the rest of Portugal, residents of the towns and villages around Miranda still speak what linguists now recognise as an entirely distinct language. Closely related to Astur-Leonese – the regional language of the adjacent Spanish province – Mirandês is in fact closer to Iberian Latin, the language spoken during the Roman period, than it is to either Portuguese or Spanish.

While Mirandês has largely died out in the city of Miranda do Douro itself, it’s still the first language of several thousand people in the surrounding villages. The Portuguese government officially recognised it as a second language in 1998, and increasingly the region’s road signs are bilingual.

In 1882 Portuguese linguist José Leite de Vasconcelos described Mirandês as ‘the language of the farms, of work, of home and love’. The same is true today.

Resurgent local pride in the language is evident in the window display of Miranda do Douro’s Papelaria Andrade (Rue Mouzinho de Albuquerque 13), whose collection of Mirandês-language titles includes translations of Asterix comic books.