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cántabru, montañés
Native toSpain
RegionAutonomous community of Cantabria and Asturian municipalities of Peñamellera Alta, Peñamellera Baja and Ribadedeva[1]
Native speakers
3,000 (2011)[citation needed]
Language codes
ISO 639-3

Cantabrian (cántabru, in Cantabrian) is a group of dialects belonging to Astur-Leonese. It is indigenous to the territories in and surrounding the Autonomous Community of Cantabria, in Northern Spain.

Traditionally, some dialects of this group have been further grouped by the name Montañés ('from the Mountain'), La Montaña ('the Mountain') being a traditional name for Cantabria due to its mountainous topography.


  Extent of Leonese dialects in Spain
[image reference needed]

These dialects belong to the Northwestern Iberian dialect continuum and have been classified as belonging to the Astur-Leonese domain by successive research works carried out through the 20th century, the first of them, the famous work El dialecto Leonés, by Ramón Menéndez Pidal.[2]

This dialect group spans the whole territory of Cantabria. In addition, there is historical evidence of traits (such as toponyms, or certain constructions) linking the speech of some nearby areas to the Cantabrian Astur-Leonese group:

Some of this areas had historically been linked to Cantabria before the 1833 territorial division of Spain, and the creation of the Province of Santander (with the same territory as the modern-day Autonomous Community).


Dialectal Map of Cantabria according to García Lomas (1999):
  Liébana: Reminiscence of Leonese
  Nansa, Saja, Besaya (Nucleus of Cantabrian): Characteristic mountain phonetics, archaisms, influences of Vulgar Latin
  Pas: Substrates of Leonese, characteristic phonetics from Pas, archaisms, influences of Vulgar Latin
  Trasmiera, Asón: Own dialectal nuances
  Western coast: Substrates of Astur-Leonese and Cantabrian
  Agüera: Tenuous Basque sediments
  Campoo: Old Castilian and Cantabrian reminiscences

Based on the location where dialects are spoken, we find a traditional dialectal division of Cantabria, which normally corresponds to the different valleys or territories:

Traditional dialects of Cantabria
Autoglottonym Area of usage Meaning of name
Montañés La Montaña, i.e. Coastal and Western parts of Cantabria of or pertaining to the people of La Montaña
Pasiegu Pas, Pisueña and upper Miera valleys of or pertaining to the people of Pas
Pejín Western coastal villages from peje "fish".
Pejinu Eastern coastal villages from peji "fish".
Tudancu Tudanca of or pertaining to the people of Tudanca

However, based on linguistic evidence, R. Molleda proposed what is today the usual division of dialectal areas in Cantabria. Molleda proposed to take the isogloss of the masculine plural gender morphology, which seems to surround a large portion of Eastern Cantabria, running from the mouth of the Besaya River in the North, and along the Pas-Besaya watershed. He then proceeded to name the resulting areas Western and Eastern, depending on the location to the West or East of the isogloss. This division has gained support due to the fact that, although masculine morphology by itself is not a very important difference, many other isoglosses draw the same line.

Linguistic description

There are many features in common with Spanish. Cantabrian's set of consonants is nearly identical to that of Northern Iberian Spanish. In the Valles Pasiegos, /s/ becomes [ɾ] before voiced consonants.[4] This has also occurred in the names of the rivers Arlanza and Arlanzón in Burgos. This type of change is also the source of the Spanish word murga lit.'group of street musicians', from earlier musga.

Also in the Valles Pasiegos, syllable-final word-internal /s/ and /θ/ are frequently confused.[5]

In Tudanca and neighboring zones, /s/ can be aspirated, that is, pronounced as [h], when before consonants, or at the end of a word and before another word which begins with a vowel, as in [lahoˈɾehas] las orejas 'the ears'. That said, /s/ cannot be aspirated before a pause in this zone. Similar patterns of /s/-aspiration have been found in some other Astur-leonese zones as well.[5]

An important difference is preservation of the voiceless glottal fricative (/h/) as an evolution of Latin's word initial f- as well as the [x-h] mergers; both features are common in many Spanish dialects, especially those from Southern Spain and parts of Latin America.

The preservation of the voiceless glottal fricative was usual in Middle Spanish, before the /h/ in words like /humo/, from Latin fumus, resulted in Modern Spanish /umo/. Every Cantabrian dialect keeps /f/ before consonants such as in /'fɾi.u/ (cold), just as Spanish and Astur-Leonese do.

Results of Latin initial /f/ in Cantabrian Dialects
Feature Western Dialects Eastern Dialects Gloss
Coastal Valleys Inner Valleys
f+C /f/
f+w /h/
/f/ or /x/
/' or /'[clarification needed]
hearth, later fire
f+j /h/
f+V /h/
to do (verb)

The [x - h] merger is typical in most Western and Eastern Coastal dialects, where [x] merges into [h]. However, the Eastern dialects from the Inner Valleys have merged [h] into [x]; moreover, there are older speakers that lack any kind of merger, fully distinguishing the minimal pair /huegu/ - /xuegu/ (fire - game).

[x - h] merger in Cantabrian Dialects
Western dialects Eastern dialects Gloss
Coastal Valleys Inner Valleys
no, or [x]
joke, later game

Other features are common to most Astur-Leonese dialects; some of these are:

Threats and recognition

In 2009, Cantabrian was listed as a dialect of the Astur-Leonese language by UNESCO's Red Book of the World's Languages in Danger, which was in turn classified as a definitely endangered language.[6]

Comparative tables

Latin etyma
Gloss Latin Asturian West. Cantabrian
East. Cantabrian
Spanish Features
"high" ALTUM altu altu altu alto ALTUM > altu
"to fall" CADĔRE [A] cayer cayer cayer caer Before short e, /d/ → /j/.
"to say" DĪCERE dicir dicir/icir dicir/dicer/icir decir Conjugation shift -ERE → -IR
"to do" FACERE facer/facere ḥacer [D] hacer [D] hacer Western /f/→[h].
Eastern /f/→∅.
"iron" FERRUM fierro ḥierru yerru hierro Western /ferum/ > [hjeru].
Eastern /ferum/ > [hjeru] > [jeru] > [ʝeru].
"flame" FLAMMAM llama llapa [F] llama [G] llama Palatalization /FL-/ > /ʎ/ (or /j/, due to western yeismo)
"fire" FOCUM fueu/fuegu ḥueu ḥuigu/ḥuegu [C] fuego Western: FOCUM > [hueku] > [huegu] > [hueu].
Eastern: FOCUM > [xueku] > [xuegu]/[xuigu] (metaphony).
"fireplace" LĀR llar llar [F] lar [H] lar Western: Palatalization of ll-, yeísmo.
"to read" LEGERE lleer leer leyer [A] leer Eastern: survival of -g- as -y-.
"loin" LUMBUM [B] llombu lombu/llombu lumu/lomu [C] lomo Western: conservation of -MB- group.
Eastern: metaphony.
"mother" MATREM madre/ma madre madri madre Eastern: closing of final -e.
"blackbird" MIRULUM mierbu miruellu miruilu [C] mirlo Westen: palatalization of -l-. Eastern: metaphony.
"to show" MOSTRARE amosar amostrar [E] mostrar mostrar Western: prothesis.
"knot" *NODUS ñudu ñudu ñudu nudo Palatalization of Latin N-
"ours" NOSTRUM nuestru/nuesu nuestru muistru [C] nuestro Eastern: metaphony and confusion between Latin pronoun nos and 1st person plural ending -mos.
"cough" TUSSEM tus tus tus tos
"almost" QUASI cuasi cuasi casi casi
"to bring" TRAHĔRE[A] trayer trayer trayer traer Conservation of Latin -h- by -y-.
"to see" VIDĒRE ver veer veyer [A] ver Eastern: before short e, /d/ → /y/.
Non-Latin etyma
Gloss Asturian West. Cantabrian
East. Cantabrian
Spanish Features
"photo" foto ḥotu afutu [C][E] foto Western shows [f] > [h], while Eastern prefers prothesis.
"dog/dogs" perru/perros perru/perros pirru/perrus [C] perro/perros Western masculine singular -u, plural -os. Eastern masculine singular -u + metaphony, plural -us.

The following notes only apply for the Cantabrian derivatives, but might as well occur in other Astur-Leonese varieties:

A Many verbs keep the etymological -h- or -d- as an internal -y-. This derivation is most intense in the Pasiegan Dialect.
B Latin -MB- group is only retained in the derivatives of a group containing few, but very used, Latin etyma: lumbum (loin), camba (bed), lambere (lick), etc. however, it has not been retained during other more recent word derivations, such as tamién (also), which comes from the -mb- reduction of también a compound of tan (as) and bien (well).
C In Pasiegan dialect, all masculine singular nouns, adjectives and some adverbs retain an ancient vowel mutation called Metaphony, thus: lumu (one piece of loin) but lomu (uncountable, loin meat), the same applies for ḥuigu (a fire/campfire) and ḥuegu (fire, uncountable) and muistru and muestru (our, masculine singular and uncountable, respectively).
D Most Western Cantabrian Dialects retain the ancient initial F- as an aspiration (IPA [h]), so: FACERE > /haθer/. This feature is still productive for all etyma starting with [f]. An example of this is the Greek root phōs (light) which, through Spanish foto (photo) derives in ḥotu (IPA: [hotu])(photography).
D All Eastern Dialects have mostly lost Latin initial F-, and only keep it on certain lexicalized vestiges, such as: ḥumu (IPA: [xumu]). Thus: FACERE > /aθer/.
E Prothesis: some words derive from the addition of an extra letter (usually /a/) at the beginning of the word. arradiu, amotu/amutu, afutu.
F Yeísmo: Most Cantabrian dialects do not distinguish between the /ʝ/ (written y) and /ʎ/ (written ll) fonemes, executing both with a single sound [ʝ]. Thus, rendering poyu and pollu (stone seat and chicken, respectively) homophones.
G Lleísmo: Pasiegan Dialect is one of the few Cantabrian Dialects which does distinguish /ʝ/ and /ʎ/. Thus, puyu and pullu (stone seat and chicken, respectively) are both written and pronounced differently.
H Palatalization: Cantabrian Dialects do mostly not palatalize Latin L-, however, some vestiges might be found in Eastern Cantabrian Dialects, in areas bordering Asturias (Asturian a very palatalizing language). This vestiges are often camouflaged due to the strong Yeísmo. Palatalization of Latin N- is more common, and words such as ñudu (from Latin nudus), or ñublu (from Latin nubĭlus) are more common.

Sample text

Central Cantabrian

Na, que entornemos, y yo apaecí esturunciau y con unos calambrios que me ḥiendían de temblíos... El rodal quedó allá lantón escascajau del too; las trichorias y estadojos, triscaos... Pero encontó, casi agraecí el testarazu, pues las mis novillucas, que dispués de la estorregá debían haber quedau soterrás, cuasi no se mancaron. ¡Total: unas lijaduras de poco más de na![7]


Nada, que volcamos, y yo acabé por los suelos y con unos calambres que me invadían de temblores...El eje quedó allá lejos totalmente despedazado; las estacas quebradas... Pero aún así, casi agradecí el cabezazo, pues mis novillas, que después de la caída deberían haber quedado para enterrar, casi no se lastimaron. ¡Total: unas rozaduras de nada!

English (approximate-literal translation)

Nothing, we tipped over, and I ended up on the ground and with some cramps that invaded me with tremors... The axis was far away, totally torn apart; the broken stakes... But even so, I was almost grateful for the header, because my heifers — which after the fall should have been left to bury – were hardly hurt. In total: Some scratches like nothing!


  1. ^ El asturiano oriental. Boletín Lletres Asturianes nº7 p44-56 Archived December 19, 2009, at the Wayback Machine
  2. ^ Menéndez Pidal, R (2006) [1906]. El dialecto Leonés (in Spanish). León: El Buho Viajero. ISBN 84-933781-6-X. OCLC 733730690.
  3. ^ Penny 2000, pp. 88–89.
  4. ^ Torreblanca 1989, p. 294 citing Penny 1969, pp. 56–57, 85–86
  5. ^ a b Penny, Ralph (1991). "El origen asturleonés de algunos fenómenos andaluces y americanos" (PDF). Lletres asturianes: Boletín Oficial de l'Academia de la Llingua Asturiana (in Spanish). 39: 33–40. ISSN 0212-0534. Archived from the original (PDF) on 22 June 2013. Retrieved 20 November 2022.
  6. ^ UNESCO Interactive Atlas of the World's Languages in Danger Archived February 22, 2009, at the Wayback Machine, where Cantabria is listed as a dialect of the Astur-Leonese language.
  7. ^ Extracted from Relato de un valdiguñés sobre un despeño, García Lomas 1999