General Overview

Number of Speakers and Area of distribution

Extremaduran (Extremeño, Ehtremeñu, Cahtuo) is an Ibero-Romance language of the Northern branch. There are 200,000 active speakers, plus 500,000 able to use it, including some monolinguals (1994 T. Erickson); the ethnic group is estimated at 1,100,000. The linguistic area encompasses the autonomous region of Extremadura (except the Fala-speaking valley in the northwest, Portuguese dialect-speaking strips in the west, and Spanish-speaking strip in the east), and a few neighboring areas.

Historical Background

The actual territory of Extremadura was incorporated in the catholic kingdoms from northern Iberian peninsula during the 12th and 13th century. From 1188 to 1230, the kingdom of León recuperates its independence from Castilla, and the two kingdoms divide the nowadays Extremadura in two parts, west and east of the ancient “Calzada de Guinea” or “Ruta de la Plata” (silver way), in the area re-conquered with the Tagus river as southern limit. So, just the western half of that region was colonized by Leonese people. The southern Extremadura was colonized by both Leonese and Castilians.


The first thing we have to take into account when speaking about Extremaduran is the lack of specialized studies. There is not a linguistic atlas available as for other Spanish “Castilian-speaking” regions, such as Atlas lingüístico y etnográfico de Andalucía (ALEA), Atlas lingüístico y etnográfico de Aragón, Navarra y La Rioja (ALEANR), ALEICan (... Islas Canarias), ALECMan (...Castilla-La Mancha), ALEPS (Cantabria) and ALECL (Castilla y León). The dialectal monographies available about specific dialects are very reduced too. Some of the data we have is based on the Atlas lingüístico de España y Portugal (ALEP) enquiries, from the 1930s, or even before. The linguistic atlas of Extremadura is being released in 2001.

Dialects and Classification

Extremaduran has three dialectal subdivisions: Northern or High (Artu Ehtremenu), Central or Middle (Meyu Ehtremenu), and Southern or Low (Bahu Ehtremenu). They are inherently intelligible to each others' speakers.

Most books classify Extremaduran as a Castillan southern dialect, but it would be more approprietly to consider it a Leonese co-dialect.


Extremaduran texts are written in two orthographies, one Castilian-like, developed in the late 1890s by the famous poet Jose Maria Gabriel y Galan, and the other one is of more recent origin and is more phonetic.

Linguistic Features

As we should expect, the north-western area is the more conservative area, mostly preserving Leonese lexic, but also extended to all the northern area.

Some of the Leonese traces we can find are:

There are also some traces common to the southern Castilian dialects, like the aspiration of the implosive -s, the aspiration of the initial f-, the pronunciation of the Castilian [x] as [h], the loss of the intervocalic -d-, etc.

One of the most polemic feature found in these varieties is that in some areas the speakers distinguish between voiced and voiceless variants of [s] and []. Some authors insisted that it was an archaic feature, inherited from the Middle Ages, but modern research says that it may be just a recent process of consonantal lenition, because the soundless realizations do not correspond exactly to ethymologically soundless phonemes.

About morphosyntax, we can point that, like all peninsular dialects except Castilian, the possessive pronoun determining a noun is preceded by the definite article (el nuehtru terrenu, la su alcoba, etc.), and, in case of extinction, with person’s names to indicate that belongs to the family (el mi Adrián); the formation of the plural is affected by the aspiration or disappearing of -s; in the Cáceres province the most used diminutive suffix is -ino, as in Asturian and Leonese (Latin -inu => Asturo-Leonese -ino, Galego-Portuguese -inho). The pronouns and verbal conjugation are more likely Castilian, presenting some forms common to Leonese.

Present Situation

Since the end of the 19th century there is a small movement to give Extremaduran a written variant, with important achievements (there are books written and published in Extremaduran each year), but it is still considered a Castilian dialect with Leonese archaisms. The written Extremaduran is mostly phonetic, representing with <h> the results of both f- and -s aspiration, and with <d> the sounded fricative interdental [ð]; thus it is not ressembling very much written Castilian or Asturian.

Most speakers are in the northern dialect and most of them are over 30 years old. They use Extremaduran in all contexts. Those who have gone to school speak Spanish in formal situations and to outsiders. About 90% of the population is literate.


© 2001  Written for Orbis Latinus by Antonio Augusto Carregal.

Extremaduran Language Main Page

Modern Romance Languages Main Page
Orbis Latinus Main Page

This page is part of Orbis Latinus
© Zdravko Batzarov