Minderico (ISO 639-3: drc) is an Ibero-Romance language spoken in Minde, Portugal. Minde is a small town with 3293 inhabitants (census 2011) that belongs to the Municipality of Alcanena and is located 115 km north of Lisbon and 240 km south of Oporto. Minde is essentially an industrial town with an almost monoindustry of textiles and wool artifacts with a long tradition in Portugal. According to the existent written sources, Minderico emerged at the end of the 17th century (accurate and extensive etymological research is needed to attest this dating) as a sociolect: the wool carders, blanket producers and merchants of Minde created a special language to protect their business from “intruders” in the markets they visited all over Portugal. This secret language was based mainly on an archaic variety of Portuguese with clear influences from Spanish and Mozarabic. After this initial phase, Minderico began to expand its vocabulary continuously and creatively. With the increase in vocabulary, Minderico also extended its scope of application. It began to be used not only for commercial reasons, to conceal information, but also in daily social contexts. Consequently, the speech community increased and Minderico came to be seen as a unifying identity element. From this period on, Minderico was used by all social groups and progressed to become the everyday language in Minde – it was used within the community as a means of communication in all social, economic, cultural, and political contexts. In this process, Minderico turned into a full-fledged language, totally incomprehensible for Portuguese speakers, with a very characteristic intonation and a complex morphosyntax (different from Portuguese and other Romance languages).
The geographical isolation of Minde (it lies in a closed depression surrounded by the Plateau of Santo António and the Plateau of São Mamede within the Estremadura Limestone Massif) was also an important factor for the use and preservation of this unique linguistic variety.
Minderico was always a minority language, with approximately 3000 speakers in the past, but today it risks becoming extinct, more than ever before in its history. Several factors contributed to the current situation. First of all, the number of speakers declined drastically during the last 40 years. In its ‘golden’ times (from the 18th century up to the official dissolution of the religious orders in Portugal in 1834, as well as from 1950 up to 1970) Minde had over 7000 inhabitants. According to the 2011 census, the population of Minde decreased considerably and is now around 3300 inhabitants. The loss of competitiveness of the textile industries in the 1970s, because of a national crisis in this economic sector, caused a decrease in the economy of the town and the Mindericos had to search for work outside Minde. They went mainly to urban centers (especially to Lisbon and abroad). As a consequence of this exodus, the natural contexts of language use were lost and the speakers not only lost competence in Minderico but also switched to Portuguese or other language in the places they chose to live.
The speech community as a whole sees Minderico as an autonomous language, distinct and independent from Portuguese. The knowledge of Minderico is not very homogeneous among the inhabitants of Minde. Currently, there are only 150 active speakers (between 40 and 90 years) – those that understand and use the language actively –, but only 25 of them are fluent speakers, and about 1000 passive speakers (they understand the language but do not use it). Some of the members of the younger generation (between 20 and 40) that know Minderico belong nearly totally to the last group. All speakers of Minderico are bilingual, speaking Portuguese along with Minderico. While Portuguese is the language of administration, media, economy, new technologies and education (school) and the language used in the communication with the neighboring villages, Minderico remains almost restricted to familiar contexts. But even in this private sector there is a clear pressure from Portuguese on Minderico. The fact that intergenerational transmission was interrupted and Minderico is no longer passed to children at home is a proof thereof. In this sense, there is a clear diglossic situation with Minderico being relegated to even fewer private communicative events and contexts of use. Moreover, apart from the 20 fluent speakers, the language spoken by Minderico adults is characterized by a kind of Portuguese-Minderico code-switching and code-mixing. If we add the lack of academic interest and official political recognition to the community-internal factors, the highly endangered status of Minderico becomes even clearer.
The lack of financial resources also represents a problem for the community in the documentation, revitalization, teaching and dissemination of Minderico. Apart from some public documents by the socio-cultural institutions of Minde, Minderico is almost only used in spoken communication, it has no significant presence in the media (there are only sporadic news in and about Minderico in Jornal de Minde) and it has no real presence in the internet. In some social networks, such as Facebook, Minderico is used by the speakers in their posts and comments, but only rarely. Maybe because the social networks are mainly used by the younger generation and their competence in Minderico is very low. There are, however, some activities to bring Minderico to the younger generation (Minderico crash courses, theater sketches, etc.) that are being developed by the speech community and the local school, together with CIDLeS, in order to fill the gap that emerged with the interruption of “natural” language transmission. Nevertheless, the lack of teaching materials, qualified Minderico teachers and other materials to promote the language represents one of the biggest problems in this process.
[Description written by Vera Ferreira]