Documentation of Fala

In the framework of the projects Documenting Fala – A minority language in Spanish Extremadura and Spanish-Portuguese border: language documentation and bibliography, Vera Ferreira and her team (Rita Pedro and Carmen Alegria) have begun a multimedia documentation of Fala.

Fala (ISO 639-3: fax) is an Ibero-Romance language spoken as first language by approximately 4500 speakers in Valverde del Fresno (Valverdi du Fresnu), Eljas (Ellas) and San Martín de Trevejo (Sa Martín de Trebellu ) in the northwestern part of Extremadura, Spain. In each village, the language has its own name, namely Valverdeiru, Lagarteiru and Mañegu respectively. The differences in naming reflect not only group identity but also phonetic, morphosyntactic and lexical differences that exist between the varieties of Fala spoken in each village. Thus, Fala is a general and unifying name for the three varieties that belong to the same language. The communities belong to the autonomous community of Extremadura and are located near the border to Portugal, with which they always had a tight relationship. The geographical peculiarities of this region together with a strong group identity for which the language and its inter-generational transmission play the most important role explain the conservation of this language since the 12th/13th century in a region dominated by Spanish on one side and Portuguese on the other side of the border.

Speakers of all social groups and all ages use Fala, but mainly in informal contexts. The language of administration, education and most media (newspapers, radio, television and internet) is Spanish. The ongoing change from a traditional economy based on agriculture and animal husbandry to a service economy that implies a more intense exchange with the neighboring villages also explains the increased use of Spanish in Fala communities. The educational and economic changes modified the social structure of the three communities: the mobility is higher and the rate of mix marriages has increased. In these mixed familiar contexts, Fala is transmitted along with Spanish and what until recently was a privileged domain for Fala – family – is becoming more and more bilingual.

Apart from the works of Vasconcellos (1927, 1929, 1933) and Maia (1977), one can say that the interest for Fala arose in 1990s, mainly among the Galician philologists. From this period on, a series of studies were published (e.g. Costas (1992, 2001, 2013), Carrasco (1996, 1997, 2000, 2010), Gargallo (1999), Fernández (1999), Martín (2006), Maia (2000), Rey (1999), Sartal (2007), González (2009), Sanches (2011), Álvarez (2014), etc.). With the exception of some sociolinguistic and dialectological approaches and few linguistic descriptions, the main theme of discussion in the works of these researchers is the origin and phylogenetic affiliation of Fala – a discussion still open today. Nevertheless, no extensive multimedia documentation of primary data (communicative events, language in everyday communication) was carried out until now.

The main goal of the project Documenting Fala – A minority language in Spanish Extremadura is to document Fala as the language of everyday communication, but also to document traditional working methods and practices in agriculture, animal husbandry and household. Thus, the team is covering a wide range of speech genres (traditional stories, legends, personal narratives, dialogue, and conversations in familiar and public contexts), being also focused on generational differences. With the exception of observed communicative events, the collection of data is being undertaken mainly through free interviews and interviews with stimuli, recurring whenever needed to elicitation.

Leave a Reply