Astur-Leonese is a dialect continuum included in the West Iberian branch of the Romance languages. It is spoken in the Spanish provinces of Asturias (Asturian Language, asturianu, or Bable), León, Zamora and Salamanca (Leonese language, Llionés). In some villages in the District of Bragança, Portugal (Miranda do Douro) a closely related language called Mirandese is spoken.
Astur-Leonese dialects (mixed with Spanish) are also spoken in Extremadura (where it is called Extremaduran, estremeñu) and Cantabria (where it is called Cantabrian, or Montañés). It is disputed whether these speech forms are a dialect of the Spanish Language, a variety of Astur-Leonese or independent languages in their own right.
Leonese language was once considered an informal dialect (basilect) of Spanish, but, in 1906, Ramón Menéndez Pidal showed it was the result of Latin evolution in the Kingdom of León, and nowadays it is considered a separate language. In Portugal, the related Mirandese language is officially recognized.
The language developed from Vulgar Latin with contributions from the pre-Roman languages, which were spoken in the territory of the Astures, an ancient tribe of the Iberian peninsula. Castilian Spanish came to the area later, in the 14th century, when the central administration sent emissaries and functionaries to occupy political and ecclesiastical offices.
Much effort has been made since 1974 to protect and promote Asturian. In 1994 there were 100,000 first language speakers, and 450,000 second language speakers able to speak or understand Asturian. However, the situation of Asturian is critical, with a large decline in the number of speakers in the last 100 years. At the end of the 20th century, the Academia de la Llingua Asturiana made efforts to provide the language with most of the tools needed by a language to ensure its survival: a grammar, a dictionary, and periodicals. A new generation of Asturian writers both in Asturias and in León have also championed the language. These developments give the Asturian / Leonese language a greater hope of survival.
The situation of Leonese as a minority language has driven Leonese to an apparent dead end, and it is considered as a Seriously Dangered Language by UNESCO. There are some efforts to gain acceptance among the urban population (the Leonese Council has made campaigns for young people in the Leonese language). Some reports claim that it will be dead in two generations.
In spite of all the difficulties, the number of young people learning and using it (mainly as a written language) has substantially increased in recent years, mainly among intellectual groups and politically active Leoneses proud of their regional identity.
Cantabrian language or Mountain language is the name received the language used in the West of Cantabria and some zones of the Valley of Pas and the Valley of Soba, in its Eastern zone, Northern Spain.