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BY 4.0 license Open Access Published by De Gruyter Open Access June 13, 2023

Uncovering minoritized voices: The linguistic landscape of Mieres, Asturies

  • Alba Arias Álvarez EMAIL logo and Sheryl Bernardo-Hinesley
From the journal Open Linguistics


Recent sociolinguistic studies have emphasized the role of the linguistic landscape (LL) in relation to languages and identity negotiation. The present study examines the presence of Asturian, a minoritized language spoken in the Principality of Asturies, in the LL of a town located in the center of Asturies: Mieres. Through qualitative analyses, data illustrate that Asturian has visibility not only on top-down signage but also on bottom-up. Furthermore, findings reveal that the use of this language, as well as semiotic resources that convey the Asturian identity in the Mieres signage, portray the struggles and fragility of the Asturian minoritized linguistic group within this locality. This study illustrates the importance of comprehensive implementation of language protection policies in relation to the maintenance and revitalization of minoritized languages, as well as in the protection of a speech community’s linguistic rights.

1 Introduction

Although Spain is a plurilingual and plurinational country, Spanish is the only official language of the State in its 1978 Constitution. However, several minority languages have existed in the nation: Aragonese, Aranese, Asturleonese, Basque, Catalan, Ceutan Arabic, Galician, Portuguese, Romani, Tamazight, and Spanish sign languages (Ramallo 2018). Due to historical developments and the institution of administrative and educational policies by some of its autonomous communities, from the Islamic conquest in the eighth century to the end of the Franco dictatorship in the twentieth century, these languages have been marginalized overtime.

The stipulated institutional measures toward these minority languages by the Spanish State and autonomous communities are unequal. Article 3.2 of the 1978 State Constitution declares, “Las demás lenguas españolas serán también oficiales en las respectivas Comunidades Autónomas de acuerdo con sus Estatutos” [‘The other Spanish languages will also be official in the respective Autonomous Communities in accordance with their Statutes’].[1] Due to the relegation of responsibilities by the State, the development of the Statute of every Spanish autonomous community was then a critical moment to explicitly recognize languages other than Spanish as having equal official status. Few minoritized languages, such as Basque, Catalan, and Galician, are official in the regions where they are spoken while others were not granted equal status in their respective territories, which is the case of Asturian in the Principality of Asturies.

In bi-/multilingual communities, linguistic landscape (LL) exemplifies the materialized struggles of minoritized languages not only in superdiverse cities (Vertovec 2007) but also in small municipalities. The present study examines the presence of Asturian in the LL of Mieres, Asturies, a town where Asturian is recognized as one of the languages of the municipality, and whose use is promoted by its local government (Sobocińska 2019). In fact, the Mieres Department of Culture has a Language Normalization Service in place that recognizes and promotes the use of Asturian in the locality.

In the following section, the sociolinguistic situation of Asturian and the established regional language policies are discussed within the broader context of the Principality of Asturies. Then, we consider relevant literature concerning LL and language maintenance and revitalization of minoritized languages in addition to previous studies concerning the use of Asturian in the LL. Next, the methodology, the discussions of the results, and concluding observations are offered.

2 Asturies: A language contact situation

Asturian or Asturleonese is a minoritized Romance language mainly spoken in the Principality of Asturies whose status is currently considered endangered (Eberhard et al. 2022). Of the approximately one million inhabitants of Asturies, about 200,000 people speak Asturian, which represents 20% of the total regional population[2] (Llera Ramo 2017). In general, Asturies can be characterized as a diglossic region wherein Spanish, the prestigious language variety, is employed in all contexts and among all social classes; meanwhile, Asturian is used by and associated with lower socioeconomic classes and informal domains (Andrés Díaz 1987, Barnes 2015, Sobocińska 2019).

Given this language contact situation, a continuum of linguistic varieties that range from Asturian to Spanish with different degrees of crosslinguistic interference has emerged. In comparable contexts, it has been established that bi-/multilingual speakers employ translanguaging practices. That is, instead of merely switching between autonomous languages, speakers use features of the linguistic varieties they know as a collective language repertoire (García and Wei 2014). This viewpoint goes beyond the traditional notion of bilingualism, which assumes that languages are mutually exclusive and independent (Cummins 2007). Translanguaging, then, is a dynamic linguistic system that creates multi-layered sociocultural meanings as well as acts of identity. Besides enabling individual voices to be heard and identities to be negotiated, “it also creates a broader ‘platform’ where issues of language ideologies and language policies become more visible” (Tsokalidou and Skourtou 2022, 119). In the context of Asturies, the Asturian–Spanish continuum results from the complex linguistic practices used among some members of the Asturian community.

As to language attitudes, previous research has shown that Asturian is stigmatized, being associated with incorrect Spanish. Sobocińska (2019) expounds on the common use of pejorative terms such as lengua fea ‘ugly language’, chapurrero ‘poorly spoken language’, and hablar mal ‘broken language’ to refer to this minoritized language. Likewise, Barnes (2016) shows that Asturian features are perceived as produced by speakers of rural origin and low socioeconomic status. In the same vein, Bleorţu and Prelipcean (2018) demonstrate that Spanish is perceived as the language used in formal situations, whereas Asturian is associated with informal contexts. With regard to the educational setting, Huguet and González Riaño (2002) show that students value Spanish more highly than Asturian. Such perceptions reflect the detrimental conception of this minoritized contact variety – not a desirable language. Nonetheless, as Fuller and Leeman (2020) state, there is nothing objectively better or worse about linguistic varieties. Language valorization or placing prestige toward one variety over another is a reflection of linguistic ideology, which is then used to justify a range of institutional decisions whether they may be political, social, educational, etc. (Fuller and Leeman 2020). Such is the case of the dissuading outlook toward the Asturian language in Asturies. Nonetheless, recent data from perceptions of Asturian in urban contexts (Academia de la Llingua Asturiana 2023) allow us to be hopeful that an attitudinal shift toward Asturian may be happening. Results show that a) the majority of participants (63.2%) would like future generations to speak Asturian, b) there is a consensus (89.2%) in the educational setting on the presence of the llingua in schools, c) most participants (89.4%) perceive Asturian as part of their cultural heritage, and d) seven of every ten participants demand equal or better institutional treatment in comparison to other regional languages in Spain.

Bearing in mind the aforementioned diglossic situation of Asturies, policies related to Asturian language protection and promotion are discussed next.

2.1 Language policies in Asturies

Asturian is not stipulated as a co-official language of Asturies. That is, it is not given the same status as Spanish, as it occurs in a few other Autonomous Communities with their own regional languages. Nevertheless, as a vital component of the Asturian cultural and societal development, this minoritized language must be maintained, revitalized, and transmitted to future generations. Establishing its official status becomes an essential step in its survival as a language. Furthermore, as to individual civil rights, the officialization would ensure that Asturian speakers receive the rights to which they are entitled (e.g., using spoken and written Asturian in the administration and as a medium of instruction in education).

As to language use, in Asturies, Spanish is widely employed in the administration, especially in governmental agencies and offices, while Asturian is spoken in the domains of family and friends and, frequently, amongst the working classes of small towns and cities (Andrés Díaz 1987). Although Asturian is not stipulated as an official language, it has legal protection, which, in theory, ensures its promotion, but not its use, in the administrative, educational, toponymic, and media contexts. Such protection is articulated in the 1981 Estatutu d’Autonomía del Principáu d’Asturies ‘Statute of Autonomy of the Principality of Asturias’, the 1998 Llei d’usu y promoción del bable/asturianu ‘Law of Use and Promotion of the Bable/Asturian’, and the 2005 Plan para la normalización social del asturiano ‘Plan for the social normalization of Asturian’. For example, as to place names, Article 15.1 of the Llei d’usu y promoción del bable/asturianu ensures that the traditional Asturian denomination is kept. After the Franco dictatorship, two associations were created to normalize this regional language: Amigos del Bable ‘Friends of Asturian’ and Conceyu Bable ‘Asturian County’ (Barnes 2015). The latter had a crucial role since its goal was to defend the linguistic rights of Asturian speakers. Its activity culminated with the creation of the 1980 Academia de la Llingua Asturiana ‘Academy of the Asturian Language’, whose purpose is to normalize, regulate, and investigate the Asturian language. It promotes the use and the education of the Asturian language, as well as literary works written in the regional language. The outcomes of such normativization and standardization efforts are the publication of the Asturian orthography, grammar, and dictionary (Sobocińska 2019). In all, the establishment of language normalization policies and initiatives is essential to protect and promote this minoritized language.

Worth mentioning is the crucial role of the local governments in their implementation of the promotion and visibility of Asturian. In addition to the Dirección General de Planificación Lingüística y Normalización ‘General Directorate of Language Planning and Normalization’, a linguistic institution that has an important role in the promotion of the minority language, each county can create a Serviciu de Normalización Llingüística ‘Language Normalization Service’, an office which works with every aspect related to the language policy of the county. To our knowledge, only a few Asturian municipalities have created a Language Normalization Service: Avilés, Cangas del Narcea, Castrillón, Corvera, Grau y Candamu, Llanera, Llangréu, L.Lena, Mancomunidá d’el Cabu Peñes, Mancomunidá de la Comarca de la Sidra, Mancomunidá Ozcos-Eo, Mieres (the town that is object of this study), Parque Histórico del Navia, and Xixón (Conseyería de Cultura, Política Llingüística y Turismu website). This disparity among municipalities with regard to the linguistic support Asturian speakers receive shows the necessity of implementing current language policies to preserve the individual rights of all Asturian speakers. Seeing the current Asturian sociolinguistic situation and language policies, our study aims to contribute to the understanding of how public noninstitutional representations of language exemplify the interplay between majority and minoritized languages in diglossic contexts.

3 LL and language maintenance and revitalization

Over the last two and a half decades, LL has become a noteworthy field since the pivotal work by Landry and Bourhis (1997), who used this term to refer to the language visible in the public space. The authors conveyed that signs in the LL fulfill two different functions: informational (to communicate and obtain services in a specific language) and symbolic (the presence of a language in the public sphere implies that such linguistic variety is promoted, valued, or recognized; its absence symbolizes that it is of lower status and recognition). LL, as a field, has had significant advancement since then, especially as it relates to minoritized languages, language policy and planning, and linguistic identity negotiation.

Policies formulated at the local, regional, and/or state/national levels concerning visual language in public spaces are directly related to LL. Hult (2018) explains that policies that address language representation may result in greater visibility and promotion of a minoritized or an endangered language. Mirvahedi (2016) states that through symbolic representation, the status of a minoritized language can be improved. That is, with increased visual representation in public spaces, a minoritized language can gain prominence, which then facilitates greater recognition and challenges past prejudices and stereotypes (Puzey 2012). Draper and Prasertsri (2013) examine language attitudes toward the introduction of multilingual Thai–Isan–English signage by the inhabitants of the Chum Phae Municipality, Northeast Thailand. Through a survey questionnaire, findings show that the introduction of Isan in the LL facilitated an increased learning interest amongst the minoritized speech community. Participants state that they felt good and proud seeing the language on the signage. Thus, policy and its implementation related to visual language have a bearing on the sense of place of the inhabitants of a community. It aids in identity (re)formation, facilitating not only social inclusivity but also language maintenance and revitalization of those of minoritized groups (Bernardo-Hinesley and Gubitosi 2022).

LLs are not only places where minoritized languages appear or not, but also spaces of conflict and contestation (Gubitosi and Medina González 2022) because, in such public spaces, not only languages but also their speakers struggle for visibility and recognition. In the same vein, Rodríguez Barcia and Ramallo (2015) analyze graffiti in Vigo, Galicia, Spain. Their findings reveal that communities that fight for social, political, and identity rights are often, also in favor of defending the minority language of their area. As for the Asturian context, Sobocińska (2019) explains that the relationship between the political commitment against majority viewpoints and the promotion of the regional language in Asturies might be stronger than in other bi-/multilingual Spanish regions, since Asturian does not enjoy official status.

Therefore, LL enables the identification of the relative power of languages within a community and how they may relate to one another in public spheres. As contended by Lado (2011), the display of language in public spaces may reflect the ideological conflict within that community. LL studies not only the geography of a community, but also its history, culture, politics, and practices of the individuals who reside in it (Shohamy and Waksman 2008). It enables the understanding of languages in society as shaped by historical, political, cultural, and social environments and relationships. As an example, Molina Martos (2021) analyzes the urban discourse and civil resistance against gender-based violence in the LL of Madrid, Spain. Based on geosemiotics (Scollon and Scollon 2003) and qualitative methodology, the researcher explores the political action of protest and the voice of women through texts and signs. Results show how the LL is a complex system in continuous change and redefinition affected by both external and internal forces. Therefore, as Gubitosi and Ramos Pellicia (2021) state, LL illustrates the dynamic negotiation of individuals from the majority and the minority language groups within a community.

3.1 Mieres County language normalization service

The present study examines the presence of Asturian in the LL of a town located in central Asturies: Mieres. This municipality, known as having been the center of the coal mining and steel industry in Spain, is home to over 37,000 inhabitants (INE 2021). Mieres is of interest for the present study for being a town wherein Asturian has been favorably promoted (Sobocińska 2019). In fact, as mentioned earlier, the County established a Language Normalization Service that promotes the use of Asturian in the locality, not only publicly, but also institutionally.

The mission of the Mieres County Language Normalization Service, which is dependent on the municipality’s Department of Culture, is to plan and advise on matters related to the language policy of Mieres. Among its functions are to promote and raise awareness of Asturian in different social spheres (administrative, educational, media, and cultural) and to organize Asturian language courses. Its website can be read in Asturian, Spanish, English, or French, and includes games such as Juego de la Oca ‘Game of the Goose’, vocabulary cards, and even examples of public signs in Asturian. In addition to announcing Asturian Poetry Prizes, it also provides information on legislations affecting the use of Asturian, such as the ones stipulated in the region’s Statute and the European Charter for Minority and Regional Languages.

The struggle for the survival of minoritized languages is tightly connected with social and civil movements, as well as with economic and social conflicts (Ramallo 2018). Mieres is not an exception: its language policy was developed during historical periods of socioeconomic and political challenges. In the middle of the nineteenth century, an English mining company was established in Mieres, which caused the municipality to go from a predominantly agrarian economy to one of the main industrial centers of the time, creating significant economic and political changes. The Golden era of the Mierense industry culminated during the first third of the twentieth century, a period wherein the local population significantly increased and the first workers’ associations were created (e.g., the Socialist Youth of Mieres in 1905). After the Franco era, the steel and mining industries declined (the Mieres factory was dismantled and coal extraction became practically unfeasible), which caused numerous mining closures and consequential job loss. Today, only some industrial companies remain in place. Given these social and economic changes, Mieres is a municipality with a strong working-class consciousness and pressing economic problems, which also impact the way they speak and how they perceive their language, likely reflected in the LL. Since 2011, this town has been governed by a left-wing political party, whose defense of minoritized languages may explain the top-down reinforcement of the Asturian presence in the locality.

3.1.1 Previous studies of Asturian in the LL

One of the most recent articles analyzing the Asturian LL is the study by Gubitosi and Medina González (2022). They examine power relations and speaker attitudes toward Asturian, Spanish, and other minority languages in Uviéu, the capital of Asturies. Findings show that Asturian is present in street signs whereas Spanish is the most common language present in store signs. They conclude that the Uviéu LL mirrors the sociolinguistic situation in Asturias: Asturian is negatively perceived by the study participants, and its presence is almost invisible in the neighborhood examined. Due to standard language ideologies, participants of this study also state that since they did not study Asturian in the educational setting, the linguistic variety they speak is not “‘the real language’, denying the inherited language any linguistic value” (2022, 18). As to the linguistic perception among immigrants living in Asturias, findings illustrate that the lack of Asturian official status makes this minoritized language invisible to this community. The perception of public spaces, then, “is framed by these ideologies in which Spanish is the dominant language and the only worth of being present in the public sphere” (2022, 18).

Two previous studies focus on the Mieres LL in conjunction with other Asturian towns and cities. Sobocińska (2019) analyzes the differences and similarities between the factors that influence the visibility of Asturian and Galician in the LL of both regions. Regarding Asturies, the researcher examines the LL of four rural (Mieres and Cuideiru) and urban areas (Xixón and Uviéu). Findings show that in urban areas, Asturian signs appear in restaurants and stores. Furthermore, the relationship between Asturian and the expression of social and political notions was found relevant. However, in rural areas, the visibility of Asturian depends on the language policies of the municipality. That is, if there is not a policy in place that encourages the use of Asturian, such as in the case of Cuideiru, institutional signage in Asturian does not appear, and bottom-up signage is scarce. On a scale from 0 (no visibility) to 5 (absolute visibility), Mieres obtained a 3 (which meant: moderate visibility, Asturian signs exist, and they are easy to find although they constitute a minority). Asturian is used in stores and restaurants of the municipality. However, the author does not find examples related to the expression of the unequal sociolinguistic situation of Asturies, which is explained because its inhabitants may not think that Asturian is inferior to Spanish.

Sebastian (2019) analyzes the main streets and plazas of La Pola, Mieres, Uviéu, and Xixón following Scollon and Scollon’s (2003) idea of place semiotics. The author examines how LLs are reconstructed in ways that contest and resist increasingly invasive language practices. Long-lasting materials are used for top-down Spanish signage, whereas ephemeral materials were used to create messages of Asturian-language advocacy. One notable exception is the fact that in Mieres, several Asturian official signs, especially street names, are found, as well as the layering of unofficial and official signs. The author concludes that the temporal nature of the Asturian signs is a representation of the linguistic community’s vulnerability.

4 Goal and research questions of the present study

Following the previous literature, this research examines the degree of visibility of the Asturian language exclusively in the Mieres LL, as well as other semiotic resources which may evoke Asturianness or Asturian identity. Therefore, our research questions are as follows: 1) What is the nature of the Asturian signs in the Mieres LL (top-down vs bottom-up signage, Asturian typography in both monolingual and bilingual signs)?, and 2) How is Asturian identity expressed in the public space?

5 Methodology

With regard to data collection, the present study follows the approach by Bernardo-Hinesley and Gubitosi (2022) wherein signs were gathered from Google Maps Street View in February 2022. Puzey (2015) states that these types of database resources enable researchers to gather LL data from remote and isolated sites in the world. The data analyzed include signs located in the urban area of Mieres, Asturies, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Figure 1 
               Area wherein data were collected (Source: Google Maps Street View, 2022).
Figure 1

Area wherein data were collected (Source: Google Maps Street View, 2022).

Signs are differentiated by domain: top-down and bottom-up (Ben-Rafael et al. 2006). Top-down signs are those placed by public institutions as they illustrate governmental commitment toward existing language policies. Bottom-up signs, including graffiti, are those established by private businesses and individuals, which are freely created by the community and not regulated by the government. Thus, the authors analyze signs displayed by commercial establishments (e.g., restaurants, retail, and mercantile stores, service providers) and by local institutions (e.g., local government, healthcare providers, and educational facilities). Signs are also analyzed as monolingual and bilingual, observed as translation or instances of translanguaging, which is a common bi-/multilingual linguistic practice. Handwritten signs, both written or painted on walls and fences on private and public properties, are also considered.

Considering the complexity in understanding LL as parts of the assemblages of semiotic resources (Machin and Mayr 2012), the analysis of its visual discursive grammar is also taken into consideration. These include salience and framing such as the colors employed on the signs, the typographical features attributed to the language(s) on the sign, and other visual semiotic resources that create meaning (Kress 2012) and index (Silverstein 2003) Asturian identity. As stated by Sbrighi (2021), LL plays a significant role in the processes of symbolic identity negotiation and construction in minority communities. In addition, it is also a valuable tool in uncovering said language and identity negotiations, language attitudes, and ideologies (Gubitosi and Ramos Pellicia 2021). Through this way of examination, we are able to unveil the possible conflicts, desires, and ideologies of policymakers and community inhabitants, which portray the dynamic language and identity negotiation within the locality. LL, as a means for analyzing issues related to language and identity, contributes to our understanding of a given community, especially those of minoritized language groups.

5.1 Data analyzed

A total of 799 signs were analyzed: 620 are bottom-up signs and 179, top-down. That is, 77.6% of the overall signs are established by commercial businesses and the community. As listed in Table 1, the most frequently employed language in signs is Spanish (638 signs or 79.8%), which includes both monolingual and bilingual signs. In comparison to this high rate of usage of Spanish, in both monolingual and bilingual signs, Asturian appears in 17.6% of the overall signs (141 signs), followed by English at 5.0% (83 signs). Establishing a boundary between Spanish and Asturian can be difficult due to the structural overlap between these two languages. Consequently, in line with Arias Álvarez (2017), taking Spanish as the base language, any instance of any dialectal variety that has no shared linguistic features with Spanish was considered Asturian. To verify the belonging of such traits to Asturian linguistic varieties, the authors used both the Diccionario de la llingua asturiana (DALLA 2015) and Gramática de la llingua asturiana (ALLA 2001). Although at a very low rate, signs in monolingual French, Italian, Chinese, and Japanese, as well as signs in French–Spanish, Italian–Spanish, Chinese–Spanish, Korean–Spanish, French–English, German–English, and Latin–English, were also observed.

Table 1

Overall data

Languages Bottom-up Top-down Total
Number % Number % Number %
Asturian 18 2.9 53 29.6 71 8.9
Spanish 479 77.3 83 46.4 562 70.3
English 28 4.5 7 3.9 35 4.4
French 3 0.4 0 0.0 3 0.4
Italian 2 0.3 0 0.0 2 0.3
Chinese 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Japanese 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Asturian–Spanish 34 5.4 35 19.6 69 8.6
French–Spanish 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Italian–Spanish 2 0.3 0 0.0 2 0.3
Chinese–Spanish 3 0.4 0 0.0 3 0.4
Korean–Spanish 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Asturian–English 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Spanish–English 42 6.8 1 0.5 43 5.4
French–English 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
German–English 2 0.3 0 0.0 2 0.3
Latin–English 1 0.2 0 0.0 1 0.1
Total 620 100.0 179 100.0 799 100.0

Considering the rate of both monolingual and bilingual signs, Spanish still remains to be highly employed, followed by Asturian, then Asturian–Spanish, Spanish–English, and English. Top-down signs, which a good number are street and road signs, both monolingual and bilingual ones, almost closely follow this order: Spanish (46.4%), Asturian (29.6%), Asturian–Spanish (19.6%), English (3.9%), and Spanish–English (0.5%). Compared to bottom-up signs, Spanish is highly employed (77.3%) followed by Spanish–English (6.8%), then Asturian–Spanish (5.4%), English (4.5%), and Asturian (2.9%). That is, signs placed by stores and the community are primarily in Spanish and English. Asturian, in both monolingual and bilingual signs, appears at a low rate in comparison to Spanish.

Figure 2 illustrates a bottom-up sign wherein Asturian and Spanish are employed. The Asturian element, ñeru ‘nest’, is focalized by means of larger, bolded typographical font and made readable through contrast with the use of green letters with a white background. The subline, clínica veterinaria pajarería ‘veterinary clinic aviary’, is written in Spanish with a much smaller font and in italics. An example of a top-down sign is the road direction sign shown in Figure 2, where all destinations (e.g., Uviéu, Lleón, Barriu San Pedru ‘San Pedru’s neighborhood’) are written in Asturian following the regulations in place for traffic and street signs.

Figure 2 
                  Bottom-up (left) and top-down (right) signs.
Figure 2

Bottom-up (left) and top-down (right) signs.

An example of a translanguaging bottom-up sign is shown in Figure 3. The larger, white text in Asturian, segundes ‘second’, uses a readable font and a bright pink background. The word rebajas ‘sales’, which is not easily readable due to lack of color contrast between the text and its transparent background, is written in Spanish in spite of the existence of an Asturian counterpart rebajes. A sign employing translation is illustrated in the street sign shown in Figure 3. Worth mentioning is the language used to translate the text in Asturian is Spanish, illustrating the toponymic stipulation in the 1998 Law of Use and Promotion of the Bable/Asturian, which ensures that the Asturian denomination is kept.

Figure 3 
                  Translanguaging sign (left) and Asturian–Spanish translation sign (right).
Figure 3

Translanguaging sign (left) and Asturian–Spanish translation sign (right).

6 Results: The Asturian linguistic and symbolic landscapes of Mieres

In this section, the most representative noninstitutional or bottom-up (e.g., stores, businesses, activism) signs identified from the corpus are examined. Top-down signage is not discussed in the present study. As shown in the methodology section, institutional signs display a high rate of Asturian language, which exemplifies the support for the presence of Asturian by local and regional administrative institutions. In this article, however, the authors are interested in analyzing the different ways in which Asturianness (Asturian identity) is represented in the LL by individuals and privately owned businesses, without the intervention or regulation of the government.

The display of bottom-up Asturian monolingual signs is minimal, reaching up to 2.9% of all signs. Figure 4 (Ca Silverio cafés y cafeteres, ‘Silverio’s home coffee and coffee makers’) is one of those few examples in which Asturian might be used as a means to construct discursive local authenticity, in line with Sobocińska’s findings (2019). Nevertheless, in order to verify this hypothesis and obtain concrete conclusions, further studies collecting perception data from Mieres residents are necessary. To clients who speak and understand Asturian, the sign would have an informational meaning meanwhile to those who do not speak or understand it, it would only bear a symbolic function.

Figure 4 
               Monolingual Asturian sign.
Figure 4

Monolingual Asturian sign.

Considering the low usage rate of Asturian in the overall bottom-up signage, the primary presence of Asturian in this sign presents an impression that its use is either a marketing tool to appeal to passers-by or as a means to make the business establishment appear local and welcoming. However, as Sobocińska (2019) explains, an alternative motivation would be that the business owner simply wanted an inscription that is usual in the language of this community, which is Asturian. To better understand these possible motivations for Asturian language use, additional data, by means of a survey questionnaire, from store owners, clients, and Mieres citizens, in general, should be gathered (Martínez Ibarra 2021).

Despite the existence of a few monolingual Asturian signs, given the linguistic contact situation of Asturies, it was expected to find signage employing translanguaging practices. That is the case of examples 7, 8, and 9, which besides the simultaneous use of different languages as a unique linguistic repertoire, they also include semiotic resources that convey Asturian identity or Asturianness. Figure 5 is an example of a bilingual word play (podosana vs podoxana). Podoxana centro sanitario ‘Podoxana Health Center’ is written using large, capitalized readable text. This podologic clinic is named podoxana, a word that combines the Spanish word podología ‘podology’ and xana, an Asturian mythology female character (Sánchez et al. 2003). This translanguaging wordplay clearly illustrates a collective language repertoire. Excluding the repetition of the name of the clinic, the following lines are written in Spanish, and there is neither use of the Asturian language nor semiotic references to the Asturian culture. As with Figure 4, it would be necessary to gather further data to explain the perception of the usage of xana on the sign of this health center.

Figure 5 
               Translanguaging word play sign.
Figure 5

Translanguaging word play sign.

Figure 6 is another example of translanguaging, a common language practice by bi-/multilinguals. The name of the store llar ‘hearth, fireplace’, is written in Asturian, and it is located next to the Victory Cross of Asturies. This cross is not only significant because it appears in the Principality of Asturies flag (established in the 1981 Statute, Article 3.1 “La bandera del Principado de Asturias es la tradicional con la Cruz de la Victoria en amarillo sobre fondo azul” [‘The flag of the Principality of Asturias is the traditional one with the Victory Cross in yellow on blue background’]), but also the Asturian legend appropriates the cross (Alonso Álvarez 2017) as being carried by King Pelagius at the Battle of Covadonga in 722. This warlike conflict has crucial relevance in the Asturian identity and in-group membership since it is traditionally considered the event that originated the Kingdom of Asturias and, consequently, the Asturian identity.

Figure 6 
               Asturian–Spanish translanguaging sign with Asturian semiotic symbols.
Figure 6

Asturian–Spanish translanguaging sign with Asturian semiotic symbols.

The rest of the sign: empanadas, repostería tradicional ‘empanadas, traditional confectionery’ is written in Spanish and is located next to an apple, a well-known symbol of Asturies for being an apple-growing region, responsible for 80% of Spain’s cider production. In fact, apple cider is considered a quintessential Asturian drink. The other subline productos típicos ‘typical products’ is accompanied by a traditional clay cooking pot. In line with Sobocińska (2019), the use of the Asturian language and other semiotic resources in a store that sells traditional Asturian pastries exemplifies the encapsulation of local folklore, history, and community practice as a marketing element. It is important to note that authenticity can also be related to language commodification (Coupland 2003). That is to say, as Androutsopoulos and Chowchong (2021, 210) state, those who create the signage might understand Asturian “as a resource for added value within their respective niche market.” Asturian commodification, then, would imply a reconfiguration of the language for market purposes, being treated as an economic resource. This viewpoint has increased in the globalized era, where languages are crucial resources in the economy of late capitalism (Heller 2010). Therefore, the fact that Asturian features and symbols appear in the name of the store might have a significant role in the possible commodification of this minoritized language. Nonetheless, to better discern whether Asturian stores analyzed are commodified places of Asturian language and identity, future studies should gather data taking into account other research approaches (e.g., ethnographic), as well as categorizations of authenticity following Matwick and Matwick (2019) (e.g., referential, original, natural, influential, exceptional, and health).

Figure 7 shows a martial arts academy sign which also displays translanguaging practices. Noteworthy of this sign is the employment of transymbolic practices in the word taemi, wherein semiotic resources used to allude to distinct group identities are combined together to illustrate their bi-/multilingual reality in Mieres. The initial letter of the sign taemi is used in a strategic way to include, not only the kicking practice in this type of combat, but also the yellow Victory Cross, symbol of Asturies. Furthermore, the sign is written with capitalized blue letters, thus resembling the background of the Victory Cross on the Asturian flag. As to the linguistic portion of the sign, tae (‘foot’ in Korean) derives from Tae Kwon Do (or Taekwondo), which refers to one of the oldest forms of martial arts. In conjunction with the language, the sign uses a semiotic resource indexing Asturian identity, which conveys that this academy is pertinent to the community in which it is located.

Figure 7 
               Korean–Spanish translanguaging sign with Asturian semiotic symbols.
Figure 7

Korean–Spanish translanguaging sign with Asturian semiotic symbols.

As seen in the previous examples, the use of Asturian semiotic resources is crucial to convey Asturianness. Besides being a monolingual Spanish sign, Figure 8 shows an example that includes Asturian symbols: numerous elements of the Asturian flag. As shown below, the torso of the driving school’s mascot has the Victory Cross accompanied by the Greek letters Alpha and Omega in yellow with a blue background, consistent with the Asturian flag. The same colors are used for the two words that appear in the sign: autoescuela ‘driving school’ is written with capitalized bolded yellow text, whereas principado ‘Principality’, appears in large blue text.

Figure 8 
               Monolingual Spanish sign with Asturian semiotic symbols.
Figure 8

Monolingual Spanish sign with Asturian semiotic symbols.

Furthermore, the typography used for principado resembles the one used in the slogan Asturias Paraíso Natural ‘Asturias, Natural Paradise’ used by the Public Society for Tourism and Cultural Management and Promotion of the Principality of Asturies, which its features are alike the four edges of the Victory Cross (Figure 9). Thus, despite Spanish being the only language used, Figure 8 conveys Asturianness through semiotic resources.

Figure 9 
               Asturian slogan.
Figure 9

Asturian slogan.

Remarkable of the bottom-up signs illustrated through Figures 48 is that the Asturian elements, whether this may be the Asturian language and/or Asturian symbols, enable saliency of what conveys Asturianness.

Along with long-lasting bottom-up signage, the Mieres LL offers numerous graffiti examples, a form of visual communication usually involving unauthorized inscription in public space by anonymous individuals or groups. Figures 10 and 11 are two different graffiti instances in which their authors express their cultural and political stances toward prevalent majority ideologies. Thus, graffiti has become a tool of resistance and empowerment of marginalized, vulnerable groups (Rodríguez Barcia and Ramallo 2015).

Figure 10 
               Asturian graffiti.
Figure 10

Asturian graffiti.

Figure 11 
               Graffiti about Asturian ideologies.
Figure 11

Graffiti about Asturian ideologies.

Figure 10 is an example of urban discourse against gender-based violence, in line with Molina Martos’s analysis (2021) on the LL of Madrid. Non ye non ‘no means no’ is a result of women’s mobilization after the feminist Me too movement and a further incendiary in Spain: the Manada case in which five men sexually abused an 18-year-old woman during the festivities of San Fermín (Pamplona, Spain). This handwritten sign illustrates a political protest that has emerged with the goal of denouncing sexual aggression and abuse. The purple color used on the sign represents the women’s movement, which can also be seen in the protests of March 8th, International Women’s Day. The use of Asturian in this sign might suggest that minoritized languages are used by political activists in the community as a tool to emphasize their struggles and the defense of their rights.

Figure 11 shows the -a of Asturias is overwritten by an -e to state Asturies in the Asturian language. In the graffiti, one can observe the mentioning of the communist party through the inclusion of the hammer and sickle, as well as an anarchy monogram circle -A, present twice, one of them included in the initial letter A of Asturies. The term antifa (anti-fascism), a left-wing anti-fascist and anti-racist political movement originated in the United States, also appears overwritten right after Asturies. The use of different colors and typographies in the different signs that compose this graffiti implies that additions or overwritings were incorporated during different times. In particular, the use of red, which represents the left-wing political party and sociopolitical movements, is noticeable. Figure 11 illustrates that language can take the function of a tool, which serves to deepen the compounded motivation of the protest. As Rodríguez Barcia and Ramallo (2015) explain, groups that position themselves against the established dominant majority societal order also manifest the use of a language that is minoritized, in this case, the Asturian language.

Despite the overall low frequency of use of the Asturian language, the identity of the Asturian minoritized linguistic group living in Mieres is negotiated in the LL not only by the use of the language but also primarily by the integration of semiotic features that convey the Asturian identity. This may exhibit the language policy established by Mieres County, advocating the display of Asturian in the Mieres signage, in contrast to the invisibility in other Asturian cities and towns (Gubitosi and Medina González 2022). Language and identity negotiation is further entailed in signs of sociopolitical protests, which shows the struggles of the language and its fragility.

7 Conclusion and discussion

The goal of the current study was to examine the presence of the Asturian language in the Mieres LL as well as other semiotic resources which convey Asturianness. The municipality of Mieres was chosen for being a locality wherein Asturian is recognized and promoted (Sobocińska 2019), both institutionally and publicly, as one of the languages spoken in the town.

With respect to the first research question, results confirm previous studies’ findings regarding the LL of Mieres (Gubitosi and Medina González 2022, Sebastian 2019, Sobocińska 2019), where Asturian has visibility among not only bottom-up but also top-down signage. In particular, we observe the implementation of the Mieres County language policies through the use of Asturian in top-down signage, though not even surpassing the 50% usage rate when monolingual and bilingual Asturian signs are summed together. Consistent with previous studies (Gubitosi and Medina González 2022, Hult 2018), findings point toward how crucial the commitment toward the implementation of a language policy and promotion is by influential institutions (e.g., government), as it facilitates the presence of a minoritized language in the LL. However, still, the higher frequency of Spanish language use on the top-down signs may suggest that the attempts of Mieres County are not enough if the regional legislation of the co-officialization of the language is not in place. Asturian as an official language in the Statute of the Principality is an essential step not only for the survival of the minoritized language but also to ensure that its citizens have the individual rights to which they are entitled.

As to bottom-up signage, there is a higher rate of Asturian–Spanish translanguaging signs than Asturian monolingual ones, which clearly reflects the language practices and the diglossic reality experienced by bi-/multilinguals in this municipality. The display of Asturian in public spaces of Mieres mirrors the ideological conflict within this community, in line with Lado (2011) and Shohamy and Waksman (2008). Given that people’s perception toward the languages spoken in a community can be influenced by visual language representation (Draper and Prasertsri 2013), future studies should verify if the low rate of Asturian usage in the Mieres LL reflects a detrimental perception toward this minoritized language. Another potential goal could be to analyze whether or not Asturian use in the LL can aid in its positive language perception and attitudes, challenge preconceptions, and ultimately improve its revitalization, in line with previous research (Puzey 2012).

As to the second research question, Asturian identity or Asturianness is expressed in many different ways. One way of doing so is through the use of the Asturian language in both monolingual and translanguaging signs by institutions of power, commercial entities, and community inhabitants. With regard to Asturian semiotic symbols, the Asturian flag and its colors, the Victory Cross, the typography resembling the edges of the cross, traditional cookware, and regional produce are employed in bottom-up signage. Moreover, handwritten signs articulating sociopolitical movements make use of this threatened language, as a means of intertwined acts of sociohistorical and sociopolitical resistance and activism (Rodríguez Barcia and Ramallo 2015). These findings portray the dynamic language and identity negotiation (Gubitosi and Ramos Pellicia 2021), clearly shown by means of linguistic and semiotic elements that index Asturianness in this locality.

Though commodification is not the objective of this present study, a follow-up research considering this aspect will be worthwhile to better comprehend the motivations and intentions of business owners in using the Asturian language and semiotic elements that symbolize the notion of Asturianness. Including interdisciplinary approaches (e.g., ethnography, sociolinguistic interview, survey questionnaire) will also enrich our understanding of the perceptions of the store proprietors and clients. Moving beyond multilingual and multimodal analyses, considering multisensory approaches of semiotic elements and the ways in which they come together in a particular space at a particular moment, enables the identification of the constellation of meanings evoked and invoked (Pennycook 2017). In other words, understanding the soundscape, smellscape, and sensescape of Asturian stores, governmental buildings, and restaurants would be vital.

In all, the analysis of the current study illustrates that Spanish is widely used in the Mieres LL. Although there is a low presence of Asturian in the LL, the county has language policies in place and, to some degree, a commitment toward the use of Asturian. The presence of minoritized languages in the LL can improve their symbolic value (Mirvahedi 2016) through their use in both institutional and commercial public signage, facilitating increased learning interest (Draper and Prasertsri 2013), then encouraging language maintenance and revitalization. To conclude, this study contributes to the understanding of how bottom-up visual language representations illustrate the dynamic in diglossic contexts, manifesting the struggles of minoritized language groups in defense of their individual linguistic rights.


The authors would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their very valuable advice.

  1. Author contributions: All authors have accepted responsibility for the entire content of this manuscript and approved its submission.

  2. Conflict of interest: The authors state no conflict of interest.

  3. Data availability statement: Research data can be provided by the authors upon request.


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Received: 2022-12-21
Revised: 2023-05-17
Accepted: 2023-05-19
Published Online: 2023-06-13

© 2023 the author(s), published by De Gruyter

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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