The project ETLEN and dialectometry

ETLEN is the acronym for the Study of the Linguistic Transition in the Eo-Navia Area, Asturias. This is a dialectological research project in the boundary between the linguistic domains of Galician-Portuguese and the Astur-Leonese, in the westernmost Asturian strip (Spain). The ETLEN is a dialectographic study that yields facts about dialects; horiometric, that measures the linguistic boundary; and dialectometric, that measures the dialectal diversity of the surveyed area. The ETLEN is a research project undertaken by a research team from the University of Oviedo led by Ramón de Andrés Díaz.

Phenomenon, feature, area, isogloss bundle

Linguistic phenomenon s any recognizable linguistic fact. For example, «the results of the intervocalic Latin -l- ».
A differential feature is each one of the privative and distinctive manifestations of a same phenomenon; in the former example, the preservation of the intervocalic -l- instead of its deletion.
Area is the territory shared by a same linguistic feature; for example, the area of fío ‘thread’ opposite to the one they use filo or filu.
Isogloss is the imaginary line that marks the different items of a concrete geodistribution. Some items can be associated to the same differential features, but they can show different isoglosses. That is the case of fio / filo~filu ‘thread’ and pau / palo ‘stick’, which show isoglosas with a different geography.
An isogloss bundle is the more or less dense accumulation of isoglosses on a map; for instance, the one taking place between Galician-Portuguese and Astur-Leonese in Asturias. Scientific Dialectology considers all these concepts as glottologic; in other words, they are built with exclusive linguistic criteria (of the system or from the diasystem), and not with political, cultural or sociological criteria.

Linguistic domain

The concept of linguistic domain —derived from the previous ones, and also considered as glottologic—, it assumes a process of abstraction above the already mentioned ones. The domains are geotypes or geolectal types. They are the territories on both sides of an isogloss bundle, which are characterized for having a relative linguistic homogeneity. According to their hierarchical level of taxonomic classification, they can belong to what is commonly known as «languages» or «dialects».

The concept of Astur-Leonese linguistic domain comes from the accomplished discovery of the scientific Dialectology, due above all, to Ramón Menéndez Pidal, at the beginning of the 20th century, in his work El dialecto leonés (1906).

Linguistic domains of the Iberian Peninsula

Following the traditional Hispanic Dialectology, we can consider the next Romanic linguistic domains:

  • Galician-Portuguese linguistic domain.
  • Astur-Leonese linguistic domain.
  • Castilian linguistic domain.
  • Aragonese linguistic domain.
  • Catalonian linguistic domain.

These linguistic domains are geotypes determined through contrastive glottological criteria. Between two adjoining domains there is a linguistic boundary, that is normally presented as a transition or continuum border.

The boundary between the Galician-Portuguese and the Astur-Leonese in Asturias. The Galician-Asturian.

Between the Galician-Portuguese and Astur-Leonese domains, there is a linguistic boundary that lets itself be shown as a continuum boundary or transition area, that descends from the North (in Asturias), goes through El Bierzo (León) and Sanabria (Zamora) and reaches the South (Miranda do Douro, in Portugal). In Asturias the continuum boundary is broader than the one in the south, and it spreads over the the Eo-Navia area; that is, the land strip between the rivers Eo (which is the border between Galicia and Asturias) and the Navia (within Asturias). The group of transitional dialects in this area gets the name of Galician-Asturian (gallego-asturiano, galaico-astur), Galician spoken in Asturias (gallego de Asturias), «the speech» (a fala), or, with a clear self-derogatory content, «the babbling speech» (chapurriao).

Traditional measurement between the Galician Portuguese boundary ant the Astur-Leonese

In general, the study of the linguistic boundaries has been traditionally done with a glottological pretension. These surveys have been based on strictly linguistic criteria, such as contrastive features, isoglosses, isogloss bundles and so on. Any linguistic boundary survey is done with the epistemological assumption that the contrastive features can be assigned —using glottological criteria— to either domain. We must understand that there is an obvious sociological component in these surveying or measurements, having into consideration the speakers’ opinions in the taxonomy of the dialectal boundaries. But the truth is that main factor has been glottological, and that is the one use to build the geotypes and the boundaries between them.


Deficiencies with the traditional methods of measurement

The traditional measurement of the linguistic borders follows as a whole a glottological pretension, but it presents deficiencies due to the instruments used in them. Some of these deficiencies are:

  • More weight is given to a unique general differential feature, or to a meager group of differential features. That assessment is based on intuitive criteria, not on detailed quantitative adjustments not available in today’s dialectology.
  • The boundary is being assessed with a meager group of differential features, not with e generous amount of them.
  • The isoglottic boundary among linguistic areas is being mistaken with the boundary among different domains. Two differential features of the same phenomenon (for example, the loss of the -l- as opposed to its preservation in the latin result fīlum) show a clear boundary drawn by an isogloss. The fact that the isoglosses’ layout not always coincide in the same or the exact geography, has led to a distrust of the use of the boundary domain concept, despite the elemental synthesis processing in the first level of abstraction.
  • When the concept of linguistic boundary is put on the level with a type of boundary, the well-defined or the abrupt one, as we can find between Castilian and Basque, or between Castilian from Andalusia and the Galician-Portuguese from Algarve. According to this, the blurred (difused), gradual, transitive or continuous boundaries, would not be considered true boundaries. But it does not exist any incompatibility between the concept of linguistic boundary on one hand, and the concept of gradualness: there are boundary continuums as the ones we find between Galician-Portuguese and Astur-Leonese in Asturias.


Dialectometry is a dialectological method first thought up by the French Jean Séguy in 1971; who applied it in Gascony, and later followed by Henri Guiter. The definitive confirmation of dialectometry is due to the Austrian Hans Goebl. He made possible what is today known as «Salzburg School of Dialectometry» (SDM). The goal of dialectometry is to surveying or measuring the dialectal differences through the use of mathematical-statistics devices. In order to do that we set up the statistics computing into differential units called taxats. They are the least differential features among the distinct dialects in a geolectal area. Dialectrometry works with massive amounts of data, commonly obtained from linguistic atlases, previously worked out according to the traditional methods in dialectology. The distinctive dialectometric assessments are always represented in chromatic maps; in which we can visualize the different aspects of the geolectal variations in a territory. The dialectometric maps interpretative power lies in the researcher’s ability to achieve a synthesis.

Horiometry or boundary dialectometry

Horiometry and horiometric are neologisms created by the Project ETLEN’s research team using the Greek words hórion ‘boundary’ or ‘border’ and métron ‘measurement’. Horiometry is conceived as a kind of dialectometry, specialized in the measurement of linguistic boundaries. The Salzburg dialectometry measures the mutual differences between dialects without worrying about the boundaries. In other words, to avoid any serious concern about the adscription of the domains or sub domains differential features. Those and the boundaries among them can be discovered later on as mathematical-statistics seen on the map. Conversely, horiometrys is based in the possibility of geotipologically adscribing to a domain or another the differential features found in the boundary area or the transitional one. Thanks to this method, it is possible to determine, in each geographical transitional point, the one geotype or another’s features proportion; and therefore, it allows us to get to know with enough precision the characteristics of any boundary continuum.