San Martín de Trevejo, Valverde del Fresno and Eljas are three small towns near Villamiel, where El Sosiego is located. The three belong to the Xálama Valley, named after the mountain that rises above it, and are the last Spanish towns in the Sierra de Gata hills before crossing the border into Portugal. Life here is tranquil and time seems to pass more slowly than elsewhere. At first glance these towns seem to be just like others in the area, until you realise that their 6,000 inhabitants have their very own language.
It is called La Fala and it has been spoken in these parts for a thousand years or more. Linguists do not agree on its origin: did it derive from Portuguese, Galician, or Old Castilian? The most common theory is that it came from the movement into this area, in the 9th century, of a detachment of Galician troops to defend the border with Portugal. A mixture of Galician and Portuguese gave rise to La Fala.
The language, spoken in just three towns in Spain, is already something of a curiosity, but something that makes it even more unusual is that each town has its own variety. Those from Valverde speak Valverdeiru, in San Martín they call their language Mañegu and in Eljas it is Lagarteiru. Although each variety has its own characteristics, speakers of all three understand each other perfectly.
La Fala, in one of its varieties, was once the first language learnt by local children. It certainly came before Spanish, which in most cases was not heard until the children went to school. However, this situation has changed and now the towns are mostly bilingual, with Spanish predominating at school and in local administration, and La Fala for personal communication.
In these three towns, this is still the language heard in the street and in the shops. It has remained unaffected by time or invasions. The danger to it now is a friendly one: incomers from other towns. “It is something transmitted from parent to child, so when a mother or a father does not speak it, the children are educated in Spanish,” says Julian Carretero, a resident of San Martín and one of the language’s most active advocates.
A decade ago the tongue was declared Cultural Heritage, and there are officially supported initiatives to promote it, including the Fala y Cultura association, the first book published in the language and the creation of a La Fala Day.
Julian has his own very practical way of supporting the language at his restaurant La Boiga de Cumías (Mañegu for ‘The Dining Cellar’). As well as serving traditional local dishes, this place has become a kind of embassy for La Fala, a place where diners can be sure of being served in the local language. If you come to El Sosiego, we recommend a visit for a glass of wine. If you don’t, you might be told “Quen vinu a Sa Martiñu y non bebu viñu, ¿a que coñus viñu?” (“You came to San Martin and you didn’t drink the wine! Why on earth did you come?”)