Lila G. ES’23
Sophomore, Choate Rosemary Hall (CT)
Capstone Topic: The Disappearing Language of Aragonese
Lila G.’s capstone project about the future of the Aragonian language has allowed her to indulge her profound interest in the culture of the surrounding region and particularly the oral traditions that are being lost. Her love for learning languages — and her curiosity for the different languages spoken in Spain — brought her to investigate why this language is different from the others and why it is disappearing.
What was your motivation for selecting this topic?
Investigating the ways in which Aragonese could be spoken more in Zaragoza became a perfect chance to blend my passion for language and the unique part of studying abroad that makes foreign language immersion impossible in the United States. For most of my life, I have been fascinated by languages. When I have free time, I dedicate it to learning new ones or strengthening my Spanish outside of class. I chose to come to Spain to not only learn about the culture and jump into a new experience, but with a seal placed around Spanish study, I knew my world of new languages would open greatly. Despite this affinity, upon arrival to Spain I had no idea that there were so many languages unique to every autonomous community.
I had taken up learning Catalan in September, thinking that if I stumbled upon Catalonia I could indulge in the opportunity to speak it, but I did not know that Aragon had its own language, too. In fact, it took two and a half months in Zaragoza for me to discover Aragonese; I knew instantly I needed to dedicate my final project to it. I saw a chance to dive into a disappearing language, maybe learn a few phrases along the way, and understand the culture that comes with it.
How did you approach research for your capstone?
Knowing little to nothing about Aragonese, I decided to research the basic facts and history of the language before connecting with any experts. Unfortunately, finding information on a dying language with only about 12,000 speakers is difficult, not to mention the most accurate sources are written in Aragonese, which I can only understand to an extent. I was able to locate a book related to my question, El futuro del aragonés: un análisis prospectivo y social, and set up interviews with its two authors, Antonio Eito Mateo and Chaime Marcuello Servós. I also emailed three associations dedicated to the protection and restoration of Aragonese.
What have you learned from going through this process?
It had never occurred to me in January that I would be able to speak face to face with successful writers in March, when upon arrival I could barely participate in class. My capstone doesn’t exactly make any large impacts on society, but I have come to learn how simple even the most daunting of tasks might be. Finding an expert requires no more than dedication to one’s research and with that, the possibilities are endless. If I had more time, I very well could have reached individuals even higher up in the Aragonese world; all I needed to do was put aside my false preconceived notion.
Regarding Aragonese itself, unfortunately, one project as small as mine will not make a huge impact on the growth of the language. The issues it faces are rooted within the Spanish political and educational systems that discriminate against minority dialects. It also has shrunk substantially because of the disappearance of rural Spain where the majority of Aragonese speakers live. It was difficult to hear during my interviews how this dissolution has affected speakers, and the limited impact I would be able to make on its growth. All three of the experts I connected with mentioned that although the future depends on societal change, it also depends on confidence within the speaker population. Outsiders like me can instigate that confidence by showing interest in Aragonese.
How do you see your capstone experience impacting your life beyond high school?
At the end of my interview with a man named Antonio, he paused for a moment and thanked me for the interview. This struck me as odd, so I asked him why. He said with emotion that having someone from the United States who worried and cared about the future of Aragonese, his language, come to Spain meant so much to him and the community. To me, writing emails to important individuals for a school project as a sophomore had always felt like bothering busy individuals; I hadn’t seen the symbiotic relationship of the interview where one would appreciate a student’s interest in their struggles as much as the student would appreciate their help. I don’t believe I will ever forget what he said to me.
People like me may not be able to change the educational, political or social systems of a foreign country, but we can make those struggling feel heard. So many other languages, as well as minority groups that often correlate to dialects, struggle in the same manner as Aragonese, and though it is impossible to help everyone at once, we can start by sharing the story of one group.