San Martín de Trevejo, Valverde del Fresno and Eljas are three small villages to the north of Cáceres, in Extremadura. They form the Valley of Xálama (from the mountain that gives them shade) and are the three last Spanish enclaves of the Sierra de Gata before crossing the border with Portugal. Life here is peaceful, time goes slowly and nothing distinguishes them from the other villages in the area... except that their 6,000 inhabitants have their own language.
It is called ‘la fala’ and it is the same language spoken by their ancestors for a thousand years. Linguists have not managed to agree on its origin: Portuguese? Galician? Ancient Castilian? The most widespread theory is that it appeared as a consequence of an outpost of Galician troops going to the area in the ninth century to defend the border with Portugal. And the blend of Galician and Portuguese gave rise to the language known as ‘la fala’.
And if it is peculiar because it is spoken only in three villages in Spain, it is still more so in the fact that each village has its own dialect: in Valverde they speak valverdeiru; in San Martín, mañegu and in Eljas, lagarteiru, although despite their particular dialects they understand each other perfectly.
‘La fala’, in each of its versions, is the first language learned by all of the children in the three villages, earlier even than Castilian, which in many cases they have not heard until they go to school. At least this was the case before. Today it has evolved and now lies in the state of bilingualism: Spanish is used in schools and administrations and ‘la fala’ in the family area.
In the street, however, the villagers always speak this language, which neither the invasions nor the passing of time have modified, but which has begun to be endangered by the arrival of people from other villages.
A decade ago it was declared a good of cultural interest and there have been official initiatives concerning it, such as the creation of the ‘Fala y Cultura’ Association, the publication of the first book in this language and the establishment of the ‘Day of la fala’.