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Dr. Isabel Alvarez-Sancho

Professor shares knowledge of northern Spain’s Asturian language and culture

Tuesday, September 12, 2023

Media Contact: Elizabeth Gosney | CAS Marketing and Communications Manager | 405-744-7497 |

Dr. Isabel Alvarez-Sancho is an expert in languages and literatures, especially those in Spain. But there is one language that holds some significance to the Oklahoma State University associate professor.

And it’s a language that is lacking in its exposure.

Asturian, the native tongue of the principality of Asturias in far northern Spain, is one of several languages Alvarez-Sancho is well-versed in.

A part of OSU’s Department of Languages and Literatures since 2012, she is the Spanish section coordinator for the department and can read Catalan, Galician, French, Portuguese and Asturian. She specializes in 21st century Iberian cultural studies and has a Licenciatura in Hispanic philology from the University of Oviedo in Spain and a Ph.D. in Hispanic cultural studies from Michigan State University. Before coming to OSU, she worked as a Spanish lecturer in Bosnia and Herzegovina, and an associate professor at Central Michigan University.

While her educational background boasts of specialization in language and cultural studies, she noticed a lack of studies in Asturian culture in the United States.

“I had this background in different languages, but until recently, there was not an association in the U.S. whatsoever dedicated to studying Asturian,” Alvarez-Sancho said. “There were some scholars studying this individually, but many of them did not know each other nor were they collaborating. This may be due to the fact that Asturian as a language is not the official language of Spain.”

Although Asturian is spoken by around half a million people, it survives through cultural aspects such as music, various literature, poetry and science. Alvarez-Sancho took the initiative to ensure the culture’s conservation by gaining an international network, starting within the U.S. It began with a 2021 Society for the Analysis of Cultural Topics and Linguistic Identities N’Asturies (SAnTINA) conference organized by the University of California to connect scholars interested in Asturian studies across the world.

The conference received great interest and propelled Alvarez-Sancho into planning her SAnTINA conference hosted virtually by OSU in May this year. The conference was open to the public and featured 30 papers and 40 scholars from three continents that continued the discussion of Asturian linguistics, history and cinema.

The first goal of these conferences was to unite scholars, cultural creators or anybody interested in the studies, as some may have never left the region. Because these scholars are located across the globe, the conference offers a unique perspective at looking at Asturian history that can create new avenues of cultural discussion.

The second goal was to disseminate Asturian language and culture internationally and raise awareness of minoritized languages in all countries. This allows for the contribution of preservation of different languages and cultures that aren’t recognized as official languages.

Alvarez-Sancho actively collaborates in Asturian seminars, having recently participated in conferences in Spain as well as Tennessee, which were both well received. She recently published an article on Asturian music and worked with UC Riverside to host an event — Asturian 101 — to explain Asturian’s many facets to those interested in the area of study.

Dr. Susana Perea-Fox, professor emerita in Spanish and Latin American studies at OSU, collaborated and attended panels with Alvarez-Sancho at the conference of Asturian studies. Perea-Fox spoke about her admiration for her colleague and highlighted Alvarez-Sancho hosting the second Asturian studies conference.

“Dr. Isabel Alvarez-Sancho has shined in the languages and literatures department for her strong commitment to excellent teaching, research and service to the department, the university and peninsular studies,” Perea-Fox said. “Those who attended the conference — me included — noted the excellent organization not only with the minute details, but also with the breadth of information and the knowledge of the presenters.” 

Story By: Sutton James | CONNECT magazine

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