The History of Spanish in 10 Words

I have written or presented about this topic at least 3 times in school, and it still amuses the hell out of me. I have distilled it down to 5 words, but I just found a paper that lists the whole 10, and I think it’s worth recording these down while the information still bubbles and frolicks around for me when I talk about it.

1. Fabular

-Spanish is one of the Romance languages which means it comes from Latin. Other Romance languages include French, Italian, Romanian, Catalan, and Portuguese, unfortunately.
-Fabular means ‘to tell a tale,’ which has morphed over the years to become the verb hablar, to speak. There are many words which begin with ‘f’ in Latin that changed to ‘h’ in modern Spanish. Exceptions are words with a diphthong after the ‘f’ like fuente (fountain), fuerza (force), and fuego (fire).

2. Sistema

-Greek preceded Latin, which means the terms are older, but most likely filtered through Latin to become part of Spanish. Besides being used in technical and scientific words, many words from Greek are related to Church like católico, bautizar (baptize), cátedra, diablo, himno (hymn), and iglesia, meaning church.
-Sistema is a specific type of Spanish word which is from Greek, is a cognate with the English word, and appears to be female (ends in -a) but is actually masculine and uses ‘el’ in front of the word. Other words include mapa, dia, tema (theme), and clima (weather).

3. Guerra

-After the Romans, Goths came to Spain and ruled for a while. They conquered by battle, and once they were in charge, they settled into the Roman lifestyle, and did not add many words to the language. The words they did contribute were mostly about war, like guardian, tambór (drum), guante (glove), armadura (armor), arma (weapon) and the word for war itself, guerra.

4. Rodriguez

-The Goths also left behind their names, so pervasive in modern Latino names that it’s breath-taking. In Scandanavian languages, “Olofson” means son of Olof, and in Scottish, MacDonald means ‘son of Donald.’ Since the names are in reference to their family or father, they are called patronyms. In Germanic Goth tradition, this is denoted by adding -ez or -oz to the end of the name, so ‘son of Rodrigo’ turns into Rodriguez. Other names include: Marquez, Gutierrez, Estevez, Lopez, Ramirez, Vasquez, Alvarez, Sanchez, Velasquez, and Ruiz (also meaning son of Rodrigo).

5. Alcohol

-From 711 to 1492, the Moors ruled Spain. They advanced all fields including science, math, architecture, and gardening. Arabic vocabulary came into every aspect of Spanish, but since the Spaniards had no context for Arabic language, many of the words were learned incorrectly. In Arabic ‘al’ is a definite article meaning ‘the.’ When a word like ‘ah-kuhul’ was spoken, Spanish speakers assumed the ‘al’ part was integral, and so Spanish has many words beginning with ‘al.’ Alcatraz (pelican) alameda, almendra (almond), ajedrez (chess), the Alambra (the red, referring to the color of the building).
-Algodon means cotton. If you take off the ‘al,’ you can see that godon and cotton are the same, but godon is voiced and cotton is voiceless.

6. Guadalfeo

-Another Arabic addition to Spanish was the word guadal (wadi in Arabic), meaning river. For some reason, many rivers have ‘guadal’ in the front, and then a Spanish word describing the river. Rivers with this pattern include Guadalcanal (channel river), Guadalajara (river of stones) and Guadalupe (wolf river.) Feo means ugly so Guadalfeo means Ugly River. I actually saw a sign for this river driving with my housemadre in Andalucia.

7. Doña

-In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella finally finished their Reconquista (reconquering) of Spain back from the Moors, which freed up their money to fund an expedition to the new world. Cervantes had not published Don Quixote, and Shakespeare had not published his plays, but imagine that sailors leaving Spain spoke in that style with ‘thou’ and ‘mighteth’ called Early Modern Spanish. Whatever ‘natural’ path the evolution of Spanish may have taken after they left Spain, Spanish in the New World stopped moving forward in many ways because it had to blend with the native languages it was encountering.
-In Spain, the informal second person (tú, you) is used all the time with friends or strangers. In Mexico, my host parents were Don Amando and Doña Epifanía, which is the equivalent of calling modern day people Lord and Lady. The formal third person (usted, he, she) is used to conjugate with everyone except for very small children, where tú is acceptable. When I mentioned this, the people in Spain said the old-timey formality sounds very silly to them.

8. Popocateptl

-When the ships arrived in the Americas, the sailors were assaulted with new smells, animals and foods. Although they became the ruling class, Spaniards adopted many words for unfamiliar objects adopted from the native languages. The umbrella term Nahuatl is used to describe Aztecan languages found in Mexico, and many terms are recognizable from this family of languages. Tomate, aguacate (avocado), cacahuete (peanut), chicle, coyote, chile, and chocolate are all from Nahuatl.
-Many place names in Mexico are also fiercely Nahuatl, like Teotihuacan, Michoacan, Oaxaca, Tlaquepaque, Mazatlan, and Tenochtitlan. My favorites are Popocateptl and Ixtaccihuatl, which are volcanoes.

9. Espíderman

-English has become the global language. With technological advancements being created and popularized in English-speaking places, this phenomenon has exploded, but many modern terms have been borrowed by other languages rather than using equivalents from their own lexicons for a long time. Shoppers can buy ‘los bluejeans’ and stores advertize ‘el look.’
-All languages have rules which are called phonological constraints. In English, tpeek and sbar are not acceptable, but many consonant sounds can be smooshed together, as in the word strengths (/streŋθs/). In Spanish, one of the constraints does not allow words to begin with 2 consonant sounds, like ‘sp.’ Spain itself is called España for this very reason. Living in Mexico, I saw ads on TV for toys based on Espíderman 2. A friend of mine once did a presentation on Esnówboarding.

10. 62 (Sesenta)

As previously mentioned, Nahuatl is an umbrella term for the native languages of Mexico. In reality, Mexico has sixty-two official languages including Zapotec and Mixtec. When rebel groups like the EZLN (Zapatista Army of National Liberation) sit down at talks with the government, trying to represent the concerns of all the small indigenous groups, language is a huge obstacle.

*Bonus Words* Zurda & Izquierda

-Basque is a weird language. It existed before Latin, it is not related to the Romance languages. It is a pre-Indo-European language, which is OLD.
-Like a neighbor borrowing sugar from the north, Spanish has borrowed words from Basque twice, both for the same reason. Sometimes in a language, a word gets too many connotations, or a previously neutral word gets mixed up with slang insults, and sullies the normal use of the word. In English, everybody giggles at old songs with the word ‘gay’ in them, for example. Spanish had this problem with its basic words for left and right. In Latin, dexter means right, and sinister means left. Over time, dexter developed the sense of righteousness and good, while sinister, in contrast, became untrustworthy and evil. To avoid giving ominous directions, Spanish borrowed the Basque word ‘izquierda’ to mean the left direction, which is why it looks all crazy pants compared to derecha, which is derived from the Latin dexter.
-The second borrowing from Basque comes from the dubious delegation of distinguishing the right hand from the left. On Earth, 11% of population is consistently left-handed. In order to avoid implying that left-handers are evil (but you know they think it anyway), the word zurda was added to Spanish to describe southpaws. I love that word. It makes me want to lead a revolution with that as my nom de guerre. ¡VIVA ZURDA! Like that.

There you have it, a lovely little conquest, reconquest, boat trip and movie-going experience of the Spanish language.

March 21, 2011

in arabic,basque,best list ever,best post ever,diphthong,Etymology,history of language,IPA,izquierda,left-handedness,not basque,old-timey,patronyms,phonological constraints,spanish,Words & Origins,zurda

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

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