California State University, Hayward
Undergraduate students in the United States have become responsive to the international dimensions of Hispanic geography and social history. But the discipline of linguistics often conjures up fears of theoretical dogma, thorny terminology, and perplexing detail. It seems preferable, then, to introduce students to Spanish linguistics via the geography and history of Hispanic society itself. In this paper I offer a classroom model for this type of «external» approach. Historical topics such as the role of Romans, Arabs, and African Blacks, when combined with features of male and female speech and dialectal traits of the Spanish of Madrid or Havana may stimulate undergraduate minds to delve further into the internal evolution and linguistic form of the language they are studying.56
Graduate students of Spanish the world over are familiar with Rafael Lapesa's Historia de la lengua española, now in its 9th edition (1981). This classic volume provides details of internal linguistic development (e.g., sound changes, verb forms, pronouns, vocabulary) and outlines the history of Spanish literary style as reflected for the most part in Peninsular (Castilian) texts. I, on the other hand, propose treating language development both in Spain and America, stressing geography and social history rather than topics in historical grammar and literary style. In this paper, as in the classroom, I minimize the use of specialized vocabulary, thus avoiding the pitfall, on the undergraduate level, of extensive linguistic theorizing.
The first half of the model is historically motivated and begins in Spain with the Romanization and subsequent Christianizing of Iberia's native Celtic and Iberian populations. In succeeding centuries these Ibero-Roman Christians would intermingle with Arabs, Moors and Jews in Spain, then American Indians and African Blacks in America, and more recently with varied West and East Europeans as well as Asians in parts of Latin America. During this first phase of study, linguistic terminology is introduced piecemeal: e.g., the terms 'spoken', 'popular', or, 'vulgar' Latin during the Roman period; the terms 'language' and 'dialect', 'Spanish' and 'Castilian' when presenting the ascendance of the Castilian dialect to national language status; the subfields of 'phonology', 'morphology', 'syntax', and 'vocabulary' or 'lexicon' when discussing classical (16th century) Spanish. During this phase, students come to appreciate the birth and infancy, maturation and flourishing of the language on both sides of the Atlantic.
The second half of the program is geo-linguistically oriented and begins with the dialectal areas of contemporary Spain. With the exceptions of Basque or Euskera and Romany (the language spoken by gypsies among themselves), the languages and dialects of the Iberian Peninsula are the surviving offspring of spoken Latin. However, beginning with Spain's Golden Age, most languages and dialects other than Castilian have languished, and some have virtually perished. Only within the last two decades have public awareness and government legislation fostered an appreciation of Spain's 'minority' languages -Catalan, Euskera, and Galician- and, to a lesser extent, the Asturian and Aragonese dialects.
Although any attempt to divide Latin American Spanish into
airtight dialectal zones is destined
Allow me now to illustrate various topics in Spanish language history. Although in the classroom I proceed chronologically and treat both the social history and linguistic dimension of Hispanic society, here I shall synthesize by grouping topics linguistically, respecting the traditional headings of vocabulary (lexicon), sounds (phonology), and word and sentence formation (morphology and syntax).57
Spanish language history abounds with geographical references and cultural terms easily accessible to undergraduate students58. The Greeks referred to the eastern half of the Peninsula as Iberia, a term related to the Ebro (<IBERUS) River. Centuries later the Romans gave the name Hispania, thought to be Phoenician in origin and presumed to mean 'land of rabbits', to the entire Peninsula. The everyday Latin spoken by the Roman legionnaires, merchants, and colonizers, known to us as 'popular' or 'spoken' or 'vulgar' Latin, was especially graphic: and so, for example, casa originally meant 'hut' or 'cabin', caballus was an 'old nag'; and the diminutive vetulu meant 'little old man', cultellu, 'small knife', auricula, 'tiny ear'. On a more abstract level, and as a consequence of Roman Catholic preaching, Hispanic Latin received such terms as ángel, diablo, iglesia, cementerio, palabra, talento, pagano, most of these terms ultimately of Greek origin.
The multi-ethnic flavor of Hispanic society was reinforced in 711 with the Muslim invasion from North Africa. Al-Andalus, or Arabic Spain, was populated by diverse ethnic groups, namely, Arabs, Moors (northwest Africans), Jews, muladíes (Hispano-Roman converts to Islam), and mozárabes (Hispano-Romans who maintained their Christian traditions). The numerous words of Arabic origin that passed into the spoken Spanish of the mozárabes and then into the neo-Latin dialects of the Christian North bear witness to the material and intellectual wealth of the Arab world. The lexical fields of agriculture and commerce (e.g., aceite, azúcar, algodón, tarifa, almacén), science, mathematics, and geography (alcohol, álgebra, Madrid, Guadalajara), and home and religion (alfombra, alcoba, mezquita, ojalá) are the most indebted to the Arabic connection.
In Christian territories, meanwhile, 'Castilla' received its name (<Latin plural CASTELLA, 'place of castles') after the kings of Leon ordered the construction of hundreds of fortifications against Moorish attack along the southern fringes of Castile. The inhabitants of these territories identified themselves as cristianos, the term español, first used in Provenzal, not becoming current in Castilian until the 12th and 13th centuries. During this period the road to Santiago was travelled by pilgrims from north of the Pyrenees and, with French priests officiating en route, an early wave of gallicisms, like fraile, monje, monasterio, vinagre, jamón, entered the language. In 13th century Toledo, the words of law, science, and history elaborated in Castilian under the sponsorship of Alfonso X 'el Sabio' incorporated such new terms as teatro, tribu, dictador, dictadura, tirano, as well as the (now) archaic horizon and humido59. Castilian was now in the prime of its Old Spanish form. Its use extended into the realms of political and cultural expression; its domain was penetrating Aragon to the east, Leon to the west. Still further west, the independent kingdom of Portugal began to cast official documents in its own Romance vernacular; the linguistic map of Iberia was already approaching its modern configuration.
During the second half of the 16th century, the cultural
prestige of Castile and the installation of the royal court at Madrid in 1561
firmly established the pre-eminence of Castilian speech habits. Spanish
vocabulary became modernized as outmoded terms (e.g,
agora, ansí) retired to
rural status, and a host of foreign terms streamed in from (late) Renaissance
balcón, novela, zócalo,
cantina, banco, crédito). And a strange new presence now was
felt -an 'Indianization' of Spanish vocabulary- as the language adapted to the
flora, fauna, and customs of a new world. An instructive inventory of American
Indian words may be organized around their geo-tribal original sources: from
the Caribbean tribes,
caribe, canoa, papaya, maíz,
huracán; from Mexican Aztec or Nahuatl,
chile, cacao, guacamole, mezquite, tomate,
chocolate; from Andean Quechua or Aymara,
coca, papa, alpaca; from jungle
Guarani, transmitted to Spanish via Brazilian
The 18th century witnessed the dismembering of Spain's European empire and a reorganization of internal affairs according to models laid down by new Bourbon kings and their ministers. French culture propagated an impressive wave of gallicisms that reflected Europe's newly ascendant commercialism (billete, botella, equipaje, chaqueta, galleta, frambuesa, pantalón, musulmán, hotel). On a more learned plane, scientists and academics avidly incorporated words of Greek origin, words that often ended in (accented or unaccented) -ía or -ia (dinastía, filosofía, autopsia, farmacia) or were accented on the third-from-last syllable (periódico, gramática, antiséptico, botánica).
20th century Spanish has experienced an invasion of Anglicisms, most notably in the fields of politics and technology, sports and psychology. Examples abound, from blatant neologisms (mitin, estándar, misil, síquico, estrés), to more subtle Latin tappings (campus, versus, discriminar, emergencia), and finally words of Latin origin that have extended their meanings to keep abreast of 20th century affairs (cumbre, agresivo, operar, canal, computadora).
The Spanish language is accommodating of dialectal preferences. In Latin America, for example, the words tamales ('stuffed corn husks') in Mexico, huaso ('cowboy') in Chile, and santería (a belief system combining Catholic and African elements) in some Caribbean areas all reflect local practices not typical of neighboring territories. Other words and phrases, though encountered on both sides of the Atlantic, are nonetheless at variance (tinto refers to 'wine' in Spain but to 'black coffee' in Colombia; la radio, la sartén in Spain, el radio, el sartén in much of America). Still other variants involve unique lexical choices (piscina in Spain, alberca in Mexico, pileta in Argentina; barrios bajos in Spain, callampa in Chile, villa miseria in Argentina). Vocabulary is the linguistic realm that reflects most readily the political, social, and cultural forces responsible for language change. Vocabulary is also a sturdy ground on which to paint an arresting portrait of language structure, that is, the sounds, grammatical forms and sentence types that give Spanish its distinctive expression.
The sound system of Spanish has evolved over a 2000 year period from spoken Latin; the study of this evolution often looms as an intricate web of exotic terminology and rigorous phonetic detail61. To avoid entanglement, one sound or one basic concept may be selected from each era of Hispanic history for its relevance to later stages of language development. For example, the vowel system of spoken Latin, with its seven vowel sounds each formed differently within the mouth, may lead to an understanding of the process of diphthongization in Castilian (terra, with open e>tierra; porta, with open o>puerta). With Spanish of the Golden Age, we see a quasi-standardized stage of development with medieval traits eliminated (e.g., word initial f->h-> omission) and consonantal changes (e.g., Castilian //) reaching their modern stages.
An especially instructive case of a conservative vs. innovative split in Spanish language history is the behavior of the sound /s/62. In Old and New Castile, during the first part of the 17th century, urban speakers were already observing the Castilian distinction /s/ vs. // as in casa/caza. By this time Andalusian Spanish, especially in its central and southern varieties, was moving further ahead by merging the /s/ vs. // distinction, pronouncing both sounds as /s/. What is more, Andalusians were often aspirating syllable-final (-s), pronouncing it as /-h/: mi/h/mo, tiene/h/. Culturally, Seville had become the hub of migratory activities where sailors, soldiers, settlers, merchants, and missionaries converged from all parts of Iberia before setting out for the New World. Seville was regularly exporting not only commercial items but social customs, not the least of which were its regional varieties of pronunciation. Subsequent emigrants to American port cities -Havana, Vera Cruz, Cartagena, Guayaquil- reinforced this early Andalusian imprint. However, in Lima, Peru and in the American cordilleras in the political, ecclesiastical, and academic power centers of central Mexico, Ecuador, Peru, and later in Bogotá, the force of tradition counteracted some -but not all- of the Andalusian traits; this linguistic conservatism was cultivated by administrators and clerks from central and northern Spain and was fostered by academics in America's newly founded universities.
The 20th century dialects of Spanish are nearly always
mutually comprehensible, despite local differences of pitch and accent.
Castilian practices the // vs /s/ distinction, as in
cocer/coser, and pronounces /s/
with hints of // (that is, pronounced with the tip
of the tongue turned slightly upward; cf. English
Dialectal innovations are audible in other phonetic environments as well: for example, whether intervocalic (-d-) and word-final (-d) are deleted (mercado = /merkao/; verdad = /berda/), as is common in Madrid, or retained, as in central Mexico; or whether (l) is substituted for (r) or (r) for (l) (puerta>/puelta/, alma>/arma/), as in popular Andalusian and much Caribbean vernacular. In Buenos Aires today, to cite a more current innovation, all younger generation speakers pronounce (y) and (ll) yo me llamo-as // (as in English show); older generation speakers tend to use // (as in Zsa Zsa), this latter pronounciation, until recent times, having been associated with the Spanish of Río de la Plata (Fontanella de Weinberg 1983:105). When dialectal varieties are presented in the classroom, they come to life for students if native speakers demonstrate them, recorded tapes capture them, and videos picture Hispanics communicating on their own turf.
Popular Latin streamlined words and sentences for use in the spontaneous speech of the home and market place. Its grammar and word order were relatively simple; sentences were short; newly formed auxiliary words, verb tenses, and prepositions made their appearance. Throughout the periods of primitive-Romance (mainly the 5th-9th centuries) and Old Spanish (10th-15th centuries), Ibero-Romance capitalized upon these tendencies while elaborating newer ones of its own. Later, the Golden Age of the 16th and 17th centuries brought a period of linguistic stabilization in which, as examples, haber and tener and ser and estar, which in Old Spanish had overlapped in many contexts, each took on distinctive functions.
The Hispanic system of interpersonal address will display the complexities of sociolinguistic interplay63. Classical Latin provided the basic pronouns of address by expressing singular 'I' and 'you' as ego and tu; plural 'we' and `you' were nos and vos, pure and simple. In popular Latin and later in Old Spanish, vos (+2nd-person plural verb) became polite and respectful address for singular 'you'; tú (+2nd singular verb) was relegated to informal and condescending use. By the time of Spain's Golden Age, the language, expressing a Hispanic concern with power and prestige, developed a new courtly term -vuessa merced (<vuestra merced)- which became fashionable exchange between distant peers; similarly, it was mandated for inferior to superior use to indicate deference and respect. Familiar peers became tú; but tú, when directed at inferiors, emphasized their subordinate status. By this time the urban speech of Madrid, Seville, Mexico, and Lima had stigmatized Old Spanish vos. As a consequence, and to cite one case in point, it was being eliminated by the Peninsular and criollo populations in America who had used it to address mestizo, Black, and Indian subordinates. However, in outlying areas of the American colonial empire -southern Mexico, Central America, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay- vos maintained its vitality and has survived into our own times as a vestige of rustic Golden Age usage.
The contemporary dialects of Spanish continue to juggle the
pronouns of address. Castilian and Andalusian preserve the distinction
tú in ever widening
circles, including commercial interchanges between office workers and in some
lower and middle-class stores when addressing sales clerks. Caribbean Spanish,
except when addressing the aged, favors
usted, a situation reinforced in
Cuba during the Castro regime. Central Mexico respects the
usted distinction but, as
tú to encroach on terrain
once reserved for
usted. In Central American speech,
usted is the pronoun of prestige;
curiously though, young children may
Vivid anecdotes of language use in society bring into focus the human dimension of linguistic science. Here are a few examples of linguistic lore, the first a lesson in ethnicity.
The presence of three races in colonial Latin America provoked Old World prejudices to maintain a caste-like pyramid of social and economic control that descended from the aristocracy down to peons and slaves, the designations quite often underscoring a European scorn for non-Europeans64. Occupying top position in the secular, military, and ecclesiastic realms were the virreyes, the capitanes, and the obispos, most of them from central or northern Spain and consequently speakers of Castilian Spanish. A full notch below them were white children born in America of European parents; for this second class of citizens Spanish adapted the Portuguese designation (i.e., crioulo) as criollo. Later on, los negros criollos designated blacks born in America, while los bozales was used for blacks born in Africa and brought forcibly into the Empire. Below the white criollos were los mestizos (<Latin MIXTICIUS, 'mixed'), Latin Americans of combined European (Spanish or Portuguese) and Indian blood lines. Still further down the social scale were Americans of mixed European and black descent to whom colonial society applied the term mulato (Spanish mulo + the ending -ato, 'offspring of an hybrid animal'). The Latin word SCAMBUS means 'bow-legged'. Hispanics adapted the term as zambo and applied it to the offspring of a black and Indian or, in the Andean region, to any mulatto. Finally, the masses of the American population were called «Indians». The word indio is from Greek Indos and originally referred to the Indus River, a reminder that the earliest explorers confused pre-Columbian natives with the population of Asia. Each of these terms invites further probings into etymological origins, regional semantic distinctions and, for enthusiastic students, into historical phonological development.
I shall treat specifics of dates and names only in passing. Consider, for example, the pivotal year 1492: in January of this year the small Moorish kingdom of Granada succumbed to the superior forces of Ferdinand and Isabella. On March 31, «Their most Catholic Majesties» issued the now infamous Edicto de Expulsión. Accordingly, more than 100,000 Sephardic Jews (<Sepharadh, Biblical name for Spain; cf. Obadiah 3:20) left by land for Portugal and by sea for north African and east Mediterranean ports. The Spanish they have spoken since the expulsion, conserving archaic features such as /z/ (like English s in music) -casa, hermozo- has come to be known as 'Jewish Spanish' or as 'Ladino'. Regrettably this dialect, spoken mainly by an older population over 50 years of age, now hobbles along the road toward extinction.65
In August 1492 Columbus's first expedition set out carrying with it the seeds of a nascent Hispanic empire. The first landfalls occurred in the Caribbean, thus initiating a period of some 20 years during which Hispanic customs and traditions, including Spanish with its Andalusian variants, were transplanted to the islands and coasts of the area where they sprouted in a new mestizo variety. August 1492 also saw the publication of (Andalusian born) Antonio de Nebrija's Arte de la lengua castellana, the first printed grammar of any modern language and regarded as the cornerstone of Spanish linguistic studies.66
In 1713, the newly created
Real Academia Española proclaimed
its purpose of fixing (that is, standardizing) the language and preserving its
purity. The Academia produced its prestigious
Diccionario de Autoridades, later (in
Ortographía, and later still
(1771) an official
Issues of bilingualism figure prominently in the Hispanic mosaic today68. Attempting to accommodate their inherent multi-ethnicity, Peru, Paraguay, and Spain have officially recognized languages other than Spanish although Spanish, invariably, is the idiom of social prestige and economic clout. In Paraguay, for example, Spanish prevails in journalism, commerce, administration and academia, despite the official names of corresponding enterprises which very frequently are from Guarani; Guarani, in addition, is heard in casual chatter on the streets and at home. In Spain today, of her «minority» languages -Catalan, Euskera, Galician- only Catalan vies with Spanish, and then only in Catalonia; even in the Catalan subdialectal areas of the Baleares and Valencia, one is much more likely to hear Castilian spoken than mallorquín or valenciano, a consequence of centuries of linguistic imperialism exerted from Castile.
Following massive 20th century immigration from Mexico, the Antilles, Central and South America, the United States today has become one of the five largest Spanish-speaking countries in the world. In areas such as Miami and East Los Angeles, Spanish is quite often the first language in Hispanic homes, churches, and social meeting places but, except in Puerto Rico, English imposes itself in institutional settings -legal, medeval, political. In its U.S.A. home, Spanish runs a gamut extending from standard Latin American Spanish, spoken with dialectal differences by educated immigrants, through the vernacular of the masses, to the mixture of Spanish and English referred to as 'code-switching'.69
We have examined a classroom model in which geography and external social history point to the internal processes responsible for language change. This approach turns out to be three-pronged, with history furnishing the sociocultural backdrop, linguistics providing basic theoretical underpinning, and the canvassing of Hispanic dialects demonstrating the link between history and language, linguistics and society. Hispanic culture in the 21st century most assuredly will continue along its multi-cultural path. It is our professional responsibility, as well as pleasure, to sensitize our students to the two millennia of Hispanic ethnic history and so to the richly variegated fortunes of the Spanish language itself.
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