Alan M. Gordon
Robert Jay Glickman
Part III translated from the Spanish by
Robert Jay Glickman
I. Origin and evolution of Spanish
II. The sounds of Spanish
III. Castilian is not the same everywhere
IV. A general survey of regional speech patterns
I. Origin and evolution of Spanish [ audio > ]
Language is a living organism. Although it is in constant evolution, it always reflects its parentage, the nutrients it receives as it grows, and the environments in which it develops.
Spanish is an offspring of Vulgar Latin, the language spoken by the Roman soldiers and merchants who came to Hispania in the third century B.C. ("Hispania" was the name that Rome gave to the entire Iberian Peninsula.) Because the invaders and immigrants came from many parts of the Roman world, there was already variation within the Latin that they spoke. However, after the collapse of Rome's Western Empire in the 5th century, regional variations of that language developed even more rapidly in the territories Rome had occupied in its heyday. That is how what we call the Romance languages (Italian, French, Romanian, Portuguese, and Spanish) came into being.
Within the Iberian Peninsula, Vulgar Latin continued its evolution and, over the centuries, produced a number of regional variations. Among these were Catalan, Galician, Leonese, Aragonese, and Castilian.
In addition to Vulgar Latin, the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula were influenced by the languages spoken by pre-Roman settlers such as the Iberians, Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians. And after the fall of Rome, by that of invaders such as the Vandals, Visigoths, and especially the Moors, who crossed the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 A.D. and held sway in a large part of the Peninsula for almost 800 years.
During the initial period of its development, the language that ultimately became Spanish was spoken in a variety of environments -- in the home, on the farm, in commerce, on the battlefield, and in other everyday situations.
During the 13th century, this budding language was given special attention by Alfonso the Wise, the scholarly King of Castile, who promoted a variety of Castilian that was based on the speech of the educated elite in his kingdom. Soon, Castilian came to be utilized not only in the ordinary circumstances of daily life, but also in the sciences, law, and administration. It must be stressed, however, that its vocabulary, its grammar, and its pronunciation were not yet firmly established, but reflected the various educational levels of its speakers and the environments in which it was used.
D. Efforts at standardization
Between 718 and 1492, the Peninsula was slowly reconquered from the Moors. As the Moorish holdings were pushed farther and farther south during this period, the linguistic patterns of Castile gained prominence. When Aragon united with Castile in 1479 to form a nation-state ruled by Ferdinand and Isabella, the need to standardize the language became clearly felt. But the year 1492 was the key moment in history. Granada, the last Moorish kingdom in the Peninsula, was finally taken; Columbus discovered a new world for conquest and settlement; and Antonio de Nebrija -- explaining that this new empire needed a standard language that could be spoken and written by all its subjects -- published the first Grammar of the Castilian Language. In 1517, Nebrija followed this effort to standardize the language by publishing The Rules of Castilian Spelling. Thus, the language of Castile became dominant not only in Spain, but from the 16th century on, throughout its overseas empire, as well.
Thanks to the writings of outstanding novelists, dramatists, and poets like Cervantes, Lope de Vega, and Fray Luis de León, greater standardization was achieved in the 16th and 17th centuries -- the nation's Golden Age. However, a major language reform did not occur until the beginning of the 18th century when King Philip V created the Spanish Royal Academy of the Language. According to its motto, the role of the Academy was to purify, set, and give splendor to the language ("Limpia, fija y da esplendor").
In the 19th century, associated national academies in Latin America and the Philippines were created. In 1961, unification of the various academies was achieved through the formation of the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language.
This Association provides a powerful forum in which to promote the language, preserve its unity, and to a certain extent prescribe language use. However, the Association is not the only agency of language prescription. There are other agencies, as well. Among these are the style guides used by the media and by specific professional groups. This form of prescription has constituted an area of growth where members of the Royal Academy also play a prominent and authoritative role.
II. The sounds of Spanish
After the breakup of the Spanish Empire in the 19th century, many regional varieties of the language slowly gained a standard or near standard status within their own geographical borders. Nevertheless, Castilian Spanish is still looked up to as the standard model.
The correspondence between Spanish sounds and letters is almost one to one. For example, the language has 5 vowel sounds. These are represented by five letters in the alphabet: "a, e, i, o, and u." These sounds are illustrated in the first syllables of the words paso (step), peso (weight), piso (floor), poso (sediment), puso (he/she put). By contrast, English has 14 vowel sounds.
Spanish has 19 consonant sounds, but 22 letters or combinations of letters are used to represent them. The combinations are ch, ll, qu, and a letter not found in English is ñ. However, some consonants have more than one realization. For example, b/v, d, and g retain their full stop quality when the air flow is completely interrupted:
In other instances, these letters lose their "stop" quality and acquire a "fricative" quality in which air passes unobstructed through the mouth. This happens when they:
Similarly, the sound from the letter y resembles the hard j in the English word judge:
Elsewhere, though, it retains a fricative realization like the y in yes, as in ayer (yesterday) and rayo (ray).
But just a moment! Despite all its basic similarities and the efforts that have been made to standardize the language, Castilian is not the same in every part of the Spanish-speaking world.
III. Castilian is not the same everywhere
Both the Spaniards of Spain and the Spanish Americans speak Castilian, but that language is not totally identical on both sides of the Atlantic. That should not surprise us. As we know, the English from England use words which Americans do not employ and they have a different pronunciation. There are also lexical and phonetic differences between the French of France and that which is spoken in different parts of America. No matter how interesting these variants may be, they generally do not impede communication.
The phonetic differences between Spain and America are well-known. In the New World, the th sound of the Peninsula has been replaced by an s sound, so that in America, cocer (to cook) and coser (to sew), caza (hunt) and casa (house) sound the same. In some regions of America, the s sound changes into a weak h sound, or disappears at the end of a syllable or of a word. The elle (-ly- sound) of a large part of the Peninsula has changed into an eye (-y- sound) in America, and there are regions in which the ere (-r- sound) becomes confused with the ele (-l- sound), giving us comeL for comeR and veLde for veRde. But Spanish visitors soon become accustomed to these phonetic differences, because the large majority of Castilian sounds are identical everywhere.
Somewhat more difficult for people from the Peninsula who visit America is to accustom themselves to certain names of common things: "carro" (for car) in place of "coche", "cerilla" (for match) instead of "fósforo", "plata" (for money) instead of "dinero", "arveja" instead of "guisante" (pea), and "durazno" for "melocotón" (peach). What's more, some names even vary from one country to another: in Cuba the "autobuses" (buses) are "guaguas", in Mexico they're "camiones" and in Argentina they're "colectivos". In the River Plate region, you walk on the "vereda" (for sidewalk) instead of on the "acera" and put "manteca" on your bread (which, in Spain, means lard), rather than "mantequilla", which is the Spanish word for butter. The small "cacahuete" (peanut) which is eaten in Spain is a "cacahuate" in Mexico and "maní" in the rest of Spanish America. Another vegetable native to the New World is called "patata" (potato) in Spain, but "papa" in America.
In order to send a letter in Spain, you put a "sello" (stamp) on the envelope. In America you use "estampillas" or "timbres". People from the Peninsula who don't see well use "gafas" (glasses); Americans, "anteojos". The garment called "chaqueta" or "americana" in Spain is "saco" for the Americans. In the Mother Country, you "drink" (beber) a liquid; in America, you "take" it (tomar). In the winter, they put "mantas" (blankets) on the beds in Spain, while in the New World, the people protect themselves from the cold with "cobijas" or "frazadas".
In Spain, you address your friends with the pronouns "tú" (familiar singular) and "vosotros" (familiar plural); but in America, "vosotros" doesn't exist, and in various regions they use the archaic singular form "vos". And people from the Peninsula should not forget that certain words, which for them are innocent, are vulgar in America -- however, we don't dare to mention them here.
Finally, the differences between there and here are interesting and, at times, amusing; but they don't create confusion, because the greater part of the Castilian lexicon is used with the same meaning everywhere in the Hispanic world.
IV. A general survey of regional speech patterns
The reading passages on your El Mundo Hispano CD illustrate the standard characteristics of Spanish. However, the recordings of those passages also exhibit the features of five of the major regions where that language is spoken: Spain, the Caribbean, Mexico, the Andes, and the River Plate.
A. Peninsular Spanish
The ascendancy of Castilian as a dominant language reflects the process by which Spain became a nation. Castile played a crucial role in the Reconquest, and was a powerful partner in the union with Aragon in the 15th century, which led to the consolidation of modern Spain.
Most features that are characteristic of Castilian today are common to standard Spanish as described above. However, some of the traits that are typical of Peninsular Spanish are:
B. Caribbean Spanish
The Caribbean dialect zone includes Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico, as well as the coastal regions of Venezuela, northern Colombia, and eastern Panama.
The Caribbean demographic landscape was shaped primarily by settlers from Spain, by immigrants from the Canary Islands, and by slaves imported from Africa.
Spanish settlers made the Caribbean Islands their base for nearly three decades after Columbus' discovery of America. For this reason, the 30 years after 1492 are known as el período antillano (the period of the Antilles). Even after the Spanish conquered the Aztecs, the Incas, and other native groups and established themselves on the American mainland, Spanish fleets called at Havana on both the incoming and the return journeys.
Immigration from the Canary Islands was significant in the Caribbean at the start of the colonial period. However, the greatest immigration from the Canary Islands began in the 18th century and continued until the 1960s. Indeed, as early as 1714, half of the white population of Caracas came from the Canary Islands. And in 19th century Cuba, the number of Canary Islanders was so significant that the isleño became a familiar character in literature. These immigrants were motivated primarily by the wish to achieve economic prosperity. However, immigration from the Canary Islands was also encouraged by the Spanish government in an attempt to promote nationalism in its colonies. As a result of this legacy, the Spanish spoken in most of the Caribbean region exhibits unquestionable likeness to that of the Canary Islands.
From its beginning, the African slave trade focused on the Caribbean and linguistically, the African influence in the entire region has been substantial. Until the 18th century, the Caribbean ports, in particular Cartagena, were significant in processing the majority of slaves imported from Africa. In the 19th century, the slave trade increased dramatically as a result of the sugar boom. In fact, in the first quarter of the century, 40% of Cuba's population was made up of African slaves. The African contribution is notable not only in the pronunciation, but also in the vocabulary of speakers from this region.
Caribbean Spanish differs greatly from standard Spanish. The most distinguishing features are a weakening of consonants, a tendency to nasalize vowels, especially if they are next to nasal consonants, and, as we have seen, the confusion of l and r.
Finally, in regions with a high concentration of black speakers, intervocalic d is usually realized as an r and may be elided as in kwirao for ¡Cuidado! (Be careful!).
For centuries, Mexico City was the center of one of the viceroyalties of colonial America, covering an area from what is now the United States in the north to Panama in the south. Because of Mexico City's pivotal role in the colonial administration, its population included a rather large number of speakers from Castile, the center of the Spanish empire. Accordingly, Mexico City tended to exercise linguistic standardization practices within its own circle of influence.
When we say "Mexican Spanish," we do not refer to the dialect spoken throughout the entire territory of Mexico. Rather, we refer to the language of the country's interior. This is so for two reasons. First, because the vernacular spoken in the Caribbean coastal regions of Veracruz and Tabasco differs from that which is spoken elsewhere in Mexico. And second, because the Spanish of the Yucatan peninsula and the area bordering Guatemala resembles the speech patterns of Central America.
But as far as "Mexican Spanish" is concerned, we find the following:
D. The Andes
The Andean region was part of the Viceroyalty of Peru. Lima, on the Pacific coast, was both its administrative and cultural center. However, several highland cities and towns were also important. For example, Quito in the northern Andes was a cultural center from the beginning of Spanish rule in 1534, while Cuzco in Peru acquired a considerable upper class of European origin, and Potosí, a major silver and tin mining center in what is now Bolivia, at one point is said to have had a population larger than that of London.
"Andean Spanish" represents a continuum of speech varieties, from interlanguage to indigenous-influenced monolingual Spanish. These are found in the highlands stretching from the Equator to the Tropic of Capricorn.
Spanish-Quechua contacts have been intense in most of the Andes, and Spanish-Aymará contacts have been long-lasting in southern Peru and Bolivia. In many regions, stable forms of interlanguage Spanish have been used for centuries. In fact, in remote urban centers such as Puno in southern Peru, the speech of some monolingual speakers is a crystallization of this hybrid system.
E. Río de la Plata
At present, the Río de la Plata region is one of the most densely populated in Spanish America. However, throughout much of the colonial period it was economically and culturally isolated. Due to the prohibition of direct trade across the Atlantic to and from this area, the region was accessible only by an extensive journey from Havana, across Panama, down the Pacific coast, and across the Andes and the Argentine pampas. It wasn't until the formation of the Viceroyalty of the Río de la Plata in 1776, that this region -- comprising present-day Argentina, Uruguay, and Paraguay -- achieved full importance. Such historical separation from the centers of power, culture, and education is manifested in a variety of Spanish that has traditionally been regarded as both archaic and full of non-standard innovations.
Argentinean settlement originated from three different points. First, the area immediately around the Río de la Plata was settled by newcomers from Spain such as the Andalusian Pedro de Mendoza who founded Buenos Aires in 1536. However, in 1541, after attacks by indigenous tribes, the settlers relocated to Asunción, in what is now Paraguay.
Second, the northwest of Argentina attracted settlers from the Andean region, and the city of Santiago del Estero was founded in 1553. Because of its noteworthy Quechua-speaking population, this area became a linguistic enclave with distinctive dialectal features that can be best classified with the Andean varieties. However, after having initially enjoyed direct trade routes with Lima, it fell into a state of cultural and economic isolation and was soon overshadowed by Córdoba and Tucumán.
Finally, the Cuyo region, across the Andes from Santiago, was settled from Chile. The cities of Mendoza, founded in 1560, and San Luis, founded in 1594, remained under the jurisdiction of Chile until the creation of the Viceroyalty of Río de la Plata nearly two centuries later. At present, the speech of this area still closely resembles the Spanish of central Chile, but the Buenos Aires dialect, as the national standard, is gaining ground.
The history of Uruguay, in contrast, is more straightforward. Originally known as the Banda Oriental (east bank of the Uruguay River), it remained sparsely settled by Europeans until after the Portuguese invasions of 1680. Montevideo was established in 1726 by Spaniards from Buenos Aires, but only as a garrison to ward off the Portuguese. The territory was fought over first by the Spaniards and Portuguese, and later by the Argentines and Brazilians. In 1828, Uruguay was established as an independent state, intended primarily to act as a buffer between Argentina and Brazil.
About 70% of the Uruguayan population lives in Montevideo, and for the most part, the Spanish spoken in Uruguay can be considered as an extension of the Buenos Aires dialect. In the border with Brazil, the bilingual fronterizo speech is used, which is an interlanguage of Spanish and Portuguese.
The arrival of massive waves of Italian immigrants to the cities of the Río de la Plata in the late 19th and early 20th centuries produced a major demographic shift, with residents of Italian origin accounting for almost half the population of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. The Italo-Spanish interlanguage that developed among Italian immigrants was known as cocoliche. During this time, immigration from the Canary Islands was also significant. Hence, one finds items that belong to both rioplatense and Canary speech. One example is the word pibe (child/kid).
In the early colonial phase, the settlement of Paraguay was closely associated with that of Argentina, as both Asunción and Buenos Aires were founded in the mid 1530s. A remote outpost of the Viceroyalty of Peru until 1776, Paraguay became part of the Viceroyalty of La Plata, but its links with Buenos Aires were weak. After its independence from Spain in 1811, Paraguay suffered further isolation under the dictatorship of José Rodríguez de Francia (1814-1840).
Paraguay's situation worsened first as a result of the War of the Triple Alliance (1864-1870) involving Paraguay, Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay in which almost 90% of the male population perished, and then as a result of a subsequent war against Bolivia over control of the Gran Chaco (1932-1935).
During the colonial period, there was a high incidence of interethnic marriages, since men vastly outnumbered women among European settlers. For much of the colonial period, a typical Paraguayan family consisted of a Spanish-speaking father and a Guaraní-speaking mother, a possible source of the widespread Guaraní-Spanish bilingualism of present-day Paraguay.
Now that we've surveyed the main sounds of Spanish and their regional variants, we're ready to move from the abstract to the concrete. Your El Mundo Hispano CD contains 13 reading passages. These fall into 5 broad subject categories. Instructions for using the program are found in the brochure that's enclosed with the disk, as well as in the right-hand frames on the page where each selection appears.
By following these instructions, you'll get a lot of information about the Spanish-speaking world -- its history, its people, and its language. However, the written word is not the only thing that's available to you. By pressing the Audio button above each reading passage, you'll be able to hear the sounds that we've been talking about. For each passage, you'll hear 5 men and 5 women read the entire selection. The readers come from each of the 5 regions we've been discussing.
The readers range in age from 20 to 70, and they all exhibit the major speech patterns of their region. But, if you compare them carefully, you'll notice that they are not exact copies of their regional compatriots. For example, all the men from the Río de la Plata, can be identified as rioplatenses, but each one is unique. This is because many factors are involved in speech. In addition to broad regional determinants, pronunciation is influenced by people's education and socioeconomic class, by whether they live in an urban or rural environment, and by their gender. People's speech is also determined by whether they're engaged in casual conversation or are speaking in a formal situation, by their age, and lastly, by their individual anatomical and physiological characteristics.
Education and socioeconomic class. In general, the more educated the speakers are and the higher up they are on the socioeconomic scale, the less they tend to deviate from standard norms.
Environment: rural vs. urban speech. When describing rural/urban variation in Spanish, it's important to recognize that while rural speakers are inclined to preserve more indigenous elements and/or archaic Spanish forms than urban dwellers, at present about 60-85% of the world's Spanish-speaking population live in large urban centers, because migration to the cities has been constantly on the rise. As a result of being surrounded by larger numbers of people who speak standard Spanish and by being constantly exposed to standard Spanish over the radio and television, newcomers slowly tend to adopt the speech patterns of their urban associates.
Gender. Studies show that women use the standard speech forms more than men because, due to their traditional social inequality with men, they have more need of its symbolic status value. This is true especially in employment. Furthermore, pressures to speak properly are applied more to women than they are to men. However, when a linguistic change is just beginning, women tend to be the leaders of the change and deviate from the standard more than men do.
Style: the casual-to-formal continuum. The continuum from casual conversation to formal speech mirrors the scale from lower to upper class linguistic behavior. However, in El Mundo Hispano, we're not interested in presenting examples of free conversation. As you'll see, all our readers work from the same script. This option has been chosen so that you can more easily identify and compare the regional characteristics that we've discussed and not be flooded by a multiplicity of differences. We believe that there are enough differences already in the speech patterns you'll hear.
Age. Often, speakers ranging in age from about 20 to 50 years lean more toward prestige speech forms than children and older speakers, because they have the most to gain from adjusting their language to majority norms, especially in the job market. As far as sound is concerned, however, it should be known that, as we age, we tend to lose muscle tension around the vocal cords. Consequently, pitch may vary with age. In addition, the structure of the nasal and oral cavities, including the absence of teeth, may affect sound quality.
Anatomy and physiology. By
anatomy and physiology we mean that while we're all physically similar in
general, when we get down to the particular, all our similarities are different.
Our height, our weight, our shape. Our nose, our lips, our teeth. Our larynx
and pharynx and lung capacity. All of these are similar in general, and
yet different in particular. So in addition to education and socioeconomic
class, environment, gender, style, and age, the way we speak is also determined
by our unique anatomical and physiological characteristics.