April 10th, 2006


El LJ de la lengua... or learning the history of Spanish by listening to Owain Phyfe

Back in the pre-Cambrian era, when I was a freshman, I figured I'd get the humanities requirements over with, and took a semester of Spanish and a semester of Spanish literature, having taken two years of Spanish in high school.

My literature instructor, Mr. Maldonado, was very good, but I particularly remember my other instructor, doña Pilar Liria. She was indeed Spanish, and I heard the ceceo for the first time. She pointed us away from the obvious erudite cognates—one day she asked us for a Spanish word meaning "message." We all obligingly replied with the obvious mensaje, but she commended to our attention recado.

doña Pilar's interest was in the history of Spanish. Alas, my freshman self had no way of knowing that a couple of decades or so later I'd be in the SCA and interested in singing Ladino and Galician and the Spanish of Juan de Encina, so I did get my humanities requirements over with, and wasted a great opportunity. doña profesora Pilar, lo siento más que puedo decir o escribir.

So...now I find myself interested in the way vulgar Latin turned into Spanish. At the Mexican restaurant irpooh and I frequent, where I inflict what Spanish I remember on the personnel, I was asked whether I wanted hongo in my fajita quesadilla. A little explanation made it clear that they were talking about mushrooms, but I had a "Duh..." moment a minute later. "f" -> "h", and the ending gets dropped, and short "u" -> "o". Dang it, it's cognate to "fungus!" I should've known that one!

I get to combine two pleasures by listening to some of the recordings of Owain Phyfe.

In the Ladino "La Prima Vez," we see right off "La prima vez que te vidí..." showing that they were somewhere between Latin videre and modern Spanish ver; the line would read "La primera vez que te vi" in modern Spanish. Later, we hear me instead of mi for "my," the former being closer to the Latin mea (e.g. "mea culpa").

The Galician "Quantas sabedes" shows an intermediate step in the formation of the Romance languages' future tense: "e banharnos emos nas ondas" (and we will bathe in the waves) shows haber still separate from the infinitive, which has the reflexive pronoun stuck on the end (the infinitive of reflexive verbs still does: bañarse.) In modern Spanish, it's "y nos bañaremos en las ondas," with the conjugated haber permanently stuck to the infinitive to give the current future tense and the reflexive pronoun in front. (Also, "nas" for "en las" didn't get picked up by Castilian, but is still in Galician and Portuguese.) Later we see comigo (conmigo in modern Castilian), "with me," showing that in Codax's time the "with" and "me" had already switched positions from the Latin mecum.

I will have to eventually bite the bullet and study Latin; I'm sure it will clarify still more things.
  • Current Music
    "Quantas sabedes," New World Renaissance Band