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Culture around Spanish language History of Spanish language

The Spanish of Argentina and Uruguay

If you listen to an Argentinian and a Uruguayan speaker, will you know how to differentiate each other? The truth is that it is challenging. There are those who say that the only way to distinguish them is by seeing what they have in their hand: the Argentinian will always have his hands busy with the mate and the thermos, while the Uruguayan will have the mate in one hand and carry the thermos in a bag. It’s not a wrong clue; it’s pretty accurate, but here we give you some linguistic tips so you can get to know them a little better and know where their unique way of speaking comes from.

¿Y vos cómo estás? The ‘voseo’ as a singular pronoun

Spanish began to spread throughout the American continent more than 500 years ago. Still, today, the unique use of the pronoun ‘vos’ as a second-person singular is a linguistic curiosity found only in Argentina and Uruguay.

Upon the arrival of the Spanish conquistadors in America, ‘tú’, ‘vos’, and ‘vuestra merced’ were used in Spanish—these three expressions, each with unique connotations, refer to the second person singular. The communicative context determined the use of one over the others; both ‘tú’ (you) and ‘vuestra merced’ (your grace) were used in the context of closeness and trust, while ‘vos’ was exclusively used to address a person of greater authority.

Due to hierarchical relationships, the pronoun ‘tú’ was much more common. However, this changed over time. This is how, in the 16th century, the ‘vos’ began to be a disused expression in Spain and the places in America with a Viceroyalty, such as Peru or Mexico, and ‘you’ became the expression corresponding to the voice of I respect. Thus, the countries furthest from the viceroyalties, such as those in the southern cone and Central America, retained the ‘voseo’.

Currently, the ‘vos’ is widely used in Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica, and in some regions of Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, and Cuba, although in the latter, the connotation given to its use may vary according to regions and socio-cultural stratum.

¿Uruguasho, sho?

If you speak Spanish, you will know that an Argentinian and a Uruguayan speak very similar and, at the same time, different from any other Spanish speaker. They pronounce “y” and “ll” uniquely to any Spanish-American Spanish speaker. They say posho instead of pollo (chicken); they go to the plasha, not the playa (beach), and they call shuvia (rain) to the water that falls from the sky. Where does this way of speaking come from?

The unique sound in the Spanish of Argentina and Uruguay, also found in other languages ​​such as Portuguese and English, can be attributed to the nations’ formation by migratory waves from Europe. This linguistic landscape, further shaped by the proximity to Portuguese-speaking Brazil, has led to a contagion of certain sounds of these languages in the Spanish spoken in these regions.

During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Río de la Plata area experienced a substantial migratory influx from Spain, Italy and France, translating into the gradual incorporation of sounds from Galician, Italian and French. Furthermore, the Argentine sociolinguist María Beatriz Fontanella de Weinberg, a student of the Buenos Aires phonetic particularity, mentions in her works that at the end of the 19th century, there was a significant influence of French in Argentine culture and, with it, an explicit desire to incorporate phonological elements in your vocabulary. There are similar theories that explain the incorporation of sounds from Italian.

Whatever the explanation, the truth is that linguistic loans are transformed and finally appropriated to adapt to the values ​​and culture of the people that incorporate them. Whether it’s with a thermos in your hand or a bag, the culture of the Río de la Plata is inseparable from mate and herb, che!

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Castilian or spanish? one language, two names

In the Anglo-Saxon world, Spanish is spoken in generic terms, but when they want to specify the Spanish spoken in Spain, they refer to this language as Castilian. However, all of us who speak Spanish do not make that difference in usage because we know it is incorrect since both terms are synonymous. Both names are correct and mean the same thing. Proof of this is that, in 1611, the first monolingual dictionary called Treasure of the Castilian or Spanish language was published.

Despite this, the question repeatedly arises about which of these two names is appropriate or which corresponds to which country. However, on behalf of the Royal Spanish Academy of Language (RAE) and the language academies of the rest of the countries of Spanish speakers, the answer is clear: the two names are synonyms.

Birth of Spanish

When languages derived from Latin had to be classified in some way, they began to be spoken of as Romance languages, and from this classification emerged the names Castilian, Catalan and Aragonese, among others.

In this way, around 1250, the term Castilian romance was born about the language spoken in the kingdom of Castile and León. As this kingdom’s political power grew, so did its language, which expanded and was enriched with contributions from the other languages spoken in the Iberian Peninsula.

Thus, at the end of the Middle Ages, different ways of speaking were grouped under the name of Castilian or Castilian language, both from Castile and León, Navarra, and Aragon, both from the north and the south. Starting in the 15th century, Spanish began to be used as a lingua franca throughout Spain.

The first records of the Spanish term

From the 16th century onwards, the new name, Spanish language or Spanish, began to compete with the traditional Castilian language. The name was not born in Spain but outside. At first, it was a purely geographical demonym, but later, neighbouring countries began to use it to refer to the language. Thus, little by little, driven first from abroad, the term Spanish language gained followers.

From then until the beginning of the 20th century, there was a clear and constant preference for the term Spanish language until, in the last century, Castilian and Spanish became interchangeable terms in the cultured language.

Currently, from a linguistic point of view, Castilian is the variety of Spanish spoken in the ancient Kingdom of Castile, that is, in central Spain.

Uses in Spain and Latin America

After the independence processes of the new American republics, the new countries were inclined to use the term Castilian, mainly to distance themselves from the demonym of the country from which they were becoming independent.

Currently, preferences are distributed: from Ecuador to the north, in Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Mexico, the Caribbean and the United States, the use of Spanish or the Spanish language is overwhelming. In most of South America, the word Castilian is used more. Nevertheless, the international voice of the Spanish language has been gaining ground, especially among young people.

In Spain, the name Castilian is common in bilingual territories to distinguish it from other co-official languages such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. At the same time, it is usually called Spanish in the rest of the country.

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Metathesis: Murciégalo, cocreta y cocodrilo. Are they actually mistaken words?

When children whose mother tongue is Spanish begin to speak, it is standard for them to make mistakes such as saying murciégalo instead of murciélago (bat) or cocreta instead of croqueta (croquette). Does that sound familiar to you? These errors called metatheses, correspond to when the sound changes places within a word. But what if I told you that those children are not wrong? Does it take you by surprise? For sure, yes.

Let’s look at the example of a murciégalo. In the current dictionary, this word appears to be a variant of murciélago, although it is perceived as vulgar. However, the original term is precisely murciégalo, as it derives from the Latin voices mus, muris (mouse) and caecúlus, a diminutive of caecus (blind). In this case, the original metathesis, murciélago, has been documented since the 13th century and soon passed into the cultured language. The first academic dictionary included, already in 1734, the two variants. But this is not the only case.

Many Spanish words owe their current form to the phenomenon of metathesis. Another representative case is cocodrilo, which is corrupted by crocodrilo (another classic “mistake” children make). It resembles the English word crocodile, and, as in the case of murciégalo, the etymological term that ended up being lost due to a metathesis. The original Latin word was crocodilus, derived from the Greek krokódeilos, from króke (pebble) and drilos (worm). It must be said that in this case, metathesis was already used in medieval Latin, where reference was made to crocodillus.

Peligro is another word that has undergone a change in the order of its sounds and the acceptance of this. Peligro (danger) comes from the Latin pericùlum. This voice should have evolved into periglo, a variant that was documented until the 16th century. Something similar happened with milagro (miracle); This word comes from miraglo. Other cases are guirnalda (garland), whose word was initially guirlanda, or Algeria, which, like in English, was initially said Algeria.

In popular speech, metathesis has given rise to words such as dentrífico, mistakenly used instead of dentífrico, from the Latin denifrícum, which in turn derives from the Latin words dens, dentis (tooth) and fricare (rub).

When the error of the error is the right thing

If we think about it, many of today’s metatheses children make are the original voices derived from Latin. That is, the original voice will probably be returned if, as happened previously, the vulgar voice or error is accepted as part of educated speech.

The error of the error seems to be the return to the etymological origin of these words. A journey of several centuries to return to the same place, but with a very interesting route, don’t you think?

So, if you have children, and they say crocodilo or murciégalo, remember that they are not completely wrong and that they are the ones who are closest to the origin of the word in Latin. Most likely they will not be able to refer to the etymological origin of the word, thanks to what you just learned today, perhaps you can do it.

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The Spanish calendar: days, months, and seasons of the year. Where do their names come from?

What is time? From philosophy, the thinking around time lies in its nature: does time exist or not, and if it exists, can we really measure it?

Today, we will observe time from physics, where it is proposed that time is a magnitude with which the separation, simultaneity or duration of events is measured. This allows us to organise them in their simplest temporal form. That is, past, present, and future. Where events are in each of these sets depends on their relationship.

The best-known system of representing the passage of time is the calendar. The calendar model officially used in almost the entire world is the Gregorian calendar, named in honour of its promoter, Pope Gregory XIII.

The term calendar comes from the Latin calendarium, from calendae (calendas), a name that in ancient Rome was given to the first day of each month, corresponding to the phase of the new moon. Furthermore, the calendarium was the book where the loans that fell due on the calendas were recorded.

In different ancient peoples, the days were grouped into seven concerning the lunar phases. Rome continued with this organization, where each day was linked to a divinity: Luna (Moon), Marte (Mars), Mercurio (Mercury), Jupiter, and Venus. Sábado is a consecration to Saturn and domingo derives from dies dominicus (day of the Lord).

Months and seasons of the year

Initially, the lunar calendar consisted of ten months: Martius (marzo), in honour of Mars. Aprilis (abril), perhaps related to the Etruscan Apru and this to the Greek Aphrô of Aphrodite. Maius (mayo) is linked to Maia, a deity related to flowering. Iunius (Junio) in memory of the goddess Juno. Quintilis (quintile), Sextilis (September) derived from septem (seven), being the seventh month and following the same formula, it was continued with October, November, and December (octubre, noviembre and diciembre). In the 8th and 7th centuries, the months of Ianuarius (enero) and Februarius (febrero) were added in honour of Janus, God of the double face, symbol of the beginning and the end, and Februus to whom the purification rites were dedicated. In 153 BC, Ianuarius became the first month of the year. Quintilis was renamed Iulius (julio) in a clear allusion to Julius Caesar, while Sextilis was replaced by Augustus (agosto) in homage to Octavius Augustus.

The months were grouped into seasons, which since the Romans until now we divided into four: ver, aestas, autumnus and hiems (verano [current primavera], estío, otoño e invierno). Later, the voice prima vera (primera primavera) was incorporated, and the seasons became five: primavera, verano, estío, otoño e invierno. From the 17th century onwards, primavera – the time of the first flowering – displaced verano and merged with estío, definitively forming the four seasons that we know now.

So, we already know that, if time exists, the Spanish calendar tells us that today is spring and summer on one side of the world and autumn and winter on the other. Moreover, it is March [Marzo] (Martius) worldwide in honour of Mars.

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Words from Quechua and Mayan in Spanish

Quechua and Mayan are two indigenous languages of Latin America. Quechua is one of the two indigenous languages with the largest number of speakers today (about 14 million, considering all its variants). Mayan or, rather, the Mayan languages currently have nine hundred thousand native speakers of the languages that make up this linguistic family.

Quechua is the language of the Inca Empire and has more than 500 years of contact with Spanish, so the influence between both languages has been natural. Loanwords happen from Spanish to Quechua and from Quechua to Spanish. Today, we will see some examples of words of Quechua origin that are part of the usual lexicon of Spanish, especially the one spoken in many Latin American countries.

On the other hand, Mayan is another of the native languages of Latin America that has influenced the Spanish we speak today. Notice, however, that what is currently known as the “Mayan language” is a linguistic family of around 30 different languages spoken in the ancient Mayan territory, which ranges from southeastern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras, and El Salvador. These languages, which still live, share specific characteristics but are very different. Among all these, Peninsular Mayan is one of the official languages of Mexico.

In today’s article, we will see what are some of the words originating from Quechua and Mayan in Spanish:

The mayisms

Patatús: in Mayan, it means feigned death, and in current Spanish, it is a colloquial expression used to express astonishment or fainting. For example: con esta noticia me va a dar un patatús [This news is going to give me a patatús].

Cachito: Is synonymous with a piece, rather a little piece and comes from the onomatopoeia [cach] heard when something breaks. In Mayan, cach means “broken thing” or “that breaks.”

Cacao: Cacao was “the food of the gods” since the Mayans considered its plant sacred. Today, this food is known throughout the world and is an essential ingredient to produce chocolate.

Cenote: They are the characteristic wells of Yucatán province, in Mexico. It comes from the Mayan word tz’onot, which means well or cavern with water.

Cigar: Comes from the Mayan siyar and is a word that has spread to other languages due to the custom of inhaling tobacco made in the form of a roll.

Quechuisms

Quechuisms are words of Quechua origin assimilated into Spanish over time. Some linguistic loans remain in Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Chile, Ecuador, and Colombia. Countries that were part of the Inca Empire. Let’s review some of these:

Cancha: It comes from the Quechua kancha and means enclosure, like the space intended for specific sports or shows.

Charqui: Dehydrated and salted meat typical of South America’s Andean and southern regions.

Chaucha: Currency of low value. Chauchera: in Bolivia and Chile, it is synonymous with a purse.

Concho: Sediment located at the bottom of a container and used to refer to the last child of a couple. In the case of the last child, the diminutive conchito is more common.

Mate: Drink made from the leaves and branches of Ilex paraguariensis, the plant itself and the container used to drink it.

Nanai: caress to soothe pain. The Chilean Academy of Language defines it as “a very tender caress that attempts to soothe pain or sorrow.” It is also used to express tenderness; for example, when one sees a very tender baby, they express “Nanai!”

Morocho: Comes from the Quechua “muruch’u”, which means “variety of tough corn.” But in Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, it is an adjective for a person with brown skin and black hair.

Palta: Peruvians and Chileans call palta to this green and creamy fruit. It is known as aguacate in the rest of the countries in the region.

Poncho: A coat consisting of a square blanket made of wool or cloth with an opening in the centre.

Pucho: means leftover. In Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Honduras, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay, it refers to a cigarette or its butt.

Guagua: Boy, girl and infant. Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia, and Ecuador use it as a synonym for baby.

Yapa: Is an Andean idiom that refers to a gift or extra addition to a product during a commercial transaction, especially in a popular context.

As a bonus track, two Nahuatl words used in current Spanish: aguacate and apapachar. Aguacate: It comes from ahuacatl, which means testicles. The avocado has this name because of the shape of this fruit.  Acapachar is the action of squeezing or giving love to another with the first impulse. It is adorable and is a verb used in Latin American Spanish to hug or, to be more precise, to pamper to another.

Now you know that you can always comfort a loved one with a “nanai” or “apapacharlo” until he or she feels better. You know the influence of Quechua and Mayan in Spanish, and you can use it to take your Spanish to the next level.

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Why does the letter “h” exist in Spanish?

The letter “h” is a big headache for many Spanish speakers. When speaking, there is no problem; the difficulty is when writing a letter with no sound and having certainty about when and where to place it. It is such a discreet letter that many have advocated for its elimination, but this queen of imperceptible sounds has triumphantly held a place in the Spanish alphabet. Is it a simple whim? No. In grammar, everything generally has an explanation.

The letter h is the eighth letter in the Spanish alphabet. It is pronounced only when preceded by the letter c, forming the sound “ch”. The problem is that more than 2,000 words begin with the letter h in Spanish and a few more have this letter interspersed. But then, if it doesn’t sound, why do we write it? Why write something that doesn’t exist? One of the reasons is that it was not always mute.

The origins of the “h”

Let’s go back to its past: the Phoenicians were the first to use this letter and pronounced it as an aspirated “j”. The Phoenicians passed it to the Greeks, who adopted it with a gentle aspiration. Then, it passed into Latin, from Greek, and the sound became even softer.

 From Latin, it made its jump to Spanish, where at first it was also pronounced as an aspirated sound, accompanied by a small explosion of air similar to the current pronunciation of the aspirated “h” in English. But Spanish not only used Latin words that began with “h”, but it also appropriated numerous Latin words that began with “f”. At first, these words also began with “f” in Spanish, but as the years went by and since, in some parts of Spain, the “f” sound was also pronounced with an aspiration, in the 14th century, the “f” initial began to be replaced by the initial “h”. This is what happened with farina, which became harina (flour), the verb hacer (to do), which in its beginnings was facer, helecho (fern)(which during the Middle Ages was felecho), humo (smoke), which was fumo, hola (hello), which derives from fola and many other words. This change also affected some words that had the f interspersed, such as the case of búho (owl), which comes from bufo in Latin.

According to the RAE records, until the mid-16th century, the letter h in Spanish was still pronounced with an aspiration, especially in words initially written with f in Latin.

Starting in the 15th century, the trend changed, and the aspirated h began to be considered a vulgarism typical of the lower classes, so little by little, the h began to be silenced entirely until it became the silent letter that it is today.

H: the only letter that is not a sound but is equally necessary

One more historical fact explains the existence of this letter: in the past, both the letters u and v were written precisely the same, although they were not pronounced in the same way. Therefore, to identify that the corresponding sound was that of the vowel “u” and not that of the consonant “v”, an h was placed before it. In this way, it was known that huevo (egg) should be pronounced as “uevo” and not as “vevo” as it would have been without the h in front.

Furthermore, the letter h in Spanish differentiates homophonous words in writing. Those that are pronounced the same but have different meanings. Thus, we can quickly differentiate writing hola (hello) from ola (wave), hojear (leaf through) from ojear (to browse), hecho (fact) from echo (he/she drop) or differentiate the preposition a (to) by ha from the verb hacer (to do).

As you have seen, “H” is a silent letter with a great history that still fulfils essential functions in Spanish. The discreet queen can only be used correctly if you practice reading and writing a lot. The mere fact of being the only letter in Spanish that holds the title of having no sound makes it very special. After knowing its story, I hope you are encouraged to correct your spelling and remember your “Hs” here or there.

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The origin of the letter ñ, are there other languages that use it?

The letter ñ is an undisputed reference in Spanish. It is expected to see this letter and immediately relate it to this language; in fact, the name of the language already includes it, although its sound is not exclusive to this language. Learn with us a little history of the Spanish language through this letter.

Although Spanish comes from Latin, the eñe represents a sound that did not exist in that language. With the evolution of Latin, new sounds emerged and thus the Romance languages were born, such as Italian, Portuguese, French and Spanish. All these languages share phonetic and grammatical similarities, and along with the appearance of these new languages, a new sound also emerged defined as nasal (the air comes out through the nose), palatal (when pronouncing it, the tongue rests against the hard palate), voiced (the strings vowels vibrate), which in Spanish we identify as eñe.

Origin of the sound eñe

In the Middle Ages, there was Vulgar Latin, the Latin from people, which distanced itself from Classical Latin due to its syntactic simplifications and differences in pronunciation. One of the phenomena present in Vulgar Latin was the palatalization of the letter “n”, which gave rise to the sound “ñ” mainly in three contexts:

  1. In the syllables “ni” and “ne” + vowel: when the sounds “ni” or “ne” were followed by another vowel, the sound “n” was influenced by the palatal sound of the vowels and ended up adopting a nasal sound: the eñe. As in the case of the Latin vinea, which derived to “viña” (in Spanish), “vigne” (in French), “vigna” (in Italian), “vinha” (in Portuguese) and “vinya” (in Catalan).
  2.  GN: the eñe sound is also born as an evolution of the union of the sounds /g/ and /n/, as in the Latin agnellus (little lamb) from which the French “agneau”, the Italian “agnello”, the Spanish “añojo” and the Catalan “anyell”.
  3. NM or NN: the articulatory effort involved in pronouncing a double “n” or an /n/ plus an /m/ led to the simplification of the sound towards /ñ/. This is what happens in “año” (Spanish), which comes from the Latin annus, or “sueño” (Spanish), “sogno” (Italian) and “sonho” (Portuguese), which come from the Latin somnu.

Writing of the eñe

Once the sound was generated, the problem of writing it arose. At first, the scribes used the spelling “nn”. For example, in the case of año (year), they wrote “anno”, or instead of añojo (yearling), they wrote “agnojo”, but to save time, parchment and ink, they began to use abbreviations (something widespread at that time) and so, for the abbreviation of the “nn” it was decided to write a single “n” with a virgula above it (virgula is the wave so characteristic of the letter ñ).

The “ñ” was then born motivated by the economy of resources. It was a practical solution that saved a lot of time for the scribal monks of the time since they were practically the only ones who knew how to write during the Middle Ages.

The spelling of the double “n” was already a solved problem, but what was happening with “gn” and “ni”+vowel and “ne”+vowel? Well, they continued writing it in that way, and that was not practical at all. Then, it was Alfonso X of Castile, also known as the Wise, who decided to take matters into his own hands and in the 13th century, he established the first rules of Spanish where the “ñ” was designated as the only spelling to represent the voiced palatal nasal sound that we call “eñe” in Spanish.

Thank you, Alfonso X the Wise, for standardising such a beautiful letter in our language.

The eñe in the world

Well, the spelling of the “ñ” and its phoneme (sound) are not exclusive to Castilian or Spanish. It turns out that in the Iberian Peninsula, Galician and Asturian also use this spelling and in Latin America, indigenous languages such as Quechua, Aymara, Mapuche, Guaraní, Mixtec, Zapotec and Otomí also have the eñe. However, in the case of Amerindian languages, many did not have writing when the Spanish arrived on the continent, so the languages that did have the voiced palatal nasal sound, like Spanish, were transcribed using that spelling.

In addition to these Amerindian languages and languages from Latin, the “eñe” sound is also present in languages as diverse as languages of Slavic origin, such as Czech (with its “Ň”) or Polish (with its “ń”), and even Senegalese languages. On the other hand, the letter ñ is used in countries like the United States in terms of Spanish origin, such as “piña colada” and the climate phenomenon “El Niño”.

Despite all this, the “ñ” continues encountering obstacles in the digital age. Why is there such a significant rejection of this iconic and beautiful letter? The big problem is that, in the world, English continues to be the dominant language, and it has neither that spelling nor that phoneme and many times, everything that English does not have does not exist, even though it is abundant in the world. Ñ is essential because it is not the same to say pena (sorrow) as peña (crew), cana (grey hair) as caña (rod), or año (year) as ano (anus), you see!

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