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The Historical Background of Spain


Spanish is ultimately a derivative of Latin. Classical Latin as we know it is a rather artificial, formal, and archaic version of what was actually spoken in the days of the Roman Empire. This kind of Latin ceased to be in colloquial use sometime around the second century BC, but its use in oration and especially writing has continued down to the present day. But the language spoken by the common man, and promulgated by the advancing Roman legions, was vulgar Latin (not so called because it used naughty words, but because it was spoken by the vulgus). As nearly always happens with living languages, the vulgar Latin diverged greatly over time from classical Latin, which remained essentially intact, and became a base corruption of its former self (though in truth, all natural languages are corruptions of their former selves). After the collapse of the Empire in the fifth century, the remnants of the Empire that continued to speak vulgar Latin developed local dialects that grew into distinct languages, now called the Romance languages (not because they are so romantic, but because they derive from the language of the Romans), such as French, Italian, Portuguese and Romanian. So in a sense Latin has never ceased to be spoken in Rome; it is merely that we call the Latin now spoken there Italian.

This vulgar Latin had a way of making things simpler, for the most part. Anyone who has taken the time to learn all the 150 or so ways to conjugate a Latin verb will appreciate this. The neuter gender disappeared. Diphthongs collapsed, and a few letters shifted pronunciation slightly. The cases of nouns began to merge, first the accusative (which had long lost its final -m in the singular) with the nominative, then the ablative with the dative, then the genitive with these latter two, until finally, as in English, cases were abandoned altogether except with certain pronouns. To fill the linguistic void of meaning, prepositions were used more and more; e.g., de was used before a noun instead of putting it in the genitive case. Something analogous happened with verbs, but to a lesser extent. Periphrastics, roundabout but simple ways of avoiding conjugating a verb, began to be used widely. And of course there was a large influx of Greek and Germanic words into the vocabulary, as well as subtle changes of usage. Thus, e.g., equus (horse) found itself utterly replaced with the less dignified but more familiar caballus (nag), much as in English we understand steed but always say horse instead. With travel, trade, and communication still thriving, the changes made their way through the Empire with relative uniformity until the bitter end, except in Romania, which was abandoned very early on and became shrouded in mystery for a millennium, but somehow managed to retain the most archaic vulgar Latin. It is really after the various barbarian tribes seized the shattered pieces of the Empire, and through constant warfare confined the population to whatever little territories they could defend, that local dialects slowly ceased to be mutually intelligible.

One very successful group of these barbarian invaders who carved out a huge slice of the Empire for themselves was the Visigoths. Over the course of six centuries they came down from Scandinavia, southeast into Russia, where they were put to flight by the awesome rising power of the Huns, south into Macedonia, where they begged the Romans for refuge, and on being refused astonished the world by annihilating the greater part of the entire Roman military, west into the now defenseless Italy, where they captured and looted Rome itself, and farther west until they finally settled in what is now France and Spain. By then they had adopted much of Roman culture and picked up Latin, and they easily merged with the Romans already there. But in the transition from Gothic to vulgar Latin they left an indelible mark on the language. The ancient name for the Iberian Peninsula (where Spain lies) had been Hispania, and from that the language spoken there became called Español, Spanish.

The tide soon turned, however, and these people who spoke the earliest Spanish found themselves a few centuries later overwhelmed by the advancing power of the Moors from the south and the Franks from the north. Those that were not conquered fled to the hills, or more precisely, the Pyrenees. The Franks were another barbarian tribe, who had spoken a Germanic language related to Gothic, and had, like the Goths, adopted their own dialect of Latin, which would become Old French. The Moors were Muslim invaders from northern Africa who spoke mostly Arabic. These two, who would both leave their mark on the Spanish language, clashed in an epic struggle that ended with the Moors driven back to the greater part of Spain, the Franks holding most of Western Europe, and the Spaniards, besides those already under the tolerant and relatively peaceful rule of the Moors, still straddling the mountainous border.

This was how it remained for centuries, until all the northern Spanish speakers had been absorbed into modern France, while the little kingdoms on the southern side of the Pyrenees gained the upper hand over the Moors and finally drove them off the continent. Yes, they, along with the Jews, were literally expelled from the newly united Spain, unless they converted to Christianity. The year was 1492, and Ferdinand and Isabella had united their two great realms and seized the last remnants of Moorish territory, creating modern Spain. As a small token of their thanks to God, they agreed to fund a now famous mariner in his holy quest to seek a western route to the east. This of course was Christopher Columbus, and thanks to his discoveries, Spain was quickly able to add two continents to its empire. It would have been impossible to introduce their religion and their advanced civilization to the new world without also bringing their language. Thus even to this day, all of the western hemisphere speaks Spanish except the northernmost extremities, taken by English and French colonists, and a huge chunk of South America that went to Portugal, the little kingdom that shares the Iberian Peninsula with Spain and has remained independent to this day, with a language of its own closely resembling Spanish.

This is how Spanish has come to establish itself today. By a series of lucky coincidences, it has become more and more like English. First, note that the Goths, Franks, Saxons, and Vikings all spoke related Germanic languages. When these various tribes began to learn Latin, they naturally preferred ways of saying things that were closest to what they already knew. When the English were conquered by the Normans (Vikings from Normandy who spoke Old French), they subsequently replaced over nine tenths of their language with Norman French, and later imported a slew of words directly from Latin. Thus both Spanish and English derive from a base of Germanic language speakers learning dialects of vulgar Latin from adjacent regions. The upshot is that the feel of Spanish, including the structure, the vocabulary, and the very way of looking at things, is very much like English, much more so than Latin is, and far more so than, say, Sanskrit. But because Spanish is directly derived from Latin, whereas English has had Latin grafted on somewhat gradually and haphazardly, a knowledge of the original Latin still contributes a great deal more to understanding Spanish and is very helpful for dealing with both languages.

Orthography & Pronunciation
For the most part, the accent in a Spanish word falls on the same syllable that it did in the Latin word, regardless of whether final syllables have been lost. Since all vowels have the same quantity, the rule for placing the accent is simpler: the accent falls on the penult of words ending in a vowel or in n or s (probably because n and s are personal endings for verbs); and on the last syllable of words ending in any other consonant. Whenever a word does not follow this rule (and sometimes even when it does, to distinguish homographs), the accented vowel bears an acute accent (´).

e.g.: abogado, accented on penult (3rd syllable)
e.g.: tomo, accented on penult (1st syllable)
e.g.: tomas, accented on penult (1st syllable)
e.g.: toman, accented on penult (1st syllable)
e.g.: tomar, accented on last syllable
e.g.: balcón, accented on 2nd syllable
e.g.: teléfono, accented on 2nd syllable
e.g.: cuándo, accented on 1st syllable

The vowels of Spanish are the same as in Latin, except that all distinction of quantity is lost, and y is treated as identical to i. They are pronounced like the Latin long vowels but are generally held for only a very short time. This feature of the language allows Spanish speakers to comfortably speak at nearly twice the rate of English. English speakers should particularly be aware that there is no y sound at the end of the vowels e and i, nor a w sound at the end of o and u.

e.g.: lego as Latin lego (not as leygow)

Diphthongs are basically as in Latin, but ae and oe are written ai and oi, with the former no longer forming a diphthong.

e.g. traer as tra-ér, two syllables
e.g. traigo, as trai-go, two syllables

The letter u, when following g or q and preceding e or i, is silent, unless it has a dieresis (¨). This is the only silent vowel in Spanish. Otherwise u follows the same rules that apply in Latin, as for becoming a w sound. Note that instead of writing qü, Spanish simply changes to cu. Therefore remember that unlike Latin, qu always equals k.

e.g.: agua as agwa
e.g.: agüero as agwero
e.g.: águila as agila (silent u)
e.g.: aquel as akél (silent u)
e.g.: acuerdo as aquerdo

This is particularly important for interrogatives. All the wh- words in English (who, what, where, when, why, which, etc.) are derived from Old English hw-, where h was pronounced as a fricative k, but together they form a sort of voiceless w. You can still hear this in some parts of Britain. Now, Old English h was a softening of c at the beginnings of words, and hence house = casa. The hw- is likewise cognate with Latin qu-, and this unique sound explains the very existence of the letter q, which would otherwise be identical to c. Once you understand this, you can begin to see interrogative cognates. Note that Spanish uses an accent to distinguish interrogative pronouns from relative pronouns.

e.g.: what = quid = qué (pronounced ké)
e.g.: when = quando = cuándo (pronounced quando)

When an change of inflection changes whether a stem ending in g or gu is followed by e or i, the spelling changes to preserve the correct pronunciation (note that g softens before e or i, but a silent u between them prevents it). Similarly, spelling changes to preserve hardness or softness of a final stem consonant when a change of inflection changes the following vowel. This happens with hard c/qu and g/gu and with soft c/z and g/j.

e.g.: antiguo, antigüedad
e.g.: sigo, sigue
e.g.: coger, cojo
e.g.: tocar, toque
e.g.: pez, peces

The consonants of Spanish correspond to those of Latin, but Spanish has developed a few complications on the original scheme. The following letters are still always pronounced essentially as in Latin (and therefore as English usually does):

b, d, f, k, l, m, n, p, q, r, s, t

Several have slight non-phonemic variations, usually suppressed at the beginnings of phrases. The voiced stops b, d, and g can be pronounced as fricatives (e.g., d as the th in this), and usually are. The s sound can be (and, when written c or z, is always, in parts of Spain) replaced with a voiceless th, as in thin, especially at the end of a syllable, and in that position it can colloquially soften further to h and even be dropped, though generally only the Caribbean. (The same thing happened thoroughly in French, where the final s of a syllable was dropped, leaving no trace but a circumflex on the preceding vowel; cf. Lat. vestire, Sp. vestir, Fr. vêtir.)

B & V: For pronunciation these are identical in most dialects. This is the ultimate development of the letter v from classical to vulgar Latin, where the w sound was abandoned in favor of b and v (of English). Thus boves, oxen, was also written bobes. In Spanish these two letters can be pronounced as English b or v or as a fricative b, depending on the position and dialect. Thus, do not be surprised to hear vivo said as bivo or even bibo, nor besar as vesar.

C & G: In vulgar Latin, c and g began to soften before the frontal vowels e and i. At first this simply meant pronouncing a frontal c and g (note how some languages, such as Arabic, distinguish the k in kudos from that in key), but very early on this became like English ch and j, respectively, as can still be seen in Italian. That is why when classical writers began to take words from Greek, which had not undergone this change, they had to borrow the letter k to represent the sound they could no longer write before e and i. Precisely the same thing happened in English, when the Saxons, who used the soft c and g, began to take words from the Vikings, who still pronounced them hard. But nothing could be done about the hard g’s, and thus to this day c is always soft before e and i, while g is soft in all such words except those of Viking origin, such as get, give, girl, etc. In western Europe, soft c continued to soften even further, until finally becoming identical with s, while soft g become identical with j. But in Spain the j sound took an odd twist, ending up near h; see below.

e.g.: calor, as in Latin
e.g.: cinco, as sinco
e.g.: gusta, as in Latin
e.g.: gente, as hente
e.g.: Geraldo (the TV show), as English Heraldo (not Jeraldo)

J, G, & X: In vulgar Latin the y sound of j turned into the nearest affricate, the soft g. (It should be noted that in Norman French, whence English derives, the affricates ch and j were used, as in chop and jug; but in Parisian French, now dominant in France, these were fricatives, like the ch and g of machine and rouge.) But in Spain the sound that these two shared ended up more like a fricative g, which soon lost its voice, to become a fricative k, like the ch in loch. And so today in most of Spain the j and soft g are pronounced thus; but in Latin America, this sound further degenerated into the English h, which is in fact precisely the same course that the sound took in English. For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, x took on the same sound as j in certain proper nouns, while retaining its usual pronunciation in most other words.

e.g.: jugo, as hugo (not as jugo, nor yugo, nor Hyugo)
e.g.: gente, as hente
e.g.: mexicano = mejicano (Mexican)
e.g.: texano = tejano (Texan)
e.g.: Ximeno = Jimeno (a proper name)
e.g.: éxito, as in Latin
e.g.: ejemplo, as ehemplo, derived from Latin exemplo

D & T: Unlike English, most languages pronounce these with the tongue touching the teeth, rather than the front part of the roof of the mouth. This is the same position used to make the th sound, and in fact the d is often pronounced like the th in that, but usually not to begin a phrase or after n or l.

e.g.: vendo, as vendo
e.g.: todo, as English toe though (without the final w sounds)

C & Z: The letter z is essentially identical with s, except that it is used to complement the soft c by replacing it before vowels other than e and i. (Note that the word cedilla, which refers to the mark on ç used in French and Portuguese to indicate a soft c as in façade, derives from Spanish zedilla, meaning little z.) In Castilian Spanish, however, the pronunciation is like a voiceless th.

e.g.: vez, as ves, or veth, or even veh (cf. the plural, veces)
e.g.: hice, as hise, becomes hizo, as hiso, in the third person

H is silent. Some dialects of English have already gone this way too. It only forms a digraph after c, in which case ch is pronounced as in English (not as in Latin). Be careful, because the English h sound will always correspond to the written letter j, not h.

e.g.: haba, as aba
e.g.: jaba, as haba
e.g.: macho, as in English

R is rolled or flapped, as in Latin. Actually an initial r and any rr are rolled, while any other r is flapped, to sound much like the d in English rudder. Of course, this varies somewhat with dialect.

e.g.: rojo, as roho, with a rolled r
e.g.: mero, similar to English meadow

LL and Y: Unlike Latin and most other European languages, Spanish often uses y as a consonant, as in English yes. Early on, the letter l would sometimes become so palatized as to become a y sound, as can be seen in the English million. This palatized l was written as ll, which should be treated as identical to y. The same forces that drove Latin j from the sound of English y to English (or French) j have also begun to have the same effect on Spanish y and ll; in certain dialects, they are pronounced as English j. To be more specific, Spain uses y, Puerto Rico uses j, and Argentina uses the soft g of rouge.

e.g.: yana, as yana (or jana)
e.g.: llana, though a different word, is pronounced as yana (not lana)

Ñ is pronounced ny, as the ni in onion, and can be treated as equivalent to Latin nj-, though it usually has other origins.

e.g.: soña, as sonya

Except for ll (palatal l), rr (rolled r), and cc (a hard c followed by a soft c, pronounced as English x, as in accept), there are no double consonants in Spanish. In fact, by the older reckoning ll and rr are each separate letters of the alphabet, along with ch and ñ.

e.g.: aggressió ? agresión
e.g.: actió ? acción (pronounced axión)

Patterns of Phonetic Transformation
Recall that nouns and adjectives of Spanish derive their forms not from the nominative of the Latin word, which is often irregular, but from the accusative. But after the loss of the -m ending in the singular and the collapse of the case system, the upshot is that the prototypical form is best represented by the ablative singular and the accusative plural (which simply adds -s to the former). This convention is therefore used in rendering Latin words here.

Vowel Shifts
Very early on, the diphthongs of vulgar Latin collapsed into simple vowels: ae, oe, & au became e, e, and o, respectively (observe the participle lavato ? lauto ? loto). Therefore Spanish replaces these with the appropriate vowel.

e.g.: pauco ? poco
e.g.: taedio ? tedio
e.g.: poena ? pena

The short i and u of Latin did not always end up in Spanish as the long versions of the same vowels, as you might expect. Instead, they more often shifted to the more open e and o, respectively.

e.g.: sumus ? somos
e.g.: in ? en

To make things more complicated, accented short e and o did just the opposite and often became ie (or i) and ue, respectively. On the other hand, they often did not, especially if the vowel was not accented in Spanish. Words that began with o- but shifted to ue- receive a silent h prefix, to hint at the w sound that the u will take on.

e.g.: tenes ? tienes
e.g.: tenemus ? tenemos
e.g.: bene ? bien
e.g.: bona ? buena
e.g.: peto ? pido
e.g.: ceno ? ceno
e.g.: ovos ? huevos

This becomes particularly important when conjugating certain verbs, called stem-changing verbs, that undergo this vowel shift in certain specific cases, typically in the present, the subjunctive, the imperative, or the third person preterite.

e.g.: sentir, to feel
e.g.: siente, he feels
e.g.: sintió, he felt
e.g.: sentimos, we feel/felt

Consonant Changes
As is common in many languages, a consonant stop falling between two vowels will often become voiced, i.e., c, t, & p become g, d, & b, respectively (cf. the American pronunciation of butter as budder).

e.g.: secunda ? segunda
e.g.: dictator ? dictador
e.g.: sapere ? saber

The li combination between vowels began to palatize, as in English million, until it became the j of classical Latin, and in this form it was early taken into Spanish, where the j is still seen, with its further shifted pronunciation.

e.g.: melior ? mejor
e.g.: mulier ? mujer
e.g.: filio ? hijo

The ti combination before a vowel softened just as in English and French, to become ci. This is particularly common with the Latin endings -tione and -tia.

e.g.: natione ? nación
e.g.: patientia ? paciencia
e.g.: vitioso ? vicioso

The digraphs ch, ph, and th used in Latin to transliterate Greek words became qu/c, f, and t, respectively, in Spanish.

e.g.: chaos ? caos
e.g.: machina ? máquina
e.g.: philosophia ? filosofía
e.g.: thema ? tema

Spanish has two letters, ch and ñ, that have no equivalent in Latin. The ch, when not of alien origin, seems to most often derive from the allision of t with a preceding consonant, such as ct (but not pt, which became simply t). Initial ch is hardly ever from Latin, and then only as a variant of c (originally before a) derived through Old French.

e.g.: nocte ? noche
e.g.: facto ? hecho
e.g.: multo ? mucho
e.g.: septem ? siete
e.g.: cadentia ? chance

Likewise, ñ is usually a result of the allision of n with some preceding letter.

e.g.: lignum ? leño
e.g.: somnus ? sueño

Initial Letters
Like French, Spanish could not tolerate well beginning a word with sc-, sp-, or st-, i.e., it could not join s to a stop within a syllable. The simple solution was to break up a word such as studium so that the s was in a syllable of its own, by prefixing an -e, thus yielding Spanish estudio and French étude (recall that French drops the s).

e.g.: schola ? escuela (Fr. école)
e.g.: spina ? espina (Fr. épine)
e.g.: stato ? estado (Fr. état, but Old Fr. estat ? English estate), as in Los Estados Unidos, The United States

Initial f before a vowel generally turned to h, except in the case of fue-. In fact, there almost no native Spanish words left beginning with fe-, fi- or fo-. The same also could happen to an initial soft g. What seems to have happened is that the Basques, close neighbors of the medieval speakers of Spanish, had no f sound in their bizarre non-Aryan language, so in the aforementioned cases the interaction between Spanish and Basque rendered the f silent, to be memorialized in writing with the already silent h.

e.g.: forma ? horma
e.g.: facere ? hacer
e.g.: fabulari ? hablar
e.g.: germana ? hermana

A word beginning with a voiceless consonant followed by l, i.e., cl, fl, or pl, would usually change to begin with ll (likewise in Portuguese to ch and in Italian to chi, fi, and pi). This seems to be the origin of nearly all Spanish words beginning with ll. But in Latin, these combinations did not exist within a word, except in compounds; ll there usually derives from palatized ll within a Latin word.

e.g.: clamare ? llamar
e.g.: flamma ? llama
e.g.: planum ? llano
e.g.: illa ? ella

Final Letters
In general, the only consonants with which a Latin word would end were b, c, d, l, m, n, r, s, t, & x. Spanish could not even tolerate the stops c and t, so they were dropped from the ends of words. This means that a Spanish word will never end in a voiceless stop (such as c, t, or p), although it may end in d, usually after the loss of a final e.

e.g.: est ? es
e.g.: sunt ? son
e.g.: tenet ? tiene
e.g.: nec ? ni
e.g.: unitate ? unidad

Spanish also refuses to end in m, which is regularly replaced with n (Portuguese does the opposite, preferring final m).

e.g.: cum ? con
e.g.: tam ? tan

When a Latin word ended in a short e, Spanish could drop the e, but only if the rest of the word still ended correctly.

e.g.: bene ? bien
e.g.: dare ? dar
e.g.: ante ? ante (not ant)
e.g.: patre ? padre (not padr)

Spanish orthography went to great length to preserve hard and soft c and g. When a word such as pace lost its ending to become pac-, the soft c had to be maintained by changing it to z, as in paz. Therefore Latin words ending in -x in the nominative regularly end in -z in Spanish if the plural was -ces, or -y if the plural was -ges (the final g changing completely to y).

e.g.: voce ? voz, voces
e.g.: rege ? rey, reyes

Grammatical Development
The first thing to note about nouns is that the neuter gender has disappeared. Neuter words simply became treated as masculine, or sometimes feminine. Thus, the irregular declensions of neuter nouns, and especially the rule that the nominative and accusative of neuter nouns are always identical, have disappeared too.

Like English, Spanish has abandoned all use of cases with nouns, and continues it only with certain pronouns. The form that these single case nouns took was derived not from the nominative, which was often irregular in Latin, but from the accusative (cf. the way Americans colloquially say "It was me," with I replaced by the objective me). Even by the beginning of the Roman Empire, the final -m of the accusative singular had been lost in vulgar Latin. In the second declension the remaining -u became -o, according to the rules set forth above, so that the accusative singular was the same as the original ablative singular. Thus, the accusative of all declensions ended in the stem plus a vowel in the singular, and the same plus -s in the plural, so that, just like English, Spanish forms plurals by adding -s or -es.

1st declension: via, vias ? vía, vías
2nd declension: libro, libros ? libro, libros
3rd declension: parte, partes ? parte, partes
4th declension: impetu, impetus ? ímpetu, ímpetus (but usually treated as second declension, as manu ? mano)
5th declension: serie, series ? serie, series

With the pronouns, vestiges of other cases can be seen, but not all with a single pronoun. For the most part, Spanish uses subjective and objective cases, like English; but in the dative, le is used instead of lo; and after prepositions the nominative(!) is used, except for mí and ti instead of yo and tú.

e.g.: te amo ? te amo
e.g.: tu me amas ? tú me amas
e.g.: illum amo ? lo amo
e.g.: illi do aliquid ? le doy algo
e.g.: pro illo ? para él
e.g.: pro me (mihi) ? para mí

The second person suffered a common complication. First, vulgar Latin began to address people in the plural for politeness. English did precisely the same, to the extent that the singular thou has been all but entirely replaced with the originally plural you. Thus, Latin vos became French vous and Spanish vosotros (from vos + otros). But in Spanish this usage was further replaced with the phrase vuestra merced (your grace), contracted to Usted, which is treated as third person! This is the same deference the English show in saying to the Queen, Your highness is very kind. The second person singular forms are still used to address familiar people, but the second person plural forms, even when not used politely, have been entirely replaced by Ustedes everywhere but in parts of Spain and archaic formulae.

e.g.: Tú eres bueno, you are good (familiar)
e.g.: Usted es bueno, you are good (polite)
e.g.: Ustedes son buenos, you are good (plural)
e.g.: Vosotros sois buenos, you are good (plural and familiar, but archaic)

Of the adjectives there is little more to say than that what was said of nouns also applies to them, and that the use of substantives seen in Latin is greatly diminished in Spanish. But the demonstrative ille was used more and more until it finally took on some bold new functions, viz. the third person pronoun and the definite article. English acquired its definite article the in precisely the same way, from the demonstrative adjective that.

First: illo ? ello, illa ? ella
ello, ella, ellos, ellas ? él (lo), ella (la), ellos (los), ellas (las), the third person pronouns (but illi, illis ? le, les in the dative)
ello, ella, ellos, ellas ? el, la, los, las, the definite articles (the)

Here the neuter makes its last stand, and asserts itself as lo in many expressions that would otherwise use el.

e.g.: lo que haces es bueno, what you are doing is good

It should also be noted that the complicated set of relative and interrogative pronouns have been reduced to que (that, which) with no plural, and qué (what?), and quién (who/whom?) with plural quiénes, in addition to the words such as cuando (when), etc. Interrogative pronouns are distinguished from relative pronouns by an accent mark.

e.g.: cuando vienes, when you come
e.g.: cuándo vienes, when are you coming?

Vulgar Latin developed a new, simple way to form adverbs from adjectives. It was to use the adjective (in the ablative feminine singular, of course) to modify mente, in the ablative, to form the phrase with — mind, or rather with — manner. This is paralelled in English with the suffix -wise, as in likewise, clockwise. In Spanish, the -mente forms a suffix on the adjective.

e.g.: timida mente ? tímidamente, fearfully (originally, with fearful mind)
e.g.: frecuenti mente ? frecuentemente, frequently

The treatment of verbs in Spanish has been remakably conservative. The most important simplification was that the four conjugations collapsed into three. For the most part, this was achieved by shifting third conjugation verbs (the only ones with a short thematic vowel) to either the second or fourth, to yield the three conjugations ending in -ar, -er, and -ir (recall that the final e is dropped). Since those third conjugation verbs were the real troublemakers, with so many irregularities, getting rid of them allowed the whole system of conjugations to simplify, on the model of the very regular first conjugation.

e.g.: amare ? amar
e.g.: tenere ? tener
e.g.: venire ? venir
e.g.: facere ? hacer
e.g.: vivere ? vivir

The three conjugations essentially followed the same rules of phonetic transformation outlined above. The second, third, and fourth conjugations were so thoroughly confused that what is left of the -er and -ir conjugations is almost identical. Some explanation is in order for the singular of the preterite tense, which is equivalent to the Latin perfect. I theorize (but have yet to confirm) that the -avisse ending began to simplify into diphthongs before the v took on its modern pronunciation, and that the other conjugations imitated the inflections of the first. This also explains the characteristic accent on the final syllable. But certain common verbs retained their perfect stem rather than using -ví, and without a diphthong to form, these took on slightly different endings with the accent remaining on the penult.

e.g.: amavit ? amaut ? amó
e.g.: amavi ? amai ? amé
e.g.: dormivi ? dormii ? dormí
e.g.: dormivit ? dormiut ? durmió
e.g.: fuit ? fue
e.g.: traxi ? traje

Although deponent and semideponent verbs ceased to be rendered in the passive voice, Spanish replaced this with a new complication, the use of reflexive verbs. Many verbs with intransitive meaning (often expressed with get in English) are used with a reflexive pronoun, sometimes even with a slight change of meaning.

e.g.: sequi ? seguir, to follow
e.g.: mori ? morir or morirse, to die
e.g.: vestir, to dress; vestirse, to get dressed
e.g.: dormir, to sleep; dormirse, to go to sleep

Reflexive verbs have also become the most common way of expressing the passive voice, although the true passive is retained, with the agent identified with por (from Latin per).

e.g.: libros se encuentran en una biblioteca, books find themselves (i.e. are found) in a library
e.g.: los libros fueron encontrados por un estudiante, the books were found by a student

The pitfall is that the use of the reflexive does not always correspond to a reflexive meaning. At the core of the issue is the preference in Spanish to avoid intransitive verbs. In English we have an intransive burn meaning to be ablaze and a transitive burn meaning to set on fire. To burn intransitively is to be burnt, while to burn transitively is to cause to burn. When we say to burn, there is ambiguity as to which of these two meanings is intended. In Spanish, the former sort of meaning is generally expressed with a reflexive. This does not really mean that a person is causing himself to burn, but only that he is getting burnt.

e.g.: quemar, to burn, to cause to burn
e.g.: quemarse, to burn, to be burnt

Vulgar Latin developed two periphrastic verbs constructions exactly as English did. The perfect tenses (as distinguished from the preterite) were formed with haber, to have, followed by the past participle in the neuter singular.

e.g.: amaron, they loved (preterite)
e.g.: habían amado, they had loved (past perfect)

The future was also replaced by a periphrastic using have. Instead of saying he will love, Vulgar Latin began to say he has to love (cf. English he has yet to begin), but the infinitive was placed before the conjugated form of have. Ultimately the two words fused into one, as if it were a new way to conjugate. (Do not confuse this with have to, meaning must, which Spanish expresses by tener que).

e.g.: amare habit ? amar há ? amará, he will love

Yet another way to indicate the future periphrastically is to use the familiar English idiom be going to, (= ir a).

e.g.: voy a amar, I am going to love

The progressive was formed with estar, to be, followed by the gerund. In English, this usage began by using the gerund (ending in -ing) with the preposition on, as in I was on running, which contracted to I was a-running, and finally I was running. It can still be seen that Spanish used the gerund and not the present participle for this, since it does not change gender to reflect the subject.

e.g.: ella está corriendo, she is running

The verb estar is from the Latin stare, to stand, as in the statue stands (is) in the center of town. Its meaning was extended to the point that it means to be, on nearly equal footing with ser, but usually connoting a temporary or instantaneous state. That is, stare came to describe state (see?) while esse/ser describes essence (see?) or identity.

e.g. está bien, he is well
e.g. estoy preparado, I am ready
e.g. está en la isla, it is on the island
e.g. es sabio, he is wise (he is a wise man)
e.g. es el mismo problema, it is the same problem

Essential Derivatives
Alien Words
First it should be pointed out that about a fifth of all Spanish words were not derived from Latin. Most of these came from Gothic and Arabic (see the history above), though of course many others are from Basque (a peculiar little non-Indo-European language that somehow survived in a little pocket of the Pyrenees), French, English, etc.

The fortunate thing about Gothic words is that they tend to have old or everyday English cognates.

e.g.: norte = north
e.g.: guerra = war

And Arabic words tend to bear the distinctive al- prefix (Arabic for the), sometimes assimilated.

e.g.: al-manakh ? almanaque
e.g.: al-roz ? arroz

Common Particles
ille ? el
ad ? a
altero ? otro
ad horam ? ahora

illa ? (el)la
de ? de
nos alteros ? nosotros
deunde ? donde

illos ? (el)los
in ? en
vostra mercede ? usted
inter ? entre

uno ? un(o)
cum ? con
multo ? mucho
magis ? más

una ? una
sine ? sin
pauco ? poco
minus ? menos

sic ? sí
per ? por
tanto ? tanto
tam ? tan

ad sic ? así
pro ? para
bene ? bien
tam bene ? también

non ? no
super ? sobre
illic ? allí
tam paucum ? tampoco

si ? si
quem ? quien
jam ? ya
toto ? todo

et ? e ? y
aliquem ? alguién
heri ? ayer
tota via ? todavía

aut ? ot ? o
quid ? que
hodie ? hoy
post ? (des)pues

nec ? ni
quando ? cuando
semper ? siempre
vice ? vez

quam ? que
quanto ? cuanto
numquam ? nuncuan ? nunca
facit ? hace

qui ? que
qualis ? cual
quomodo ? quomo ? como

Prefixes & Suffixes
The prefixes of Latin, e.g. ad-, com-, de-, ob-, sub-, etc. have remained intact, except for dis-, which has usually become des- (sometimes replacing di- or de-), according to the rules of phonetic transformation described above.

e.g.: discurrere ? descorrer

Remember that Spanish adds an e- prefix before words beginning with sc, sp, or st.

e.g.: status ? estado

The suffixes have generally followed the rules of tranformation above, but the following are worth pointing out:

-tor ? -dor
-tione ? -ción
-tia ? -cia
-tate ? -dad
-tudine ? -tud
-ace ? -az (pl. -aces)
-culo ? -jo


dictator ? dictador
natione ? nación
patientia ? paciencia
civitate ? ciudad
altitudo ? altitud
audace ? audaz
oculo ? ojo

A personal name in Spanish is formed from a given name, the surname of the father, and the maiden surname of the mother (often omitted). A married woman keeps the surname of her father and appends de and the surname of her husband.

e.g.: María Gonzalez, as she would be called in English, or
e.g.: María Gonzalez Martinez, whose father is Sr. Gonzalez, and whose mother was originally named Srta. Martinez.
e.g.: María Gonzalez de Castro, the same woman after marrying Sr. Castro.

The -ez seen in so many Spanish surname is a patronymic, i.e., it was originally used to indicate the name of the father of someone, but was eventually adopted as a surname (such as English Johnson or Welsh Jones, both meaning son of John). Certain patronymics are contracted, such as Pedro + -ez ? Perez.

e.g.: Rodrigo Diaz (known as El Cid, died 1099), son of Diego Lainez, son of Lain Nuñez, son of Nuño Lainez, etc.

The preposition de also occurs in toponymic surnames, i.e., surnames derived from the name of a place where a family lived or ruled. As in England, toponymics most often originated among the nobility, who were called by the names of their estates.

e.g.: Fernando de Soto = Ferdinand of Soto

Once Spanish and Latin are learnt, it is no great feat to pick up at least a reading knowledge of Portuguese, which is essentially just an old western dialect of Spanish. However, Portuguese pronunciation suffers from a great many complications, too many to go into in detail here.

The vowel shifts e ? ie and o ? ue did not occur in Portuguese, so many words retain much more of their Latin look.

e.g. septem ? sete (= siete)
e.g. novum ? nove (= nueve)

But there are seven distinguishable vowels, rather than five, the extras arising from e and o having both open and closed varieties. The closed vowels sound as in Spanish, but the open e is more like a short English e or a, like the a in any, and the open o is like the English o in song. Where writing needs to distinguish the two, a circumflex (ˆ) indicates a closed vowel, and an acute accent (´) may be used to indicate instead an open vowel. This does not exhaust the possible pronunciations of each vowel, though; e.g., a final -o is typically pronounced as if it were -u.

e.g. avô, grandfather, vs. avó, grandmother

To multiply the vowels still further, each of the five has a nasal variety, as indicated with a tilde (˜). This arose from vowels combining with a following nasal consonant (i.e., m or n). The process continues to erode pronunciation, even where writing preserves the consonant. Even when there is no tilde, a vowel is usually nasal when followed by m or n, and sometimes even when it is not.

e.g. manos ? mãos (= manos)

In most cases, however, the suffix -ão corresponds the the Spanish -on. Likewise, -ã is for -an(a). This crops up a lot in the suffix -ção, which corresponds to Spanish -ción and English -tion.

e.g. non ? não (= no)
e.g. orphana ? órfã (= huérfana)
e.g. natione ? nação (= nación)

A final -n is even rarer because the language prefers to have -m as the nasal, as Spanish prefers -n. Therefore, some Latin words will look more familiar, others more strange. In contractions the original n sometimes reappears.

e.g. cum ? com (= con)
e.g. in ? em (= en)
e.g. in illo ? em o ? no (= en el)

Where Spanish forms new letters for news sounds by writing ñ and ll, Portuguese takes a more regular approach inspired by the model of writing ch for a palatized c sound. It renders palatal n (ñ) by nh, and palatal l (ll) by lh. But beware of the latter. Portuguese often lags behind Spanish in the shifting pattern, writing l rather than Spanish ll, or lh rather than Spanish j. And at the beginning of a word, where Spanish writes ll to stand for Latin cl, fl, pl, Portuguese always has ch.

e.g. somno ? sonho (= sueño)
e.g. battalia ? batalha (= batalla)
e.g. caballo ? cavalo (= caballo)
e.g. mulier ? mulher (= mujer)
e.g. clamare ? chamar (= llamar)

Portuguese was not kind to the letter l. After a stop, it was usually replaced by the other liquid, r. Between two vowels it was often simply dropped. Even the definite articles have dropped it, leaving nothing but a vowel!

e.g. blanda ? branda (= blanda)
e.g. salute ? saúde (= salud)
e.g. illa ? a (= la)
e.g. illo ? o (= el)

When a soft c is no longer before e or i, Spanish changes it to z. But Portuguese already has a z, with its English value, so it instead uses a cedilla to mark the the softness (as does French). Actually, a z in Spanish is usually a z in Portuguese, and ç most often simply replaces the -ti- of Latin. Unlike as in Spanish, cu is not used to replace qu with a pronounced u; rather, the latter remains intact. Where Latin ct or lt is replaced in Spanish by ch, Portuguese substitutes it.

e.g. fortia ? força (= fuerza)
e.g. natione ? nação (= nación)
e.g. quando ? quando (= cuando)
e.g. nocte ? noite (= noche)

The confusion of b and v is more solidified in Portuguese. It substitutes v for b in much the same circumstances as French, where Spanish does not except in speech. The initial f that Spanish lost leaving no trace but a silent h is alive and well in Portuguese.

e.g. fusticaba ? fustigava (= hostigaba)

The softening of consonants affected Portuguese somewhat differently than Spanish. Soft c, soft g (likewise j), and ch are all pronounced as in French, i.e., as in the respective English words cell, rouge, and machine. In addition, in most of Brazil the dental stops t and d soften before the i sound to approximately the sounds in the English words bastion and soldier.

A Comparison
Here is a sentence written in five somewhat different languages to illustrate the similarities and differences among them. They are (1) plain classical Latin, (2) correct Latin in the vulgar style, (3) a common sort of late vulgar Latin, (4) Spanish, (5) Portuguese, and (6) English.

Filia domini tui omne nocte temptat facere librum plenum statuarum cum decem capitibus.
Illa filia de tuo domino temptat cata nocte facere unum librum plenum de statuis cum decem capitibus.
Illa filia de tuo domino tentat cata nocte facer uno libro pleno de statuas com dece capitias.
La hija de tu dueño intenta cada noche hacer un libro lleno de estatuas con diez cabezas.
A filha de teu dono tenta cada noite fazer um livro pleno de estátuas com dez cabeças.
The daughter of your lord tries every night to make a book full of statues with ten heads.

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