Illustration of ‘Don Quixote de La Mancha’.
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Quo vadis, Spanish language? Where are you going? Where wilaryu? To move definitively to America and leave Spain as a residual laterality? To undergo very deep orthographic, syntactic and grammatical changes soon? To become fully Spanglish and then merge with English? To dispute in a few decades a new frontier with the Chinese language, the most spoken in the world?
Languages are living beings . They are born, they grow, they develop, sometimes they die. The processes of evolution, very slow before, are now much faster. The technological revolution, Internet, globalization, accessible online media from all over the planet, large demographic explosions, massive migrations … are now the accelerators. Even soap operas or movies or popular music! How will our language take it? Is there Darwinism between languages and only those who are capable of adapting to change survive?
Spanish or Castilian was born more than a thousand years ago, although it is not known exactly when Spanish or Castilian, born more than a thousand years ago, although it is not known precisely when, has given in its long centuries of history many proofs of a strong , a dynamism and an adaptability far superior to almost all the languages I had as neighbors. Perhaps it is its origin as a frontier language , its birth in miscegenation and fusion, which gives it the ability to expand into territories of other cultures and to assimilate and make own many foreign elements. Will it still be like this in this new world that is opening up to us?
Let’s go many centuries ago, let’s reconstruct the path we have traveled before we think about the future. We travel to a remote mountainous region of the north of the Iberian Peninsula, in the current province of Burgos. It’s really small, and it’s almost boxed. It has to the north the Cantabrian mountains, to the east the Basque mountains, to the south the Obarenes mountains and the upper course of the Ebro river. The area has been renamed. “Bardulia, quae nunc apellatur Castella”, says a document signed on September 15 of the year 800, in the foundation of the monastery of San Emeterio in Taranco de Mena. Translated from the Latin, “Bardulia, which we now call Castilla . “
The new name takes it because the area has been filled with fortifications, forts and castles erected to defend a multiple and dangerous border. The zone, in short, is the outpost of the Christian kingdom of León towards the Christian kingdom of Navarre and, above all, towards the Muslim emirate of Córdoba, later the caliphate. Even the Arab chroniclers have noticed the fortifications: they call the district al-Quila, which means “the castles”.
This has always been a land of passage, of mixtures, of fusion , of mestizajes. Also of litigation, of frequent wars. Here they have crossed, for better and worse, the Iberians with the Celts, the Basques with the Pelendones, the Bárdulos with the Caristians and the Autrigones, the Cantabrians with the Romans … The Romans of Hispania Citerior with those of the Hispania Ulterior. The Alans with the Swabians. The Visigoths with the Goths.
Moving forward in time
Let’s jump a little further here in that Castilla, past 900 . This is a far west , a far west, or better a far east, even more rough. It has become an extreme and distant east of the lordly kingdom of León, which will soon split, to separate.
This primitive Castile is populated by wild and mountainous people . They sow something, but little; they graze and fatten some cattle, but scarce. It is not worth much effort, the area is unsafe and dangerous. Its inhabitants live mainly on war, that is its main activity. They endure as the Muslim raids can, the rapid incursions of plunder and pillage that enter from the east, going up Ebro up the narrow roads next to the river, or in the south, from the Duero, and then return them occasionally, with their fast rides to enemy territory, also in search of easy booty. Those warlike defenders of the frontier are rude and uneducated; always misnamed because they were poorly latinized at the beginning.
Unhappy the Germans, for whom the true God is a fierce God Many centuries ago, during the central times of the rule of Rome, there was a joke with local variants in the different ends of the Empire. “Miseri germani quibus Deus verus et Deus ferus idem est”. Translated to today: “Woe to the Germans, for whom the true God is a fierce God”. The Romans in Rome said it because the Germanic, the remote ancestors of the current Germans, could not distinguish the sound of the ‘v’ and the ‘f’, and they converted ‘verus’ (true) into ‘ferus’ (fierce) ).
The Iberian adaptation of the joke was even more ingenious, and also gives us information about our remote ancestors: “Beati hispani quibus bibere et vivere idem est”, which was as much as saying: “Blessed are the Hispanics, for those who drink and live is the same “ . It was not said just because our ancestors were already good fans of alcohol, which probably were. It was also said because they were the only inhabitants of the Roman Empire who did not distinguish between the Latin sound of the ‘b’ -bilabial and occlusive- and that of the ‘v’ -bilabial and fricative-. Even Cicero was surprised in the Roman Senate of his speech! The physical remoteness of Rome meant that many of the linguistic innovations of the metropolis did not reach the colonies.
In the rude throats of those sturdy proto-Slates of the tenth century, in their thin ears, in their brains occupied almost only by war, a new language is germinating. It has arisen directly from the vulgar Latin , yes, but soon incorporates elements from other origins. Old pre-Roman terms that still retained the atavistic memory of those speakers. Germanic sounds and words from the Gothic past. Words brought by the Frankish and Occitan pilgrims of the incipient Camino de Santiago, and later by the Cluniac monks who come to reform the monastic orders, and later the Lombard, Burgundian and Norman stonemasons who bring Romanesque art … And they also take linguistic loans , many, of the language on the other side of the border, Arabic, which at that time was not only the language with the most speakers in the Iberian Peninsula, but also the international language of culture.
And the Arabic appears
The Arab enters the Castilian territory not only with the razias, algaras and aceifas of plunder and punishment of the Muslim armies , but also with the successive waves of displaced Mozarabic , the thousands of Christians who, living in lands dominated by the Muslims, They were forced to migrate north, fleeing some of the eruptions of Islamist religious fanaticism that occasionally occurred in the south.
In the XII and XIII centuries, Castilla achieved and established its primacy in the peninsular north The new language of the men of the border not only has an enormous capacity for assimilation of elements of other languages, but also evolves more quickly and decisively . It sounds more Latin consonants than its neighbors the Navarrese-Aragonese or the Asturian-Leonese, Diptonga in a riskier way, eliminates many more vowels, introduces more velar and guttural sounds, fills all of vibrant sounds, of R’s that arise from its bellicose throat. “Illorum lingua resona quasi tympano tuba”, is said of the Castilians in the Poem of Almeria, written in Latin around the year 1150. Translated into Spanish today: “His language resounds almost like the trumpets of war . “
In the XII and XIII centuries, Castilla achieved and established its primacy among the Christian kingdoms of the north of the peninsula. With its military conquests and the expansion of its frontier to the south, until then Muslim, a multitude of Castilian speakers of the northern third peninsular repopulate the territories of the Tagus, the Guadiana, the Guadalquivir, the Segura … Castilian, also adopted by the Muslims from these areas that do not take refuge in the Nasrid kingdom of Granada or across the Strait, thus becomes not only the language with more speakers of the Peninsula, but perhaps also throughout Europe, very fragmented at that time in small state. With the taking of the very populated kingdom of Granada, at the end of the 15th century, the number of Spanish speakers climbs a new step.
The sword did not impose Castilian in America
And now America , after the discovery of Columbus, and the expansion of the Spanish Empire also by Europe and Asia. Was Castilian imposed by the sword as the only language in those territories? Recent studies say no. The Empire was not Spanish-speaking . It was multilingual . The historian Henry Kamen tells it: “During the entire Austrian period [XVI and XVII centuries], Spanish was widely used, but the plurality of languages in the interior of the Peninsula was a fact that was necessarily recognized and accepted [. ..] in the Philippines, Chinese had more speakers than Spanish, in South America there were more Quechua speakers (and their associated languages) than in Spanish, and in Europe, the dominant cultures of the Spanish monarchy were both Italian and French. the Spanish”.
The Empire was plurilingual a lot longer. The linguist Juan Ramón Lodares provides data: “Taken in the year 1800 a proportional sample of three hundred subjects of the ruinous Hispanic empire, about one hundred and ten of them would be understood reasonably well in Spanish, the remaining ninety not.”
Spanish became entrenched after the colonial period It was not during the colonial period that Spanish became the lingua franca of a large part of America. It was later, when the different republics that were born there, becoming independent of Spain, bet one after the other on Spanish as the official language . Lodares also writes: “Two facts are surprising in the nineteenth and twentieth century: first, that the Spanish language has withstood the imperial collapse and has not emerged from it as a small language in the world context, even in a language fragmented into different norms. surprise: that not only has resisted the collapse, but has grown in the middle of it.The genuine period of numerical growth of Spanish and consolidation as a multinational language is, precisely, the turbulent period that goes from 1821 – we cite that symbolic date that corresponds to the independence of Mexico- to our days. “
While all this was happening, by the way, Spanish continued behaving like a sponge that assimilated words and linguistic modes of other neighboring languages. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, of the pre-Columbian languages with which it touched in America. In the eighteenth century, the French, with the arrival on the Spanish throne of the Bourbons, of Gallic origin. In the XIX, the XX and what we have of the XXI, borrows from the English emerged from the industrial revolution, transport, tourism, economy, globalization, the technological revolution … and the demographic frontier in the United States, where Spanglish emerges.
End of the trip backwards. Today, Spanish or Castilian is the second most spoken language in the world because of the number of people who have it as their mother tongue, after Mandarin Chinese; and the third if total speakers are measured, after Mandarin and English. They speak it as a first or second language 450 million people, and more than 500 if you add those who have learned it as a foreign language. It is the second most studied language in the world, after English. It is the third most used on the Internet. And now that?
The remarkable unity of the Spanish surprises the experts consulted to produce this report. It surprises them for good, speaking the language in territories so far apart. An example: the Spanish-Mexican philologist Juan Miguel Lope Blanch did in 2000 a count of 133,000 words selected from the speech of Madrid and discovered that 99.9% was vocabulary common to Mexico.
The risks of Spanish fragmentation seem few, but specialists believe that the centrality of the language is going to move to America, and Spanish Spanish will be a laterality.
Unknowns of the future
There are other issues where there is greater discrepancy. How will cyber-language influence the future of Spanish , that new way of writing in sms, emails, Twitter …?
The sociolinguist Humberto López Morales , of Cuban origin but who has worked and lived in different Spanish-speaking countries, including Spain, does not have a good opinion of this phenomenon. He believes that it is characterized “by its contempt for spelling, its rare abbreviations, the curious use of ellipses, the substitution of letters for others, the constant presence of orality, the total absence of accents, the elision of letters, the reiteration of words, letters or signs, shortened words, the use of lowercase and uppercase letters, question marks and exclamation only at the end, the simplification of digraphs, apheresis, code changes, onomatopoeia, emoticons, etc. ” . But he is still convinced that “if actions are not taken quickly, they may be popularly established and even adopted these abbreviations, which once adopted by most speakers are very difficult to eliminate or replace.”
Cyber-language, in everyone’s mouth Professor Ilan Stavans , of Mexican origin but living in the United States, is more forceful. He is convinced that these orthographic innovations introduced into the language by the technological revolution will end up being widely used and admitted by academic regulations. Francisco Moreno, Spanish, academic director of the Cervantes Institute , puts a nuance to the matter. He believes that some of those uses “could acquire a nature card”, but not necessarily the current ones “since the writing systems through keyboard and dictation are changing, which affects the speed of writing”.
Spanglish , the morphosyntactic and semantic fusion of Spanish with US English, divides the experts more. “It’s not a fad,” say both Stavans and Moreno. Lopez Morales, however, calls it “Spanglish” and believes that “he is doomed to disappear sooner or later.” And he argues it this way: “In order to get the best jobs in the United States, it is very important to speak and write English and Spanish correctly, and Spanglish is not useful at all.” Current sociological research shows that the best jobs and the best paid ask for balanced bilinguals “.
Predictions of the experts
Foresight, looking at the future, is difficult in the language. But the experts consulted have dared to make some global prediction about the future of our language.
Moreno is clear that he will continue to grow, especially outside our natural territory: “In the United States the arrival of Spanish-speaking emigrants has influenced, in Brazil, the signing of the Mercosur agreement, in Europe, the attractiveness of the Ibero-American world as a market. cultural reasons are not unimportant: the prestige of Hispanic literature, the worldwide pull of Latin music, the success of varied Hispanic cuisine, the appeal of soap operas, the quality of our cinema … all contribute to the Spanish continue to be a growing language. “
At the present time it is impossible to think about the possibility of language mergers
He also believes that “the cultural identities behind the Spanish and English languages are so strong that it is difficult to favor a fusion between them”. Rather, he sees direct competition: ” Spanish aspires to be a lingua franca in the Western world , the Romanesque alternative to the English language”.
“At the present time it is impossible to think about the possibility of language mergers, especially important ones,” says López Morales. Stavans does not see it that way. He thinks that the merger “is a feasible scenario.” A considerable number of Hispanics in the United States now speak that koiné, that bastard language.
A final question to the experts. Do you see on the horizon any other border for the language of the border that was born in old Castile? Yes, they see it. “In the future, the influence of Mandarin Chinese may be enhanced , in the form of lexical loans,” says Francisco Moreno from the privileged observatory of the Cervantes Institute. “I would not be surprised if, in one hundred years, Spanish is nourished by Mandarin and Cantonese, or vice versa,” adds Stavans, from his experience with Spanglish.
- Illustration of ‘Don Quixote de La Mancha’
Illustration of ‘Don Quixote de La Mancha’. (DAVID NAVASCUÉS)
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