A nomination!

I just found out that this blog has been nominated for LexioPhile’s “Top 100 Language Lovers 2015” list. Now I feel terribly guilty for completely neglecting the blog over the last several months. True, I have the best of excuses — I’ve been putting all my time into my book ¿Por qué? 101 Questions about Spanish, which Bloomsbury Press is expecting in October, but still…

By way of apology, here are a few of the interesting things I’ve learned recently while researching my book:

  • The types of auxiliary verbs used to construct the Spanish past tense — verbs of possession (He hablado ‘I have spoken’), existence (Estaba estudiando ‘was studying’), and finishing (Acabo de salir ‘I have just left’ (literally, ‘I’ve finished leaving’)) — are the same types used in many other languages. In fact, a Proto-Indo-European verb of existence is the source of the imperfect ending of modern Spanish (-aba, -abas, and so on).
  • A lot of Spanish -ir verbs used to be -ere verbs in Latin.
  • The various forms of the Latin demonstrative ille ‘that’ (e.g. ille liber ‘that book’) are the source of some of the most common function words in Spanish: the personal pronouns él, ella, ellos, and ellas ‘he/she/they’, the definite articles el, la, los, and las ‘the’, the neuter pronoun ello, and the direct and indirect object pronouns lo/la/los/las and le/les. That’s an impressive list, ¿no?
  • The b in words like tremblarhombre, and hembra is a Spanish addition. The original Latin words were tremulāre, homine, and femina. When the underlined vowels were lost, Spanish added the b to break up the resulting consonant clusters. (In hombre and hembra, the n also changed to r).
  • Pavo ‘turkey’ used to mean ‘peacock’. When Spain conquered the New World they adapted the word to the new bird they enjoyed eating. This caused confusion — was pavo a turkey or a peacock? The word real was therefore added to pavo in its ‘peacock’ sense to create the modern pavo real — literally, a ‘royal turkey’.
  • Spanish text messaging abbreviations use the same conventions as in English. Single characters replace sound-alike parts of words (salu2 for saludos), or words shrink to their first letter (b for besos) or syllable (do for domingo) or lose their vowels (dfcl for difícil). Doubled plurals (dd for días) are reminiscent of normal abbreviations like EE. UU. for Estados Unidos.

I will try to find time over the next few weeks to write here again.

Until then, un saludo.

10 thoughts on “A nomination!

  1. Amir Simantov

    This is so interesting. Waiting for your book.

    Now living in Latin America, here are some unordered notes regarding Spanish text messaging:
    – q is used for “que” or for “qué”.
    – xp is used for “por qué” or for “porque”.
    – bb for bebé (I would argue that it used by lower socioeconomic people (it actually confused me with the meaning of this abbreviation in gay English…)

    Not only with text messaging:
    – k is used when a guy wants to sound cool, or more North American, as this letter is not Latin.
    – Actually sometimes they use k in a wrong way (unknowingly?) where indeed it is not used in English. A cute example may be the word “cool” itself, as I saw it spelled “kool”.
    – U for “university” is already part of the Spanish language according to Colombian speakers. It is used aurally and in writing everywhere, including the U’s themselves. “Voy para la U” or even “Voy para la u”.

  2. mtc6474

    In the sentence ” The original Latin words were tremulāre, homine, and femina.” , I think, but do not know that there is an error. Given everything else said in that section, the word should be “hemina”. If I am wrong, would you please explain, if possible, the “f” changed to a “h”.
    I enjoy your blog very much.

    1. jhochberg Post author

      F changed to h generally at the beginning of Spanish words, e.g. hambre is related to French faim and English famished, hijo to French fils and English filial, and so on. It was kept before r and ue, as in frío and fuerte, and turned into a double ll before l, as in llama from Latin flamma. Words you see that break these rules are later borrowings.

      This pattern is one of the most distinct characteristics of the language.

  3. jhochberg Post author

    I could (and should) write a whole post about texting. It was super-fun to research. I love the use of x for ‘por’, and even more so xa for ‘para’, because — get this — it recapitulates the history of Spanish, since ‘para’ comes from ‘por’ + ‘a’!!! (Plus the o changed to an a.)

    I was curious about the substitution of k for q and c and asked about it on reddit, where I was told roughly the same thing that you said: “Not sure about other countries, but in Spain, substituting the “k” traditionally conveyed certain social/cultural/political leanings. It goes back to the early post-Franco years and was initially a punk way to hack the language (see Kaka de Luxe, Rock Radikal Vasco, etc.). Basque also has had an influence. The word okupa was accepted into the DRAE several years back, so it’s not quite so cutting edge these days and is mostly used by kids to annoy adults and prescriptivists.”

    1. jhochberg Post author

      You are a most careful reader! Thank you for catching the typographical error of tremblar for temblar; I have now fixed it. However, I can’t find anything in my source books to account for the simplification of tr to t. Penny in fact says that initial consonant + r “is highly stable and rarely undergoes change”. I was in fact referring to the r (from n) of hombre and hembra, not the lost r of temblar. Both words changed the mn sequence (the result by vowel loss from homine and femina) to mr, an example of dissimilation, before adding the b.

  4. Amir Simantov

    Yet another one…

    Some kids replace the [w] sounds, well, with w. It can be either for words which starts with g or without them. So far, I saw it only when the [w] sound is in the beginning of the word:

    wapo (guapo)
    wey (Méxican guey)
    wevos (huevos)


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *