The Earliest Spanish.

Miriam Foley writes for BBC Travel about a repository of early Romance texts:

After a short drive uphill from the small village of San Millán de la Cogolla, I found myself standing before the Suso monastery. Founded by the 6th-Century hermit monk St Millán, the monastery feels as if it belongs to another time and place. […]

Claudio García Turza, director of the Department of the Origins of the Spanish Language at the International Centre of Investigation of the Spanish Language (CILENGUA), has dedicated more than 40 years to the investigation and teaching of Spanish at the University of La Rioja. We met at the grandiose Yuso, Suso’s larger and more majestic sister monastery located at the bottom of the hill. Both monasteries earned Unesco World Heritage status in 1997.

García Turza explained that in the 10th Century, one of the monastery’s monks began to translate sermons and prayers – all of which were written and recited in Latin, which by then wasn’t universally understood – into the local Ibero-Romance dialect for his fellow monks to understand. He left notes in the margins of the original texts. Those translation notes, the most famous of which have been compiled in Las Glosas Emilianenses, or the Emilian Glosses, are some of the language’s earliest steps onto the page. “[They] provide a glimpse into how the language was spoken all those centuries ago, in a time when most people were illiterate,” García Turza said as he leaned forward, his voice rising with excitement.

Suso’s role in the development of the Spanish language doesn’t end there. Several centuries later, poet Gonzalo de Berceo resided at the monastery, where he wrote verses that included never-before-seen terms. Recognised as the first Spanish-language poet, de Berceo expanded the Spanish lexicon by more than 2,000 words during his lifetime. […] Other early examples of written Ibero-Romance exist, including the Cartularios de Valpuesta, medieval documents containing words in Ibero-Romance found at the monastery of Santa María de Valpuesta in the neighbouring province of Burgos. […] Yet there is no doubt that the Suso monastery played a crucial role in the development of the Spanish language. García Turza called it “the house of words, but first and foremost, the house of philology”. He explained that the longest of the monk’s notes, known as Glosa 89, constitutes the first comprehensive text written in an Ibero-Romance language, where “a succession of words… are stitched together, interrelated, to convey a message.” It’s the first full text where all linguistic levels of the language are expressed – not only with words, but also grammar and syntax – providing evidence of a greater complexity.

I’m not sure why the BBC capitalizes “Century”; a UK thing, perhaps? (Thanks, Trevor!)

Comments

  1. I wish I could find the original (since Slideshare flattens all of the different click-through slide show elements), but I did find this presentation that has some pictures and provides some glosses of Glosa 89, among others (including one in Basque!).

    Direct link to the image of the slide with Glosa 89.

  2. John Cowan says:

    Well, I suppose the Tenth Century is a proper name of sorts, labeling a specific time interval (with some fuzz around the endpoints), just as Ethiopia labels a specific space interval. I agree it looks weird, but it has some logic behind it. Certainly it’s normal to capitalize “Quattrocento” in both English and Italian.

  3. Trond Engen says:

    Suso’s role in the development of the Spanish language doesn’t end there. Several centuries later, poet Gonzalo de Berceo resided at the monastery, where he wrote verses that included never-before-seen terms. Recognised as the first Spanish-language poet, de Berceo expanded the Spanish lexicon by more than 2,000 words during his lifetime.

    A millenium before Shakespeare invented English!

    Yet there is no doubt that the Suso monastery played a crucial role in the development of the Spanish language. García Turza called it “the house of words, but first and foremost, the house of philology”. He explained that the longest of the monk’s notes, known as Glosa 89, constitutes the first comprehensive text written in an Ibero-Romance language, where “a succession of words… are stitched together, interrelated, to convey a message.” It’s the first full text where all linguistic levels of the language are expressed – not only with words, but also grammar and syntax – providing evidence of a greater complexity.

    Oh, and grammar too!

    García Turzo’s explanation is fine. It’s BBC Travel’s reporter who’s confusing recording with invention.

  4. John Cowan says:

    At least BBC Travel usually gets its linguistic facts correct, unlike BBC Science.

  5. Etienne says:

    As the local Romance linguistics specialist among hatters, I suppose I should present the various false/misleading statements in the article. So, a few I picked up…

    “as if this complex language had always existed” -Even from an anglocentric perspective, this is ridiculous: from an English speaker’s point of view, Spanish is one of the easier foreign languages to master.

    “back to Latin, “but not written, literary, classical Latin, rather of an evolved Latin more in agreement with that of the spoken language of late epoch and even of the archaic.””. Okay, THIS had me scratching my head. This looks like a case of Google translate fail. The only way this sentence could make sense would be if it was tacitly believed that the Romans had mastered time travel, and thus that the Latin brought to the Iberian peninsula came from different historical periods, and hence combined elements of spoken Latin from the archaic AND late periods. Would any hatters care to comment? I’m at sea here.

    “This evolutionary process took place as the native inhabitants adopted Latin and incorporated it into their local language, phonetics, vocalic system and lexicon.” Err, no, this evolutionary process began when the native inhabitants began to speak Latin *instead of* their local languages. Yes, languageS, not language: we do know for a fact that the pre-Roman Iberian peninsula was multilingual.

    “the Suso monks were the first to record the sounds of the Ibero-Romance language on the page” This is very debatable and depends on whether we think of these writings as Early Ibero-Romance or Early Ibero-Romance-influenced Latin. The first written attestation of Ibero-Romance, as a variety indubitably distinct from Latin, is found in Arabic script, and it is to me deeply troubling that the reader of this article would never suspect the existence of a tradition of writing Ibero-Romance involving neither Christianity nor the Latin script.

  6. AJP Crown says:

    The way I understand it is that 10th Century, Nineteenth Century are proper nouns and therefore capitalised. Hungary’s century of erotic verse isn’t capitalised unless it’s the title of a book. Now I’m worried that you query its legitimacy. Perhaps I’m all wrong.

  7. Trond Engen says:

    John Cowan: At least BBC Travel usually gets its linguistic facts correct, unlike BBC Science.

    Wait until you read The Surprising Story of the Basque Language.

  8. Etienne says:

    Trond Engen: I just read the article.

    My head hurts. The stupid, it burns…and, wait, somebody was actually PAID to produce this?

    Well. On the bright side, I now know what career advice to offer to students who do not have the brains and/or motivation to pass their first-year courses…

  9. J.W. Brewer says:

    The problem with “as if this complex language had always existed” isn’t really the word “complex” — it’s the notion that you could plausibly tell whether a given language had been totally stable over the last thousand years versus evolving over the same timespan by how confident a tone its current speakers spoke it with. Do I speak English as if it were an eternal language that had never been transformed by the Norman Conquest or the Great Vowel Shift? What does that even mean? How could you tell? (If we’re making fun of the journalese, I tend to doubt that the monks who did the annotations and marginalia did so “furtively.”)

    In terms of the last item on Etienne’s list, I think the problem may be the infelicitous use of “Ibero-Romance language” in a way that implies in context both that: a) that was a unified thing; and b) it developed into Castilian and only Castillian. My own supposition is that there never was a “proto-Ibero-Romance,” i.e. by the time it had diverged enough from Late Latin to be worth calling something else there were already a bunch of non-unified varieties throughout Iberia, one of which ultimately turned into Castillian and the others of which didn’t. I wonder if the folks being quoted meant something more like “the specific Ibero-Romance variety spoken in the original range of Castillian just prior to the semi-arbitrary historical moment where we start calling it castellano antiguo”? Failure to attend to the difference between “the history of the specific Romance language we conventionally call Spanish” and “the history of the various Romance languages historically spoken on the territory of present-day Spain” could easily lead to getting muddled.

  10. John Cowan says:

    Seems okay to me. He follows up an intriguing idea (Basque and Armenian are distant relatives), talks to the people who publicized it, talks to the experts on Basque and on Armenian, points out that there happens to be zero people competent in both who are alive today, and winds up dismissing the whole thing. Very good reportage overall.

  11. Eli Nelson says:

    @Etienne: I think that the “not written, literary, classical Latin, rather of an evolved Latin more in agreement with that of the spoken language of late epoch and even of the archaic” quote is supposed to mean that Spanish might have developed from spoken forms of Latin that contained archaisms not present in the written classical standard. Those archaisms presumably would not have jumped from archaic times to Spanish, but would have been passed down in spoken language throughout all the intervening eras despite falling out of use in writing. I don’t know exactly what features of modern Spanish would be thought to qualify for this; the only possible archaic feature of Vulgar/spoken Latin that I remember reading about is nominative plural -as instead of -ae (which is supposed to explain the Old French use of “es” as a termination for feminine plural nouns in both the nominative and oblique cases), but I don’t think there’s any trace of that in Spanish.

  12. David Marjanović says:

    …and, wait, somebody was actually PAID to produce this?

    The stupid oxide! It stinks!

  13. Savalonôs says:

    Isn’t the masculine singular -o an archaism? OL -os > Classical -us, but OL -os > … > Sp. -o

  14. Eli Nelson says:

    @Savalonôs:

    The change from Latin -us to Romance -os (and -um to -o(m), etc.; the accusative rather than the nominative is supposed to be the source of Spanish forms in -o) is viewed as a second sound change that in this case reversed the effects of a previous sound change, not a retention of the older sound. Old Latin short u also developed to Spanish o, as with the development in the first syllable of fundus > hondo, unda > onda.

  15. “as if this complex language had always existed” -Even from an anglocentric perspective, this is ridiculous: from an English speaker’s point of view, Spanish is one of the easier foreign languages to master

    Even so, very few anglophones truly master it. Spanish verbs are not particularly easy for anglophones, there are numerous dialects and regional words and there is also a rich literary tradition which provides native speakers with a wealth of allusions. It is not unfair to call Spanish “complex”.

    But the author is using “complex” in a different sense, I understand her to mean “developed/mature”. I think what is going on is that the author has in her head that in the 6th century a lot of Iberians were walking around speaking some sort of simplified Latin pidgin without grammar or syntax and very few vocabulary words that then developed over time into the “complex” language we now know as Spanish.

  16. Trond Engen says:

    … by the monks of San Millán de Suso.

  17. I suspect each of the following:
    * the layperson on either side of the Atlantic may have doubts about the question, and each country’s middle-school essay corpus will show similar “Century”:”century” ratios.
    * style guides are more familiar to US than UK laypeople, and more consistently applied by US than UK websites.
    * no significant UK style guide mandates capitalising “Century”.

    So the article’s “10th Century” is an error/misstyle less likely to be noticed by UK than US subeditors or readers.

  18. David Marjanović says:

    Spanish has a concave learning curve for Average Europeans: it starts out easy enough that you can fake the basics without any formal instruction (including self-teaching with a textbook or the like), but once you run into things like trying to tell when to use which past tense and the subjunctive, even with formal teaching it becomes hard work.

    Old Latin short u also developed to Spanish o, as with the development in the first syllable of fundus > hondo, unda > onda.

    That’s a general western Romance thing (French: fond, onde).

  19. PlasticPaddy says:

    Italian has fondo and onda. What is confusing for me is longus > lungo which seems to go in the opposite direction.

  20. Etienne says:

    Plasticpaddy: In Italian, the stressed /o/ of an earlier stage of Romance, known as Italo-Western (this /o/ is the outcome of the merger of Latin short /u/ and long /o/), shifts to /u/ when followed by the /n/ + /g/ cluster: that is why Italian has “fondo” and “onda” on the one hand and “lungo” on the other. This is a more restrictive rule then the raising, in Italian, of the stressed /e/ of Italo-Western (i.e. the outcome of the merger of Latin short /i/ and long /e/), which occurs before /n/ + velar or labiovelar stop (i.e. phonetically: /ŋ/), /ɲ/ and /λ/ : that is why Latin “lingua” seems to have remained unchanged all the way to Italian, but it is fairly certain that it underwent two changes: Latin “lingua” (IPA: something like */liŋgʷa/, with a short /i/) became Proto-Italo-Western */’leŋgʷa/, and then the stressed /e/ of the Italo-Western word became /i/, yielding Italian “lingua”.

    Importantly, “Italian” here means “Tuscan”: other Romance varieties of the Italian pensinsula deriving from Italo-Western typically have preserved reflexes of */’leŋgʷa/: cf. Venetian “lengoa”, Lombard “lengua”.

  21. Eli Nelson says:

    Italian seems to have a number of sound changes that affected the height of non-low vowels.

    @Etienne: WIth “longus” > “lungo”, the vowel in Classical Latin was short /o/, right? The word apparently had the vowel /ɔ/ in the ancestor of at least some Romance languages, since Spanish developed the form “luengo”. So the Italian raising in this context seems to have caused a merger of the reflexes of Classical Latin short /o/ and short /u/.

    There might not be any words that allow us to compare the outcome of short /o/ vs. its exact front counterpart, short /e/, because of the Classical Latin gap in words with short /e/ followed by “ng”, which had already raised the vowel to /i/ before the classical era (I have the impression that it’s kind of similar to the situation with English).

    I thought I remembered reading about some similar change for *o before “ng” and “nc”, but “longus” seems to be an exception to that. However, Wiktionary gives Latin unguo as a descendent of “Proto-Italic *ongʷō”, which makes me a bit puzzled about whether [oŋ] > [uŋ] in word-initial syllables in Latin was some kind of real sound change that was for some reason more sporadic than [eŋ] > [iŋ]. (Edit: Since posting this, I looked to see what de Vaan’s Etymological Dictionary of Latin has to say about the etymologies of words with *ong, and the explanation offered there (p. 178) is that a preceding dental consonant may have caused *o to be retained.)

  22. David Marjanović says:

    I have the impression that it’s kind of similar to the situation with English

    Germanic as a whole has a shift of *en to *in if a syllable boundary follows. Hence find, bind, wind, ring, Finn and many more.

  23. John Cowan says:

    WIth “longus” > “lungo”, the vowel in Classical Latin was short /o/, right?

    Yes: in the whole of Western Romance, stressed Latin short o became /ɔ/, which then became /ue/ in Spanish, whereas stressed Latin long o and short u fell together as /o/. (In unstressed syllables all three became /o/). In Catalan this did not happen and the language has seven stressed vowels to this day, with 3-5 unstressed ones. The word llong is archaic, so Wikt gives no pronunciation, but I’ll bet anything it’s llòng with /ɔ/.

    I note for what it’s worth that Anglo-Norman had lung as an alternative to long, and it’s lung in Romanian, lungu in Aromanian, and lung in Romansch. So some of this may be lexically specific fluctuation.

  24. Eli Nelson says:

    @David Marjanović: Oh, that’s right, but I was thinking rather of the change from eŋ to iŋ that seems to have occurred between Old English and Modern English in certain words, like PDE string : OE streng. I hadn’t realized though that in some words there might have been a change of stem rather than just a phonetic law of raising; e.g. the OED entry for “think” indicates that it might be a reflex of both þencan and þyncan.

    So I’m not sure how specific this kind of raising was to eŋ, but for whatever reason, Present-Day English seems to have more inherited words with [ɛn] than with [ɛŋ] (of course [n] is more frequent than [ŋ], so it could just be that), and I think [ɛm] is also more frequent in inherited words than [ɛŋ] (there’s stem, hem, hemp, ember vs. strength, length).

    @John Cowan:
    My understanding is that before a nasal in a closed syllable, Italo-Western *o and *ɔ merged in Old French (of any variety), with the quality of the resulting reflex varying between dialects and time periods. In modern French, the reflex is standardly written “oN” and usually transcribed as /ɔ̃/, but in Norman French, it seems to have been common to use pronunciations like [ũ] ((which is why English tends to have “oun” in words coming from Norman French, such as “count”) and spellings like “uN” .

  25. @pc & everyone, IF one can go directly there, this should be a link to the RAH image of the page in question (MS 60 f 72r).
    & Thank-you! Many years ago we had access to a simple magazine-glossy-page sort of facsimile of the whole MS; & I scanned it in, page by page; and then shortly afterwards lost the whole thing in a computer crash.
    Since then we’ve been to San Millán, &c., but never found the whole thing again (& I’d looked online, too). But with LH as a spur, I found it! Merci! Or more appropriately, Gracias. Gràcies!
    Here, they more-or-less *invite* you to download the whole thing as a .pdf! I’m thrilled.

  26. I’m very pleased — I love it when LH thrills people!

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