Tom Winterbottom reports that “Using digital tools and literature to explore the evolution of the Spanish language, Stanford researcher Cuauhtémoc García-García reveals a new historical perspective on linguistic changes in Latin America and Spain”:
“I wanted to study language evolution through data found in written work to add historical depth to how, where and when languages changed,” he said. “My new data show that Spanish on the Iberian Peninsula was much more resistant to change over time when compared to Spanish in the Americas, where – since colonization – Spanish from Spain has come into contact with local, indigenous and hybrid influences.” […]
Drawing on his past work on changes in Brazilian Portuguese, García-García also noted intriguing differences between the two languages.
“In Brazil, there was a sudden shift in written language that coincided with the country gaining independence from Portugal in 1822 and correlating with increased local autonomy in printing and education,” said García-García, who is a member of the Digital Humanities Focal Group.
In Spanish America, however, rapid transformation of this sort was less common, as the colonies typically had more liberties regarding printing presses and educational institutions. Unlike Portugal, Spain introduced the printing press and universities to its colonies in the Americas in the 16th century, meaning that Spanish was open to local influences and piecemeal evolution over a more gradual period.
In his study, García-García examined the changing use of pronouns in written works. One example aimed to quantify the frequency of the Spanish pronoun vos as compared with tú, both pronouns meaning “you.”
Their usage varies across time and space. In Argentina, for example, vos is used almost exclusively as the second-person singular pronoun (“you”), as it is in Uruguay, Paraguay, Costa Rica and Nicaragua, and to a lesser extent in other Spanish-speaking countries.
García-García found a different story in Chile. Vos was common until the mid-19th century, when it ceded ground to tú after a campaign led by the Venezuelan intellectual and educator Andrés Bello, who sought to eradicate it from the educational system in his adopted home.
There’s more on Bello’s campaign at the link; I was familiar with vos in Argentina (where I used to live) and Uruguay, but didn’t realize it was so common elsewhere. Thanks, Trevor!