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Old Spanish

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Old Spanish

Old Spanish
Romance castellano
Pronunciation [roˈmanʦe kasteˈʎano]
Native to Spain
Era Tenth–fifteenth c.; continues as a liturgical language but with a modernized pronunciation.
Language family
Writing system Latin
Language codes
ISO 639-3 osp
Linguist List
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Old Spanish, also known as Old Castilian (Spanish: castellano antiguo, romance castellano) or Mediaeval Spanish (Spanish: español medieval), is an early form of the Spanish language that was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula from the tenth century until roughly the beginning of the fifteenth century, before a consonantal readjustment gave rise to the evolution of modern Spanish. The epic poem Cantar de Mio Cid (The Poem of the Cid), published around 1200, remains the best-known and most extensive work of literature in Old Spanish.

Phonetics and phonology

The phonological system of Old Spanish was quite similar to that of other mediaeval Romance languages. Amongst the consonants, there were three pairs of sibilants, each pair consisting of one voiceless and one voiced member:

  • Voiceless alveolar affricate /ts/: represented by the letter ⟨ç⟩ before ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩, and by ⟨c⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩
  • Voiced alveolar affricate /dz/: represented by the letter ⟨z⟩
  • Voiceless apicoalveolar fricative /s̺/: represented by ⟨s⟩ in word-initial and word-final positions and before and after a consonant, and by ⟨ss⟩ between vowels
  • Voiced apicoalveolar fricative /z/: represented by the letter ⟨s⟩ between vowels and before voiced consonants
  • Voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/: represented by the letter ⟨x⟩ (pronounced like the English digraph ⟨sh⟩)
  • Voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/: represented by the letter ⟨j⟩, and (often) by ⟨g⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ (spelled in the English digraph ⟨si⟩ as in "vision")

The Modern Spanish sound [x] (voiceless velar fricative), corresponding to the letter ⟨j⟩ or to ⟨g⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, and the Modern Spanish sound [θ] (voiceless dental fricative), written as ⟨z⟩ or as ⟨c⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩, did not exist in Old Spanish. Modern Spanish [x] and [θ] (which are pronounced [h] and [s], respectively, in Modern Andalusian, Canarian, and Latin American Spanish (especially Caribbean Spanish for [h] sound)) evolved from [ʃ]~[ʒ] and [ts]~[dz] respectively. The Old Spanish spelling of the sibilants was identical to modern Portuguese spelling, which still reflects the mediaeval language; Spanish was respelt in 1815. Old Spanish [z], spelled by the letter ⟨s⟩ between vowels, is only found in Modern Spanish as an allophone of /s/ before voiced consonants.


  • xefe (modern Spanish jefe, cf. Portuguese chefe)
  • Xeres (modern Spanish Jerez, cf. Portuguese Xerez)
  • oxalá (modern Spanish ojalá, cf. Portuguese oxalá)
  • dexar (modern Spanish dejar, cf. Portuguese deixar)
  • fazer or facer (modern Spanish hacer, cf. Portuguese fazer)
  • dezir (modern Spanish decir, cf. Portuguese dizer)
  • lança (modern Spanish lanza, cf. Portuguese lança)
  • passar (modern Spanish pasar, cf. Portuguese passar)
  • foces "sickles", fozes "throats/ravines" (modern Spanish hoces in both cases, cf. Portuguese foices, fozes)
  • coxo "lame", cojo "I seize" (modern Spanish cojo in both cases, cf. Portuguese coxo, colho)
  • osso "bear", oso "I dare" (modern Spanish oso in both cases, cf. Portuguese urso, ouso)

The Old Spanish origins of jeque and jerife reflect their Arabic origins, xeque from Arabic sheikh and xerife from Arabic sharif.

The letters ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ were still distinct; ⟨b⟩ still represented a stop consonant [b] in all positions, while ⟨v⟩ was pronounced as a voiced bilabial or labiodental fricative. The use of ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ in Old Spanish largely corresponded to their use in modern Portuguese, which still distinguishes the two sounds (with the exception of Galician and some northern Portuguese dialects). When Spanish spelling was changed in 1815, words with ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ were respelt etymologically in order to match Latin spelling whenever possible.


  • aver (Modern Spanish haber, cf. Latin habēre, Portuguese haver)
  • caber (Modern Spanish caber, cf. Latin capere, Portuguese caber)
  • bever (Modern Spanish beber, cf. Latin bibere; Portuguese beber < older bever)
  • bivir/vivir (Modern Spanish vivir, cf. Latin vīvere, Portuguese viver)
  • amava (Modern Spanish amaba, cf. Latin amābam/amābat, Portuguese amava)

The letter ⟨f⟩ represented variously a labiodental ], bilabial ], or glottal fricative ] (like the English ⟨h⟩) that later disappeared from pronunciation (/h/ is completely silent in most varieties of Vulgar Latin), where now an orthographic ⟨h⟩ represents it, except learned words (i.e. words borrowed directly from Classical Latin), before a glide, or another consonant.


  • fablar (Modern Spanish hablar)
  • fazer or facer (Modern Spanish hacer)
  • fijo (Modern Spanish hijo)
  • foces "sickles", fozes "throats/ravines" (Modern Spanish hoces)
  • follín (Modern Spanish hollín)
  • ferir (Modern Spanish herir)
  • falso (Modern Spanish falso)
  • fama (Modern Spanish fama)
  • forma (Modern Spanish forma)
  • fiel (Modern Spanish fiel)
  • fuerte (Modern Spanish fuerte)
  • flor (Modern Spanish flor)

This is the reason why there are modern spelling variants Fernando and Hernando (both Spanish of "Ferdinand"), ferrero and herrero (both Spanish of "smith"), fierro and hierro (both Spanish of "iron"), and fondo and hondo (both Spanish of "deep", but fondo means "depth" while hondo means "deep"); hacer (Spanish of "to make") is the root word of satisfacer (Spanish of "to satisfy"), and hecho ("made") is the root word of satisfecho (Spanish of "satisfied").

Morphology and syntax

In Old Spanish perfect constructions of movement verbs, such as ir (to go) and venir (to come), were formed using the auxiliary verb ser (to be), as in modern Italian and French. For example, Las mugieres son llegadas a Castiella (Las mujeres han llegado a Castilla).

Possession was expressed by the verb aver (haber). Example: Pedro ha dos fijas (Pedro tiene dos hijas).

In the perfect tenses, the past participle often agreed with the gender and number of the direct object. Example: María ha cantadas dos canciones (María ha cantado dos canciones), yet this was inconsistent even in the earliest texts.

Personal pronouns and substantives were placed after the verb in any tense or mood unless a word with stress were present before the verb.

The future and conditional sentences were not grammaticalised fully as inflexions, i.e., the verb aver still was analysed as an auxiliary rather than as a synthetic suffix, and still received stress until the seventeenth century.[1] Pronouns, therefore, following general placement rules, could be inserted between the main verb and the auxiliary in the future or conditional tense. Compare this phenomenon with modern Portuguese (mesoclisis):

E dixo: "Tornar-m-é a Jherusalem." (Fazienda de Ultra Mar, 194)
Y dijo: "Regresaré a Jerusalén." (modern equivalent)
And he said: "I will return to Jerusalem." (English translation)
En pennar gelo he por lo que fuere guisado (Cantar de mio Cid, 92)
Se lo empeñaré por lo que sea razonable (modern equivalent)
I will pawn it to them for whatever is reasonable (English translation)

If there were a word with stress before the verb empeñar, the pronouns would go before the verb: non gelo empeñar he por lo que fuere guisado.

Generally, an unstressed pronoun and a verb in simple sentences combined into one word. In a compound sentence, the pronoun was found in the beginning of the clause. Example: la manol va besar = la mano le va a besar.

In comparison with the modern language, the future subjunctive was living (nowadays it may be found only in legal or solemn discourse, and in the spoken language in some dialects particularly in areas of Venezuela replacing the imperfect subjunctive[2]). It was used similarly to its modern Portuguese counterpart, in place of the modern present subjunctive in a subordinate clause after si, cuando, etc., when an event in the future is referenced.

Si uos assi lo fizieredes e la uentura me fuere complida
Mando al uuestro altar buenas donas e Ricas (Cantar de mio Cid, 223-224)
Si vosotros así hacéis y la suerte me favorece,
Mando a vuestro altar ofrendas buenas y ricas (modern equivalent)
If you do so and fortune is favourable toward me,
I will send to your altar fine and rich offerings (English translation)
Latin Old Spanish Modern Spanish
acceptare, captare, effectum, respectum acetar, catar, efeto, respeto aceptar, captar, efecto, respecto and respeto
et, non, nos, hic e, et; non, no; nós; í y, e; no; nosotros; ahí
stabat; habui, habebat; facere, fecisti estava; ove, avié; far/fer/fazer, fezist(e)/fizist(e) estaba; hube, había; hacer, hiciste
hominem, mulier, infantem omne/omre/ombre, mugier/muger, ifante hombre, mujer, infante
cras, mane (maneana); numquam cras, man, mañana; nunqua/nunquas mañana, nunca
quando, quid, qui (quem), quo modo quando, que, qui, commo/cuemo cuando, que, quien, como

Sample text

The following is a sample from here, reconstructed according to period phonetics (by Jabier Elorrieta). Below, the original Old Spanish text in the first column is presented, along with the same sample in modern Spanish in the second column.

–Ya sennor glorioso, padre que en çielo estas,
Fezist çielo e tierra, el terçero el mar,
Fezist estrelas e luna, e el sol pora escalentar,
Prisist en carnaçion en sancta maria madre,
En belleem apareçist, commo fue tu veluntad,
Pastores te glorificaron, ovieron de a laudare,
Tres Reyes de arabia te vinieron adorar,
Melchior e gaspar e baltasar, oro e tus e mirra
Te offreçieron, commo fue tu veluntad.
Saluest a jonas quando cayo en la mar,
Saluest a daniel con los leones en la mala carçel,
Saluest dentro en Roma al sennor san sabastián,
Saluest a sancta susanna del falso criminal,
Por tierra andidiste xxxij annos, sennor spirital,
Mostrando los miraculos, por en auemos que fablar,
Del agua fezist vino e dela piedra pan,
Resuçitest a lazaro, ca fue tu voluntad,
Alos judios te dexeste prender, do dizen monte caluarie
Pusieron te en cruz, por nombre en golgota,
Dos ladrones contigo, estos de sennas partes,
El vno es en parayso, ca el otro non entro ala,
Estando en la cruz vertud fezist muy grant,
Longinos era çiego, que nuquas vio alguandre,
Diot con la lança enel costado, dont yxio la sangre,
Corrio la sangre por el astil ayuso, las manos se ouo de vntar,
Alçolas arriba, legolas a la faz,
Abrio sos oios, cato atodas partes,
En ti crouo al ora, por end es saluo de mal.
Enel monumento Resuçitest e fust alos ynfiernos,
Commo fue tu voluntad,
Quebranteste las puertas e saqueste los padres sanctos.
Tueres Rey delos Reyes e de todel mundo padre,
Ati adoro e creo de toda voluntad,
E Ruego a san peydro que me aiude a Rogar
Por mio çid el campeador, que dios le curie de mal,
Quando oy nos partimos, en vida nos faz iuntar.
–O Señor glorioso, Padre que estás en el cielo,
Hiciste el cielo y la tierra, al tercer día el mar,
Hiciste las estrellas y la luna, y el sol para calentar,
Te encarnaste en Santa María madre,
En Belén apareciste, como fue tu voluntad,
Pastores te glorificaron, te tuvieron que loar,
Tres reyes de Arabia te vinieron a adorar,
Melchor, Gaspar y Baltasar; oro, incienso y mirra
Te ofrecieron, como fue tu voluntad.
Salvaste a Jonás cuando cayó en el mar,
Salvaste a Daniel con los leones en la mala cárcel,
Salvaste dentro de Roma al señor San Sebastián,
Salvaste a Santa Susana del falso criminal,
Por tierra anduviste treinta y dos años, Señor espiritual,
Mostrando los milagros, por ende tenemos qué hablar,
Del agua hiciste vino y de la piedra pan,
Resucitaste a Lázaro, porque fue tu voluntad,
Por los judíos te dejaste prender, en donde llaman Monte Calvario
Te pusieron en la cruz, en un lugar llamado Golgotá,
Dos ladrones contigo, estos de sendas partes,
Uno está en el paraíso, porque el otro no entró allá,
Estando en la cruz hiciste una virtud muy grande,
Longinos era ciego que jamás se vio,
Te dio con la lanza en el costado, de donde salió la sangre,
Corrió la sangre por el astil abajo, las manos se las tuvo que untar,
Las alzó arriba, se las llevó a la cara,
Abrió sus ojos, miró a todas partes,
En ti creyó entonces, por ende se salvó del mal.
En el monumento resucitaste y fuiste a los infiernos,
Como fue tu voluntad,
Quebrantaste las puertas y sacaste a los padres santos.
Tú eres Rey de los reyes y de todo el mundo padre,
A ti te adoro y en ti creo de toda voluntad,
Y ruego a San Pedro que me ayude a rogar
Por mi Cid el Campeador, que Dios le cuide del mal,
Cuando hoy partamos, haz que en vida nos juntemos otra vez.

See also

External links

  • An explanation of the development of Mediaeval Spanish sibilants in Castile and Andalusia.


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