By Dr. Lino García Jr.
Bordered by the Pyrenees Mountains with France and north of the Strait of Gibraltar lies a tract of land known as the Iberian Peninsula.
Spain and Portugal, part of that peninsula, endured centuries of invasion by different ethnic groups, so it is no wonder that the Spanish (or Castilian) language developed a structure that encompasses and includes a base of words borrowed from the various people who first inhabited the peninsula. This is of vast importance, given the fact that the Spanish language is still spoken in many areas of the United States of America.
In order to fully understand the changes that later developed into the Spanish language, we must travel the roads of history and become acquainted with the different cultures that arrived in Spain centuries before and after Christ. It will help us understand not only the Spanish language spoken in the Rio Grande Valley, but also the different groups that eventually became the present day Hispanics.
First, we must understand that every language spoken was developed via a combination of many other languages, and that none is considered pure nor lacking in invasion by others. When cultures connect throughout history, they inevitably exchange and mingle their elements, their particular languages and their cultures.
Centuries before the birth of Christ, the Iberian Peninsula was a desolate area. Historians have informed us that the earliest ethnic group to arrive in Spain were the Iberians, although other scholars say Spanish Jews ( Sefarditas) and the Basque already had established themselves there by then. But it was the Roman invasion of Spain in 218 B.C that brought the Latin language to that land, and in many cases it was a mixed version of Greek, Latin and other languages spoken by the Romans as they made their way into the many different countries.
That "language" soon developed into two versions: one was called "Latín clásico" and was spoken by Spain’s educated. The other was called "Latín vulgar" and was spoken by ordinary people. We find evidence of this in the literature of the time, the "Jarchas," a type of "Cántigas de Amigos" poetry written 100 years before the "Poema del Mío Cid" (1140 AD). That combined the three languages alive in Spain at that time — Hebrew, Spanish or Castilian, and Arabic.
In the " Poema de Mío Cid," we see the use of this new language in its entirety, a language that later became known as Castilian, or Spanish, and that had evolved from "Latín vulgar."
From there evolved other variants still spoken in Spain, such as Gallego-Portugués, Leonés-Aragonés, Andaluz, Asturiano, Catalán, Valenciano, and, of course, Spanish, which dominated all of Spain and became the official language of that country.
So, from the "Latín clásico," we have such derivations: " alacrem" became "alegre"; "cava" became "cueva"; "frigidum" shortened to "frío" ; "legere" to "leer" ; "oculum" to "ojo"; "ecclesia" became "iglesia"; "avia" lengthened to "abuela"; and "odorem" became "olor."
We find many hundred of other such derivations, all now considered proper words in modern Spanish.
Dr. Hugo A. Mejías, noted professor of Spanish linguistics at the University of Texas-Pan American, points out in his article "Borrowed Spanish Words of Wide Use in South Texas" that the Basque people, who have been in Spain for centuries (some scholars place their presence there hundreds of years before Christ), have a language unlike any of the others presently spoken.
Basque is not derived from the Latin, and therefore is not in any way connected with the Spanish language. The Basques live in a region in northern Spain called "provincias vascongadas," and the Basque language still spoken in that region has had an impact on the Spanish.
Surnames like Yturria, Yarritu, Bitureira, Goytisola, García, Izaguirre, Crixell, Ibarra, Gutiérrez, Iñigo, Xavier, Ibarbourru, Goitarri, Zalacaín, Zayas and other surnames still alive in the Río Grande Valley are of Basque origin.
The suffix "-ez" has a Basque meaning, " – son of," so the surname Fernández means "son of Fernando"; Ramírez means "son of Ramiro"; Hernández means "son of Hernando"; González means "son of Gonzalo" (from the Visigoth name Gunter), and so on.
Other common words of Basque origin include izquierdo (left) (the Latin word is siniestra); boina (beret), cencerro (cow bell), chaparro (dwarf), pizarra (blackboard), zurdo (left-handed), becerro (calf), bruja (witch), charco (puddle of water), manteca (lard), and many others.
The Iberian people came into Spain from the south about 1,000 years before Christ, hence the name "Iberian" Peninsula. They left us very little linguistic legacy, but we still enjoy a few remnants of their language, like calabaza (squash ) and cerveza (beer) among others.
It was the Celtic people who, coming in from the south of Germany and crossing the Pyrenees, arrived in Spain during the ninth century B.C. and left us a few words that are now part of the Spanish language: brio ( determination); colmena (beehive); gancho (hook); pico (sharp point); droga (drug); galleta (cookie); greña (hair); carpintero (carpenter); carro (cart) and a few others.
Hebrew antecedents can be found in many Spanish names still common in South Texas, especially considering that some of the earliest families who came to South Texas in 1749 with José de Escandón were themselves "cristianos nuevos" (New Christians), also called conversos (converts) as opposed to "cristianos viejos" (Old Christians). And so we encounter names such as Adán, Benjamín, Isaac, Eliseo, Eva, Ezequiel, Isaías, Jacobo, Jesús, Israel and others.
The "Sefarditas" (Spanish Jews) probably arrived about 1500 B.C. and called Hispania by the word "Sefarad," a word found in the Bible that likely meant " to the west," where they eventually would land. The Hebrew language had an impact on Spanish vocabulary with words like aleluya (praise Yahveh), amén (certainly); cabala (tradition); "edén (pleasure); hossana (save us); sábado (Saturday); jubileo (jubilee); and rabino (rabbi).
The Greeks had a great presence in Spain, as well. They arrived about the seventh century B.C. and most educated individuals in Spain spoke both Greek and Spanish. Some words the Spanish borrowed from the Greek include anarquista (anarquist), análisis (analysis); antítesis (antithesis), apóstol (apostol), diablo ( devil), energía (energy); sinfonía (symphony), problema (problem), década ( decade) and countless others. The Mass and other Christian religious services were conducted for many years in Spain in the Greek language.
Their contributions to Spanish language are many and include mostly words dealing with warfare: orgullo (pride), guerra (war), riqueza (wealth), robar (to rob), botín (booty), bandido (bandit), espía (spy), espuela (spur), amd yelmo (helmet).
Some proper names derived from the Visigoths include Alvaro (Allwar), Fernando (Frithwantle), Rodrigo (Hrothsink), Elvira (Gailwers), Gonzalo (Gunter), Sigifredo (Sigfried), Adolfo (Adolph), Alberto (Albert), Alfonso (Alfonse), Enrique and Enriqueta (Henrich), Eric and Erica (Herich), Federico (Frederick), Gertrudis (Gertrude) and many others.
The Visigoths (Germanic people) arrived in Spain as invaders in 414 A.D. and soon took possession of the land. They were a bellicose people whose conquering efforts wrested Spain from the Romans, and they ruled with an iron hand during the Middle Ages. They succumbed, however, to the language of the Romans, and soon adopted the Spanish language as the official one.
ON OUR WORDS
In 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in the New World, bringing with him the Spanish/Castilian language of 16
The Spaniards arrived in México in 1519 and borrowed words from the Náhuatl language: tomate (tomato), chamaco (young boy), elote (corn), ejote (green bean), cacao (chocolate), pozole (hominy), camote (yam), aguacate (avocado), cacahuate (peanut), zacate (grass), ejido (common land), guajolote (turkey), and others now widely used like tamal, chile and tequila.
Just as the Spanish and other groups encountered English-speaking individuals, we today in the modern technological age find that many English words have become part of the Spanish language. So it is natural to hear specialized words like chatear (to chat), and the more obvious internet and software, along with daily usage like shorts , party, béisbol, fútbol, goal, nocau (knock-out), jonrón (home run), basquetbol and many others.
Who knows what today’s Spanish language will be in the future, as it continually comes into contact with other cultures in this global society? But as long as the language is alive, it will continue to acquire a new and diverse vocabulary to enrich itself, maintain its life, and continue its journey into the future. It would be abnormal if it did not.
Source: The Brownsville Herald