Two Pre-Roman phonological features adopted permanently by Spanish

The trilled (very marked and rolled) sound of the combination rr as found in perro, barro or tierra and in letter r as in dormir or tener, is one of the most difficult – if not the most difficult – sound encountered by most people learning Spanish as a second language.

Well, I must tell my students from now on not to blame the ancient Romans for their predicament, as this particular sound was brought into the developing Castilian tongue by Basque language speakers in medieval times.

I always thought of the trilled r as a feature of the Latin language that was inherited by Spanish. But just last night in ‘La Página del Idioma Español ‘ at elcastellano.org, I read an article by Sergio Zamora in which he names this sound and the dropping of the phoneme represented by f in ancient Latin words but since then substituted by a silent h, in words like harina, hierro and humo, as two features of the Basque language adopted by Spanish very early in its gestation process.

Zamora points out that the suffixes rro, [rra, rre, etc] and the absence of the phoneme for f, were two clear traits of Basque before they were transferred as phonological features of Castilian Spanish.

Basque is an ancient Non-Roman language that has left its imprint in these two phonological properties still present in all modern Spanish varieties. These two language aspects made a significant contribution towards distinguishing Castilian Spanish from all the other languages derived from Latin such as Galician, Portuguese and Catalan that were developing simultaneously in the Iberian Peninsula.

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About L. A. Pinel

I'm the founder and Director of Tres Culturas Spanish Language Studio, a specialist Spanish language school in Melbourne, Australia. As a teacher of Spanish I view the study of issues about the nature of the Spanish language in particular and of applied linguistics in general with great passion. I’m also an avid language learner, my other languages are Italian, Portuguese and French; at the moment I'm studying Latin and Mandarin Chinese.

Posted on December 22, 2007, in Foreign Language Learning, Language, Language learning, Phonetics & Phonology, Second Language Learning, Spanish, Spanish Language Learning. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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