Naomi Hudis and Ottilie Forsyth on the organic processes that drive linguistic evolution.
All languages are influenced by historical events and the dispersal of new ideas that ultimately lead to the evolution of the language.
Loan words – known in Spanish as préstamos – are integral to this process. Despite the roots of the Spanish language lying in Latin, it is full of words influenced by other languages, ranging from Portuguese to Arabic and those from indigenous America.
The Spanish language was greatly influenced by Arabic from the 8th to the 15th century. Much of this was due to Arabic being the official language in parts of the peninsula, but it also reflected the great reputation the Arabic language held in the early Middle Ages. The former reason was responsible for the addition of specific vocabulary that came with the introduction of new concepts and ideas, and the latter caused the replacement of many Castilian words with Arabic ones that held greater prestige.
Many nouns borrowed from Arabic begin with the letters ‘al’, a definite article in Arabic, which the Spanish adopted and incorporated into the noun. During the Reconquest, war-related words filtered into the Spanish language, with words like almenas (battlements) and almirante (admiral). Arabic helped shape language used for trade and business, for example ahorrar (to save, usually referring to money) and aduana (customs). The Moors also brought with them the seeds and skills to transform the region’s agriculture, the names of which embedded themselves in the Spanish language. Some of the most popular examples include arroz (rice), algodón (cotton), zanahoria (carrot), and aceituna (olive).
More recently, the internet has facilitated and encouraged the borrowing of English words. With the influx of popular American media in Spanish-speaking countries across the world, including American pop music and television, as well as an increased exposure to English speakers online, Spanish has increasingly become subject to the use of anglicisms, words that derive from English words or phrases. Examples of this include the words el bestseller and el tráiler.
When it comes to technological advances, often involving the invention of new words in order to name new ideas and creations, these words are also often taken directly from the English. This particularly affects the lexis that surrounds business, technology and sport, including the words el stock, la inflación, and el cracking, often despite the existence of a Spanish version of these words, for example el craqueo. These words are often adjusted orthographically and hispanised, so conform graphically to the typical spelling of Spanish words, despite being pronounced the same as the English. An example of this includes the word el fútbol, which took rise over the Spanish word el balompié, coming from the words el balón, meaning ball, and el pie, meaning foot.
Some purists argue that the more modern loan words, mostly deriving from English, threaten the integrity of the language. Is the homogenisation of languages a threat to lexical diversity or is it merely an inevitable outcome of a globalised society?
The authors are y12 students at St Paul’s Girls’ School
For more on this theme, see El auge del Spanglish on page 30 of our February 2019 edition (via our Past Editions tab above).