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A Brief History of the Spanish Language

Second Edition

Second Edition

Since its publication in 2007, A Brief History of the Spanish Language has become the leading introduction to the history of one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. Moving from the language’s Latin roots to its present-day forms, this concise book offers readers insights into the origin and evolution of Spanish, the historical and cultural changes that shaped it, and its spread around the world.

A Brief History of the Spanish Language focuses on the most important aspects of the development of the Spanish language, eschewing technical jargon in favor of straightforward explanations. Along the way, it answers many of the common questions that puzzle native speakers and non-native speakers alike, such as: Why do some regions use while others use vos? How did the th sound develop in Castilian? And why is it la mesa but el agua?

David A. Pharies, a world-renowned expert on the history and development of Spanish, has updated this edition with new research on all aspects of the evolution of Spanish and current demographic information. This book is perfect for anyone with a basic understanding of Spanish and a desire to further explore its roots. It also provides an ideal foundation for further study in any area of historical Spanish linguistics and early Spanish literature.

A Brief History of the Spanish Language is a grand journey of discovery, revealing in a beautifully compact format the fascinating story of the language in both Spain and Spanish America.

296 pages | 9 halftones, 2 line drawings | 5 1/4 x 8 | © 2007, 2015

History: European History, Latin American History

Language and Linguistics: General Language and Linguistics


"The second edition of A Brief History improves an already strong work in Spanish historical linguistics. As in the first edition, Pharies  debunks—in an engaging manner—a number of 'linguistic myths' about Spanish orthography, pronunciation, and grammar."


“An effective introduction to Spanish and an excellent starting point for anyone interested in the language’s history.”

Praise for the first edition | Bulletin of Latin American Research

“El libro de Pharies cumple sobradamente con el propósito para el que se ha concebido: se trata, sin duda, de un sólido y bien escrito tratado introductorio a la historia de la lengua española, muy completo y accesible.”

Praise for the first edition | Revista de Filología Española

"What separates Professor Pharies's book from others dealing with the history of Spanish is the approach hinted at in his title and explicitly mentioned in the preface by which, in essence, less is more. . . . A Brief History of the Spanish Language merits serious consideration by any instructor who teaches the history of Spanish."

Praise for the first edition | Hispania

"Pharies’ A Brief History of the Spanish Language achieves exactly what its author appears to have set out to do, viz. present a wide-ranging, succinct and readable account of the history of Spanish. Better still, its attractive presentation, both stylistic and typographical, will provide encouragement to students who otherwise might regard Spanish diachronic linguistics as a rather arid affair."

Praise for the first edition | Bulletin of Spanish Studies

Table of Contents

Author’s Note

Chapter 1: Language Change
Inexorability of Language Change
Nature of Language Change
Factors That Produce Innovative Variants
Factors in the Selection of Variants

Chapter 2: The Genealogy of Spanish
Language Families
Some Important Language Families
Indo-European Language Family
Italic Branch of Indo- European
Bilingualism and Diglossia
Latin and Romance
Genealogy of Spanish

Chapter 3: External History of the Iberian Peninsula through the Thirteenth Century
Iberian Peninsula before the Arrival of the Romans
Romanization of the Iberian Peninsula
End of the Roman Empire
Visigothic Invasion
Muslim Invasion
An Extinct Variety of Ibero- Romance: Mozarabic
Rise of Castilian

Chapter 4: The Latin Language
Stages in the History of Latin
Orthography and Pronunciation
Nominal Morphology
Verbal Morphology
Text Analysis

Chapter 5: From Latin to Medieval Castilian: Phonology
Nature of Phonological Change
Most Important Phonological Changes through Medieval Castilian
Phonological Derivations
Exceptions to Regular Phonological Change
Text Analysis
Alphonsine Orthography

Chapter 6: From Latin to Medieval Castilian: Morphology and Syntax
Interdependence of Morphological and Syntactic Changes
Nominal Morphology
A Linguistic Myth: The Supposed Cacophony of the Pronoun Combination ***le lo
Verbal Morphology
Principal Syntactic Innovations
Text Analysis
Appendix: Lexical Archaisms in Alphonsine Prose

Chapter 7: From Medieval Castilian to Modern Spanish
Political and Cultural History of Spain after the Middle Ages
An Archaic Dialect: Sephardi
Linguistic Changes
A Linguistic Myth: The Lisping King
Text Analysis
A Linguistic Myth: The Phonemic Character of Spanish Orthography

Chapter 8: History of the Spanish Lexicon
Sources of Words in Spanish
The Reduplicative Playful Template
Stages in the History of the Spanish Lexicon

Chapter 9: Varieties of Spanish
Varieties of Spanish in the Two Castiles
Canary Island Spanish
American Spanish
Demography of the Spanish Language
Four Representative Varieties of American Spanish
Spanish in the United States

Rudiments of Spanish Phonetics and Phonology
Glossary of Linguistic Terms
Works Cited
Index of Spanish Words Cited
Subject Index

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