Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spanish words in the ¨pure¨ English

These sculpted words are designed by Stephan Sagmeister. Google images

Here´s an excerpt from the great article by Korey Stamper at The Guardian, who reflects about the Spanish words that are contained in the English language. The text is mocking the tendency of the immigration debate to keep ¨only¨ English. Besides, this is enlightening, by force of habit, I haven´t noticed our words intermingled in the everyday language.

¨Take Spanish, a frequent target of American lexical jingoism: English has been borrowing words from Spanish – or its ancestor language, Old Spanish – since the 14th century. It's not surprising when you consider that Spain was one of the reigning world powers in the Middle Ages. During the 15th and 16th centuries, the Spanish managed to circumnavigate the globe, conquer half of the New World, and claim thePacific Ocean. They gave the world Henry VIII's first (and most long-lived) wife, Catherine of Aragon. And they coughed up two Popes and an Antipope.
Our oldest Spanish "loanwords" give you a sense of just how much of the world Spain was conquering. "Armadillo", "iguana", "sarsaparilla", and "tobacco" describe new flora and fauna Spanish explorers found in North and South America. "Canary" flitted into English from the Spanish name for a group of islands off the coast of Africa. "Eskimo", while ultimately from an Algonquian language of western Canada, likely was introduced into English via Spanish.
Spanish influence doesn't end with the Renaissance: almost a quarter of the US was under Mexican or Spanish rule until the mid 1800s. If you grew up watching spaghetti Westerns or idolizing the Wild West as presented by Johns Wayne and Ford, then you are steeped in Spanish loanwords. Renegade caballeros on broncos, riding through the canyons of Colorado – if you dump the Spanish loanwords, you're left with "on, riding through the of".
Over the last 400 years, there have been movements to make English a "pure" language, and these movements have generally targeted foreign loanwords. Even lexicographers were not immune from lexical nationalism: Samuel Johnson, in writing his 1755 Dictionary of the English Language, omitted foreign words (like "skunk" and "hickory") that had gained currency in the English-speaking American colonies.
But such movements ignore a basic fact: English has been borrowing words from other languages since its infancy. The names for the days of the week are some of our oldest English words, and they honor the sun, the moon, and a handful of northern Germanic gods the Anglo-Saxons worshipped. But "Saturday", the beginning of our weekend, honors a Roman god in Saxon clothes: the Anglo-Saxon "sætern" means "Saturn" and was stolen outright from Latin.
And so it goes, throughout history. English takes Latin words and Old Norse words, then dips into French, Spanish, Arabic, Dutch, Bantu, Wolof – and that doesn't even bring us into the modern era of immigration, where loanwords from Yiddish, Modern Greek, Italian, German, Japanese, Farsi, Irish Gaelic, and other languages arrive.¨

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