Old Spanish language

Old Spanish
Native to Spain
Era 10th–15th centuries; continues as a liturgical language but with a modernized pronunciation.
Language codes
ISO 639-3 osp
Linguist list
Glottolog olds1249[1]

Old Spanish, also known as Old Castilian (Spanish: castellano antiguo, romance castellano) or Medieval Spanish (Spanish: español medieval), is an early form of the Spanish language that was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula from the 10th century until roughly the beginning of the 15th century, before a consonantal readjustment gave rise to the evolution of modern Spanish. The poem Cantar de Mio Cid (The Poem of the Cid), published around 1200, remains the best known and most extensive work of literature in Old Spanish.

Phonetics and phonology

The phonological system of Old Spanish was quite similar to that of other mediaeval Romance languages. Among the consonants, there were seven sibilants, including three sets of voiceless/voiced pairs:

This set of sounds is identical to that found in medieval Portuguese, and almost the same as the system present in the modern Mirandese language.

The Modern Spanish system evolved from the Old Spanish one through the following changes:

  1. The affricates /ts/ and /dz/ were simplified to laminodental fricatives /s/ and /z/, which remained distinct from the apicoalveolar sounds /s̺/ and /z̺/.
  2. The voiced sibilants then lost their voicing, merging with the voiceless ones. (Voicing remains before voiced consonants, e.g. mismo, desde, but only allophonically.)
  3. The merged /ʃ/ was drawn back to /x/.
  4. The merged /s/ was drawn forward to /θ/. In Andalusia, however (and as a result, in Latin America), the merged /s̺/ was instead drawn forward, merging into /s/.

Changes 2-4 all occurred in a short period of time, around 1550-1600 AD.

The Old Spanish spelling of the sibilants was identical to modern Portuguese spelling, which still reflects the medieval language; Spanish was respelled in 1815 to reflect the pronunciation.[2]


The Old Spanish origins of jeque and jerife reflect their Arabic origins, xeque from Arabic sheikh and xerife from Arabic sharif.

The letters b and v still had distinct pronunciations; b still represented a stop consonant [b] in all positions, while v was likely pronounced as a voiced bilabial fricative [β] (although word-initially it may have been pronounced [b]). The use of b and v in Old Spanish largely corresponded to their use in Modern Portuguese, which still distinguishes the two sounds (with the exception of Galician and some northern Portuguese dialects); the use of two phonemes also occurs in in standard Valencian spoken in eastern Catalonia and some areas in southern Catalonia, Balearic dialect, as well as in Alguerese (except standard Catalan in eastern Catalonia). When Spanish spelling was changed in 1815, words with b and v were respelled etymologically in order to match Latin spelling whenever possible.


The Spanish place name Córdova (that become the English name of Córdoba) reflects the Old Spanish spelling and Arabic origin Qurṭubah, and Álava reflects the Basque origin Araba.

Many words now written with an h were written with f in Old Spanish, although it was likely pronounced [h] in most positions (but [ɸ] or [f] before /r/, /l/, [w] and possibly [j]). The cognates of these words in Portuguese and most other Romance languages have [f]. Other words now spelled with an etymological h were spelled without any such consonant in Old Spanish (e.g. haber, written aver in Old Spanish); these words have cognates in other Romance languages without [f] (e.g. French avoir, Italian avere, Portuguese haver with silent etymological h).


Modern words with f before a vowel mostly represent learned or semi-learned borrowings from Latin, e.g. fumar "to smoke" (compare inherited humo "smoke"), satisfacer "to satisfy" (compare hacer "to make"), fábula "fable. rumor" (compare hablar "to speak"). Certain modern words with f that have doublets in h may represent dialectal developments or early borrowings from neighboring languages, e.g. fierro "branding iron" (compare hierro "iron"), fondo "bottom" (compare hondo "deep"), Fernando "Ferdinand" (compare Hernando).

Old Spanish had ch, just as Modern Spanish does. This mostly represents a development of earlier */jt/ (still preserved in Portuguese and French), from Latin CT.


Morphology and syntax

In Old Spanish, perfect constructions of movement verbs, such as ir ('(to) go') and venir ('(to) come'), were formed using the auxiliary verb ser ('(to) be'), as in Italian and French. For example, Las mugieres son llegadas a Castiella vs. Modern Spanish Las mujeres han llegado a Castilla ('The women have arrived in Castilla').

Possession was expressed with the verb aver (Modern Spanish haber, '(to) have') rather than tener. For example: Pedro ha dos fijas vs. Modern Spanish Pedro tiene dos hijas ('Pedro has two daughters').

In the perfect tenses, the past participle often agreed with the gender and number of the direct object. For example, María ha cantadas dos canciones vs. Modern Spanish María ha cantado dos canciones ('María has sung two songs'), yet this was inconsistent even in the earliest texts.

Personal pronouns and substantives were placed after the verb in any tense or mood unless a word with stress was present before the verb.

The future and conditional tenses were not yet fully grammaticalised as inflexions; rather, they were still periphrastic formations of the verb aver in the present or imperfect indicative followed by the infinitive of a main verb. [3] Pronouns, therefore, following general placement rules, could be inserted between the main verb and the auxiliary in these periphrastic tenses. Compare this phenomenon with literary Portuguese (mesoclisis):

E dixo: "Tornar-m-é a Jherusalem." (Fazienda de Ultra Mar, 194)
Y dijo: "Me tornaré a Jerusalén." (literal grammatical translation into Modern Spanish)
Y dijo: "Regresaré a Jerusalén." (Modern Spanish equivalent)
And he said: "I will return to Jerusalem." (English translation)
En pennar gelo he por lo que fuere guisado (Cantar de mio Cid, 92)
Se lo empeñaré por lo que sea razonable (modern equivalent)
I will pawn it to them for whatever is reasonable (English translation)

When there was a stressed word before the verb, the pronouns would go before the verb: e.g., non gelo empeñar he por lo que fuere guisado.

Generally, an unstressed pronoun and a verb in simple sentences combined into one word. In a compound sentence, the pronoun was found in the beginning of the clause. Example: la manol va besar = la mano le va a besar.

In comparison with the modern language, the future subjunctive was living (today it is generally found only in legal or solemn discourse, and in the spoken language in some dialects particularly in areas of Venezuela replacing the imperfect subjunctive[4]). It was used similarly to its Modern Portuguese counterpart, in place of the modern present subjunctive in a subordinate clause after si, cuando, etc., when an event in the future is referenced.

Si uos assi lo fizieredes e la uentura me fuere complida
Mando al uuestro altar buenas donas e Ricas (Cantar de mio Cid, 223-224)
Si vosotros así hacéis y la suerte me favorece,
Mando a vuestro altar ofrendas buenas y ricas (modern equivalent)
If you do so and fortune is favourable toward me,
I will send to your altar fine and rich offerings (English translation)
Latin Old Spanish Modern Spanish Modern Portuguese
acceptare, captare, effectum, respectum acetar, catar, efeto, respeto aceptar, captar, efecto, respecto and respeto aceitar, catar, efeito, respeito
et, non, nos, hic e, et; non, no; nós; í y, e; no; nosotros; ahí e; não; nós; aí
stabat; habui, habebat; facere, fecisti estava; ove, avié; far/fer/fazer, fezist(e)/fizist(e) estaba; hube, había; hacer, hiciste estava; houve, havia; fazer, fizeste/fizestes
hominem, mulier, infantem omne/omre/ombre, mugier/muger, ifante hombre, mujer, infante homem, mulher, infante
cras, mane (maneana); numquam cras, man, mañana; nunqua/nunquas mañana, nunca manhã, nunca
quando, quid, qui (quem), quo modo quando, que, qui, commo/cuemo cuando, que, quien, como quando, que, quem, como

Sample text

The following is a sample from Cantar de Mio Cid (lines 330–365), with abbreviations resolved, punctuation (the original has none), and some modernized letters.[5] Below, the original Old Spanish text in the first column is presented, along with the same sample in modern Spanish in the second column and an English translation in the third column.

–Ya sennor glorioso, padre que en çielo estas,
Fezist çielo e tierra, el terçero el mar,
Fezist estrelas e luna, e el sol pora escalentar,
Prisist en carnaçion en sancta maria madre,
En belleem apareçist, commo fue tu veluntad,
Pastores te glorificaron, ovieron de a laudare,
Tres Reyes de arabia te vinieron adorar,
Melchior e gaspar e baltasar, oro e tus e mirra
Te offreçieron, commo fue tu veluntad.
Saluest a jonas quando cayo en la mar,
Saluest a daniel con los leones en la mala carçel,
Saluest dentro en Roma al sennor san sabastián,
Saluest a sancta susanna del falso criminal,
Por tierra andidiste xxxij annos, sennor spirital,
Mostrando los miraculos, por en auemos que fablar,
Del agua fezist vino e dela piedra pan,
Resuçitest a Lazaro, ca fue tu voluntad,
Alos judios te dexeste prender, do dizen monte caluarie
Pusieron te en cruz, por nombre en golgota,
Dos ladrones contigo, estos de sennas partes,
El vno es en parayso, ca el otro non entro ala,
Estando en la cruz vertud fezist muy grant,
Longinos era çiego, que nuquas vio alguandre,
Diot con la lança enel costado, dont yxio la sangre,
Corrio la sangre por el astil ayuso, las manos se ouo de vntar,
Alçolas arriba, legolas a la faz,
Abrio sos oios, cato atodas partes,
En ti crouo al ora, por end es saluo de mal.
Enel monumento Resuçitest e fust alos ynfiernos,
Commo fue tu voluntad,
Quebranteste las puertas e saqueste los padres sanctos.
Tueres Rey delos Reyes e de todel mundo padre,
Ati adoro e creo de toda voluntad,
E Ruego a san peydro que me aiude a Rogar
Por mio çid el campeador, que dios le curie de mal,
Quando oy nos partimos, en vida nos faz iuntar.
–O Señor glorioso, Padre que estás en el cielo,
Hiciste el cielo y la tierra, al tercer día el mar,
Hiciste las estrellas y la luna, y el sol para calentar,
Te encarnaste en Santa María madre,
En Belén apareciste, como fue tu voluntad,
Pastores te glorificaron, te tuvieron que loar,
Tres reyes de Arabia te vinieron a adorar,
Melchor, Gaspar y Baltasar; oro, incienso y mirra
Te ofrecieron, como fue tu voluntad.
Salvaste a Jonás cuando cayó en el mar,
Salvaste a Daniel con los leones en la mala cárcel,
Salvaste dentro de Roma al señor San Sebastián,
Salvaste a Santa Susana del falso criminal,
Por tierra anduviste treinta y dos años, Señor espiritual,
Mostrando los milagros, por ende tenemos qué hablar,
Del agua hiciste vino y de la piedra pan,
Resucitaste a Lázaro, porque fue tu voluntad,
Por los judíos te dejaste prender, en donde llaman Monte Calvario
Te pusieron en la cruz, en un lugar llamado Golgotá,
Dos ladrones contigo, estos de sendas partes,
Uno está en el paraíso, porque el otro no entró allá,
Estando en la cruz hiciste una virtud muy grande,
Longinos era ciego que jamás se vio,
Te dio con la lanza en el costado, de donde salió la sangre,
Corrió la sangre por el astil abajo, las manos se las tuvo que untar,
Las alzó arriba, se las llevó a la cara,
Abrió sus ojos, miró a todas partes,
En ti creyó entonces, por ende se salvó del mal.
En el monumento resucitaste y fuiste a los infiernos,
Como fue tu voluntad,
Quebrantaste las puertas y sacaste a los padres santos.
Tú eres Rey de los reyes y de todo el mundo padre,
A ti te adoro y en ti creo de toda voluntad,
Y ruego a San Pedro que me ayude a rogar
Por mi Cid el Campeador, que Dios le cuide del mal,
Cuando hoy partamos, haz que en vida nos juntemos otra vez.
O glorious Lord, Father who art in Heaven,
Thou madest Heaven and Earth, and on the third day the sea,
Thou madest the stars and the Moon, and the Sun for warmth,
Thou incarnated Thyself of the Blessed Mother Mary,
In Bethlehem Thou appeared, for it was Thy will,
Shepherds glorified Thee, they gave Thee praise,
Three kings of Arabia came to worship Thee,
Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar; offered Thee
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, for it was Thy will.
Thou saved Jonah when he fell into the sea,
Thou saved Daniel from the lions in the terrible jail,
Thou saved Saint Sebastian from within Rome,
Thou saved Saint Susan from the false charge,
On Earth Thou walked thirty-two years, Spiritual Lord,
Performing miracles, thus we have of which to speak,
Of the water Thou madest wine and of the stone bread,
Thou revived Lazarus, because it was Thy will,
Thou left Thyself to be arrested by the Jews, where they call Mount Calvary,
They placed Thee on the Cross, in the place called Golgotha,
Two thieves with Thee, these of split paths,
One is in Paradise, but the other did not enter there,
Being on the Cross Thou didst a very great virtue,
Longinus was blind ever he saw Thee,
He gave Thee a blow with the lance in the broadside, where he left the blood,
Running down the arm, the hands Thou hadst spread,
Raised it up, as it led to Thy face,
Opened their eyes, saw all parts,
And believed in Thee then, thus saved them from evil.
Thou revived in the tomb and went to Hell,
For it was Thy will,
Thou hast broken the doors and brought out the holy fathers.
Thou art King of Kings and of all the world Father,
I worship Thee and I believe in all Thy will,
And I pray to Saint Peter to help with my prayer,
For my Cid the Champion, that God nurse from evil,
When we part today, that we are joined in this life or the next.

See also


  1. Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2016). "Old Spanish". Glottolog 2.7. Jena: Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History.
  2. Ortografía de la lengua castellana - Real Academia Española - Google йМХЦХ. Books.google.ru. Retrieved 2015-05-22.
  3. A History of the Spanish Language. Ralph Penny. Cambridge University Press. Pag. 210.
  4. Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de la lengua española. Seco, Manuel. Espasa-Calpe. 2002. Pp. 222-3.
  5. A recording with reconstructed mediaeval pronunciation can be accessed here, reconstructed according to contemporary phonetics (by Jabier Elorrieta).
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