THE STORY OF SPANISH by Jean-Benoît Nadeau

THE STORY OF SPANISH

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Pop history of the evolution of the Spanish language and its spread through conquest, commerce and culture.

The Phoenicians applied the name Hispania, write Canadian travelers Nadeau and Barlow (co-authors: The Story of French, 2006, etc.), to a strip of Mediterranean shore on which rabbitlike creatures abounded: thus “land of the hyraxes.” There, the language of native Celtic and pre-Celtic peoples met that of the conquering Romans, yielding a blend that would eventually spread across much of the Iberian Peninsula. From there, as the authors chart, it would travel around the world, absorbing streams of words from the languages it encountered—the Visigothic of once-despised masters, the Arabic of Spain’s former rulers, whole vocabularies from the New World. As the authors rightly note, Spanish is not static. A major world language (by their debatable reckoning, the world’s second in terms of number of speakers), it has spun off in many directions, with some 10 varieties spoken in Mexico alone and a highly influential, somewhat simplified version spreading outward from Spanish speakers in the United States. Nadeau and Barlow write engagingly of the “Latin American boom” in literature, which brought Spanish-language writers onto the world stage, and of the stultifying effects of the Franco regime on the language in its homeland. They are less successful in writing of the deep history of Spanish, confusing the causes of the split of Spanish and Portuguese and missing a couple of entertaining if perhaps fugitive theories on why people in Madrid lisp while those in Maracaibo do not.

A useful overview, strong on sociolinguistics, though historical linguists and philologists will find plenty to gainsay.

Pub Date: May 7th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-312-65602-7
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1st, 2013




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