Variation and Change in Spanish

Variation and Change in Spanish

Variation and Change in Spanish

Variation and Change in Spanish


This book studies the differences of pronunciation and grammar that exist within the Spanish-speaking world, and traces their origins in the frequent mixing of dialects in Spanish-speaking communities from the Middle Ages to the present day. It emphasizes the subtlety and seamlessness of language variation, both geographical and social, and shows how the constant process of mixing has rendered Spanish particularly subject to leveling of its linguistic irregularities and to simplification of its structures, both in Europe and later in the Americas.


The main aim of this book is to apply certain theoretical insights into linguistic variation and change (insights often derived from studies of English and other Germanic languages) to the Spanish-speaking world, a project I first sketched some years ago (Penny 1987). Although I do not claim, on this occasion, to advance variationist theory, it is my hope that the data deployed here will test, and for the most part support, such theoretical approaches to language.

The data used are most frequently Castilian data, but since I am at pains to emphasize that Castilian emerges from a dialect continuum which embraces the whole Peninsula (and indeed extends beyond it), it is inevitable that all varieties of Romance spoken in the Peninsula (therefore including Galician, Portuguese, and Catalan) will at times be the subject of discussion. Similarly, since dialect mixing is a constant theme of the book, it is inevitable that American Spanish (the product of such mixing) will come under close scrutiny.

Two broad themes are pursued. The first is that of the seamlessness of language variation: the fact that language presents itself to us in the form of orderly but undivided heterogeneity. This is to say that variation is almost infinitely subtle, and occurs along all parameters (geographical and social), so that it is usually inappropriate to seek to establish boundaries between varieties, whether we are dealing with geographically ordered varieties, or with socially determined varieties, or with linguistic registers or styles. Each variety merges imperceptibly with those that are adjacent to it, using the term adjacent to refer to varieties which are either socially or geographically contiguous.

It is not the present aim to provide the reader with an exhaustive description of geographical variation in Spanish (in the manner of manuals of dialectology such as Zamora Vicente (1967)), although detailed accounts of the distribution of many of the salient features of Spanish, as used throughout the world, will be found here. Still less can the book claim to describe in detail the correlation between the . . .

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