Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Societal Change and Language History in Cervantes' Entremeses: The Status of the Golden Age Vos

Academic journal article Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Societal Change and Language History in Cervantes' Entremeses: The Status of the Golden Age Vos

Article excerpt


IT IS COMMONLY RECOGNIZED in modern scholarship that the period in which the Spanish language as a whole experienced the greatest amount of change and variation was the Golden Age. (1) It is in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries that we see not only a grand and expansive literary blossoming in Spain, but also the geographical expansion of the Spanish language to a new continent, where it begins to grow and flourish in a fashion parallel to the evolution taking place in the Peninsula. Because of the drastic changes that are seen in the language during this period, it is also in the Golden Age that the issue of appropriate levels of formality and deference in speech come to the forefront of the sociolinguistic arena.

One of the most recognizable ways in which the Spanish language showed evidence of increased variation in the post-medieval period was in its system of pronominal address. Historical documents bear witness to the fact that, during Spain's Renaissance, its inhabitants arrived at the collective realization that the forms of pronominal address used since the times of the Roman Empire were no longer adequate to express the increasingly complex social relationships that had developed by this rime. In particular, the strengthening of a significant middle class (2), in contrast with the relatively weak and diminutive middle class in medieval Spain (Johnson Primorac 89), necessitated an expansion of the linguistic means by which one could address an interlocutor. As will be seen in subsequent sections, both modern and Renaissance scholars disagree widely on the distribution and uses of the distinct forms of address used in the Golden Age, particularly regarding the pronominal form vos. The large amount of variation among scholarly opinions in the literature calls for an increased number of comprehensive sociohistorical studies on this topic.

In the present paper, I will lay out a detailed analysis of Cervantes' entremeses found in the (1615) collection Ocho comedias y ocho entremeses nuevos, nunca representados with a threefold purpose: (i) to examine the use of different pronominal forms of address attested to in these works; (ii) to analyze the pragmatic and sociolinguistic motivations behind the employment of each address pronoun within the context of Golden Age society; and (iii) to discuss the results of this study in relation to other similar investigations and their implications for sociological studies dealing with Renaissance Spain.



The Spanish language, having inherited its first and second person pronominal forms directly from Latin with few phonetic changes, initially displayed the same simplicity in its system of pronominal address which had been seen in its predecessor: tu was used to address a single person with whom one was familiar, while vos continued to be used whenever addressing more than one person, and also when addressing a single individual with deference (Bentivoglio 178-79; Penny 123).

The straightforward nature of the pronominal address system of medieval Spanish is exemplified in the Cantar de Mio Cid, the great Spanish epic poem of the twelfth century. In large part, the address system in the Cantar conforms to the societal norms already in place. In any case in which more than one person is addressed, the longstanding plural vos is used. Rodrigo also uses this form when individually addressing his cavalleros and other Christian nobles, including royalty. In fact, whenever a speaker directs him/herself toward a single interlocutor, vos appears to be the unmarked address form in the poem, being used most commonly as a form of respect between nobles and spouses. Ribas calls this the "reciprocal vos between Christian nobles" and explains that it is "an affirmation of shared power or class" (iv). For example, King Alfonse in the Cantar is always addressed as vos. …

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