Academic journal article Romance Notes

Spanish Flamenco: Origin, Loan Translation, and In- and Out-Group Evolution (Romani, Calo, Castilian)

Academic journal article Romance Notes

Spanish Flamenco: Origin, Loan Translation, and In- and Out-Group Evolution (Romani, Calo, Castilian)

Article excerpt

SOME twenty-five years after the publication of Diccionario Critico Etimologico Castellano y Hispanico by Joan Corominas and Jose A. Pascual, speculation on the origins of the word flamenco would appear to have subsided, and only two proposed etymologies remain on the scene. One, scarcely with supporters today, is to derive flamenco from Hispano-Arabic fellah mencus and see the epithet originating in reference to dispossessed landholders who might have fled North Africa for Andalusia. On both historical and linguistic grounds, this claim is readily dismissed. The stronger candidate, however one might wish to establish the link, is that flamenco, as used of the Spanish Gypsy community's styles of song, dance, and public appearance, is a derived or figurative use of the adjective designating the natives of Flanders and things Flemish. Support, of an analogous kind, lay at hand in the presence of the term germania, used of underclass slang, an in-group language with which the language of the Gypsies was thought to have many affinities, even genetic ties. Explanations have ranged from 1) the Gypsies arriving in Spain by way of Flanders, 2) pejorative comparisons with corrupt and flashy Flemish courtiers in the retinue of Charles V (1516-56), 3) Spanish Gypsies who served in foreign wars in Flanders and received preferential treatment on their discharge, and on to 4) equations between the rebellious natives of Flanders and the intractable, freedom-loving gitanos of Spain. The most elaborate and far-reaching of these figured derivations is to recognize in flamenco a reference to the ruddy complexion of the North Sea peoples, then see these rosy cheeks as an element of female charm, with, finally, a figurative transfer of flamenca from a Rubensesque beauty to the dark-haired and dark-skinned entertainer, whose art forms projected passion, often amorous or erotic, of a similarly ideal or idealized kind. It is here that the discursive account by Corominas and Pascual s. v. flamenco concludes. (1)

This is, admittedly, a caricatural summary of decades of serious and semi-serious scholarship since flamenco was first addressed by philological scholarship in 1881. (2) All of these attempted explanations may be put under the rubric of special pleading, and this for a variety of reasons, several of which will be further explored in the following. Despite the Gypsy presence in Iberia since the mid-fifteenth century, there is no early evidence of linguistic practice involving the subject term, so that the historical depth implied in many derivations is absent. There is a pronounced lack of any causal imperative of a socio-linguistic kind for derivations involving historical or symbolic ties with Flanders. No explanation thus far posits that the word may have originated in, and been used by, the community to which it would be most commonly applied, after its adoption in the eighteenth century into both the speech and social modes of Spaniards of more advantaged classes. The folk etymology that would rush to the minds of many, that flamenco is a reflex--of some kind--of Latin flamma and referenced the supposed fiery life and art styles of the Spanish Gypsies, has never been taken seriously by scholarship in or beyond Spain, firstly, no doubt, because the fl- of Latin flamma was early resolved as ll- in the northern dialects of Hispano-Romance and, secondly, because of the "un-Spanish" sound of the suffixal or concluding element -enco.

In the following I advance the thesis that flamenco originated in Gypsy speech, deriving from a concept first expressed in Romani and then, in a complex process of coincident language erosion and language encryption, in Calo, the para-Romani gypsy speech ("cryptolect" in the words of some scholars) that over time became increasingly based on the lexis, morphology, and syntax of Andalusian Spanish. (3) Ultimately, an antecedent of flamenco entered mainstream Spanish concurrently with considerable semantic narrowing and reconfiguring, and changes in affect. …

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