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The Story of Spanish by Jean-Benoit Nadeau

The Story of Spanish

by Jean-Benoit Nadeau

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    Empires of the Word : a Language History of the World by Nicholas Ostler (lorax)
    lorax: "Empires of the Word" is a history of a dozen or so languages shaping history, including Spanish; "The Story of Spanish" is the same idea, less academically and obviously in more detail, focused on Spanish. Both are highly recommended.

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As someone who has been learning Spanish as a third language, and living in NY, and a serious student of flamenco, I can easily sum it up by saying that The Story of Spanish hit the spot! The book is a great way to re-read world history from the point of view of not Spain, per se, but Spanish, a living, changing, evolving, stretching, retracting, exploding language. The story begins all the way with Phoneacians, who gave the peninsula its original name, travels through the Moors and the Inquisition, and moves across the Atlantic, and explodes in a whole new continent. As a native Turkish speaker, I even learned where some of the weird words we have originally came from, though Turkish borrowed them directly from French and Italian, I had never thought that they had borrowed them from the native languages of South America (the Americans!) The book is full of fun trivia that I relentlessly repeat to my friends, who roll their eyes at me. Did you know that the first European language spoken in what is now the USA was Spanish (dates back to 1560s). And, here I was thinking those fierce Native American tribes were always expert horse riders! The book also gives a good account of all the Spanish language academies across the different Spanish-speaking countries, and the development of various dictionaries across time.

A perfect book to read before/after "The Story of Ain't" and any Henry Hitchings book.
Recommended for those who like to know where words come from, those who like Latin America and Latin American literature, telenovelas, civil wars, and world history. ( )
1 vote bluepigeon | Dec 15, 2013 |
This popularization of academic landmarks (compare the Spanish sections of Nicholas Ostler, "Empires of the Word: Language History of the World") brings helpful perspectives to the native and adoptive speakers of Spanish. The authors note that Americans study Spanish as a "2d language" more than any other. While this is largely in recognition of its importance, many Americans are listening to deliberate and false drums of hatred and prejuduce. This volume can educate the ignorant who can now free themselves of their bias-based hostility. The Spanish spoken by immigrants from Mexico is a "gracious" language, and for the most part it takes years of being exposed to the "angry poor ignorant white men" of this country, before they begin to get as twisted. Spanish is the closest of the living languages to Latin, it is one of the most phonetic, and it is very organized and adapted. Like English, Spanish can express anything language can express.

Nadeau and Barlow provide an wonderful story to explain the complex distribution of Spanish, and why people who speak its dialects can still be mutually understood. Sadly, they fail to mention the documented fact that certain Native American languages -- Nahuatl in Mexico (creating the "Los Angeles dialect), and Quechua/Aymara/Mapuche in South America -- have been shown to underlie some dialect differences. They do find support for my observation that Mexicans speak a "Victorian" language of grace, while El Salvadoreans, ruled for so long by brutal thugs, speak a crude obscenity which is nevertheless intelligible. Many ironies.

I love the hard linguistic work indulged by such cheerful authors who clearly love language and Spanish specifically. Cervantez and the great works of literature are not overlooked.

They show how the culture grew as it came into contacts with others, and with respect to America, the many borrowings. It is impossible to speak of the American West--its heartland--without going all bilingual: barbecue, rodeo, "ten gallon hat" from "tan galan". ( )
1 vote keylawk | Aug 25, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312656025, Hardcover)

Just how did a dialect spoken by a handful of shepherds in Northern Spain become the world’s second most spoken language, the official language of twenty-one countries on two continents, and the unofficial second language of the United States? Jean-Benoît Nadeau and Julie Barlow, the husband-and-wife team who chronicled the history of the French language in The Story of French, now look at the roots and spread of modern Spanish. Full of surprises and honed in Nadeau and Barlow’s trademark style, combining personal anecdote, reflections, and deep research, The Story of Spanish is the first full biography of a language that shaped the world we know, and the only global language with two names—Spanish and Castilian.

The story starts when the ancient Phoenicians set their sights on “The Land of the Rabbits,” Spain’s original name, which the Romans pronounced as Hispania. The Spanish language would pick up bits of Germanic culture, a lot of Arabic, and even some French on its way to taking modern form just as it was about to colonize a New World. Through characters like Queen Isabella, Christopher Columbus, Cervantes, and Goya, The Story of Spanish shows how Spain’s Golden Age, the Mexican Miracle, and the Latin American Boom helped shape the destiny of the language. Other, more somber episodes, also contributed, like the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion of Spain’s Jews, the destruction of native cultures, the political instability in Latin America, and the dictatorship of Franco.

The Story of Spanish shows there is much more to Spanish than tacos, flamenco, and bullfighting. It explains how the United States developed its Hispanic personality from the time of the Spanish conquistadors to Latin American immigration and telenovelas. It also makes clear how fundamentally Spanish many American cultural artifacts and customs actually are, including the dollar sign, barbecues, ranching, and cowboy culture. The authors give us a passionate and intriguing chronicle of a vibrant language that thrived through conquests and setbacks to become the tongue of Pedro Almodóvar and Gabriel García Márquez, of tango and ballroom dancing, of millions of Americans and  hundreds of millions of people throughout the world.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:58:44 -0400)

This book reveals how a dialect spoken by a handful of shepherds in northern Spain became the world's second most spoken language.

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