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HandWiki. Old Spanish Language. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 15 June 2024).
HandWiki. Old Spanish Language. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed June 15, 2024.
HandWiki. "Old Spanish Language" Encyclopedia, (accessed June 15, 2024).
HandWiki. (2022, October 26). Old Spanish Language. In Encyclopedia.
HandWiki. "Old Spanish Language." Encyclopedia. Web. 26 October, 2022.
Old Spanish Language

Old Spanish, also known as Old Castilian (Spanish: castellano antiguo; Template:Lang-osp [roˈmantse kasteˈʎano]) or Medieval Spanish (Spanish: español medieval), was originally a colloquial Latin spoken in the provinces of the Roman Empire that provided the root for the early form of the Spanish language that was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula from the 10th century until roughly the beginning of the 15th century, before a consonantal readjustment gave rise to the evolution of modern Spanish. The poem Cantar de Mio Cid (The Poem of the Cid), published around 1200, remains the best known and most extensive work of literature in Old Spanish.

colloquial español kasteˈʎano

1. Phonology

The phonological system of Old Spanish was quite similar to that of other medieval Romance languages.

Consonants of Old Spanish
  Labial Dental/
Palatal Velar
plain labialised
Nasal m n ɲ (ŋ)  
Stop voiceless p t   k
voiced b d   ɡ ɡʷ
Affricate voiceless   t͡s t͡ʃ    
voiced   d͡z d͡ʒ ~ ʒ    
Fricative voiceless f s ʃ    
voiced v z ʒ ~ d͡ʒ    
Approximant central     j   w
lateral   l ʎ, jl    
Rhotic   r      
Flap   ɾ      
Vowels of Old Spanish
  Front Central Back
Close i   u
Close-mid e   o
Open-mid ɛ   ɔ
Open   a  

1.1. Sibilants

Among the consonants, there were seven sibilants, including three sets of voiceless/voiced pairs:

  • Voiceless alveolar affricate /t͡s̻/: represented by ⟨ç⟩ before ⟨a⟩, ⟨o⟩, ⟨u⟩, and by ⟨c⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩
  • Voiced alveolar affricate /d͡z̻/: represented by ⟨z⟩
  • Voiceless apicoalveolar fricative /s̺/: represented by ⟨s⟩ in word-initial and word-final positions and before and after a consonant, and by ⟨ss⟩ between vowels
  • Voiced apicoalveolar fricative /z̺/: represented by ⟨s⟩ between vowels and before voiced consonants
  • Voiceless postalveolar fricative /ʃ/: represented by ⟨x⟩ (pronounced like the English digraph ⟨sh⟩)
  • Voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/: represented by ⟨j⟩, and (often) by ⟨g⟩ before ⟨e⟩ or ⟨i⟩ (pronounced like the si in English vision)
  • Voiceless postalveolar affricate /t͡ʃ/: represented by ⟨ch⟩

The set of sounds is identical to that found in medieval Portuguese and almost the same as the system present in the modern Mirandese language.

The Modern Spanish system evolved from the Old Spanish one with the following changes:

  1. The affricates /t͡s̻/ and /d͡z̻/ were simplified to laminodental fricatives /s̻/ and /z̻/, which remained distinct from the apicoalveolar sounds /s̺/ and /z̺/ (a distinction also present in Basque).
  2. The voiced sibilants then all lost their voicing and so merged with the voiceless ones. (Voicing remains before voiced consonants, such as mismo, desde, but only allophonically.)
  3. The merged /ʃ/ was retracted to /x/.
  4. The merged /s̻/ was drawn forward to /θ/. In Andalusia and the Canary Islands, however (and so then in Latin America), the merged /s̺/ was instead drawn forward, merging into /s̻/.

Changes 2–4 all occurred in a short period of time, around 1550–1600. The change from /ʃ/ to /x/ is comparable to the same shift occurring in Modern Swedish (see sj-sound).

The Old Spanish spelling of the sibilants was identical to modern Portuguese spelling, which, unlike Spanish, still preserves most of the sounds of the medieval language, and so is still a mostly faithful representation of the spoken language. Spanish spelling was altered in 1815 to reflect the changed pronunciation:[1]

  • passar "to pass" vs. casar "to marry" (Modern Spanish pasar, casar, cf. Portuguese passar, casar)
  • osso "bear" vs. oso "I dare" (Modern Spanish oso in both cases, cf. Portuguese urso [a borrowing from Latin], ouso)
  • foces "sickles" vs. fozes "base levels" (Modern Spanish hoces in both cases, cf. Portuguese foices, fozes)
  • coxo "lame" vs. cojo "I seize" (Modern Spanish cojo in both cases, cf. Portuguese coxo, colho)
  • xefe (Modern Spanish jefe, cf. Portuguese chefe)
  • Xeres (Modern Spanish Jerez, cf. Portuguese Xerez)
  • oxalá (Modern Spanish ojalá, cf. Portuguese oxalá)
  • dexar (Modern Spanish dejar, cf. Portuguese deixar)
  • roxo (Modern Spanish rojo, cf. Portuguese roxo)
  • fazer or facer (Modern Spanish hacer, cf. Portuguese fazer)
  • dezir (Modern Spanish decir, cf. Portuguese dizer)
  • lança (Modern Spanish lanza, cf. Portuguese lança)

The Old Spanish origins of jeque and jerife reflect their Arabic origins, xeque from Arabic sheikh and xerife from Arabic sharif.

1.2. b and v

  • aver (Modern Spanish haber, compare Latin habēre, Portuguese haver)
  • caber (Modern Spanish caber, compare Latin capere, Portuguese caber)
  • bever (Modern Spanish beber, compare Latin bibere; Portuguese beber < older bever)
  • bivir or vivir (Modern Spanish vivir, compare Latin vīvere, Portuguese viver)
  • amava (Modern Spanish amaba, compare Latin amābam/amābat, Portuguese amava)
  • saber (Modern Spanish saber, compare Latin sapere, Portuguese saber)
  • livro (Modern Spanish libro, compare Latin līber, Portuguese livro)
  • palavra (Modern Spanish palabra, compare Latin parabola, Portuguese palavra)

1.3. f and h

Many words now written with an ⟨h⟩ were written with ⟨f⟩ in Old Spanish, but it was likely pronounced [h] in most positions (but [ɸ] or [f] before /r/, /l/, [w] and possibly [j]). The cognates of the words in Portuguese and most other Romance languages have [f]. Other words now spelled with an etymological ⟨h⟩ were spelled without any such consonant in Old Spanish: haber, written aver in Old Spanish). Such words have cognates in other Romance languages without [f] (e.g. French avoir, Italian avere, Portuguese haver with silent etymological ⟨h⟩):

  • fablar (Modern Spanish hablar, Portuguese falar)
  • fazer or facer (Modern Spanish hacer, Portuguese fazer)
  • fijo (Modern Spanish hijo, Portuguese filho)
  • foces "sickles", fozes "base levels" (Modern Spanish hoces, Portuguese foices, fozes)
  • follín (Modern Spanish hollín)
  • ferir (Modern Spanish herir, Portuguese ferir)
  • fiel (Modern Spanish fiel, Portuguese fiel)
  • fuerte (Modern Spanish fuerte, Portuguese forte)
  • flor (Modern Spanish flor, Portuguese flor)

Modern words with ⟨f⟩ before a vowel mostly represent learned or semi-learned borrowings from Latin: fumar "to smoke" (compare inherited humo "smoke"), satisfacer "to satisfy" (compare hacer "to make"), fábula "fable, rumor" (compare hablar "to speak"). Certain modern words with ⟨f⟩ that have doublets in ⟨h⟩ may represent dialectal developments or early borrowings from nearby languages: fierro "branding iron" (compare hierro "iron"), fondo "bottom" (compare hondo "deep"), Fernando "Ferdinand" (compare Hernando).

1.4. ch

Old Spanish had ⟨ch⟩, just as Modern Spanish does, which mostly represents a development of earlier */jt/ (still preserved in Portuguese and French), from the Latin ct. The use of ⟨ch⟩ for /t͡ʃ/ originated in Old French and spread to Spanish, Portuguese, and English despite the different origins of the sound in each language:

  • leite (Modern Spanish leche "milk", Latin lactem, cf. Portuguese leite, French lait)
  • muito (Modern Spanish mucho "much", Latin multum, cf. Portuguese muito, French moult (rare, regional))
  • noite (Modern Spanish noche "night", Latin noctem, cf. Portuguese noite, French nuit)
  • oito (Modern Spanish ocho "eight", Latin oc, cf. Portuguese oito, French huit)
  • feito (Modern Spanish hecho "made" or "fact", Latin factum, cf. Portuguese feito, French fait)

1.5. Palatal Nasal

The palatal nasal /ɲ/ was written ⟨nn⟩ (the geminate nn being one of the sound's Latin origins), but it was often abbreviated to ⟨ñ⟩ following the common scribal shorthand of replacing an ⟨m⟩ or ⟨n⟩ with a tilde above the previous letter. Later, ⟨ñ⟩ was used exclusively, and it came to be considered a letter in its own right by Modern Spanish. Also, as in modern times, the palatal lateral /ʎ/ was indicated with ⟨ll⟩, again reflecting its origin from a Latin geminate.

1.6. Greek Digraphs

The Graeco-Latin digraphs (digraphs in words of Greek-Latin origin) ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨(r)rh⟩ and ⟨th⟩ were reduced to ⟨c⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨(r)r⟩ and ⟨t⟩, respectively:

  • christiano (Modern Spanish cristiano)
  • triumpho (Modern Spanish triunfo)
  • myrrha (Modern Spanish mirra)
  • theatro (Modern Spanish teatro)

2. Spelling

In common with other European languages before the 17th century, the letter pairs ⟨i⟩ and ⟨j⟩ and ⟨u⟩ and ⟨v⟩ were not distinguished. Modern editions of Old Spanish texts usually normalise the spelling to distinguish the pairs, as Modern Spanish does.

3. Morphology

In Old Spanish, perfect constructions of movement verbs, such as ir ('(to) go') and venir ('(to) come'), were formed using the auxiliary verb ser ('(to) be'), as in Italian and French: Las mugieres son llegadas a Castiella was used instead of Las mujeres han llegado a Castilla ('The women have arrived in Castilla').

Possession was expressed with the verb aver (Modern Spanish haber, '(to) have'), rather than tener: Pedro ha dos fijas was used instead of Pedro tiene dos hijas ('Pedro has two daughters').

In the perfect tenses, the past participle often agreed with the gender and number of the direct object: María ha cantadas dos canciones was used instead of Modern Spanish María ha cantado dos canciones ('María has sung two songs'). However, that was inconsistent even in the earliest texts.

Personal pronouns and substantives were placed after the verb in any tense or mood unless a stressed word was before the verb.

The future and the conditional tenses were not yet fully grammaticalised as inflexions; rather, they were still periphrastic formations of the verb aver in the present or imperfect indicative followed by the infinitive of a main verb. [2] Pronouns, therefore, by the general placement rules, could be inserted between the main verb and the auxiliary in these periphrastic tenses, as still occurs with European Portuguese (mesoclisis):

E dixo: ― Tornar-m-é a Jherusalem. (Fazienda de Ultra Mar, 194)
Y dijo: ― Me tornaré a Jerusalén. (literal translation into Modern Spanish)
E disse: ― Tornar-me-ei a Jerusalém. (literal translation into Portuguese)
And he said: "I will return to Jerusalem." (English translation)
En pennar gelo he por lo que fuere guisado (Cantar de mio Cid, 92)
Se lo empeñaré por lo que sea razonable (Modern Spanish equivalent)
Penhorá-lo-ei pelo que for razoável (Portuguese equivalent)
I will pawn them it for whatever it be reasonable (English translation)

When there was a stressed word before the verb, the pronouns would go before the verb: non gelo empeñar he por lo que fuere guisado.

Generally, an unstressed pronoun and a verb in simple sentences combined into one word.[clarification needed] In a compound sentence, the pronoun was found in the beginning of the clause: la manol va besar = la mano le va a besar.

The future subjunctive was in common use (fuere in the second example above) but it is generally now found only in legal or solemn discourse and in the spoken language in some dialects, particularly in areas of Venezuela, to replace the imperfect subjunctive.[3] It was used similarly to its Modern Portuguese counterpart, in place of the modern present subjunctive in a subordinate clause after si, cuando etc., when an event in the future is referenced:

Si vos assi lo fizieredes e la ventura me fuere complida
Mando al vuestro altar buenas donas e Ricas (Cantar de mio Cid, 223–224)
Si vosotros así lo hiciereis y la ventura me fuere cumplida,
Mando a vuestro altar ofrendas buenas y ricas (Modern Spanish equivalent)
Se vós assim o fizerdes e a ventura me for comprida,
Mando a vosso altar oferendas boas e ricas. (Portuguese equivalent; 'ventura' is an obsolete word for 'luck'.)
If you do so and fortune is favourable toward me,
I will send to your altar fine and rich offerings (English translation)

4. Vocabulary

Latin Old Spanish Modern Spanish Modern Portuguese
acceptare, captare, effectum, respectum acetar, catar, efeto, respeto aceptar, captar, efecto, respecto and respeto aceitar, captar, efeito, respeito
et, non, nos, hic e, et; non, no; nós; í y, e; no; nosotros; ahí e; não; nós; aí
stabat; habui, habebat; facere, fecisti estava; ove, avié; far/fer/fazer, fezist(e)/fizist(e) estaba; hube, había; hacer, hiciste estava; houve, havia; fazer, fizeste/fizestes
hominem, mulier, infantem omne/omre/ombre, mugier/muger, ifante hombre, mujer, infante homem, mulher, infante
cras, mane (maneana); numquam cras, man, mañana; nunqua/nunquas mañana, nunca manhã, nunca
quando, quid, qui (quem), quo modo quando, que, qui, commo/cuemo cuando, que, quien, como quando, que, quem, como
fīlia fyia, fija hija filha

5. Sample Text

The following is a sample from Cantar de Mio Cid (lines 330–365), with abbreviations resolved, punctuation (the original has none), and some modernized letters.[4] Below is the original Old Spanish text in the first column, along with the same text in Modern Spanish in the second column and an English translation in the third column.

–Ya sennor glorioso, padre que en çielo estas,
Fezist çielo e tierra, el terçero el mar,
Fezist estrelas e luna, e el sol pora escalentar,
Prisist en carnaçion en sancta maria madre,
En belleem apareçist, commo fue tu veluntad,
Pastores te glorificaron, ovieron de a laudare,
Tres Reyes de arabia te vinieron adorar,
Melchior e gaspar e baltasar, oro e tus e mirra
Te offreçieron, commo fue tu veluntad.
Saluest a jonas quando cayo en la mar,
Saluest a daniel con los leones en la mala carçel,
Saluest dentro en Roma al sennor san sabastián,
Saluest a sancta susanna del falso criminal,
Por tierra andidiste xxxii annos, sennor spirital,
Mostrando los miraculos, por en auemos que fablar,
Del agua fezist vino e dela piedra pan,
Resuçitest a Lazaro, ca fue tu voluntad,
Alos judios te dexeste prender, do dizen monte caluarie
Pusieron te en cruz, por nombre en golgota,
Dos ladrones contigo, estos de sennas partes,
El vno es en parayso, ca el otro non entro ala,
Estando en la cruz vertud fezist muy grant,
Longinos era çiego, que nuquas vio alguandre,
Diot con la lança enel costado, dont yxio la sangre,
Corrio la sangre por el astil ayuso, las manos se ouo de vntar,
Alçolas arriba, legolas a la faz,
Abrio sos oios, cato atodas partes,
En ti crouo al ora, por end es saluo de mal.
Enel monumento Resuçitest e fust alos ynfiernos,
Commo fue tu voluntad,
Quebranteste las puertas e saqueste los padres sanctos.
Tueres Rey delos Reyes e de todel mundo padre,
Ati adoro e creo de toda voluntad,
E Ruego a san peydro que me aiude a Rogar
Por mio çid el campeador, que dios le curie de mal,
Quando oy nos partimos, en vida nos faz iuntar.
–O Señor glorioso, Padre que estás en el cielo,
Hiciste el cielo y la tierra, al tercer día el mar,
Hiciste las estrellas y la luna, y el sol para calentar,
Te encarnaste en Santa María madre,
En Belén apareciste, como fue tu voluntad,
Pastores te glorificaron, te tuvieron que loar,
Tres reyes de Arabia te vinieron a adorar,
Melchor, Gaspar y Baltasar; oro, incienso y mirra
Te ofrecieron, como fue tu voluntad.
Salvaste a Jonás cuando cayó en el mar,
Salvaste a Daniel con los leones en la mala cárcel,
Salvaste dentro de Roma al señor San Sebastián,
Salvaste a Santa Susana del falso criminal,
Por tierra anduviste treinta y dos años, Señor espiritual,
Mostrando los milagros, por ende tenemos qué hablar,
Del agua hiciste vino y de la piedra pan,
Resucitaste a Lázaro, porque fue tu voluntad,
Por los judíos te dejaste prender, en donde llaman Monte Calvario
Te pusieron en la cruz, en un lugar llamado Golgotá,
Dos ladrones contigo, estos de sendas partes,
Uno está en el paraíso, porque el otro no entró allá,
Estando en la cruz hiciste una virtud muy grande,
Longinos era ciego que jamás se vio,
Te dio con la lanza en el costado, de donde salió la sangre,
Corrió la sangre por el astil abajo, las manos se las tuvo que untar,
Las alzó arriba, se las llevó a la cara,
Abrió sus ojos, miró a todas partes,
En ti creyó entonces, por ende se salvó del mal.
En el monumento resucitaste y fuiste a los infiernos,
Como fue tu voluntad,
Quebrantaste las puertas y sacaste a los padres santos.
Tú eres Rey de los reyes y de todo el mundo padre,
A ti te adoro y en ti creo de toda voluntad,
Y ruego a San Pedro que me ayude a rogar
Por mi Cid el Campeador, que Dios le cuide del mal,
Cuando hoy partamos, haz que en vida nos juntemos otra vez.
O glorious Lord, Father who art in Heaven,
Thou madest Heaven and Earth, and on the third day the sea,
Thou madest the stars and the Moon, and the Sun for warmth,
Thou incarnatedst Thyself of the Blessed Mother Mary,
In Bethlehem Thou appearedst, for it was Thy will,
Shepherds glorified Thee, they gave Thee praise,
Three kings of Arabia came to worship Thee,
Melchior, Caspar, and Balthazar; offered Thee
Gold, frankincense, and myrrh, for it was Thy will.
Thou savedst Jonah when he fell into the sea,
Thou savedst Daniel from the lions in the terrible jail,
Thou savedst Saint Sebastian in Rome,
Thou savedst Saint Susan from the false charge,
On Earth Thou walkedst thirty-two years, Spiritual Lord,
Performing miracles, thus we have of which to speak,
Of the water Thou madest wine and of the stone bread,
Thou revivedst Lazarus, because it was Thy will,
Thou leftest Thyself to be arrested by the Jews, where they call Mount Calvary,
They placed Thee on the Cross, in the place called Golgotha,
Two thieves with Thee, these of split paths,
One is in Paradise, but the other did not enter there,
Being on the Cross Thou didst a very great virtue,
Longinus was blind ever he saw Thee,
He gave Thee a blow with the lance in the broadside, where he left the blood,
Running down the arm, the hands Thou hadst spread,
Raised it up, as it led to Thy face,
Opened their eyes, saw all parts,
And believed in Thee then, thus saved them from evil.
Thou revivedst in the tomb and went to Hell,
For it was Thy will,
Thou hast broken the doors and brought out the holy fathers.
Thou art King of Kings and of all the world Father,
I worship Thee and I believe in all Thy will,
And I pray to Saint Peter to help with my prayer,
For my Cid the Champion, that God nurse from evil,
When we part today, that we are joined in this life or the next.


  1. Ortografía de la lengua castellana – Real Academia Española – Google Книги. Retrieved 2015-05-22. 
  2. A History of the Spanish Language. Ralph Penny. Cambridge University Press. Pag. 210.
  3. Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de la lengua española. Seco, Manuel. Espasa-Calpe. 2002. Pp. 222–3.
  4. A recording with reconstructed mediaeval pronunciation can be accessed here, reconstructed according to contemporary phonetics (by Jabier Elorrieta).ón-Cid.ogg
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