On chilli again

James A. Landau JJJRLandau at AOL.COM
Tue Jul 17 13:22:49 UTC 2001

In a message dated 7/16/01 12:45:54 AM Eastern Daylight Time,
rtroike at U.ARIZONA.EDU writes:

>       There has been a tradition of writing Nahuatl which goes back to
>  1521, in which the -ll- always represents either a single /l/ or geminate
>  /ll/, never /y/. -ll- in Italian still represents a geminate ("long") /ll/
>  but in Spanish it palatalized (like /nn/) to /ly/ (which is still retained
>  in the Andes, thanks probably to Quechua influence, which has a palatal
>  /l/), and then to /y/, hence the modern pronunciation of "calle" as
>  /kaye/.
>          However, there are many Nahuatl words such as "calli" (house),
>  "calpulli" (barrio), etc., which have the -ll- spelling where it does not
>  represent /y/ or even /ly/. People in Mexico are sufficiently familiar
>  with Nahuatlisms that they are aware of the difference, but they would be
>  misleading to Spanish speakers from other countries (just as people from
>  outside the Andes would be unfamiliar with the use of -ll- in Quechua for
>  /ly/.

My classroom Spanish never included any transcriptions of Nahuatl, so I have
no idea what conventions are used.

You may not be aware of it, but Spanish orthography is dictated by the
Spanish Academy.  In a perfect example of la ley del Sen~or Murphy, the
Academy changed the spelling of the past tense of the verb _ser_, with the
result that every textbook we used was now wrong.

Spanish orthography can best be described as "austere".  E.g. the "ph"
combination is always written as "f".  Except for the "u" following "q" (as
in "yanqui") and the silent "h", there are NO redundant or unneccesary
letters.  Double "n" (written as a single n with a tilde over it, the tilde
being the second n written over the first one), double "r", and double "l"
represent different phonemes than single "n", "r", and "l", and hence the
doubled letter is not a redundancy.

Hence I find it unlikely that anyone, even in 1521, used a double "l" to
represent the sound represented by a single "l".  HOWEVER, it is quite
possible that somebody deliberately used a double "l" to represent a Nahuatl
phoneme that to his ears resembled but was distinct from the Spanish phoneme
represented by a single "l".

Spanish spelling has gone such a separate route from Italian spelling that it
is not productive to cite an Italian spelling, as you did, to explain
anything in Spanish, UNLESS (as probably can be done here) you can
demonstrate that the phoneme or whatever in question can be traced back to
late Empire Latin.

In Spain the Castilian dialect (that is the speech of the area around Madrid)
is Standard Spanish.  Castilian pronounces "ll" as /ly/.  In most of the New
World "ll" is pronounced /y/ with no /l/ sound.  Why the difference?

Spanish trade with and emigration to the New World was mostly from the area
around Cadiz in southern Spain.  Now Cadiz, then only a few generations
removed from Moorish rule, is not part of Castile but rather of the region
called "Andalucia" (named after those ubiquitous Vandals).  Andalucian speech
differs from standard Castilian.  I don't know the details, but it is quite
possible that pronouncing "ll" as /y/ was an Andalucian practice, and hence
/y/ rather than /ly/ spread thorughout most of the Spanish-speaking New World.

Why then would the Andes region use the /ly/ of Castilian?  Quechua influence
is a possiblity, but another possibility is that for some reason the Andes
region attracted more Castilian speakers than Andalucian speakers.

Does anybody have detailed data to nail down this question?

      - Jim Landau
        Systems Engineer
        FAA Technical Center (ACT-350/BCI)
        Atlantic City Airport NJ 08221 USA

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