En Torno a los Orígenes del Español: Estudio sobre las Secuencias con Dos Nasales en Castellano

Cesar Gutierrez Miguel, Purdue University


The evolution of Latin sequences [min] to Spanish [mbɾ] has traditionally been accounted for through a syncope of the unstressed vowel, the rhotacism of the alveolar nasal and the later epenthesis of the voiced labial stop. This relative chronology is based on written records from the Middle Ages, in which spellings such as , and are found. However, from a phonetic perspective both the sound change [mn] > [mɾ] and [mɾ] > [mbɾ] are questionable. First, since consonant lenition is cross-linguistically more prone to happen in weak positions (i. e., coda and intervocalic) than in strong positions (i. e., onset), the rhotacism of the [n] in the [mn] sequences, which is in post-consonantal syllable-onset position, is not expected. Rather, progressive assimilation, regressive assimilation or lenition of [m] are processes more likely to be undergone by [mn] sequences. Second, in the [mɾ] stage the assimilation of the nasal to the alveolar rhotic would be the expected outcome. Taking these problems into account, this study proposes that the rhotacism occurred prior to the syncope ([min] > [mVɾ]), which accounts for the flapping of the nasal in intervocalic position. There is evidence of the same sound change in other Romance languages where the unstressed vowel did not syncope. From a philological point of view, the lack of spellings in the medieval documentation is explained as a consequence of the logographic scriptae that were used in most Iberian kingdoms until the 12th century. Regarding the epenthesis of [b], it will be shown that the insertion of this consonant was the perceptual outcome of the premature elevation of the soft palate at the end of [m] in the Romance stage [mVɾ]. Based on this phonetically-grounded explanation for the raising of [mbɾ] sequences in Old Spanish, two specific words will be given a special consideration here: grama ‘grass’ (< Latin *graminem) and azumbre ‘liquid measure’ (< Arabic aṯṯúmn). In spite of their great value for this matter, they have not been considered in previous research due to either their unusual phonetic development or their non-Latin origin. The analysis of grama will lead to the conclusion that this word came into Castilian from Western Ibero-Romance (i.e. Galician, Portuguese or Leonese) and, therefore, that [m] is not a rare development in this language from Latin [min], but a foreign one. On the other hand, the study of azumbre will show that, instead of during the 12th century, this arabism was introduced in Old Spanish no later than the 10th century and, subsequently, that both the rhotacism of [n] and the epenthesis of [b] in [mbɾ] took place sometime before that century.




Hammond, Purdue University.

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