Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Spanish lovers

Authors' thorough look at language a boon to Hispanophiles and casual readers alike

  • Print
Argentina's Nahuel Tortosa, back to camera, and Barbara Ferreyra compete during the 2012 Tango Dance World Cup stage finals in Buenos Aires.

AP Enlarge Image

Argentina's Nahuel Tortosa, back to camera, and Barbara Ferreyra compete during the 2012 Tango Dance World Cup stage finals in Buenos Aires.

Montreal-based husband-and-wife journalists Jean-BenoÆt Nadeau and Julie Barlow have done it again, following their comprehensive book The Story of French (2006) with an equally thorough effort, The Story of Spanish.

Worthy of TV's The Amazing Race, they present an entertaining -- if arduous -- journey through 3,000 years, five empires and three continents, detailing how the Spanish (Castilian) language developed, and who and what influenced it.

Power, ideas and words crisscross the Atlantic, Nadeau and Barlow explain. Spanish is both actor in and the product of forces like politics, religion, art, economics and technology. Passion, tragedy, suspense and surprise propel their story.

They call their approach "anthropological" and "biography." What they have produced is part history, part language textbook and part telenovela.

It's just not a breezy read.

Those familiar with their study on French will recognize the same format: first the maps (more of them this time but, again, not referenced in the text); chapters that focus on events and personalities and that flow chronologically (more of them this time and, happily, shorter); then statistical tables on present-day language usage; and, finally, a rich bibliography.

Additionally, this newer work includes a guide to Spanish pronunciation and a list of Hispanic Nobel Prize winners. Comparative word tables also punctuate the earliest of the 33 chapters.

Because the text is so particular and the authors so confident of their readers' prior knowledge (terms like syncretism, autarky, neologism and diacritical marks are not defined), this study will appeal mostly to history buffs, seasoned language students and persistent Hispanophiles.

However, because the chapters are topically discrete, each can be read as a separate essay. From this perspective, parts of The Story of Spanish may appeal to any reader. Choices include the history of Muslim Spain, the role of language academies, and the global popularity of the 1960s "Latin American boom" authors, such as Colombian Gabriel Garca M°rquez and Mexican Carlos Fuentes.

A chapter on the Spanish settlement of Mexico, including today's American Southwest, offers a look at ranching and cowboy culture. Free ranges for cattle and sheep originated in northern Spain in the Middle Ages, Nadeau and Barlow write.

The Spanish used ranching to develop vast territories of Mexico that lacked roads and waterways. The earliest New World cowboys, the pioneers of cowboy ways, were indigenous peoples.

The authors sprinkle all kinds of fascinating, unconnected observations throughout the text.

-- Spain's Charles V (1516-56) made the first plan to dig a canal across the Isthmus of Panama. From the mid-16th to mid-19th centuries, Spanish dollars were the foundation of the world's monetary system.

-- Tango's broad popularity was sparked in Paris by young Argentines studying there in the late 19th century. Before then, it was marginalized to the Buenos Aires' slums.

-- Today, 10 per cent of Spanish speakers live in Spain; 11 per cent live in the United States.

Nadeau and Barlow identify themes emerging from the story of Spanish.

First, through the conscious efforts of individuals and institutions, Spanish developed into a neat, orderly language.

Second, through conquest, settlement, emigration and even the expulsion of Spanish speakers, the language spread readily. Spanish is now an official language in 21 countries. When, at times, some of these countries have destabilized, others have provided haven to Spanish speakers.

Third, there is a deep presence of Spanish wherever it is spoken. The number and density of native speakers have spawned a strong cultural market for Spanish worldwide.

With 500 million speakers, Spanish is the world's second or third language. It is either the first or second tongue of about a million Canadians.

By 2050, 25 per cent of the world's Hispanic population will be living in the U.S.

The Story of Spanish is relevant and topical. In a sense, it's everyone's story, a case of "mi casa es su casa."

Gail Perry is a Winnipeg writer and student of French and Spanish. She recently walked across northern Spain via the Camino de Santiago.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 22, 2013 A1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

Photo Store Gallery

  • PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS 070619 LIGHTNING ILLUMINATES AN ABANDONED GRAIN ELEVATOR IN THE VILLAGE OF SANFORD ABOUT 10PM TUESDAY NIGHT AS A LINE OF THUNDERSTORMS PASSED NEAR WINNIPEG JUST TO THE NORTH OF THIS  SITE.
  • PHIL.HOSSACK@FREEPRESS.MB.CA 090728 / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS White Pelicans belly up to the sushi bar Tuesday afternoon at Lockport. One of North America's largest birds is a common sight along the Red RIver and on Lake Winnipeg. Here the fight each other for fish near the base of Red RIver's control structure, giving human fisher's downstream a run for their money.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you think Judy Wasylycia-Leis will greatly benefit from the endorsement by Winnipeg's firefighters?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google