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SP11: The Hispanic languages

This paper is available for the academic year 2023-24

This course considers the internal and external history of the Hispanic languages. The focus is mainly on the development of Portuguese, Castilian and Catalan but other Peninsular varieties (including those usually termed 'dialects') are also considered since the history of all the Peninsular languages is in any case interrelated.

The history of the Hispanic languages stretches from Vulgar Latin (which may conveniently be thought of as the spoken language of the Roman Empire) to the expansion of Spain and Portugal into the New World and the perceptible present-day developments which are taking place in the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world of over 400 million people. The fascination of the subject lies in the piecing together of information about the emergence of early Hispanic languages out of Latin; the language in the Dark Ages and the Medieval period; the examination of possible reasons why the language changed as it did (actually not just once but all the time!); the processes of language change; and the study of modern diversity. Students will also get the opportunity to acquire a hands-on experience of the past forms of the language, and of general philological methodology, through the study of old texts during supervisions.

A prior knowledge of Latin is a help, but is neither essential nor expected. However, some knowledge of linguistics is required (SP1 and/or PG1 linguistics lectures).


Michaelmas Term

Week Topic
1 Classical Latin, Vulgar Latin and Pre-Romance Substrates
2 External history and peninsular dialectology
3 Phonological changes (I)
4 Phonological changes (II)
5 Morphological changes (I)
6 Morphological changes (II)
7 Syntactic changes (I)
8 Syntactic changes (II)

Lent Term

Week Topic
1 Syntactic changes (III)
2 Semantic changes (I)
3 Semantic changes (II)
4 Standardisation of Spanish, Catalan and Galician
5 Change outside the peninsula: Latin American Spanish (I)
6 Change outside the peninsula: Latin American Spanish (II)
7 Change outside the peninsula: the evolution of Brazilian Portuguese (I)
8 Change outside the peninsula: the evolution of Brazilian Portuguese (II)
Preparatory reading: 

Introductory reading (Castilian)

  • Penny, Ralph, 1991. A History of the Spanish Language (Cambridge: University Press)
  • Lapesa, Rafael, latest edition available. Historia de la lengua española (Madrid: Gredos).
  • Penny, Ralph, 2000. Variation and Change in Spanish (Cambridge: University Press).
  • Pountain, Christopher J., 2001. A History of the Spanish Language through Texts (London: Routledge).

Introductory reading (Portuguese)

  • Teyssier, Paul, 1980. Histoire de la langue portugaise (Paris: PUF, 1980).
  • Mattoso Câmara, Jr., J., 1972. The Portuguese Language (Chicago: University Press).

Introductory reading (Catalan)

  • Wheeler, Max, Alan Yates & Nicolau Dolz (1999). Catalan: A Comprehensive Grammar. London: Routledge.
  • Veny, Joan & Mar Massanell (2015) Dialectologia catalana. Aproximació pràctica als parlars catalans. Barcelona: Publicacions Universitat Barcelona.


Teaching and learning: 

The course is taught through weekly lectures and fortnightly supervisions.

Please see SP11's Moodle site. The password can be collected from the paper coordinator.


By written examination. The exam paper allows for quite a wide choice of topics (three questions are to be answered in all; the paper is sectioned). 

Course Contacts: 
Dr Ioanna Sitaridou