The Story of Spanish Hardcover – 7 May 2013
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"You don't have to know any Spanish to enjoy this charming biography of what is perhaps the world's least appreciated major language. But you will come to understand its rich history and poetic beauty--and why our children and their children will, in ever greater numbers, be dreaming in Spanish."--Donald Morrison, former editor of "Time "magazine's European edition and author of "The Death of French Culture".
""A rich history of the language [...] Nadeau and Barlow do an excellent job of transforming it into an accessible and lively narrative.""--"The Los Angeles Times"""
""Part linguistic primer, part cultural history, "The Story of Spanish" zips along crisply.""--"The Wall Street Journal "
""Nadeau and Barlow once again present a thoroughly researched linguistic history. The authors cover more than 2,000 years in concise chapters with clever headings. Part anthropological study, part travelogue, this volume is an entirely compelling compendium."--""Booklist"
""An engaging mix of travel, personal anecdotes and extensive research.""--"Shelf-Awareness "
"You don't have to know any Spanish to enjoy this charming biography of what is perhaps the world's least appreciated major language. But you will come to understand its rich history and poetic beauty -- and why our children and their children will, in ever greater numbers, be dreaming in Spanish."--Donald Morrison former Editor of TIME Magazine's European edition and author of "The Death of French Culture".
""I believe The Story of Spanish"" can contribute to changing common perceptions of Spanish as the language of a struggling minority.... In my opinion, the fact that this book is being written in English is a great advantage...Because it is being written in English, The Story of Spanish"" has the potential to reach beyond [the Spanish-speaking] market.""--Alejandra de la Paz Minister of Cultural and Educational Affairs Embassy of Mexico in the United States
""The growth of the Latino community in the United States as well as the U.S.' deepening relationships with Mexico and the rest of Latin America form the backdrop of the growth and evolution of the Spanish language.""The Story of Spanish"" promises to be a very important book for the Spanish-speaking world as well as the United States, and I think it is worthy of attention and support from a wide variety of organizations and individuals.""--Erik --This text refers to the Paperback edition.
About the Author
JEAN-BENOIT NADEAU and JULIE BARLOW are the authors of The Story of French and the bestselling Sixty Million Frenchmen Can't be Wrong. They live in Canada.--This text refers to the Paperback edition.
Top customer reviews
Nadeau and Barlow, on the other hand, in The Story of Spanish, concentrate far more on the social, historical, political and economic context. For example, whilst Penny makes plenty of references to El Poema de Mio Cid as a source of knowledge of the development of the language, Nadeau and Barlow explain who El Cid was and how the legend itself was handed down through oral tradition. Another key observation they make is that the myth of the Reconquista, the seven-century struggle that effectively formed the crucible for Castellano, was a concoction brewed up by the Franks, the German-French rulers of medieval France, in order to create a buffer zone between themselves and the Moorish rulers of southern Spain, Al-Andalus. This included the creation of a myth around the supposed remains of Santiago at Santiago de Compostela (other sources attest to the temporal absurdity of their claim to authenticity) which established a pilgrimage along a trail the faithful would defend to the death. They also promulgated the fiction of a unified Visigoth kingdom prior to the Moors' arrival, which the Reconquista sought to "re-establish".
In a more contemporary vein, the authors discuss the rising significance of the Hispanic nations in Latin America, the potential harm to both the US and its Hispanic citizens, legal and illegal, of anti-illegal immigrant measures by some states, recent attempts to document a standardised General Spanish as a reference point for hispanohablantes around the world, and the reasons so many people are now learning the language. (Like many, I thought it would be useful for work as I often travelled to the US and, on one such occasion, found myself the only person in a gas station near Atlanta not speaking Spanish.)
Like Penny, they identify Alfolso X, King of Castile between 1252 and 1284, as the original driving force for the standardisation of Spanish, based on his realisation of the need for a unifying language for the Reconquista. But they go further, discussing the role of Antonio de Nebrija's Spanish Grammar, presented to Isabel la Catolica in Salamanca, the later contributions of the Real Academia Española and its offshoots, and of Maria Moliner and her Diccionario de Uso del Español, who despite nomination was passed over by the Real Academia in favour of a lesser, male, candidate, thus postponing the appointment of its first female academician. In their account of the voyages of discovery they give examples of words acquired by the Spanish voyagers, which have also been adopted by other languages, such as canoa and barbacoa.
One of the faults they suffer from throughout is overconfidence. They state without qualification that "compostela" derives from "field of stars", where it is equally, if not more, likely that it derives from the vulgar Latin for "burial ground". They unquestioningly attribute to French general Hubert Lyautey the aphorism "A language is a dialect with an army, navy and air force", when doubt has been cast on its origins. They suggest that, like English, Spanish is morpho-syntactically analytic, with free morphemes predominating and meaning derived from syntax, when in fact Penny places Spanish much closer to the synthetic, like Latin, with bound morphemes and meaning derived from morphology (you won't, incidentally, find this kind of vocabulary in their book): his example is "mordió el perro al gato", the dog bit the cat, which in Spanish could be said in two or three different formats using the same words, in English in only one unless you happen to be a diminutive Jedi knight. And I'd guess my three tutors, two in Seville, one in Granada, would be surprised to read the assertion that it is in northern Spain that c and z are pronounced "th" after the way they hammered that pronunciation into me.
Linguistically also the ex-English teacher in me furrowed his brow and flourished a metaphorical red pen a few times. As is becoming more common, and here maybe I'm swimming against the tide, they employ copious superfluous prepositions (outside "of", for example) and just plain wrong prepositions (it's "different from", not "different than"). I'd maintain that the plural of lingua franca is linguas franca (as in courts martial). And in Spanish it's "¿como te vas?", not "¿como te va?", although like "Londinum" that is likely just a typo.
There are, according to the authors' sources, 18 million people currently learning Spanish as a foreign language, six million of them in the United States, 93,000 in Canada and 102,000 in the UK, most of whom will be Anglophone, and many of whom, like me, will welcome this book as essential background reading to their endeavours. But more general readers will also find the book enjoyable. Nadeau and Barlow tell a compelling, captivating story which complements Penny's more academic treatment and as such is neither more nor less valuable, but of a different kind of value.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
While Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow's research points out that while the Spanish language may suffer from a case of "low-self esteem," it is hardly down nor out. Ever since I took four semesters of Spanish at college many years ago, it's been on my mind that I should try to be more proficient at by reviewing what I know and don't know about the culture, and this text gives the reader something to think about.
Some excellent stories and histories of the Spanish people are featured here. The tales of Alphonse X and El Cid are given their due. The origins of various terms, the significance of "The Land of Rabbits," pieces of eight, how Spanish had an "entropy" effect on the language of South America. Pizarro, the age of exploration, the tango, it's all here
The Spanish language has its challenges in the modern world, but it is still dominant in many countries, and will continue to have a strong influence in the twenty-first century.
After reading "The Story of Spanish," I find myself even more curious about Spanish history. Just how do the people of Mexico, Spain, and South America view American culture, books, tv, and movies? How do Americans see Spanish books and movies? The chapter on "magical realism" helped, but I want to know more.
This book would make an excellent addition to a Spanish language and history class taught for English speakers; however I'm not sure about some of the authors' bservations on recent events in Arizona, and there is perhaps an unspoken bias in a chapter or two.
Overall, "The Story of Spanish" is an enjoyable read, and it's a pretty good step in learning more about the language and culture that is still pretty important and dominant in the world.
Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow should consider writing the Story of Latin in the future. They've already done the one for French, and now Spanish. Perhaps they should tie everything together with the language both originated from.
But I was constantly distracted by spelling mistakes when listing words in Spanish. Not sure if this was poor editing or more worryingly, not enough understanding of the language...
But I persevered and found the book to have some redeeming qualities. The authors cover the spread of the language in almost every country. My one objection is that they slight the Philippines. The language was part of its culture for 300 years and into the 20th century was the official language of the Courts. In addition, its impact is still felt in the culture.
The authors' rebuff of Alfonso El Sabio as a great ruler is somewhat puzzling. They state "he certainly did not go down in history as one of Spain's great kings". Quite the contrary, he goes down in history as a great king for laying the groundwork for a unified Spanish state. We don't remember Alfonso for his political blunders or botched wars, but for his scholastic achievements which formed his rule. His law code, as the authors point out, standardized laws and became a foundation law of the United States of America.
There are some vocabulary words that the authors give English meanings that are somewhat doubtful. For example, they note that the literal meaning of "La Chingada" when applied to Dona Marina, La Malinche, means "prostitute". Perhaps they meant "figurative" and not "literal". In a literal sense it can mean "raped", " or the vulgar "f" word.
In spite of these shortcomings, I found the book to be a nice introduction to the history of Spanish for students who want a start in learning something about the language's history.
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