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The Story of Spanish Paperback – 15 Jul 2014

4.5 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 428 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin; Reprint edition (15 July 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1250049040
  • ISBN-13: 978-1250049049
  • Product Dimensions: 13.7 x 3.3 x 20.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 854,508 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"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

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.

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By therealus TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 16 Sept. 2013
Format: Hardcover
Whilst Ralph Penny's History of the Spanish Language answered a few questions, it left many unaddressed, and created a whole lot more. As I observed in my review, as good as it is, it isn't a "history" as I would understand it: it deals with the changes to the Spanish language, from the Romans to present day, but doesn't contextualise that well within the underlying story of the Spanish and Hispanic peoples and how their language came to be made and remade. Instead his focus is more on the way in which words evolved from a detailed morphological perspective, with numerous tables illustrating these transformations, and as such is a fairly technical overview.

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".
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Well worth reading if the subject interests you, particularly informative about historical figures and influences and today's co-operative arrangements between Spanish-speaking countries. Not without its irritating sides, though, and every reader is going to grumble at this or that bit of content or expression.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0x9a53aad4) out of 5 stars 64 reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a54aa08) out of 5 stars Contains too many errors and mistaken ideas. 30 Dec. 2013
By C. Fountain - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
It was about time someone wrote a history of Spanish aimed for a general, English-speaking public rather than specialists, so I had high hopes for this book. I had already read the authors' Story of French and found it enjoyable though a bit too light and breezy in parts. I don't speak much French, but I am fluent in Spanish and have studied the history of Spanish fairly extensively, so I picked up this book mostly to see how that fascinating history had been adapted in a popular book.

The first part of the book, focusing on the early history of Spanish, was pretty well done, though there are a few blatant errors (e.g. they say Spanish "además" comes from Latin "demais", but "demais" is not Latin at all, it's a Portuguese word with the same root). That might seem picky but it's the kind of thing that anyone with a basic knowledge of Latin and the Romance language should see immediately as an error. The fact that a very basic mistake like that made it into the first few pages of the book made me question the authors' command of the material, and unfortunately as I continued to read I found more and more errors, large and small, that make me unable to recommend this book despite the fact that it gets many things right. Other reviewers have pointed out some of the real howlers, like misspelling the word "guay" (cool) as "gay" and then translating it as "homosexual" in English. If there were only one or two of these errors it might be forgivable, but there are so many that someone reading this book who did not already speak Spanish would come away with a lot of mistaken ideas and wrong information about the language.

Basically, this is a book about Spanish written by two people who are not fluent in the language, and it shows. Try to imagine if a French speaker wrote a history of English and said that in the U.S. we say things like "that's a coal car" (getting "cool" wrong). It's laughable, but even more than that it's disappointing that they did not hire someone more proficient in Spanish to help them at least proofread, if not collaborate. The only reason this book gets 2 stars rather than 1 is that it's still the most accessible English-language history of Spanish out there, but I honestly think it would be better to wait until someone writes a better one than to read one with as many mistakes as this book has.

For those who speak Spanish, I would recommend any of these histories of the language :
lengua espa%25f1ola Panorama sociohist%25f3rico Spanish ebook (this is an excellent book that represents a middle ground between popular and academic writing)
espa%C3%B1ola Estudios Literarios Spanish Edition ebook (very accessible)
Breve historia lengua espanola Spanish ebook (more academic/technical)
23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a54aa5c) out of 5 stars Excellent primer on Spanish History 28 May 2013
By J. Smith - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I first heard about this upcoming release from the USA Today about six months ago, and have eagerly awaited to read this ever since.

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.


Williston ND
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a5dbc3c) out of 5 stars Interesting tidbits, many editing mistakes 5 July 2013
By David Del Ser - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I found this book to be a good arch of the story of Spanish-Castilian (I'm from Madrid). The section on the deep middle-ages was particularly engaging, as well as the one describing the clash of Spanish and Native languages in the Americas.
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...
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a531648) out of 5 stars Well written, interesting subject, fails in details 25 Mar. 2014
By Bwamba - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I found this in the local library and was looking forward to reading it. The authors write really well and obviously have a love for their subject. Also, they get the basic history of Spain and language correct.

Unfortunately, it fails very often in the details, which is a real shame, because it ruins (for me) what would otherwise be a great and fun book to read. If you know nothing of the subject I think you can still get something out of it, but for someone like me who knows something on the subject it's sadly a bit of a waste of time.

Here are examples of the errors from the hardcover edition:

"toro" does not come from pre-Roman languages, it comes from Latin "taurus"
"puerco" does not come from pre-Roman languages, it also comes from Latin "porcus" (it even ends up in English in the form "pork", via Norman French).

the authors claim the English word "brother" comes from Latin "frater", which is way off... it's a Germanic word, like German "Bruder" and Dutch "broeder". They are similar to "frater", of course, but that's because Germanic and Latin both share Indo-Germanic roots.

p.29 (hardcover):
"sitio" supposedly comes from Germanic root when it come from Latin "situs"
"compania" also doesn't come from Germanic but Latin "companio"

I'm very surprised that all these errors would get through any kind of fact-checking or editing process.

For more accurate etymologies you can search Spanish words here: http://lema.rae.es/
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0x9a54af18) out of 5 stars Interesting history; far too many typos. 10 Aug. 2013
By Claudia - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm American-born and from a Spanish-speaking family, and I think I have a pretty good handle on the Spanish language. When I bought this book, I was hoping to learn about areas of history that are infrequently covered in American schools and perhaps pick up a few new vocabulary words as well. I enjoyed the history included in this book, particularly the sections on Alfonso X, Antonio de Nebrija, and Andrés Bello, but the amount of Spanish spelling and grammar mistakes that I saw put me off. I know the authors are not native Spanish speakers, but it's a little shocking to think that no editor caught at least some of these errors. Even Google Translate knows that "merced" does not mean "market" and that "coraje" doesn't have an accent on the "e".

Two mistakes in particular had me laughing out loud. First was the assertion that Argentines, Uruguayans, and Nicaraguans use "vos" as the familiar second person pronoun instead of "tú". This is fine, but the authors provided "vos tenéis" as a contrast to "tú tienes." My family is Argentine, and we say "vos tenés." (To my knowledge, so do Uruguayans and Nicaraguans.) "Tenéis" is a conjugation of "vosotros", an entirely different subject pronoun and one that is only used in Spain.

The second was an example provided of the Madrid slang dialect Cheli. According to the authors, Cheli speakers would say "carro gay" ("a homosexual car") instead of "buen coche" ("a good car.") I haven't spent much time in Spain, but I was so doubtful of this claim that I went online and found the paper they had used as their Cheli source. Indeed, the correct expression is "un carro guay", "guay" being a versatile slang term for "bueno" ("good.") The authors had mis-transcribed the source and ended up with a very odd English translation.

The book is fine as a leisure read, and you'll likely end up learning some history. But if you had planned to improve your Spanish in the process, then tread carefully.
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