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Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America

Volume X, Number 2, Fall 1990





Vice President




Executive Council


Cervantes: Bulletin of the Cervantes Society of America


Book Review Editor: EDWARD H. FRIEDMAN

Editor's Advisory Council


Associate Editors


Cervantes, official organ of the Cervantes Society of America, publishes scholarly articles in English and Spanish on Cervantes's life and works, reviews and notes of interest to cervantistas. Twice yearly. Subscription to Cervantes is a part of membership in the Cervantes Society of America, which also publishes a Newsletter. $17.00 a year for individuals, $20.00 for institutions, $28.00 for couples, and $9.00 for students. Membership is open to all persons interested in Cervantes. For membership and subscription, send check in dollars to Professor ALISON WEBER, Secretary-Treasurer, The Cervantes Society of America, Dept. of Spanish, Italian, and Portuguese, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903. Manuscripts should be sent in duplicate, together with a self-addressed envelope and return postage, to Professor MICHAEL MCGAHA, Editor, Cervantes, Department of Romance Languages, Pomona College, Claremont, California 91711-6333. The SOCIETY requires anonymous submissions, therefore the author's name should not appear on the manuscript; instead, a cover sheet with the author's name, address, and the title of the article should accompany the article. References to the author's own work should be couched in the third person. Books for review should be sent to Professor EDWARD FRIEDMAN, Book Review Editor, Cervantes, Dept. of Spanish and Portuguese, Ballantine Hall, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana 47405.

Copyright © 1990 by the Cervantes Society of America.



ArribaAbajo Cervantes' Consonants1

Daniel Eisenberg

Florida State University

Para sopesar el costo de la modernización ortográfica de las obras cervantinas, es necesario conocer su pronunciación. Un estudio de la rima y estructura interna de sus versos revela una fonética toledana. La modernización ortográfica no le traiciona en la medida que se había supuesto. Se ve mejor, en cambio, como los componedores de Cuesta han estorbado nuestro conocimiento de su fonética.

Los que son pusilánimes,
descuidados y de pecho flaco suelen
no pronunciar la h en las direcciones
aspiradas como eno por heno y umo
por humo, etc.

Sebastián de Covarrubias2                

A number of Spanish consonants changed between medieval and modern Spanish. These changes took place irregularly, and each has its own chronology and geography. In several cases, therefore, different pronunciations coexisted in Golden Age Spain3. The Cervantine editor, wishing to assess the costs of modernization, needs to know what Cervantes' pronunciation was. In short, our topic is the cases in which the links between the spellings of the príncipes editions and Cervantes' sounds are unclear. Little attention has been paid to this question4.

One might think that Cervantes' autographs, free of possible compositorial distortion, would offer material for a study of his   —5→   phonetics5. Yet the use of the autographs is filled with practical difficulties. Miguel Romera-Navarro, author of the only monograph on them, confessed his difficulty in deciding which were authentic. Despite his caution, he failed to identify what Rodríguez-Moñino called a «fals[ificación]... evidente y notoria»6, and thus his conclusions on Cervantes' handwriting are contaminated by a forgery. The reading of the facsimiles is difficult and confusing7, and transcriptions contain errors and regularization. The documents written in Cervantes' own hand do confirm that the irregular spelling of his published works is not, or not merely, the work of compositors, but they leave unanswered the question of the sounds which the letters were intended to represent.

Another potential source for information on Cervantes' consonants is his spelling of words from other languages. The principle is well established in historical linguistics: that «Cicero» is spelled in Greek inscriptions with kappas shows the Classical Latin pronunciation of c before e or i. Spanish missionaries' spelling of Mexican languages has been studied as evidence for their pronunciation of Spanish8, and Spanish transcription of Arabic words, and the reverse, has been similarly used9.


Cervantes' writing of Italian has been cited as evidence for his pronunciation of intervocalic x (Alarcos, p. 56); the spellings Quichotte and Chisciotte of the early translators have long been cited as evidence of how the translators thought the consonant was pronounced in Spanish.

The many Arabic and Turkish words and names found in Cervantes' works provide a considerable body of additional source material. However, the Arabic found in Cervantes' works is «un árabe coloquial... [típico] de los dialectos árabes magrebíes», and we find «cierto afán por parte de Cervantes de acomodar el árabe a la fonética propia del español10». The present writer does not feel competent to undertake the analysis of such data.

A more manageable source is Cervantes' poetry. Rhyme and meter, combined with knowledge of word history, provide a framework with which to determine pronunciation11. For example, rhyme confirms that, as would be expected, Cervantes did not pronounce the Latinate consonants in such clusters as -ct- and -mpt-. Sonetos and tercetos never had a -ct-, so if perfectos is rhymed with them (21, 7-9-1112), it was pronounced perfeto. We also find trasumpto was rhymed with junto (42, 8-10), so it was pronounced trasunto13. Either Cervantes wrote the more learned, «correct» spellings perfectos and trasumpto, or they are the product of his typesetters.

The same principle can be used to study the pronunciation of individual letters. In some areas the newer voiceless intervocalic s coexisted, in Cervantes' day, with the older voiced s. (The   —7→   voiced s resembled the sound we know in English as z; intervocalic voiced s is common in Italian.) Which was Cervantes' usage? The words caso and casa would have had a voiced s if any did, yet they are rhymed with passo(a), in turn rhymed repeatedly with Parnaso, which must have been voiceless (13, 8-10; 16, 2-4-6; 23, 3-5-7; 106, 3-5-7). Queso is rhymed with sucesso and peso (16, 23-25-27). Cervantes' intervocalic s was thus the familiar voiceless s of modern Spanish (an apicoalveolar sibilant). Ss represented the same sound. Vase (va + se), which must have been voiceless and is rhymed with hablasse and passe (39, 15-17-19), also shows that a single s could represent the voiceless sound.

B and v, which in writing were much closer than they are in type, represented the same sound. In the Parnaso he rhymes sabes, graves, and alabes (23, 27-29-31), suave, grave, and cabe (38, 26; 39, 2-4), nuevo, Febo, and llevo, (40, 31; 41, 1-3), aumentativa, arriba, and oliva (50, 14-16-18), etc. Cervantes always signed his name with a b, yet allowed it to always be printed on the title pages of his books with a v14. If they were pronounced the same, the sound of the intervocal b/v was almost certainly the modern bilabial fricative imagen15. That they were pronounced the same suggests that the spelling of Sancho's vaziyelmo (rather than baciyelmo, as modern editors emend it), resembling vazío as much as bacín, may not have any implication at all16.

C before e or i, ç, and z are also used interchangeably. -Za is repeatedly rhymed with -ça (14, 30-32 and 15, 2; 55, 12-14-16; 86, 32 and 87, 2-4; 88, 10-12-14; 108, 5-7-9), and -ços is rhymed with -zos (39, 27-29-31). Cabeça is found almost simultaneously with cabeza (91, 17). In one of his earliest published poems he rhymes engrandeze (with grandeza on the same line) with paresce and resplandesce («Elegía al Cardenal Espinosa», Poesías sueltas [Comedias y entremeses, VI], 17, 7-9-11). There is no confusion between these letters and s/ss; we never find, in either his published texts or his autographs, such forms as sielo or sapato, common in Andalusian writers17. Therefore, c before e or i, ç,   —8→   and z were not pronounced with the familiar apicoalveolar sibilant s referred to above. It is unlikely that they were pronounced imagen (the familiar Castilian pronunciation of z), a sound which was not «extendido antes de la segunda mitad entrada del XVII» (Alarcos, p. 273). Its predecessor, and surely Cervantes' pronunciation, was a voiceless dental sibilant (the modern English s)18. G before e or i, j, and intervocalic x all had the same pronunciation. Orejas, alexas, and quexas are rhymed (48, 9-11-13), as are trafalmeja, vieja, and dexa (59, 16-18-20), viejo, sobrecejo, and perplexo (76, 21-23-25), dixo, prolixo, and hixo (76, 24-26-28), roxa, floxa, and antoja (91, 1-3-5), Tajo, trabaxo, and baxo (106, 12-14-16), and dixo, hijo, and fixo (113, 31; 114, 1-3). (I have not found any verses ending in -ge(r) or -gir, and -gi is impossible, but Rodríguez Marín points out that both gimio and ximio are found in Don Quixote [I, 152, 35 and IV, 18, 32, respectively].) All of these, if they were pronounced identically, must have been voiceless. The subsequent change of this voiceless sound to the modern jota had been made in some parts of Spain, but was far from generalized and was almost certainly not Cervantes' own pronunciation, which was the predecessor of the jota, š19.

Was Cervantes lleísta or yeísta20? Words with intervocalic y are never rhymed with those with intervocalic ll: it is ponella, ella, bella (14, 6-8-10), halla, canalla, calla (59, 13-15-17), but suyo, arguyo, tuyo (15, 19-21-23). We must conclude that Cervantes pronounced the ll differently, and he was, therefore, lleísta.

The situation with the h -whether Cervantes pronounced it or not- is more complex21. The aspiration of h derived from   —9→   Latin h, as with the word hora, had been lost in Roman times, and was not present in church Latin. The h of huevo and other words beginning with hue- was never aspirated22. However, many sixteenth-century speakers from the southern half of Spain, as Cervantes and his parents were, aspirated the h derived from Latin f. (It is found on words such as humo and hermoso). During Cervantes' lifetime this aspiration was disappearing. The later an author's birthdate, the less likely aspiration23. The center of the change was the new capital Madrid; the sound change was brought to Madrid by Felipe II's new bureaucracy, emigrated from Castilla la Vieja in an aftershock of the so-called reconquista (Lapesa, p. 372). As it affected metrics it seems to have been highly visible in literary circles, as is suggested by the passage from Covarrubias quoted at the outset.

In short, Cervantes certainly did not aspirate the h of such words such as honor and hoy (henceforth referred to as /h/). He might have aspirated the h of words such as hermoso and hacer (henceforth referred to as /f/). Did he?

In the first place, it is clear that Cervantes distinguished in spelling between these two types of h's. In his books, h is often omitted on words beginning with /h/, such as onor, oy, aver, Omero. In contrast with the madrileño Lope24, I have found no examples of omission of h on words beginning with /f/, such as   —10→   hermoso25. On Flores' list of words whose varying spelling in Cervantes' works he has studied, a varying h only represents /h/26. A typesetter might have added h to words which lacked it, but would not remove it from words which had it. If a typesetter was editing while composing, correcting Cervantes' h's, he would have done so with all h's, not just those derived from /f/. Therefore, the missing initial h on many words beginning with /h/, and its presence on all words beginning with /f/, is Cervantine, though largely obscured by the typesetters' restoration of h to many words with /h/. This is in harmony with a conclusion of Flores (p. 88), who states from his analysis of compositorial spelling preferences that Cervantes wrote some forms of haber without an initial h. That compositors intervened in this way supports the hypothesis that the learned consonant clusters found in Cervantes' works were also restored by the printers.

In Don Quixote, an initial f is used to produce pseudoantiquity only with /f/. It is found on fermosura, malferido, and forms of hacer such as fagades, but never *foy, *fierba, *fonor. Of course this shows awareness of the history of /f/ and /h/27.

In Cervantes' verse, there is frequent synalepha of words beginning with /f/28. Of the sample studied29, it is found most often in the Viage del Parnaso (73%), slightly less so in the «Canto   —11→   de Calíope» (67%), and not at all in the «Canción desesperada» of Grisóstomo, one of the few pieces from Cervantes' works for which any manuscript exists, and whose earlier dating than Don Quixote is to my knowledge accepted. The frequency of synalepha is a tool of potential value for shedding light on the vexing question of the chronology of Cervantes' drama30.

Synalepha before /f/ is not always found. Significantly, it is sometimes lacking even when an atonic syllable begins the second word:

satisfazer al misero hambriento

(51, 16)                

Uno de los del número hambriento

(69, 10)                

Parecía mayor su hermosura

(86, 1)                

Again this contrasts with the younger madrileño Lope, in whose verse such hiatus is rare31. Finally, and once again in sharp contrast with Lope (Poesse, pp. 71-72), I have found no instance of hiatus before /h/ in Cervantes, not even before a tonic syllable.

All of this suggests that Cervantes' pronunciation of /f/ was aspirated. In contrast with Lope32.

In conclusion, the Cervantine consonants which emerge from this analysis are an unexceptional system. They constitute good toledano, praised in the Parnaso (91, 6) and by Sancho Panza (Don Quixote, III, 244, 21-25)33. They can be reproduced by following the above guidelines. However, in the case of h and consonant clusters, Cervantes' pronunciation is obscured by the spelling of the first editions; knowledge of word history is required as well. Reproduction of his pronunciation requires use of the unfamiliar antecessor of the modern imagen, a dental sibilant.


Modernization of the spelling and pronunciation of his consonants, however, except for h and consonant clusters costs surprisingly little34. Modernizing dixo to dijo accepts Spanish's separation from Latin more than many Golden Age figures felt comfortable with, as does leaving conceto instead of the Latinate restoration concepto. Yet changing Dulzinea and Dulçinea to Dulcinea, Pança to Panza does not distort the sounds behind the spelling. And even when the sounds are changed, by pronouncing, say, the modern imagen and jota in place of their predecessors, different sounds are assigned to two phonemes but the phonemic system remains intact.

Of course modernization alters Cervantes' spelling and the compositors' improvements on it which, to our knowledge, he found tolerable. (While printers are criticized in Cervantes' works, there is no comment on their spelling preferences). Yet Cervantes' spelling is perhaps less interesting to us than the sounds behind the spelling. Restoration of h to oy, Omero, and Eliodoro removes the distinction, in Cervantes' phonemic system, between these words and those beginning with /f/, such as hermoso and humo. It conceals his sounds with a veil of Latinity, as does the restoration of Latinate consonant clusters (-ct-, -mp-, etc.). It is questionable whether Cervantes, no enthusiast of Latin language and literature, would have desired this35. Both of these incomplete restorations were seemingly carried out by Cuesta and his men. One wonders whether modern editors, when modernizing Quixote and Pança, might not want to de-modernize hoy and perfecto.


A final observation. Cervantes was obviously exposed, as all but the isolated were, to the phonetic diversity of Golden Age Castilian. A highly language-conscious writer36, intent on painting reality, Cervantes mentions but does not criticize this phonetic variety. The different pronunciation of gypsies is pointed out, but not censured37; when Sancho says «cirimonias» (a linguistic pincelada that a typesetter obscured), the duchess is only amused by it (Don Quixote, III, 409, 1). What Cervantes censures, rather, is the syntax of the vizcaínos38, and the garbling and misuse of learned words by the ignorant. He was semantically and lexically exacting, calling for authors to write «a la llana, con palabras significantes, honestas y bien colocadas»39, with «el lenguaje puro, el propio, el elegante y claro»40. Yet Cervantes was phonetically tolerant. This, I believe, gives a needed perspective to the whole question.

Appendix: The Putative Semanas del jardín Fragment

In 1989 my facsimile and modernized edition of the putative Semanas del jardín fragment appeared41. If it is indeed an Cervantine autograph, as I believe, it is the longest one known, as well as the only autograph fiction. Its value for establishing Cervantes' phonetics and spelling could be immense. As the attribution is still sub iudice, however, it could not be used as a source for this article.

Still, it is worth examining whether the phonetics and spelling of the fragment would enhance or detract from the case for attribution. The editorial criteria followed, plus the textual   —14→   notes, permit one to see easily some of the ways in which the manuscript's spelling differs from modern Spanish. B-v; c before e or i, ç, and z; and g before e or i, j, and intervocalic x are changed so frequently that I included them in a list of changes made without annotation. There is no instance of an intervocalic or initial s used in place of z, nor is y used in place of ll. The popular (simpler) consonant clusters are used, and of the learned combinations, only ch is found (charidad 1:22, charater 4:13), perhaps by influence of the often-written «Christo»42.

The author of the fragment had an aspirated /f/. While the conjunction e is always substituted for y before initial (h)i, as in the modern system (6:22, 7:17, 8:14, 8:23, 9:3, 12:18, 13:12), y is used three times before the word hijo (3:1, 7:7, 9:23), in which position e is not found. Words with /f/ are spelled with h in the manuscript: hecho (1:5); hambre (6:31, 7:22, 11:14-15, 11:19); hermosa (1:3, 3:13; hermosura, 1:21), hallar (1:8, 1:18; hallo, 1:9; hallado, 1:4, 1:28). /H/ is usually not written: this includes umano (1:14) and all forms of aver. However, we find it on such Latinisms as habituando (2:24) and honestidad (1:21; also onesta, 9:29). There is one example of a word spelled with a superfluous, obviously silent h: horden (14:1; hordenando, 14:2; hordeno, 14:5). All of this suggests an author with vacilating use of h, but usually writing /f/ differently from /h/.

The phonetic evidence, then, supports the authenticity of the fragment.