Old Spanish
Old Castilian
romance castellano
Pronunciation[roˈmantse kasteˈʎano]
Native toCrown of Castile
RegionIberian peninsula
EthnicityCastilians, later Spaniards
Era10th–15th centuries
Early forms
Aljamiado (marginal)
Language codes
ISO 639-3osp
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Old Spanish, also known as Old Castilian (Spanish: castellano antiguo; Old Spanish: romance castellano [roˈmantse kasteˈʎano]), or Medieval Spanish (Spanish: español medieval), was originally a dialect of Vulgar Latin spoken in the former provinces of the Roman Empire that provided the root for the early form of the Spanish language that was spoken on the Iberian Peninsula from the 10th century until roughly the beginning of the 15th century, before a consonantal readjustment gave rise to the evolution of modern Spanish. The poem Cantar de Mio Cid ('The Poem of the Cid'), published around 1200, is the best known and most extensive work of literature in Old Spanish.


The phonological system of Old Spanish was quite similar to that of other medieval Romance languages.

Consonants of Old Spanish
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
laminal apical
Nasal m n ɲ
Stop/Affricate voiceless p t͡s̻ ~ t͡ʃ k
voiced b d͡z̻ ~ d͡ʒ ~ ʒ ɡ
Fricative voiceless ɸ ʃ
voiced β
Approximant ʝ ~ j
Lateral l ʎ
Trill r
Flap ɾ
Vowels of Old Spanish
Front Central Back
Close i u
mid e o
Open a


Among the consonants, there were seven sibilants, including three sets of voiceless/voiced pairs:

The set of sounds is identical to that found in medieval Portuguese and almost the same as the system present in the modern Mirandese language.

The Modern Spanish system evolved from the Old Spanish one with the following changes:

  1. The affricates /t͡s̻/ and /d͡z̻/ were simplified to laminodental fricatives // and //, which remained distinct from the apicoalveolar sounds // and // (a distinction also present in Basque).
  2. The voiced sibilants then all lost their voicing and so merged with the voiceless ones. (Voicing remains before voiced consonants, such as mismo, desde, and rasgo, but only allophonically.)
  3. The merged /ʃ/ was retracted to /x/.
  4. The merged // was drawn forward to /θ/. In some parts of Andalusia and the Canary Islands, however (and so then in Latin America), the merged // was instead drawn forward, merging into //.

Changes 2–4 all occurred in a short period of time, around 1550–1600. The change from /ʃ/ to /x/ is comparable to the fluctuation occurring in the sj-sound of Modern Swedish.

The Old Spanish spelling of the sibilants was identical to modern Portuguese spelling, which, unlike Spanish, still preserves most of the sounds of the medieval language, and so is still a mostly faithful representation of the spoken language. Examples of words before spelling was altered in 1815 to reflect the changed pronunciation:[3]

The Old Spanish origins of jeque and jerife reflect their Arabic origins, xeque from Arabic sheikh and xerife from Arabic sharif.

Bilabial consonants


The voiced bilabial stop and fricative were still distinct sounds in early Old Spanish, judging by the consistency with which they were spelled as ⟨b⟩ and ⟨v⟩ respectively. (/b/ derived from Latin word-initial /b/ or intervocalic /p/, while /β/ derived from Latin /w/ or intervocalic /b/.) Nevertheless, the two sounds could be confused in consonant clusters (cf. alba~alva 'dawn') or in word-initial position, perhaps after /n/ or a pause. The two appear to have merged in word-initial position by about 1400 CE and in all other environments by the mid–late 16th century at the latest. In Modern Spanish, many earlier instances of ⟨b⟩ were replaced with ⟨v⟩, or vice versa, to conform to Latin spelling.[4]


At an archaic stage, there would have existed three allophones of /f/ in approximately the following distribution:[5]

By the early stages of Old Spanish, the allophone [h][a] had spread to all prevocalic environments and possibly before [j] as well.[6]

Subsequently, the bilabial allophones of /f/ (that is, those other than [h]) were modified to the labiodental [f] in 'proper' speech, likely under the influence of the many French and Occitan speakers who migrated to Spain from the twelfth century onward, bringing with them their reformed Latin pronunciation.[7] This had the effect of introducing into Old Spanish numerous borrowings beginning with a labiodental [f]. The result was a phonemic split of /f/ into /f/ and /h/, since e.g. the native [ˈhoɾma] 'last' was now distinct from the borrowed [ˈfoɾma] 'form' (both ultimately derived from the Latin forma).[8] Compare also the native [ˈhaβla] 'speech' and borrowed [ˈfaβula] 'fable'. In some cases, doublets appear in apparently native vocabulary, possibly the result of borrowings from other Ibero-Romance varieties; compare modern hierro 'iron' and fierro 'branding iron' or the names Hernando and Fernando.


Old Spanish had ⟨ch⟩, just as Modern Spanish does, which mostly represents a development of earlier */jt/ (still preserved in Portuguese and French), from the Latin ⟨ct⟩. The use of ⟨ch⟩ for /t͡ʃ/ originated in Old French and spread to Spanish, Portuguese, and English despite the different origins of the sound in each language:

Palatal nasal

The palatal nasal /ɲ/ was written ⟨nn⟩ (the geminate nn being one of the sound's Latin origins), but it was often abbreviated to ⟨ñ⟩ following the common scribal shorthand of replacing an ⟨m⟩ or ⟨n⟩ with a tilde above the previous letter. Later, ⟨ñ⟩ was used exclusively, and it came to be considered a letter in its own right by Modern Spanish. Also, as in modern times, the palatal lateral /ʎ/ was indicated with ⟨ll⟩, again reflecting its origin from a Latin geminate.


Al-Fatiha with Castillian translations in Aljamiado script above each line of Arabic Quranic text.[9]
Al-Fatiha with Castillian translations in Aljamiado script above each line of Arabic Quranic text.[9]

Writing systems

In addition to Latin script, Castillian was represented with Arabic script in a writing system called Aljamiado—particularly by Mudéjar and Morisco populations.[10]


Greek digraphs

The Graeco-Latin digraphs (digraphs in words of Greek-Latin origin) ⟨ch⟩, ⟨ph⟩, ⟨(r)rh⟩ and ⟨th⟩ were reduced to ⟨c⟩, ⟨f⟩, ⟨(r)r⟩ and ⟨t⟩, respectively:

Word-initial Y to I

Word-initial [i] was spelled ⟨Y⟩, which was simplified to ⟨I⟩.


In Old Spanish, perfect constructions of movement verbs, such as ir ('(to) go') and venir ('(to) come'), were formed using the auxiliary verb ser ('(to) be'), as in Italian and French: Las mugieres son llegadas a Castiella was used instead of Las mujeres han llegado a Castilla ('The women have arrived in Castilla').

Possession was expressed with the verb aver (Modern Spanish haber, '(to) have'), rather than tener: Pedro ha dos fijas was used instead of Pedro tiene dos hijas ('Pedro has two daughters').

In the perfect tenses, the past participle often agreed with the gender and number of the direct object: María ha cantadas dos canciones was used instead of Modern Spanish María ha cantado dos canciones ('María has sung two songs'). However, that was inconsistent even in the earliest texts.

Personal pronouns and substantives were placed after the verb in any tense or mood unless a stressed word was before the verb.[example needed]

The future and the conditional tenses were not yet fully grammaticalised as inflections; rather, they were still periphrastic formations of the verb aver in the present or imperfect indicative followed by the infinitive of a main verb.[11] Pronouns, therefore, by the general placement rules, could be inserted between the main verb and the auxiliary in these periphrastic tenses, as still occurs with Portuguese (mesoclisis):

E dixo: ― Tornar-m-é a Jherusalem. (Fazienda de Ultra Mar, 194)
Y dijo: ― Me tornaré a Jerusalén. (literal translation into Modern Spanish)
E disse: ― Tornar-me-ei a Jerusalém. (literal translation into Portuguese)
And he said: "I will return to Jerusalem." (English translation)
En pennar gelo he por lo que fuere guisado (Cantar de mio Cid, 92)
Se lo empeñaré por lo que sea razonable (Modern Spanish equivalent)
Penhorá-lo-ei pelo que for razoável (Portuguese equivalent)
I will pawn them it for whatever it be reasonable (English translation)

When there was a stressed word before the verb, the pronouns would go before the verb: non gelo empeñar he por lo que fuere guisado.

Generally, an unstressed pronoun and a verb in simple sentences combined into one word.[clarification needed] In a compound sentence, the pronoun was found in the beginning of the clause: la manol va besar = la mano le va a besar.[citation needed]

The future subjunctive was in common use (fuere in the second example above) but it is generally now found only in legal or solemn discourse and in the spoken language in some dialects, particularly in areas of Venezuela, to replace the imperfect subjunctive.[12] It was used similarly to its Modern Portuguese counterpart, in place of the modern present subjunctive in a subordinate clause after si, cuando etc., when an event in the future is referenced:

Si vos assi lo fizieredes e la ventura me fuere complida
Mando al vuestro altar buenas donas e Ricas (Cantar de mio Cid, 223–224)
Si vosotros así lo hiciereis y la ventura me fuere cumplida,
Mando a vuestro altar ofrendas buenas y ricas (Modern Spanish equivalent)
Se vós assim o fizerdes e a ventura me for comprida,
Mando a vosso altar oferendas boas e ricas. (Portuguese equivalent; 'ventura' is an obsolete word for 'luck'.)
If you do so and fortune is favourable toward me,
I will send to your altar fine and rich offerings (English translation)


Latin Old Spanish Modern Spanish Modern Portuguese
acceptare, captare, effectum, respectum acetar, catar, efeto, respeto aceptar, captar, efecto, respecto, respeto aceitar, captar, efeito, respeito
et, non, nos, hic e, et; non, no; nós; í y, e; no; nosotros; ahí e; não; nós; aí
stabat; habui, habebat; facere, fecisti estava; ove, avié; far/fer/fazer, fezist(e)/fizist(e) estaba; hube, había; hacer, hiciste estava; houve, havia; fazer, fizeste
hominem, mulier, infantem omne/omre/ombre, mugier/muger, ifante hombre, mujer, infante homem, mulher, infante
cras, mane (maneana); numquam cras, man, mañana; nunqua/nunquas mañana, nunca manhã, nunca
quando, quid, qui (quem), quo modo quando, que, qui, commo/cuemo cuando, que, quien, como quando, que, quem, como
fīlia fyia, fija hija filha

Sample text

This section should specify the language of its non-English content, using ((lang)), ((transliteration)) for transliterated languages, and ((IPA)) for phonetic transcriptions, with an appropriate ISO 639 code. Wikipedia's multilingual support templates may also be used. See why. (April 2022)

The following is a sample from Cantar de Mio Cid (lines 330–365), with abbreviations resolved, punctuation (the original has none), and some modernized letters.[13] Below is the original Old Spanish text in the first column, along with the same text in Modern Spanish in the second column and an English translation in the third column.

See also


  1. ^ Originally the result of dissimilation, via delabialization, of [ɸ] before the rounded ('labial') vowels [o] and [u].


  1. ^ Eberhard, Simons & Fennig (2020)
  2. ^ Hammarström, Harald; Forkel, Robert; Haspelmath, Martin; Bank, Sebastian, eds. (2022). "Castilic". Glottolog 4.6. Jena, Germany: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology.
  3. ^ Ortografía de la lengua castellana – Real Academia Española –. Imprenta real. 1815. Retrieved 2015-05-22 – via Internet Archive. ortografía 1815.
  4. ^ Penny 2002: §2.6.1. This citation covers the preceding paragraph.
  5. ^ Lloyd 1987: 214–215; Penny 2002: 92
  6. ^ Per Penny (2002: 92). Lloyd (1987: 215–216, 322–323) broadly agrees, except on the matter of [h] spreading before [j].
  7. ^ Penny 2002: 92; Lloyd 1987: 324
  8. ^ Penny 2002: §2.6.4
  9. ^ Martínez-de-Castilla-Muñoz, Nuria (2014-12-30). "The Copyists and their Texts. The Morisco Translations of the Qur'ān in the Tomás Navarro Tomás Library (CSIC, Madrid)". Al-Qanṭara. 35 (2): 493–525. doi:10.3989/alqantara.2014.017. ISSN 1988-2955.
  10. ^ de Castilla, Nuria (2020-01-20). "Les emplois linguistiques et culturels derrière les textes aljamiados". Intellectual History of the Islamicate World. 8 (1): 128–162. doi:10.1163/2212943X-00702013. ISSN 2212-9421.
  11. ^ A History of the Spanish Language. Ralph Penny. Cambridge University Press. Pag. 210.
  12. ^ Diccionario de dudas y dificultades de la lengua española. Seco, Manuel. Espasa-Calpe. 2002. Pp. 222–3.
  13. ^ A recording with reconstructed mediaeval pronunciation can be accessed here, reconstructed according to contemporary phonetics (by Jabier Elorrieta).