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The Spanish Lisp

Written by Jeff Drake
7 · 05 · 18

We depart for Portugal and Spain the day after tomorrow! Tick, tock! Time is flying.

Given the really bad news we all received this week about celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and our upcoming journey, I thought the following quote was worth repeating:

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”    – Anthony Bourdain

All I can say is, “True dat, Tony!”

Lisbon stock photo-1

I have to admit that I don’t know quite what to expect from Portugal. I suspect it will be very similar to Spain, but have read that saying this is like claiming that New York and Paris are essentially the same because both are big cities. Having spent time in Paris during several visits and two years visiting New York (weekly), I can verify that other than their size, they are not alike at all (I prefer Paris, actually). So, I am remaining open to forming our own impressions of Portugal and will not prejudge it.

I do know that these two countries are very close geographically (they are neighbors, after all), but both speak different languages. So, I’m brushing up on my Spanish (and learning some Portuguese), which means dusting off my list of useful Spanish travel phrases and practicing speaking Spanish with a slight lisp. LOL. Really.

Although both Mexico and Spain speak slightly different versions of Spanish, both countries can easily understand each other. The one noticeable difference for people not from Spain is that in Spain pronunciation of words with syllables that sound like “za, ce, ci, zo, zu” are all pronounced as “th” as in “think”. To the untrained ear (like mine), it sounds as if the locals are all speaking with a lisp. 

Why do they speak Spanish in Spain with a slight lisp? Your guess is as good as mine, although there is a wonderful urban legend that claims that there was once a Spanish king who spoke with a lisp and the practice spead throughout the country as the population tried to emulate him. There isn’t a shred of evidence to support this apparently, but I still like this explanation!

Tourists like me are tempted to go overboard and soften every ‘c’ and ‘s’, which must sound ridiculous to the locals (stupid gringos!), plus doing so can cause you to trip over even more Spanish history. For example, when I read about this I automatically thought, “Aha, therefore the proper Spanish pronunciation of the city of Barcelona would be “Bartholona!” Wrong! Barcelona is in northern Spain, an area known as Catalonia, whereas the rest of Spain is Castilian, and in Catalan, there is no lisp sound, so it really is just Bar-se-lona. I also thought that “Si” must be pronounced “Th-ee”, but I was wrong again. In Spain everywhere, it is just “Si”.

The reason that this strange lisp affectation is called the “Castilian lisp” in Spain goes all the way back to the Middle Ages when there was a large and powerful kingdom that ruled the Iberian Peninsula. As you may have guessed, the word “Castile” is tied to “castle” and refers to the many castles that existed in the kingdom at that time.

By the way, the “Iberian Peninsula” is another throw-back historical term used to describe the corner of southern Europe where Spain and Portugal reside and comprises most of their territory. I should have known this, but had to look it up.

And thus, the title of the particular tour we are taking is called the, “Back Roads of Iberia”.





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1 Comment

  1. Michael B Connolly

    Very Interething!


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Jeff Drake

Retired IT consultant, world-traveler, hobby photographer, and philosopher.
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