I had been reflecting on how useful the phrase ‘no hablo espanol’ has been for the last two months (!) when I fell to wondering about this strange verb ‘hablar’, meaning ‘to speak’. Why, like so many Spanish words, is it so unexpectedly different from the Latin, French and Italian (and apparently Catalan too)?
That was when consonant shifts came to mind.
Although ‘no hablo espanol’ is still about the most complex thing I can say in Spanish – (I know it’s pathetic but I’ve had to work all the time apart from weekends and some evenings since I got here (apart from when we were on holiday), and weekends and evenings have been busy, and there just hasn’t been time... but I promise I’ll start going to classes in November) – I have been listening, looking and learning about the language, and it has been fascinating.
I really knew virtually no Spanish at all when I came here – a dozen basic words at most – and, one way or another, I felt much less familiar with the sound and rhythms of Spanish than with French, Italian and German. However, I do now feel much more attuned to it (even though I can’t understand what people are saying to me if they go beyond ‘that will be 3 Euros please’), I do know lots of words (even if I can’t put any of them together), and I have been pondering it.
And one of the things I’ve been pondering is consonant shifts, especially around the letter ‘h’.
For instance, the Spanish word for ice cream is ‘helado’. It took me a while to realise that this is the same as Italian ‘gelato’, but with the ‘g’ becoming ‘h’. Then there’s ‘higado’, which is the Spanish word for ‘fig’. Here it’s the ‘f’ which becomes ‘h’. And ‘hijo’, which is the Spanish word for ‘son’ and is presumably derived from ‘filius’ in Latin – another ‘f’ to ‘h’ change. And another one: ‘horno’, meaning oven, related to ‘furnace’ and ‘forno’ in Italian. And another one: ‘hongo’, meaning mushroom, related to ‘fungus’.
So, going back to the word ‘hablar’ Where does that come from? My first brainwave was that it might be related to ‘gabble’, but that seems unlikely because ‘gabble’ is almost certainly a Germanic word. So then I tried the f - - and what do you get? Fable! Mystery solved.
Ah. I do love etymology - and I am enjoying learning Spanish, the slow way...