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Review of  The Influence of Spanish on the English Language since 1801

Reviewer: Laura Dubcovsky
Book Title: The Influence of Spanish on the English Language since 1801
Book Author: Julia Schultz
Publisher: Cambridge Scholars Publishing
Linguistic Field(s): Historical Linguistics
Subject Language(s): English
Issue Number: 29.3284

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“The influence of Spanish on the English language since 1801: A lexical investigation” presents a detailed analysis of lexical items that were borrowed from Spanish to English in the last three centuries. The study addresses a specialized audience, interested in the Spanish/ English relationship at the lexicon level. The book, which has a clear layout with three distinctive parts, two appendices and a pertinent bibliography, may be used as a manual in basic and advanced courses of lexicology and languages in contact.

The first part includes a general introduction that comprises previous studies on Spanish borrowings (chapter one), as well as main aims and methodology (chapter two). Schultz claims that “the present survey will offer a more up-to- date and exhaustive description of the variety of words and meanings that have been introduced from Spanish into English since 1801” (p. 3). The author defines the terminology used in the book, - word, lexical item, term and meaning-, and emphasizes the notion of vocabulary core, as pertinent to the more common lexicon with which the “ordinary” native speakers of English are usually familiar. Schultz adds more subject fields to the existing in former studies, underlines the need for situating the Spanish/English lexicon in context, and lists main sources used in the book. More importantly, she integrates quantitative and qualitative tools of analysis, drawing from the Oxford Electronic Dictionary (OED), the Corpus of Contemporary American English (COCA), English as a foreign language (EFL) and the British New Corpus (BNC). These rich sources enable her to account for total numbers of lexical items, ratios of core vocabulary and duration, as well as to explain stylistic functions, semantic changes and contextual usage of the Spanish borrowings.

In the second part Schultz describes major spheres of life influenced by Spanish in the nineteenth century (chapter 1) and since 1901 (chapter 2). The author traces similar subject fields for each century and recounts 1355 lexical items (159 of which belong to the core vocabulary) and 525 lexical items (59 from the core vocabulary) for the 19th and 20th and 21st centuries, respectively. The broad life areas include technology (metallurgic, machinery, electronics, etc.), leisure and pleasure (entertainment, games, tourism, etc.), civilization and politics (security and criminalistics, war and the military, administration and government, economy and business, etc.), fine arts and crafts (architecture, literature, dance, music, etc.), humanities (church and religion, linguistics, archeology, etc.), gastronomy (utensils, restaurants, food and drinks, etc.), people and everyday life (transport, shopping, monetary units, communication, housing, agriculture and farming, etc.) and natural sciences (from chemistry and medicine to geology and geography and biology, etc.). The author pays special attention to semantic changes, elaborating on how borrowings may broaden or narrow the context of use, improve or worsen the original meaning, and even embellish the significance through the use of metaphors and metonyms.

The last part of the book summarizes in integral manner quantitative and qualitative results from the analyzed periods. For example, Schultz is able not only to point at the peak of lexical items borrowed during the 1850, but also to explain the high number in light of the more intense cultural and linguistic contact during the spread of English settlers from North America to the West (Figure 1, p. 240). Likewise, the numerical decline of Spanish borrowings since 1930 is also accompanied by socio-cultural explanations (Figure 4, p. 250). The author also compares the borrowings’ distribution per decades of each particular century, and highlights its decreasing order according to different lexical domains (Figures 2 and 5, pp. 241 and 251, respectively). For example, the field of natural sciences has the highest rank (31.6%) during the nineteenth century, because of the increasing interest in learning terms of exotic animals, plants, and landscape occurring in Spanish speaking countries of the new world. The field of people and everyday is the second largest in the 1800s (28.2%) and remains strong in the 1900s (20.8%), mainly through the incorporation of historical and cultural borrowings (“tertulia,” “cabildo,” and “Latino”) that are used in the original language to preserve the heavily loaded connotations. Likewise the field of gastronomy is popular in the two centuries (10.4% and 17.3%, respectively), incorporating items of typical cuisine, wines and tobacco items (“empanadas,” “tequila,” and “cortado”). Preferred borrowings from the fields of arts and crafts mainly derive from dances (“flamenco,” “guiro,” and “tango”), while the field of civilization and politics lends governmental terms (“guardia civil”, “conquistador”), and political parties and movements (“Sendero Luminoso” and “guerrilla”).

Moreover Schultz examines semantic changes, stylistic functions, and contextual usage that affect numbers, ratios and duration of the Spanish borrowings. First she underlines standard lexical categories of broadening, narrowing, amelioration, pejoration, metaphor and metonyms that impact. For examples, the term “vaquita” (“little cow”) is used both as the diminutive of cow and beetle, broadening its semantic context, while the item “tiento” is constraint to the specialized field of bullfighting, narrowing its meaning. Likewise, some borrowings ameliorate the literal meaning,-such as “cinch,” which changes from meaning “girth for horses” into a sophisticated sense of firm or secure hold, while others worsen their original significance adapting pejorative nuances, such as current derogative term “pochismo.” Finally some linguistic devices can embellish meanings through metaphors and metonyms, such as the mentioned “cinch”, or “Solena” (type of wine that represents a variety of cask in which the wine is stored), respectively. Then Schultz analyzes stylistic functions that add local color, precision and vividness to the Spanish borrowings, for example when borrowings refer to powerful individuals - “jefe politico” (political leader) - and festivities -“fiesta de la vendimia” (grape harvest festival). Some borrowings have an “intentional disguise” that enables to avoid the direct term, -such as the use of “pasta básica” (basic paste) instead “cocaina” (cocaine)-, while others may add humor, criticism, (un) favorable tones to the meaning, - such as colloquial uses of “compadre” (godfather) and frequent interjections , such as “olé” and “caramba.”

Above all Schultz highlights the contextual usage and the development of the borrowing, within and between Spanish/ English speaking contexts. For example, the term “unitarios,” as used in the Argentinean context of the 19th century, signifies a “centralized government” that opposes to a federal system (“federales”), bringing about a new meaning that was later transposed to the English Language. Likewise the word “developmentalism” was originally documented in English, linked to philosophical or theological doctrines. However, under the influence of the Spanish noun “desarrollismo,” it came to specify an economic theory by 1970. Lastly, and after having traced so delicately the historical path of Spanish borrowings, the author acknowledges the increasing use, prestige and power of English, especially since 1950.


“The influence of Spanish on the English language since 1801: A lexical investigation” represents a main contribution to the fields of lexicology and languages in contact. Schultz dedicates the major part of the book to describe the chronological distribution of general lexicon and particular core vocabulary during the nineteenth, twentieth and twenty first centuries. Rather than listing words and expressions in isolation, the author uncovers a sense of development and contextual usage of the Spanish borrowings. To pursue her goals, she underlines grammatical categories, semantic changes and stylistic functions as applied in the English language. Along the book Schultz details a variety of loan influences - lexical, Hispanicisms, direct and exoticisms- drawing from historic and current newspapers, multimedia and electronic dictionaries, which make the examples even more relevant. The two appendices classify Spanish borrowings into grammatical categories (nouns, noun phrases, adjectives, verbs, and interjections), dividing them by decades, according to the mentioned sources of the OED Online and the EFL dictionaries.

The systematic effort of searching for Spanish borrowings and integrating quantitative and qualitative analyses is somehow lost under the numerous examples that are not listed or organized in more manageable manner. We suggest that the author offers the meticulous list of borrowings at the end of the book, in alphabetical order and that she includes the page number. By this means, expert and novice readers would count with a useful tool to access historical terms that still affect current Spanish/English interaction. Moreover Schultz could attract a broader audience that would learn of evolving meanings of the core vocabulary, as well as current status and directionality between languages. Definitely the author is committed not only to capturing Spanish borrowings documented in the English language since 1801, but also shedding light on the impact of a less explored directionality from Spanish to English. Without any doubt the book constitutes a respected resource for students and experts in the field.

Format: Hardback
ISBN-13: 9781527504035
Pages: 326
Prices: U.K. £ 68.99
U.S. $ 99.95