When the Andalusies spoke Romance. Interview with Pablo Sanchez

By Daniel Gil-Benumeya – FUNCI


Al-Andalus is generally associated with the Arab language. That was the medium used by their administration, the one that appeared in its epigraphy and the one in which their literature, historic chronicles and scientific works are written. Nevertheless, there were more languages spoken within their confines. Through several centuries, the Andalusians also spoke in a Romance origin vernacular language, which was shared by Christians, Muslims and Jews, but was slowly overshadowed by Arabic until it completely disappeared in the middle XIII century. It was rediscovered in the XIX century and in 1948, the Hebraist Samuel Miklos Stern published its first poems written in that language. Those compositions, also were the first ones written in any Romance language. We speak with Pablo Sanchez, editor of www.romandalusi.com web, who works in studying, reconstructing and disseminating this language.

What is the Andalusian Romance? Both are terms which generally can sound contradictory.

It simply is the Romance language spoken in Al-Andalus. During Visigothic epoch, Latin keep progressing in the Peninsula, both in Christian kingdoms and in Al-Andalus. As a matter of fact, Andalusian Romance was consolidated a century after Islamic conquest. Initially, it was the common language spoken by all Andalusians, due to Arabic was restricted to administrative tasks. However, over the years Arabic gained ground until Andalusian Romance permanently disappeared with the Almohads.

Frequently has been used the term Mozarab to talk about Andalusian Romance? Nevertheless, you prefer to not use this name. Why?

At the end of the XIX century, Francisco Javier Simonet baptised it with this name. Despite Simonet was an illustrious thinker and lay the foundations of what we know nowadays about the language, he also was a man of his time, induced by the predominant nationalist currents. He firmly believed the “Hispanic race” had resisted Islam, and that Andalusian Romance was what those Mozarab Christians spoke.  He even went further and declared that Mozarab language was a derivation of the Castilian one in Andalusi territories. Taking into consideration that both languages aren’t directly traced and in terms of vocabulary, they hardly have any similarities. So, we can appreciate how at the end ideology overlapped evidence.

On the other side, as far as we know, there are no evidences that prove this language was written by Christians. The two main representative authors were the rabbi Yehuda Halevi and the Muslim Ibn Quzman. As a conclusion, we must say that it was the language used by all the Andalusians, from the homeless to the caliph.

The two main representative authors were the rabbi Yehuda Halevi and the Muslim Ibn Quzman. It was the language used by all the Andalusians, from the homeless to the caliph.

Nowadays how would it sound the Andalusian Romance? Would it be understandable for a Spanish-speaking person, or would it be more similar to other Romance languages?

The Andalusian doesn’t have many influences from Portuguese, French or Spanish languages, due it separated itself from the western romances relatively early. Meanwhile the Franks and the “North” Visigoths started to change their pronunciation, the “South” Visigoths didn’t alter their articulation. That’s the reason why the Andalusian Romance would sound to us more similar to the Italian and Romanian, than to the Spanish, Catalan or Galician. It had double consonants, and as an example, words such as cinco (five) and cenar (dinner) were pronounced as chinco and chenar. It also had some influence from the Arabic, in terms of vocabulary, syntax structures and words formation. If today we are able to understand an Italian, we would be able to also understand an Andalusian.

You say the language became extinct in the middle XIII century. This means that it existed during most of Al-Andalus time, except in the last periods when the last stronghold was the Kingdom of Granada. How could it last that much time in such an Arabized and Islamized society? And why didn’t it last until the end?

Actually, the caliphate instauration supposed the decadence beginning for that language, even considering that it is proved that Abderraman III spoke it (as much as the Andalusians). Inexorably, the Romance language was gradually relegated by cultural Islamisation. Socially speaking Arabic was prestigious, while the Romance was used by the lower classes. The Almoravids and the Almohads were featured by their intolerance towards that language, to the extent that it disappeared during their reign. It wasn’t the Christian conquest the one responsible of its extinction. In spite of it endured more than any Romance language in the Islamic territories, the fault for its disappearance is to be found in the same Al-Andalus. However, the reason of why today we have so much information about it, is because it survived such a long time. For instance, we don’t know almost anything about the African Romance.

There are some studies which confirm that part of the Berber which entered the Peninsula during the Islamic conquest, could have been North African Vulgar Latin speakers or at least they had certain knowledge about it, which allowed them to communicate with the Hispanic-Visigoth population. Until which extent that influenced Andalusian romance, both in its maintenance and characteristics?

In the VIII century we couldn’t talk about Romance yet. In that times, the different dialects were still too similar in a way that we couldn’t refer to them as various languages, but at the same time they didn’t resembled to Latin. That was the reason why a North African was able to communicate properly with an Italian, Gallic or German. We know that the Andalusian Romance cannot be encompassed within nor the Iberian Romances (Spanish, Portuguese, Galician, and Asturian-Leonese) neither the Occitan Romances (Catalan, Aragonese and Aranese). In this sense, it has been considered a kind of independent variety, which has conducted to speculate about its relation with the Afro Romance. According to the available information about the speech in the current Tunez and Argelia, it seems that the Afro Romance was closer to Sardinian than to Andalusi. Maybe the speech in the nowadays Morocco was more similar to the one spoke in Hispania, but we don’t know it yet.

The data we have at our disposal, regarding the Andalusian Romance, are conserved due to its inclusion to written and cultured registers. Is it right? Can you provide us with some examples? How was the Andalusian Romance written?

Our main reference nowadays are the kharjas, which were a couple of verses written in a vulgar manner but added at the end of a play using a cultured register. Generally speaking Andalusian Arabic was the predominant language, but fortunately sometimes they used the Romance. That’s the reason we know the vulgar register. We even know some swear words written in the kharjas. Most of them are composed in Arabic alphabet, some less in Hebrew and just a few in Latin. This last one was used sometimes when the author thought he was writing in this language. Strictly speaking there wasn’t any orthography, but they had certain guidelines to follow. For instance, when a consonant didn’t exist in Arabic, they created them by doing double sounds similar to Arabic. Then, the P was a double B in Arabic Alphabet. The E and O were done as a long A and long U.

Taking into account the Andalusian Romance was a popular usage language overshadowed by Arabic, how can be explained its inclusion to the cultured register and its use by caliphs and kings?

Precisely, because the traditional structure of Muwashshah, which was finished with vulgar verses. Consequently, for the Andalusians the most vulgar verses were the ones in its Romance language. The only Romance word we know that Abderraman III wrote, was “culo” (rhyming with the Arabic qul, “di”). Anyway, all the vocabulary we identify wasn’t just this type. We also have learnt several technical terms from diverse glossaries. As an example, the medical and botanical summaries also included Romance words. Another source has been the Romance words which were added to Arabic Andalusian.

The Muwashshah were finished with vulgar verses. Consequently, for the Andalusians the most vulgar verses they knew were the ones in its Romance language. The only Romance word we know that Abderraman III wrote, was “culo” (rhyming with the Arabic qul, “di”).

In your web page you notice that the language has been studied until its complete reconstruction. How can it be this complete? Which are the sources used for its study?

The Andalusian Romance has been well documented, despite it has several consistent vacuums. Most of all the information we have, has been obtained through comparison with other high-medieval Romances, and by simulating the vulgar Latin evolution. As an example of this, just imagine the only information we have about Spanish were no more than a hundred verses, certain chinks in other languages and words collected in scientific glossaries. In this situation, rebuilding would be possible, but all the richness and complexity of the language would be lost. This is the situation of the Andalusian Romance. We can portray the general patterns of the language, but we cannot go further.

How can you explain that the lyrical Romance oldest examples conserved are in this language, rather than in other ones which at that time had preferential situations due to its predominance at written registers, such it is the Occitan?

It is an authentic paradox. They are the first poems rather than texts, and we haven’t been able to find any explanation. Nevertheless, being honest, we must say that there is a poem called “tormida femina” from the year 900 written in Proto-Occitan. It wasn’t a Romance yet, but neither was Latin.

You are translating The Little Prince. Why did you choose a work which is so remote from Al-Andalus as an Andalusian Romance showcase? Explain us how is it going.

As it is so distant from the Andalusian it is difficult in order to find the proper words. These include concepts from plane or engine to places such as Arizona or Turkey. I try not to use reinvented words, but sometimes this task became complicated because some basic words such as smiling, wake up, neither or yawn hasn’t been documented yet. Despite it only have 50 pages, it is a slow job taking into account that, on the one side it is not a classical translation, and on the other side I am not bilingual. I am writing it in Latin alphabet, following the Andalusian phonetic precepts (such as, the transcriptions from Arabic to Latin). However, when I will finish it, I will rewrite it with Arabic and Hebrew alphabet, in order to give it more historic coherence. Anyway, The Little Prince has been the first but not the last to be written in Andalusian Romance.

Taking into account the examples we have obtained, it seems that the language was interspaced with the colloquial Arabic spoke in Al-Andalus. In this way, it gives the impression that the real use of the Andalusian Romance was a hybridisation amid Arabic and Romance, being something similar to today’s Spanglish (as a well-known example). It is true?

It is true in an extent. There’s several hybrid vocabularies composed with Arabic roots and Romance suffixes. These words are similar to what today we call Spanglish in a sense that were shared by both languages, and can be understood as a fusion. Another extent could be the kharjas which alternate verses in Arabic and Romance, which is a phenomenon normal for bilingual people. Probably what people spoke in that time was a combination of both, rather than being alternating them all time. Furhtermore, considering that the kharjas were poems, which had a specific rhyme and meter, they might had been using words from both languages according to which was more appropriate to the verse features. As an example, with the verse nis si kerad no me kered garriri kilma (“he even don’t want to tell me a word”), kilma was more suitable than palabra in terms of meter and rhyme.

Most of the Arabisms present nowadays in Spanish, are Andalusian-romancisms. For instance, rebaño comes from the Andalusian Arabic ribh, but the –año suffix is Andalusian-romance.

Do you follow this dynamic in the reconstruction of The Little Prince, or you attempt to use uniquely Romance elements?

Yes, specifically lots of words are an Arabic-Romance mix and others are Arabisms which were adopted by the Romance. The Andalusian Romance didn’t have a culture register, so when they had a lack of terms they resorted to Latin or Arabic. The word firmamento is documented to be a Romanced Arabic word when a final vocal is added (al-falaki). The greetings were also done in Arabic. Buenos dias was derivated from the Arabic expression, assabah bonu, and the Arabism zalema indicates us that hola came from the Romanced assalám. That is the reason why it is completely impossible to separate the Romance from the Arabic. They were intrinsically related. Even the words sometimes had Latin origin, the morphology or structure were an Arabic calque.

What happened with the Andalusian Romance in the territories conquered by Christian Kingdoms? Did it survive? Did it influence the Conquerors and resettler’s Romance languages?

The Andalusian Romance had a large footprint on other sister languages. Most of the Arabisms present nowadays in Spanish, are Andalusian-romancisms. For instance, rebaño (flock of sheep) comes from the Andalusian Arabic ribh, but the –año suffix is Andalusian-romance. If we look into morphology we can appreciate how Iberian languages came after Andalusian Romance. On the other side, it is really interesting to see how several words were included as euphemisms. My favourite one is chocho, which in Andalusian Romance meant salado.

How do you think we could do a proper closing in Andalusian Romance for this interview?

With some greeting words of this beautiful language (I will write it in the same way the Andalusians used the Latin alphabet): gratzias ad totos vosotres por kereri kallari unu paukellu esta liekua bonella ed láitani sceiad de vostru estimari (thanks to all of you for wanting to know a bit more about this beautiful language, and I hope you will like it).

Translated by Toni Sastre – FUNCI