The Spanish Myth I Encountered in Seville

170px-Estatua_de_Pedro_I_el_Cruel_(M.A.N.)_01I had the good fortune to spend last week in Seville, Spain, with a group of graduate students from the University of Richmond. Early in the week, we had a walking tour of the historic city center, conducted by a knowledgable professor. I took the opportunity to ask him about something I’d heard forty years ago when I took Spanish in college, something I suspected was a myth. 

The reason Castilian Spanish speakers lisp is because, hundreds of years ago, a beloved king lisped, so everyone at court copied him. 

Not true, said our guide. There was a Spanish king who lisped, hence the association. Pedro the Cruel (probably not beloved, with a name like that, huh?) lived from 1334-1369. But the linguistic feature that sounds lisp-ish to our ears came after his death. And it’s not really a lisp–they say S in some words, just not in all. Certain Ss and Zs turn into THs, like the city of Cadiz, which, when I went there on a bus one day, was everywhere pronounced Cadith. 

It’s not an American myth, so I didn’t give it a number, but it’s interesting that everywhere one goes, pervasive myths are lurking. 


5 Responses to The Spanish Myth I Encountered in Seville

  1. Joanne G Miley says:

    I was told the same thing when I was learning Spanish. I even think Uncle Loyd told me that! And he did speak Castilian.

  2. Kris Fox Brown says:

    interesting…when I took Spanish in high school (California high school) my Spanish teacher spoke Castilian..a little confusing at first, but we quickly learned to pronounce the “s” when she was sounding it like a “th”…and some things she did pronounce as an “s”..

  3. Jake Pontillo says:

    In Linguistics one NEVER takes a Native Speaker’s opinion about WHY something is. They know what to say , but unless they have specific Linguistic training, they do NOT know the ‘why’ -There were some sounds in old Spanish that were being confused- The ‘C’ sound as in Ciudad (originally ‘tsiudad “)- was being said as if it were Siudad and the X (sounded as SH ) was being sounded as if it were an S- So to emphasize them one sound – the “C” (before e or I and Z before a and o )was pushed further forward and gave us the ‘th’ sound and the other the ‘X’ was pushed back in the mouth and gave us the “SH” and eventual “H” sound ( as in Mexico being pronounced /MESHICO/ then /MEHICO/ This one I know since I have a PhD in Hispanic Linguistics. You can see why it is really easier to just say that the king had a lisp…

    • Mary Miley says:

      Yes, I read some of this when I was (briefly) researching the issue and to say the least, “it’s complicated.” But the upshot isn’t complicated–that is, the lisp is NOT due to a mass effort to copy the king. Thanks for weighing in.

  4. Peter says:

    Just a clarification: in Peninsular Spanish all written S’s are pronounced like the s in English ‘sink’, while all Cs before i or e and all Zs are pronounced like the th in English ‘think’. It’s not ‘some of the time this way, some of the time that way’. The sound matches the spelling in a very well-behaved way. Funnily enough, I’ve come across kids in Argentina mocking my own Spanish dialect by accentuating all the S sounds, which is certainly stronger in Spain than in Argentina, where they often reduce to a h sound. So what is salient to English-speaking ears is not necessarily salient to native speakers.

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