For obvious reasons, one of the first things that a person studying a foreign language learns is the word for ‘and,’ which in Spanish is y. Spanish speakers rarely stop to think about it, but y violates a general Spanish spelling rule: the vowel sound /i/ is normally written with the letter i, and the letter y is normally reserved for what is called a semi-consonant or glide, as in ya ‘already’ and yegua ‘mare.’ There’s another way in which y is irregular: when it occurs before a word beginning with i-, it changes to e, as in extraño e irregular ‘strange and irregular.’ Without that change, the two /i/ sounds can fuse into one in normal speech, and a listener might not detect that the word for ‘and’ is present. The e that Spanish y changes to is actually the historical vowel from the word that evolved to y, Latin et. We’ve borrowed that original word for ‘and’ in the Latin phrase etcétera/et cetera ‘and [the] others [too].’ Anyone who knows Spanish y automatically knows a tiny bit of Russian, where the cognate for ‘and’ is likewise /i/, although the Cyrillic alphabet that Russian uses writes it И.

©2010 Steven Schwartzman

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: eunoia « Spanish-English Word Connections
  2. Trackback: vaivén « Spanish-English Word Connections

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©2011–2016 Steven Schwartzman
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