The Lexicalist Agenda—Exposing the Myths—Quentin Popinjay Snodgrass, Ph.D. SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents Cartoon Theories of Linguistics—Part E—Phonetics vs. Phonology—Hilário Parenchyma, C.Phil.
Speculative Grammarian is proud to present yet another installment of indeterminate regularity in the Linguistic Anthropologic Monograph Endowment’s Bizarre Grammars of the World Series.

The Hidden Language of Public Seduction

An Anthropological Linguistic Study of Spanyol 0

Bizarre Grammars of the World, Vol. 60


Earlier this year, in preparation for fieldwork in Mozambique, Chad, and Japan, I decided to review some Spanish-language pedagogical audio materials (Cash 2007). As I was listening intently and re-acquainting myself with this beautiful language, I was quite surprised to hear many seemingly innocuous phrases presented with a tone of voice that would normally only be appropriate in a love song by Barry White. I wondered, why did the “native” speaker’s pronunciation of uno, dos, tres make me feel oddly hot and bothered?

After an extensive investigation, including much hounding of a hapless secretary at the publishing company, I was able to track down the actual voice actor who recorded the examples in question. This actor is, in fact, quite fluent in Español (Spanish); however, his native language is a very unusual, even tortured, tongue with which I was previously unfamiliar: Spanyol.

Linguistic and Cultural Background

After tracking down and interviewing a small number of Spanyol speakers, I learned a few interesting and relevant facts about Modern Spanyol.


• Spanyol seems to be a language without a country, though most of the estimated twenty to forty thousand speakers live in Latin America or the United States, almost uniformly in regions where the language is in constant contact with Spanish.

• The most common profession among speakers of Spanyol is as Spanish-language voice artistswhether for educational materials, animated or dubbed television shows and films, video games, or radio broadcast. Most Spanyol speakers cultivate the traditionally much-valued deep, resonant voices which are well suited to this kind of work.

• Language play, humor, and sharp wit are all much admired in Spanyol culture. Puns are regarded as one of the highest art forms; multi-lingual puns doubly so.

• Phonetically and phonotactically, Modern Spanyol is a superset of Spanish, making all the phonetic distinctions Spanish does and allowing all the syllable structures that Spanish does, along with many others (such as v/b and ɾ/ɹ/r/ʀ distinctions, vowel length distinctions, allowing initial /s/+consonant clusters, et cetera). This has not always been the case, as we shall soon discover.

• The Spanyol writing system is a hodge-podge of Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic characters. Greek letters often indicate geminate versions of the corresponding Latin letters. Some of the Cyrillic letters seem to have been borrowed based on their resemblance to Latin letters rather than their traditional phonetic values. Hence Cyrillic я is used for an r-like sound (ʀ).

As a result of the linguistic-evolutionary interplay of these factors, a common definition of professional and personal success among present-day Spanyol speakers is to work as a Spanish-language voice actor, making off-color Spanyol/Spanish puns in a medium with a wide audience.

Linguistic Data

Let us now consider the phrase that originally started me on this long, strange adventure. Below I present details of the purported Spanish phrase on the audio CD I listened to, along with the Spanyol phrase the voice actor finally admitted to me is what he actually intended when he spoke.

Gloss one, two, three
Spanish (orthographical) uno, dos, tres
Spanish (phonological) /uno dos tɾes/
Phonetic [uno:d̪os:tɾe:s:]
Spanyol (phonological) /u no oðos stɾe es:/
Spanyol (orthographical) u! no oðos stρeh, eϛ
O! Come to me, lover! or O! Come be atop me, lover!

A surprising number of other examples were to be found on the “Spanish”-language CD I had purchased. Another detailed example is given in (2), with several more demonstrative examples in (3).

Gloss the pencil of my brother
Spanish el lápiz de mi hermano
Spanyol eλ aap isdem iyerm a no
I wish I were able to come to both of you for sexy cuddles underneath you.

Spanish; diecinueve veinte veintiuno
    “nineteen twenty twenty-one”
Spanyol: ðie sinu eb-eb heint, eh, bheint yun o
    “I keep lovin’ you more and more each time”

Spanish; iré al almacén y compraré leche
    “I will go to the store and buy milk”
Spanyol: i re aλ-al maϛ eniko ομπяα aρel eč, eh
    “Been makin’ love for hours and, baby, you’re goin’ strong”

Spanish; mi tía y su tío no son muy viejos
    “my aunt and your uncle are not very old”
Spanyol: miτi aiϛ uti onoϛ sonmu iъi, eh, њos
    “Feel the fire; I’m burnin’ up from the thrill of loving you”

Spanish; ojalá que llueva café
    “if only it would rain coffee”
Spanyol: o! жal akeў webak aφe
    “And, ooh, I swear I feel it comin’ on, yeah”

Historical Linguistic Analysis

There is, of course, very little mainstream academic information on this secretive language. However, I did stumble across a fascinating historical document of inestimable value. One of the Spanyol speakers I interviewed was able to provide me with a Spanyol Primer self-published by the author in 1811 (Koolosg 1811).

Even a cursory comparison of the version of Spanyol recorded in Koolosg’s prescriptivist screed (which I have taken to calling Middle Spanyol) and modern-day Spanyol shows the incredible changes that have been wrought in a diachronically miniscule period of less than 200 years.


• The expletive particle eh, introduced since Koolosg’s time, is freely used and seems to be able to appear almost anywhere in an utterance. Its use is especially heavy in Spanish/Spanyol punsparticularly in eh, Spanyol, which is phonetically identical to Español. See example (4).

(4)        Spanish Question:     ¿Qué lenguaje habla usted?     “What language do you speak?”
Middle Spanyol: Spanyol eγreβen. “I speak Spanyol.”
Modern Spanyol: Eh, Spanyol. “Uh, Spanyol.”

• The phonetics of Spanyol have changed considerably. A number of distinctions made in Spanish but not in Middle Spanyol have come into the language, presumably intimately interrelated to the desire to make Spanyol/Spanish puns. For example, /u/ was merely a word-final allophone of /o/ in Middle Spanyol. Also, Middle Spanyol seems not to have had nasal assimilation, though Modern Spanyol, like Spanish, does. See example (5).

(5)        Middle Spanyol:     oβla Eяma anκu nu.     [ob:laʔeʀmaʔank:unu]
Modern Spanyol: Eρma no oβla anκo. [eɾmano:b:la:ŋk:o]
    “Lovely Erma, come to me.”
cf. Spanish: hermano blanco [eɾmanoblaŋko]
    “white brother”

• Modern Spanyol has also lost the phonetic glottal stops that would appear intervocalically between words in Middle Spanyol. See example (5) again. The loss of the glottal stop often allows words to “run together” in a way that is realized as vowel lengthening. Both vowel lengthening and gemination can be explained away in, for example, pedagogical materials, as over-articulation in an example citation form.

• Word order has also changed somewhat drastically in Modern Spanyol. See example (5) yet again. The basic word order of Middle Spanyol has been hard to pin down, but seems to be OVS. The language is also heavily PRO-drop, with major structural re-arrangement of an utterance possible for at least two levels of topicalization. Modern Spanyol is still PRO-drop, but seems to have developed three levels of complexly-interacting topicalization which give the language an essentially free word order, though the basic order is likely either VOS or SVO.

• Modern Spanyol has also developed a complex voice system, including passive, middle, causative, reciprocal, and cooperative (possibly in part through inexplicable but apparently heavy contact with Mongolian in the 1870s). Modern Spanyol also supports a novel noun-incorporating evidential system.

Most of these further complexities are beyond the scope of this initial investigation, but seem at least in part to be motivated, ultimately, by a need for speakers to be able to manipulate Spanyol utterancesright up to the edge of ungrammaticalityto be phonetically similar to grammatical Spanish utterances.

So, while recent voice work and, historically, other kinds of Spanish-speaking jobs have provided a steady source of income for many Spanyol speakers, they may also have had a major long-term impact on the language. There is a single footnote in Koolosg (p. 523, fn. 17) which seems to indicate that the language had changed so much in the previous 300 hundred years that not only would speakers 200 years ago not understand the older form of the language, they might not even recognize the name of the language from the fifteenth and sixteenth century, which Koolosg claims was either Žbęğسðŷőя or Zьāγšδчŭȑ and was pronounced (according to the regular orthographic rules of the time) as /meynard/. It is plain to see that the loss of Koolosg’s references has done irreparable damage to the art and science of linguistics.

Despite that great loss, I was able to load considerable Middle and Modern Spanyol data into the Hockett Syntacular Morphemic Resonance Spectrometer, which is capable of measuring glottoradiological Swadesh Shift down to a hemidemisemiformant. Standard morphosyntactic reverse transcription -emic/-etic alignment techniques, using both the ostentatious-brittle-votive/instinct-understatement-schadenfreude (Pelota-Grande 2005) and the volatile-intuitive-sensual/umlaut-apotheosis-lenition (van der Meer 2005) coordinates, revealed the most likely genetic affiliations of Spanyol. Unsurprisingly, the four most closely related languages are not Romance languages, but instead Euskara, بروشسکی, アイヌ イタク, and Idioma de Signos Nicaragüense.

Tentative Conclusions

More research is necessary to unravel the intricacies of both the synchronic and diachronic systems. Said research will require more and abundant funding.

• Cash, Jàspàr Áłöišiüś, 2007. A Quick Bit of Refresher Spanish for Use in Planes, Trains, and Automobiles: A Contrastive Grammar Tuned Especially for Globe-Trotting Anthropological Linguists Who Are Fluent in Badaga, Sepedi, and CheyenneBook and Eighty-Three CD Set. The Niche Publishing Pigeonhole, Niče, France.
• Koolosg, Ran Des, 1811. Und Eeks yona Riod des Spanyol: Una gramática totalmente completa del lenguaje de Spanyol. Self Published, Asunción, Paraguay.
• Pelota-Grande, I. Juana, 2005. “Linguistic Topology,” Speculative Grammarian, Vol. CL. No. 2.
• van der Meer, Jonathan, 2005. “Letters to the Editor,” Speculative Grammarian, Vol. CL. No. 3.

Claude Searsplainpockets Somewhere in the Luminiferous Αιθηρ

0 This paper was made possible by LAME grant #77Neque-porro/quisquam:est//qui\doloremipsum[quia]dolor(sit)amet+consectetur:adipisci#velit77, the letter and the numbers φ and Φ.

The Lexicalist Agenda—Exposing the Myths—Quentin Popinjay Snodgrass, Ph.D.
Cartoon Theories of Linguistics—Part E—Phonetics vs. Phonology—Hilário Parenchyma, C.Phil.
SpecGram Vol CLIII, No 1 Contents