There are many curious facts about Spanish, but perhaps the most popular is the letter “ñ”. This spelling has been used as a symbol of the Cervantes Institute, in the logo of the official SIELE exam, or even to describe the Spanish national basketball team (ÑBA).
However, if we were to ask Spaniards on the street what the origin of this letter is, would they know how to answer? If we had to bet, we would say that most of them have no idea. That’s why today we are going to reveal one of the greatest curious facts about Spanish: the origin of the letter “ñ”.
Curious Facts about Spanish: Is the Letter “ñ” only in Our Language?
It seems that we, Spaniards, boast of having a unique letter in our language. However, there are other languages that also use it. For example, Asturian and Galician have this letter in their alphabet. Likewise, many indigenous languages in America also use it (Quechua, Aymara or Mapuche, among others). However, all these languages have in common that medieval Spanish language influenced them so much that they ended up introducing this spelling.
How do they write the sound of the letter “ñ” in other languages?
Among the curious facts of Spanish, the origin of the letter “ñ” is the one that arouses more interest among our students at Spanishviaskype.com. But before unraveling the mystery, we must know why it is necessary to use this letter. The sound /ɲ/ did not exist in Classical Latin. However, in Vulgar Latin (the language that people spoke in the streets) the sounds began to evolve. Among others, /ɲ/ appeared in words like Hispania.
In the European Romance languages, different solutions were given to write this new sound: in Italian and French “gn” (Spagna / Espagne), in Portuguese “nh” (Espanha) and in Catalan “ny” (Espanya).
Curious Facts about Spanish: Origin of the Letter “ñ”
Finally, let’s take a look at the origin of the biggest curious fact about Spanish: the letter “ñ”.
In the north of the Iberian Peninsula, the medieval scribe monks (people who copied texts “by hand”), adopted three different ways of writing the same sound: “ni + vowel” (Hispania, Spain), “gn” (agnus, lamb) and “nn” (anno, year). The three of them coexisted until the monks began to use a symbol called virgulilla (~), a wavelet placed above a letter to indicate that it was double (anno > año). From that moment on, the letter “ñ” replaced all other representations of the new sound.
We hope you enjoyed one of our funniest curious facts about Spanish. If you want to learn Spanish, know more curiosities and have fun, don’t hesitate and reserve a free trial lesson.