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La historia de la “Ñ” Posted by on Nov 16, 2010 in Spanish Culture

¿Te imaginas que no pudieses llamar a un niño? ¿O no sentir morriña del lugar donde naciste? ¿No celebrar una fiesta de cumpleaños? ¿Ser incapaz de soñar? O peor aún, ¿no poder hablar español? Porque todo eso ocurriría si la letra Ñ no existiese en nuestro alfabeto.

La ñ, letra característica del español, es la decimoséptima letra del abecedario.  El origen de esta consonante tan particular parece remontarse a la edad media. Aunque no todos los filólogos están de acuerdo, parece que fue consecuencia natural de un proceso de economía en el lenguaje. En los monasterios, los amanuenses necesitaban ahorrar letras para invertir menos esfuerzo y papel en copiar manuscritos; más tarde en las imprentas también era beneficioso usar menor espacio y tinta, por lo que era común usar abreviaturas. Nuestra Ñ procede de una abreviatura latina, del uso doble de la n en palabras como “anno” e “Hispannia”.Y en ocasiones, al escribir las dos enes, una se montaba sobre otra, de la siguiente forma:

Con el paso del tiempo, la n pequeña se redujo a ser un simple signo ortográfico, una virgulilla, hasta que finalmente nació la castiza ñ como hoy la conocemos. El sonido palatal nasal quedó ligado a esta consonante, que ha sido adoptada por algunas lenguas como el aymara, el bubi, el gallego, el guaraní, el quechua o el tagalo. Otras lenguas románicas, sin embargo, han mantenido una doble grafía para este sonido: ny en  catalán, húngaro o indonesio entre otros; gn en francés e italiano, o nh en portugués.

A pesar de ser una letra usada en castellano desde el siglo IX, su uso en las nuevas tecnologías era casi nulo, debido a la supremacía del inglés. Sin embargo, la polémica originada por el proyecto de la Comunidad Económica Europea en 1991 de que en España se comercializasen teclados sin Ñ hizo que se luchase no solo por su conservación, sino también por el reconocimiento que esta letra merece. En primer lugar la RAE, y numerosas figuras del ámbito cultural de la talla de García Márquez, se manifestaron contra esta medida. Hoy día, la Ñ es símbolo único de un idioma que hablan casi 500 millones de personas, preside el logotipo del Instituto Cervantes, y poco a poco va adquiriendo reconocimiento en el ámbito virtual.

Can you imagine not being able to call a child? Nor feeling yearning for the place where you were born? Not celebrating a birthday party? Being unable to dream? Still worse: not being able to speak Spanish? All that would happen if the letter Ñ did not exist in our alphabet.

The Ñ, a characteristic Spanish letter, is the seventeenth letter of the alphabet. The origin of this particular consonant seems to go back to the Middle Ages. Even though not all philologists agree, it seems that it was a natural consequence of a process of economy of language. In monasteries, amanuensis needed to save letters to invest less effort and paper in copying manuscripts; later, in printing presses it was also better to use less space and ink, so it was common to use abbreviations. Our Ñ comes from a Latin abbreviation, from the double use of the letter “n” in words such as “anno” and “Hispannia”. In some occasions, when writing the two “n”, one was written over the other one, in this way:

With the passage of time, the small n came down to being a simple orthographic sign, a diacritic, until it finally evolved into the pure ñ as we know it today. The palatal nasal sound remained tied to this consonant, which has been adopted by some other languages such as Aymara, Bubi, Galician, Guarani, Quechua or Tagalog. Other Romance languages, nevertheless, have retained a double spelling for this sound: ny in Catalan, Hungarian or Indonesian among others; gn in French and Italian, nh in Portuguese, etc.

In spite of being a letter used in Spanish since the 9th century, its use in new technologies was almost unheard of, due to the supremacy of English. Nevertheless, the controversy originated by the project of the Economic European Community in 1991 to commercialize keyboards in Spain without the Ñ key, started the fight not only for its preservation, but also for the recognition that this letter deserves. First of all, the RAE, and numerous figures of the arts as recognized as Gabriel García Márquez, declared themselves against this measure. Today, the Ñ is the unique symbol of a language spoken by almost 500 million people, it is featured in the Cervantes Institute logo, and little by little it is acquiring recognition in the world of technology.

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About the Author: Magda

Hi all! I’m Magda, a Spanish native speaker writing the culture posts in the Transparent Language Spanish blog. I have a Bachelor’s in English Philology and a Master’s in Linguistics and Literature from the University of Granada, in Spain. I have also completed a Postgraduate Certificate in Education, and then worked as an English teacher in several schools and academies for several years. Last year was my first at university level. In addition, I work as a private tutor, teaching English and Spanish as a foreign language to students and adults. In my free time, I’m an avid reader and writer, editing and collaborating in several literary blogs. I have published my first poetry book recently. And last but not least, I love photography!


Comments:

  1. keith:

    Hi. A question: In regards to the nasals, is the point of articulation the same for nia of Sonia and ña of baña?

    keith

    • Magda:

      @keith No, it isn´t Keith. Letter N is alveolar, the tip tongue touches the upper teeth when pronouncing it, whereas the Ñ is palatal.