Spanish language in Portuguese texts (16th to 19th centuries)

Sónia Duarte
Centro de Linguística da Universidade do Porto

Despite the geographic and linguistic proximity between Spain and Portugal, the first Spanish grammar to be printed in Portugal and for Portuguese native speakers only dates back to 1848, as explored in a previous post on this blog (Duarte 2014). That is especially interesting if we keep in mind that bibliographical resources concerning other not so similar or more distantly related languages appear as early as the 16th century.

Nevertheless, as it is common knowledge to most people, Spanish was no stranger to Portuguese speakers prior to 1848. In fact, from the 16th up to the 18th century, it coexists with the native tongue in Portuguese territory, assuming the role of a prestige language favoured for political and editorial purposes – and this makes the whole situation even more bewildering. That period is commonly known as a period of bilingualism, although, in fact, it describes a diglossic situation.

We might ask ourselves, therefore, exactly what knowledge Portuguese people had of the Spanish language and what kind of information circulated in Portugal about such language and how. In this post I will attempt to address this issue by referring to the data that can be found in Portuguese grammars and orthographies from the beginning of the Portuguese metalinguistic tradition up to 1848 and concerning both the language itself as well as the linguistic representations or images and the purposes of that same information.

Bearing this in mind, I will now briefly approach the outcomes of the investigation on a corpus of texts from before 1848 that I’ve been studying for some time, which contains the 34 Portuguese grammatical and orthographical works listed bellow.

i) Grammars

1540. Cartinha y Dialogo em Louvor da Nossa Linguagem de João de Barros,
1721. Regras da lingua portugueza, espelho da lingua latina, ou disposição para facilitar o ensino da lingua latina pelas regras da portugueza de Caetano Maldonado da Gama.
1770. Arte da Grammatica da lingua portugueza de António José dos Reis Lobato
1783. Grammatica Philosophica, e Orthographia Racional da Lingua Portugueza de Bernardo de Lima e Melo Bacelar
1792. Methodo Grammatical Resumido da Lingua Portugueza de João Joaquim Casimiro
1799. Rudimentos da Grammatica Portugueza de Pedro José da Fonseca
1804. Grammatica Portugueza de Manuel Dias de Sousa
1806. Epitome da Grammatica da Lingua Portugueza de António de Morais Silva
1812. Memorias Curiosas para a Grammatica Philosophica da Lingua Portugueza de Manuel Pedro Tomás Pinheiro e Aragão
1818. Gramática Filosófica da Linguagem Portuguêza de João Crisóstomo do Couto e Melo
1820. Grammatica, Orthographia e Arithmetica Portugueza, ou Arte de Falar, escrever e contar de Manuel Borges Carneiro
1824. Resumo de Grammatica e Orthographia da Lingua Portugueza de Luís Gonçalves Coutinho
1822. Grammatica Philosophica da Lingua Portugueza Jerónimo Soares Barbosa
1827. Grammatica Portugueza em Analogia com as Linguas de que Toma Origem, principalmente Latina e Grega de Jaulino Lopes Arneiro
1841. Grammatica Elementar da Lingua Portugueza por systema philosophico de João Nunes de Andrade
18546 [1841]. Compendio elementar da Grammatica Portugueza de Carlos Augusto de Figueiredo Vieira
1844. Principios de Grammatica Portugueza de Francisco Andrade Júnior

ii) Orthographies

1576. Ortographia de Duarte Nunes de Leão
1631. Orthographia ou Arte para escrever certo na lingua Portuguesa de Álvaro Ferreira de Vera
1666. Regras Gerays, breves, & comprehensivas da melhor orthografia de Bento Pereira
1671. Ortografia da Língua Portugueza de João Franco Barreto
1734. Orthographia, ou Arte de Escrever e Pronunciar com Acerto a Língua Portugueza de João de Morais Madureira Feijó
1736. Orthographia da Lingua Portugueza de Luis Caetano de Lima
1767. Compendio de Orthografia de Luis do Monte Carmelo
1769. Breve Tratado da Orthographia de Domingos Dionísio Duarte Daniel
1783. Orthographia Portugueza, ou Regras para escrever certo, ordenadas para uso de quem se quizer applicar de Francisco Félix Carneiro Souto-Maior
1788. Arte ou Novo Methodo de ensinar a ler por meio da Estampa, a que se prepoim hum novo systema da sua orthografia de Francisco Nunes Cardoso
1790. Arte da Orthografia Portugueza conforme o novo systema de Francisco Nunes Cardoso
1807. Noções sobre a Ortografia da Lingua Portugueza de Joaquim José Caetano Pereira e Sousa
1809. Rudimentos da Orthographia Portugueza de Pedro José da Fonseca
1818. Tratado de Orthographia Portugueza deduzida das suas tres bases, a pronunciação, a etymologia e o uso dos doutos, e accomodados a inteligencia das pessoas que ignoram o grego e o Latim de Rodrigo Ferreira da Costa
1826. Breve Tractado da Orthographia de Joaquim Pereira Codesso
1834. Orthographia da Lingua Portugueza, reduzida a regras geraes e especiaes, etc. com um appendice, e um novo methodo de ensinar e aprender a ler o portuguez de Joaquim José Ventura da Silva
1844. Ensaio sobre a Ortographia Portugueza de Carlos Augusto de Figueiredo Vieira

In these works, Portuguese constitutes both the object of study and the language in which the text is written. However, the focus of my analysis lies not on Portuguese but on Spanish language: more precisely, on the objective information on the Spanish language, on the subjective images or perceptions of the Spanish language and on the purposes and strategies underlying the comments that convey that same information.

Furthermore, these texts are all published in Portugal and written by Portuguese authors. The stress on, so to say, a national criterion – i.e. based on what nowadays one conceives as nationality and which cannot be strictly applied to the whole chronological framework of this post – is related to an epistemological frame known as the language issue in Portugal (“a questão da língua em Portugal”). This concept, originally referring to the 16th century linguistic debate, was clearly depicted by Stegagno-Picchio (1959) and Buescu (1983) as a diglossic situation enhancing a conflictive relation between Portuguese and Spanish. In this situation Latin is held up as a role model used to help reaffirm the identity and status of Portuguese against Spanish. Here I will attempt to determine the extent, the development and the repercussions of that same theoretical framework concerning the whole of the chronology established for this study, which was organised according to an adaptation of Leite de Vasconcellos’ (1929) well known periodization proposal for the Portuguese and Latin philological tradition. Next, I will sum up the data, addressing separately grammar and orthography.

1. Grammars
Table 1
Subjects Works Remarks (total)
From 16th century to late 17th century From the beginning of 18th century up to 1779 From 1779 to 1848
Plural forms (ending in <-al>) Barros (1540) [1] 1+0+0=1
Past participle Barros (1540)[1] 1+0+0=1
Latin origin Gama (1721) [1]
Lobato (1770) [1]
Melo (1818) [1] 0+2+1=3
Diglossia Bacelar (1783)[1] 0+0+1=1
Plural forms (ending in nasal diphthongs) Bacelar (1783) [1]
Casimiro (1792) [1]
Coutinho (1824) [1]
Barbosa (1822)[1]
Arneiro (1827) [2]
Vieira (1854 [1841]) [1] Andrade Júnior (1844) [1]
Nasal diphthongs (phonetics and orthography) Bacelar (1783) [1]
Barbosa (1822) [1]
Latin etymology  Fonseca 1799 [1] 0+0+1=1
Hispanic loan words  Fonseca 1799 [1] 0+0+1=1
Definite article (“el”) Fonseca 1799 [1]
Sousa (1804) [1]
Carneiro (1820) [1]
Arneiro (1827) [2]
The <g> grapheme (spelling) Sousa (1804) [1] 0+0+1=1
Pronominal verbs Silva (1806) [1] 0+0+1=1
Phonetics (general comments) Melo (1818) [1] 0+0+1=1
Past perfect Melo (1818) [1] 0+0+1=1
Syntax (general comments) Carneiro (1820) [1] 0+0+1=1
Aspiration Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Neutral demonstratives Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Auxiliary verb “ter” Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Imperfect subjunctive (double endings) Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Prepositions and case Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Definite article (“la”) Arneiro (1827) [1] 0+0+1=1
Figurative syntax Arneiro (1827) [1] 0+0+1=1
Historical phonetic processes Arneiro (1827) [2] 0+0+2=2

Table 1 focuses on the linguistic phenomena the grammatical texts deal with. To begin with, objectively there is very little data up to 1779, with a significant increase and growing diversity between 1779 and 1848. Nevertheless, such escalation does not so much correspond to a real change on the peripheral condition of the information on Spanish as to an increase of the publication rate of grammatical texts, which, in its turn, is to be explained by a change of circumstances regarding access to books and reading.

As to the topics focused on in such comments, the plural forms (mainly concerning the corresponding Portuguese endings in nasal diphthongs ([ãw̃]; [ɐ̃j̃]; [õj̃]) and the masculine definite article (mainly concerning the expression el-Rei) clearly stand out. As for the nasal diphthongs, which are the most prominent markers, their occurrence appears to be related to the great significance of the subject itself in the Portuguese metalinguistic tradition, and not so much to the intrinsic value of such matter in Spanish grammar. Just out of curiosity, the fact that, in the 17th century, Antonio de Mello da Fonseca dedicates his 426-page work Antidoto da Lingua Portugueza (Amsterdam [1710]) solely to this subject clearly illustrates the significance of the topic. Although these matters are quite relevant on the global results, they are not the main subjects throughout the chronology. While none of the phenomena crosses all the three periods, the question of the Latin origin of both tongues is the one which covers a longer timespan. Nevertheless, it amounts only to three mentions on the whole.

In terms of the accuracy of the information provided, though in most cases there’s historical evidence of such linguistic data, on some occasions the texts do seem to sustain misconceived notions of the Spanish language. It is relevant to notice here that the Portuguese grammarians don’t always base their comments on references to the Spanish metalinguistic tradition.

Table 2
Images Works Remarks (total)
From 16th century to late 17th century From the beginning of 18th century up to 1779 From 1779 to 1848
Structural images
Regularity Melo (1818) [2] 0+0+2=2
Genetic images
Affinity with Latin Gama (1721) [1]
Lobato (1770) [1]
Fonseca (1799) [1]
Melo (1818) [1] 0+3+1=4
Sensorial images
Harmony Melo (1818) [1]
Arneiro (1827) [1]
Harshness Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Wearisomeness Barbosa (1822) [1] 0+0+1=1
Total 0 3 7 10

Table 2 offers a synthesis of the collected data concerning the perception of the Spanish language. This information is presented according to García Martín’s (2005) proposal, which differentiates four types of images: structural, genetic, sensorial and moral images, though not all apply to the current corpus. Here, the genetic and sensorial images outweigh the others, though it’s the first one (mainly regarding the (lesser) affinity with Latin) that prevails over time. The fact that this same representation cannot be found in 16th century texts should not puzzle us, since this absence seems to be limited to this specific type of texts (grammars) and does not apply to, for instance, orthographies, as will be demonstrated below.

From the point of view of what seem to be the purposes of the comments on the Spanish Language, the data support the notion sustained by Ponce de León (2005) that, up to the 18th century, as far as the Portuguese and Latin Portuguese tradition is concerned, those comments serve mainly an accessory function and Spanish itself is not so important or at least less important than Portuguese. A contrastive purpose clearly prevails throughout the corpus, associated mainly with a didactic strategy intended to reinforce the acquisition of the rules of Portuguese language.

Regarding the theoretical framework, the collected data do not acknowledge throughout the entire timeline what Buescu (1983) describes as a competitive linguistic relationship in a conflictive environment. From the 18th century onwards that picture no longer applies. However, there are visible traces of the apologetic rhetoric and argumentation that embodies the above-mentioned theoretical frame. An example of this is the role played by Latin on the remarks on the Spanish language: it still holds an extremely important and strategic part on the praise of the Portuguese language versus Spanish. Even in the period that goes from the late 17th century to 1779, the texts still provide evidences of a claim of more affinity and similarity between Portuguese and Latin than the one that exists between Latin and Spanish. In fact, as it has already been mentioned, the perception of that resemblance prevails amongst the imagery of Spanish in Portuguese texts.

2. Orthographies
Table 3
Subjects Works Remarks (total)
From 16th century to late 17th century From the beginning of 18th century up to 1779 From 1779 to 1848
Consonantal results (of <PL>) Leão (1576) [1] 1+0+0=1
<lh> vs. <ll> Leão (1576) [1]
Vera (1631) [1]
Pereira (1666] [1]
Barreto (1671) [1]
Lima (1736) [1] Costa (1818) [2] 4+1+2=7
Consonantal results (of <SP, ST…>) Leão (1576) [1]
Barreto (1671) [1]
<nh> vs. <ñ> Leão (1576) [1]
Pereira (1666) [1]
Barreto (1671) [1]
Lima (1736) [1] 3+1+0=4
<ch> Leão (1576) [1]
Barreto (1671) [3]
Nasal diphthong (orthographic debate <ão/am> ) Leão (1576) [4]
Pereira (1666) [1]
Barreto (1671) [1]
Feijó (1734) [1]
Lima (1736) [1]
Other vowel combinations (oral) Leão (1576) [2]
Barreto (1671) [6]
Plural forms (Nasal diphthong <ão/am>) Leão (1576) [1]
Vera (1631) [1]
Barreto (1671) [2]
Carmelo (1767) [1]
Cunha (1769) [1]
Sousa (1807) [1]
Silva (1834) [1]
Plural forms (other cases) Leão (1576) [2]
Barreto (1671) [2]
Cardoso (1788) [1] 4+0+1=5
Augmentatives Leão (1576) [1] 1+0+0=1
Contractions (preposition + article) Leão (1576) [1]
Vera (1631) [1]
Barreto (1671) [1]
Carmelo (1767) [1] 3+1+0=4
Betacism Vera (1631) [1];
Barreto (1671) [2]
Carmelo (1767) [3] 3+3+0=6
Consonantal endings (<-d>) Vera (1631) [1]
Barreto (1671) [1]
Aspiration Vera (1631) [1] 1+0+0=1
<m> + <p/b> Vera (1631) [1];
Barreto (1671) [1]
<y> Vera (1631) [2]
Barreto (1671) [4]
Carmelo (1767) [1] Cardoso (1790) [1] 6+1+1=8
Dieresis Vera (1631) [1] 1+0+0=1
Gender (feminine form of the nasal diphthong <ão/am>) Vera (1631) [1] 1+0+0=1
<h> vs. <f> Pereira (1666) [1]
Barreto (1671) [2]
Costa (1818) [1] 3+0+1=4
<lh> vs. <j> Pereira (1666) [1] 1+0+0=1
Latin substratum Barreto (1671) [2] 2+0+0=2
<o> vs. <u> Barreto (1671) [1] 1+0+0=1
Consonantal endings (<-n>) Barreto (1671) [1] 1+0+0=1
<c> vs. <q> Barreto (1671) [1] 1+0+0=1
<r> Barreto (1671) [1] 1+0+0=1
Lexicon (borrowings, calques, interferences) Barreto (1671) [2] Feijó (1734) [46]
Carmelo (1767) [4]
Cardoso (1788) [1]
Sousa (1807) [1]
Silva (1834) [2]
<h> Barreto (1671) [1] 1+0+0=1
Orthographic principles Feijó (1734) [1] Vieira (1844) [1] 0+1+1=2
Gender (variation) Carmelo (1767) [1] 0+1+0=1
Other vowel combinations (nasal) Carmelo (1767) [2] Codesso (1826) [1] 0+2+1=3
Lexicon: Latin etymology common to both languages Lima (1736) [1];
Carmelo (1767) [7]
Costa (1818) [1] 0+8+1=9
Definite article (“el”) Carmelo (1767) [1] Fonseca (1809) [1] 0+1+1=2
<ç> Souto-Maior (1783) [1] 0+0+1=1
<g> + <a,o,u> Souto-Maior (1783) [1] 0+0+1=1
Abbreviations Cardoso (1788) [1] 0+0+1=1
<-z> Cardoso (1788) [1] 0+0+1=1
Punctuation Silva (1834) [2] 0+0+2=2

Regarding the linguistic phenomena, table 3 shows that the comments on lexical and etymological issues and the ones addressing the combination of vowels stand out, especially regarding the equivalent Portuguese endings in nasal diphthongs, a significant part of which corresponds to plural forms. However, we must put the weight of lexicographic remarks into perspective, since the vast majority of those remarks belong to one work only. Instead, the contrastive mentions concerning the nasal diphthong [ãw̃] acquire a special significance, considering the relevance of this subject to the Portuguese tradition.

Table 4
Images Works Remarks (total)
From 16th century to late 17th century From the beginning of 18th century up to 1779 From 1779 to 1848
Structural images
Lesser conformity to orthographic widespread principles Leão (1576) [1]
Vera (1631) [3]
Barreto (1671) [1]
Costa (1818) [1] 5+0+1=6
Regularity Leão (1576) [1] 1+0+0=1
Lesser conformity between orthography and phonetics Vera (1631) [2]
Pereira (1666) [1]
Barreto (1671) [5]
Lesser singularity Lima (1736) [1] 0+1+0=1
Phonological orientation Vieira (1844) [1] 0+0+1=1
Genetic images
Corruption (in comparison to Portuguese) Leão (1576) [1]
Vera (1631) [1]
Pereira (1666) [2]
Barreto (1671) [2]
Barreto (1671) [3]
Feijó (1734) [2] 9+2+0=11
Affinity with Latin and other romance languages (in general) Leão (1576) [4]
Vera (1631) [1]
Barreto (1671) [2]
Lima (1736) [1]
Carmelo (1767) [1]:
Affinity with Portuguese Leão (1576) [5]
Vera (1631) [1]
Barreto (1671) [7]
Carmelo (1767) [3] Costa (1818) [1] 13+3+1=17
Corruption (in general) Cardoso (1788) [1]
Cardoso (1790) [1]
Sensorial images
Greater smoothness Pereira (1666) [1] Lima (1736) [1] 1+1+0=2
Lesser graveness Pereira (1666) [1] 1+0+0=1
Other kinds of images
Diffusion (amongst Portuguese speakers) Cunha (1769) [1] Silva (1834) [1] 0+1+1=2
Total 45 10 6 61

As far as the image of Spanish is concerned, table 4 highlights the information conveyed by the corpus. Most of it corresponds to genetic imagery related to the etymological role of Latin and the historical processes explaining the results on both languages. Whether they stress similarities or point out differences, in both cases the implications of the language issue framework are inferred. A special mention is due to the comments on the correspondence and affinity between Portuguese and Spanish. The remarks on such perception suggest awareness of a distinctive relation between both languages, no matter the positive or negative connotations underlying them, as well as the implicit or explicit intentions of proximity or detachment from the Spanish. The latter are obviously more evident during the language issue period but also come into view during the 17th century. As we might expect, the main purpose of those comments seems to be a contrastive one. They usually play a supplementary part in a didactic strategy concerning Portuguese orthography.

3. Final considerations

To sum up, it is only fair to say that, throughout the established time frame, there is a shortage of references to the Spanish language, both on grammaticographic and on orthographic texts. Still, the collected data are neither insufficient nor insignificant. In fact, they provide relevant and meaningful information to understand the evolution of the theoretical framework. It is true that from the 18th century onwards, Spanish no longer holds the role of the prestigious language in Portugal and the diglossic setting is no longer effective. Nevertheless, the corpus demonstrates that both the essential perceptions and the rhetorical strategies associated to the language issue in the 16th century have not been fully overcome up to at least 1848.


Buescu, Maria Leonor Carvalhão. 1983. Babel ou a ruptura do signo. A gramática e os gramáticos portugueses do Século XVI. Lisboa: Imprensa Nacional – Casa da Moeda.

Duarte, Sónia. 2014. La aportación de Nicolau Peixoto para el estudio del español en Portugal. History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences. (last accessed 04/12/2015).

García Martín, Ana M.ª 2005a. “Estereótipos linguísticos e apologia do português: apontamentos sobre um subgénero da historiografia linguística”. Estudios Portugueses: revista de filología portuguesa 5. 25-43.

Ponce de León Romeo, Rogelio. 2005. “Textos para la enseñanza-aprendizaje del español en Portugal durante el siglo XIX: una breve historia”. In: Castillo, M. A. et al. (coord.). Actas del XV Congreso Internacional de ASELE. 675-682. Sevilha: Facultad de Filología de la Universidad de Sevilla.

Stegagno-Picchio Luciana (ed.). 1959. “La questione della lengua in Portogallo”. In João de Barros, Diálogo em louvor da nossa Linguagem, 57-68. Modena, Soc. Tipográfica Modonese.

Vasconcellos, José Leite de. 1929. “A Filologia Portuguesa Esboço Histórico”. In Opúsculos. IV. Filologia. Parte II. Coimbra: Imprensa da Universidade. 839-919.

How to cite this post

Duarte, Sónia. 2015. Spanish language in Portuguese texts (16th to 19th centuries). History and Philosophy of the Language Sciences.

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Posted in 16th century, 17th century, 18th century, 19th century, Article, History, Linguistics, Portugal, Spain
3 comments on “Spanish language in Portuguese texts (16th to 19th centuries)
  1. I find the article very inlightning and interesting, considering what I learned in my Portuguese High Schools: I was told summarily about this bilingualism of the trobadours in the ‘Cantigas de amigo’ and the presence of Spanish in Portugal under the rule of the Filipes, to which no other mention or comment was made or developed. That way, I assumed and maintained the naive image of some sort of diachronic bilingualism; an image I come to realize as inaccurate. One question: How probable is it that, in the given time frame, the shortage of references to Spanish represents perhaps the assumption of common knowledge or given knowledge?

    • Thank you for your contribution, Sílvio. It’s particularly curious that you mention Galician when referring to the Portuguese-Spanish diglossy and to how tradition often dealt with it. Doing so you reproduce one of the historical arguments of the apologetic speech on Portuguese language (“against” Spanish): in fact, in the selected timeframe many texts refer to it arguing that Portuguese preceded Spanish as literary “lingua franca” in the Peninsula.
      As to your question in particular, the data do not offer a straight and simple answer: while some texts explicitly reinforce what you suggest on the assumption of knowledge of the Spanish language, others contradict precisely that some notion, especially from the 18th century onwards, though the denial of an extended knowledge of Spanish can also be found previously and in other kinds of texts. Despite the need to take the words into perspective, take for instance Francisco Manuel de Melo’s Ecco Polytico: ““[…] No ay nacion en España que della [da língua castelhana] tẽga menos conocimiento” (Melo 1645: f. 57 v)”.

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