Early Modern Spanish

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Early Modern Spanish
Native to Spain
Era 15th–17th century; continues as a liturgical language but with a modernized pronunciation[citation needed]
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
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Early Modern Spanish (also called classical Spanish or Golden Age Spanish, especially in literary contexts) is the variant of Spanish used between the end of the fifteenth century and the end of the seventeenth century, marked by a series of phonological and grammatical changes that transformed Old Spanish into Modern Spanish.

Notable changes from Old Spanish to Early Modern Spanish include: (1) a readjustment of the sibilants (including their devoicing and changes in their place of articulation), (2) the phonemic merger known as yeísmo, (3) the rise of new second-person pronouns, (4) the emergence of the "se lo" construction for the sequence of third-person indirect and direct object pronouns, and (5) new restrictions on the order of clitic pronouns.

Early Modern Spanish corresponds to the period of Spanish colonization of the Americas, and thus it forms the historical basis of all varieties of New World Spanish. Meanwhile, Judaeo-Spanish preserves some archaisms of Old Spanish that disappeared from the rest of the variants, such as the presence of voiced sibilants and the maintenance of the phonemes /ʃ/ and /ʒ/.


From the late 16th century to the mid-17th century, the voiced sibilants /z̻/, /z̺/, /ʒ/ lost their voicing and merged with their respective voiceless counterparts—laminal //, apical //, and palatal /ʃ/—resulting in the phonemic inventory shown below:

Labial Alveolar Palatal Velar Glottal
laminal apical
Obstruent voiceless p t k
voiced b d ɡ
Voiceless fricative f ʃ (h)
Nasal m n ɲ
Tap ɾ
Trill r
Approximant lateral l ʎ
central ʝ
  • The phoneme /h/ (from Old Spanish initial /f/) probably was marginal by the 17th century; but even in the 20th century, it existed in some varieties of eastern Andalusia and in areas of Extremadura. In other dialects, [h] exists today as a result of the debuccalization of /s/ or /x/ (commonly termed "aspiration" in Hispanic linguistics), but it does not constitute an independent phoneme in those dialects.[clarification needed]
  • In the Americas, the Canary Islands, and almost all of Andalusia, the apical /s̺/ merged with laminal /s̻/ (so the resulting phoneme is represented simply as /s/). In central and northern Spain, the laminal sibilant /s̻/ shifted to /θ/, while the apicoalveolar sibilant /s̺/ was preserved without change; thus, it can be represented phonemically simply as /s/).[1] Some authors[which?] use the transcription /s̪/ for /s̻/ and/or /s̠/ for /s̺/.
  • Many dialects have lost the distinction between the phonemes /ʎ/ and /ʝ/ in a merger, called yeísmo. Non-yeísta dialects exist both in the Iberian Peninsula and in South America, mainly in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru.


  • A readjustment of the second-person pronouns differentiates Modern Spanish from Old Spanish. To eliminate the ambiguity of the form vos, which served for both second-person singular formal and second-person plural, two alternative forms were created:
    • The form usted (< vuesarced < vuestra merced, 'your grace') as a form of respect in the second person singular.
    • The form vosotros (< vos otros) as a usual form of second person plural. In parts of Andalusia, in the Canary Islands, and in the Americas, however, the form did not take hold, and the form ustedes came to be used for both formal and informal second person plural.[2]
  • Due to the loss of the phoneme /ʒ/[citation needed], the medieval forms gelo, gela, gelos, gelas (consisting of an indirect object in sequence with a direct object), were reinterpreted as se lo, se la, se los, se las, as in: digelo 'I gave it to him/her' > Early Modern Spanish díselo > Modern Spanish se lo di.
  • In Early Modern Spanish, clitic pronouns were still often suffixed to a finite verb form; but they were beginning to alternate with preverbal forms, as they do in Modern Spanish: enfermóse and murióse > se enfermó and se murió.


  1. ^ J. I. Hualde, 2005, p. 153-8
  2. ^ Jonge, Bob de (2005). "El desarrollo de las variantes de vuestra merced a usted". Estudios de Lingüística del Español (in Spanish). 22. sec. 7.3. ISSN 1139-8736. 


  • Alvar, Manuel (director), Manual de dialectología hispánica. El Español de España, Ariel Lingüística, Barcelona, 1996 and 2007.
  • Cano, Rafael (coord.): Historia de la lengua española, Ariel Lingüística, Barcelona, 2005.
  • Hualde, José Ignacio (2005): The sounds of Spanish, Cambridge University Press, 2005.
  • Penny, Ralph (1993): Gramática histórica del español, Ariel, Barcelona, ISBN 84-344-8265-7.