The origin and history of the letter ñ are as interesting as its future. Let’s clear up some doubts about this characteristic letter in the Spanish language.
What is the name of the hat on the letter ñ?
The line, usually wavy, that appears over the letter ñ is called an accent or tilde.
How and when did the letter ñ emerge?
The letter ñ didn’t exist in Latin. This letter emerged at the same time as the Romance languages, such as French, Italian or Spanish, during the Middle Ages. The ñ is a nasal palatal sound (pronounced with the tongue resting on the palate and air coming out the nose) that didn’t have a corresponding letter in the Latin alphabet. That’s why it was necessary to create a way to write the sound. The copyists or scribes in that period, mostly monks, were in charge of inventing a character for this sound. There were several forms, but the one that triumphed and remained rooted in our ABCs, due to a spelling reform done by King Alfonso X the Wise, was to write an ‘n’ and put an accent on it. Its use extended, and in 1492 it appeared in the first Spanish grammar by Antonio Nebrija.
Does the letter ñ exist in other languages?
Each Romance language, or its scribes, chose a graphic form for this sound. Spanish and Galician used the ñ (España), Italian and French, the gn (Espagne), Portuguese, the nh (Espanha) and Catalan, the ny (Espanya).
Why does the ñ exist in the Amerindian languages?
Many Amerindian languages (Mixtec, Zapotec, Otomi, Quechua, Mapudungun, Aymara or Guarani) also have the letter ñ. The reason for this usage is because these indigenous languages, although they had no writing of any kind, already had this sound in their vocabulary. When the Spaniards arrived on the continent, the Amerindians took the ñ from Spanish to write in their own language. This happened because the writing systems for these languages were established by Spanish linguists.
What about the ñ on the Internet?
To create the system for Internet domains, the most abridged set of letters existing was used. And the ñ was left out, because the creators were English-speakers. So we can have the problem of not finding a website or not being able to enter our email password because the ñ doesn’t exist on the Internet. A number of representatives of Spanish-speaking culture have denounced this situation and called for the use of the ñ in any digital field. Since 2007, the ñ can be included in addresses located in Spain. But this use should be extended internationally, as the letter belongs to a language spoken by 500 million people.
The ñ is a highly appreciated symbol of the Hispanic world. As we love to share our culture, we hope this information has helped you to value and feel closer to the Spanish language. If you have any other questions, please contact us.
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