The disappearance of the Spanish 'f' sound

Maciamo

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Anyone who speaks Spanish and at least one other Romance language will probably have noticed that many f sounds have disappeared entirely in Spanish, usually at the beginning of words. This atavistic 'f' has been replaced by a silent 'h', which at one point during the Middle Ages might have been pronounced. I think that this shift occurred because sounds in Spanish are voiced more toward the back of the mouth, or even in the throat with the guttural 'j' and 'g' (as in gente or girar), and the f sound is a labiodental fricative voiced at the tip of the mouth. That may also be why the 'v' sound mutated into a non-fricative 'b' sound in Spanish.

I have made a table with all the words I could think of where the Latin 'f' became a silent 'h' in Spanish. Feel free to suggest more. I only listed words with the same etymology. Translations that do not share the same root are marked by a dash.

SpanishPortugueseItalianFrench
hacerfazerfarefaire
hambrefomefamefaim
hambrunafomefamefamine
harinafarinhafarinafarine
hazfeixefasciofaisceau
hecesfezesfeci-
hechofeitofattofait
hechurafeitofatturafacture/fabrication
hendir/henderfendafenderefendre
henificarfeno-faner
henofenofienofouin
heridaferidaferita-
herirferirferire-
herreroferreiroferreroforgeron
hierroferroferrofer
hígadofígadofegatofoie
higofigoficofigue
hijofilhofigliofils
hilaturafiadurafilaturafilature
hilofiofilofil
hinojofunchofinocchiofenouil
hogar-focolarefoyer
hojafolhafogliafeuille
hollar--fouler
hondafundafiondafronde
hondoprofundoprofondoprofond
hongofungofungo-
horca/horcillaforcadoforcafourche
hornofornofornofour
huirfugirfuggirefuir
humofumaçafumofumée
hundirafundaraffondare-
hurgón-furgonefourgon
hurtofurtofurto-
husofusofusofuseau
rehusarrecusarrifiutarerefuser
 
According to what I have read, the disappearance of the initial "F" in Spanish is due to the influence of Basque on the eastern part of the incipient Castilian kingdom. There was an analogous influence of Basque in the Gascon dialect: for example, "son" is said "Hilh" (Spanish "Hijo").
 
According to what I have read, the disappearance of the initial "F" in Spanish is due to the influence of Basque on the eastern part of the incipient Castilian kingdom. There was an analogous influence of Basque in the Gascon dialect: for example, "son" is said "Hilh" (Spanish "Hijo").

I wonder why Basque would have influenced the pronunciation of a Romance language. Besides, Castillan is the only one affected. All other languages and dialects in Iberia kept the 'f'. For example the word flour is:

- Farina in Aragonese and Catalan
- Fariña in Asturian and Galician.

Iron is :

- Ferro in Catalan and Galician
- Fierro in Aragonese and Asturian
 
I wonder why Basque would have influenced the pronunciation of a Romance language. Besides, Castillan is the only one affected. All other languages and dialects in Iberia kept the 'f'. For example the word flour is:

- Farina in Aragonese and Catalan
- Fariña in Asturian and Galician.

Iron is :

- Ferro in Catalan and Galician
- Fierro in Aragonese and Asturian

catalan is link via the medieval troubadours that roamed from Catalan , occitan france and north Italy as far as Venice they retained a language that was "commercial" for the time.................Venice and Catalans even share the say word for a drinking glass ...................I am not surprised that Catalan, via the Kingdom of Aragon retained the f
 
The change of "F" for "H" in the Gascon dialect is even more marked than in Spanish. This is an extract from Wikipedia ("Gascon Dialect"):

" Basque substrate
The language spoken in Gascony before Roman rule was part of the Basque dialectal continuum (see Aquitanian language); the fact that the word 'Gascon' comes from the Latin root vasco/vasconem, which is the same root that gives us 'Basque', implies that the speakers identified themselves at some point as Basque. There is a proven Basque substrate in the development of Gascon.[7] This explains some of the major differences that exist between Gascon and other Occitan dialects.

A typically Gascon feature that may arise from this substrate is the change from "f" to "h"[citation needed]. Where a word originally began with [f] in Latin, such as festa 'party/feast', this sound was weakened to aspirated [h] and then, in some areas, lost altogether; according to the substrate theory, this is due to the Basque dialects' lack of an equivalent /f/ phoneme, causing Gascon hèsta [ˈhɛsto] or [ˈɛsto]. A similar change took place in Spanish. Thus, Latin facere gives Spanish hacer ([aˈθer]) (or, in some parts of southwestern Andalusia, [haˈsɛɾ]).["


Several words that in Spanish keep the initial "F" (example: flor /flower), change to "H" in Gascon (hlor).
 
I wonder why Basque would have influenced the pronunciation of a Romance language. Besides, Castillan is the only one affected. All other languages and dialects in Iberia kept the f

That is because Castille has her origins in the regions of Burgos/Cantabria/La Rioja. Which border the Basque Country.

While Galicia and Catalonia are in the Western and eastern ends of the northern part of the Iberian Peninsula.

In fact, the Spanish language has more Basque heritage. Our language is pronounced with stronger sounds. A strong /k/, /j/, /r/. The r and k are because of the Basques. And the j the Arabs.

No other European language has that.
 
NO, 'j' /X/ in Castillan is not of Arabic origin, nor Berberic. This evolution is on the way in southern Poitevin/Charentese dialects for "French" 'ch' (between [sh] and Germanic ichlaut /ç/,and 'j' : aspired /h/, pops who have I think some far and pre-Chalco ties with Gascons and Basques, maybe better, with Neolithic Iberics.
Concerning Gascon-Castillan 'h', it was pronouned, strongly or lousely aspirated in some Romance dialects of Iberia.

'h' was aspirated in Spanish dialects in: the most of Andalusia, southern Castilla, Cantabricas - between aspiration and fading between western Euskadi and eastern Cantabricas, and in southeastern Castilla (Nueva) and northwestern Murcia. the Spanish dialects question has been disturbed by the Reconquista when northern Spaniards recovered southern lands. its seems 'h' has faded out first in the regions where 'f' turned into 'h' before the other regions: in northern Castilla (Vieja) it is disappeared almost eveywhere. It seems to me it held better in regions where it was "learned" and considered as a different phoneme than 'f' ?
&: long lasting billinguism is not needed for a substratum to impose some of its phonetical habits (look at Breton dialects, French dialects and elsewhere too).
&: for 'k' I'm not sure of the pertinence of the observation -
Basques have also a tendancies to put a vowel before 'r-' in beginning of words, what is found too in gascon.
 
I'm sorry for the coforumers who gave me a up-thumb, because I mistake for french 'ch' in this poitevin: not between [sh] and [ç], BUT between [sh] and kind of soft achlaut [x]; sorry again; poitevin [ç] is for palatalized 'k' = [tch] in other Oil dialects (ex Sth-Poitevin [çör] for French 'coeur' [kör], dialects [tchör]. My windy head!
 
So hambre is cognate with English famine, but hard to see without the French/Italian/Portuguese words.

And hongo with fungus.

This table would have helped me a lot in Spanish class :)
 
The fall of initial 'f' also occurs in other regions like the more archaic interior varieties of Sardinian and Calabrian.
In the area of the Gascon and old basque, the 'f' doesn't exist in any position of the words. From there, this phenomenon of the initial 'f' radiates to Eastern Asturian language; Cantabrian language; and since the IX century, to the Castilian area bordering the Basque language (La Rioja, north of Burgos, Cantabria) from which this pronunciation spread and imposed itself on the other Castilian dialects. Another neighboring romance, the Aragonese, has some phonetics similar to Basque but not in the case of the f sound.
This is part of the normally non-Latin nor European phonetic features with variable occurrence in the Spain, Portugal,south of France and parts of Italy:
On one side we have features that have a clear epicenter in the Basque area and that spread to neighboring areas, affecting Castilian, Gascon, Navarro-Aragonese and, in part, the western dialect of Catalan.
On the other hand, we have a series of features that extend from Aquitania along the Cantabrian coast to Galicia and Portugal. Sometimes it has been considered that they would have originated in a previously unknown substratum that would have influenced the entire area, including Basque. This substratum would supposedly explain a series of common phonetic coincidences between Galician-Portuguese and Basque-Aquitanian, such as the drop of intervocalic /n/ and the palatalization of the original diphthong /au/, as well as the remains of a vigesimal account system in Zamora, Cantabria and Portugal (the only existing system in Basque).
Besides the fall of initial 'f' ,the other phonetic features are:
1) To have only five vowels. This is considered to be a very common scheme and that by chance the diphthongizations in 'ie' and 'ue' would have led to a scheme that coincides with Basque, or on the contrary, because the speakers spoke distinguishing only the basque five vowels
2) Betacism: Neutralization of the labial fricative and plosive in favor of the latter (bilabial plosive /b/). It is a trait that is found in Castilian, Astur-Leonese, Gascon and central Occitan, Aragonese, Catalan from Catalonia and the north of the Valencian Community, Galician and northern dialects of Portuguese, and in Sardinian. There is confusion between /b/ and /v/ also in French, Italian and Portuguese, but only in intervocalic position and merging into /v/; while in Spanish the confusion is towards /b/ and occurs in all positions. But betacism is detected in Aragonese, Asturian, Galician and in dialects of Catalan. Dámaso Alonso prefers to understand the phenomenon not as Basque, but as a hypothetical substrate from the north of Spain, while Martinet considers it to be of Basque origin and that later Castilian would have spread this trait.
3) Loss of voiced sibilants that become deafened and become confused with deaf ones. As Martinet observed, this simplification turns the complicated sibilant system of Old Castilian into one similar to that of Basque. This trait also differentiates Galician from Portuguese. However, this readjustment of the sibilants is late and did not occur until the 16th century, so it could be independent of the influence of Basque.
4) Possible appearance of a prosthetic vowel before initial /r/. This phenomenon is clearly documented in Gascon and Old Castilian (thus 'arredondo' for 'redondo'), although it has left some traces in the current one (arrepentirse Cast. Ant. 'repentirse' Lat. 'repaenitere'; 'arruga' Lat. 'ruga). Again, the epenthesis also occurs in Italian, so the Basque influence would not be the only possibility.
5) Existence of an apicoalveolar /s/ as opposed to a dentoalveolar or dental phoneme /s̺/, /θ/. However, the former is also found in several Northern Italian Romance dialects, which would rule out Basque influence.
Other phenomena are unclear:
6) The reinforcement of the r- in initial position, where only the pronunciation of multiple vibrant is allowed, could be related to the absence of initial r- in Basque. This phenomenon could be related to that of Catalan and Astur-Leonese, where a parallel reinforcement of /l/ is even detected (Lat. 'luna' cat. and Ast. lluna; Lat. 'lupus' cat. 'llop', Ast. llobu), but it is difficult to explain it as a Basque influence when Basque precisely avoids these beginnings by adding a prothetic vowel.
7) The timbre of the Spanish and galician /s/ and its opposition to the phoneme /θ/ (zeta), distinction that we could also link to Basque. As in Basque, the /s/ phoneme of non-seseante Spanish is usually apicoalveolar, articulated with the tip of the tongue towards the alveoli and a concave lingual position. Spanish not only shares the same type of /s/ with Basque, but also (in non-seseant areas) Castilian distinguishes /s/ from an interdental phoneme /θ/ (zeta) so that "coser" sounds different from "cocer". " and "abrasar" different from "abrazar".
Sustrato vasco en lenguas romances, https://es.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sustrato_vasco_en_lenguas_romances
 
You also have falconem > halcón, vs. French faucon, among many others.

The shift of initial 'f' to 'h' was gradual but was completed by Late Medieval Spanish, around the early 1400s from what I recall. It didn't go straight from a full 'f' as we know it to an unpronounced 'h', though, rather taking several intermediate stages that weren't really documented in text form.

There are exceptions, however, such as 'fuego' < 'focus' and 'febrero' < 'februarius' (though forms 'huego' and 'hebrero' were apparently attested and modified under semi-learned influence).

There are also words, like 'hombre', in which the initial silent 'h' had nothing to do with an 'f' was reintroduced into written form from an earlier form 'omne/ombre', from Latin 'hominem', as a sort of attempt at correcting it with Latin influence.
 
Interesting post, jose luis.Some precisions:
there is not confusion of -b- and -v- in French , even in intervocalic place: Oil French tends towards lenition of -p- and -b- leading to -v- or disparition at intervocalic; the only pertinent thing is in western Occitan and northern Corsica the confusion b-/v- at the initial, if I rely on what I read.
Maybe there were more than a substratum at play; and sometimes, a substratum center produces isoglosses than don't always reach the same surface of propagation;
Concerning supposed unrelated phonetic phenomeon, I recall that some trends keep producing effects late in time. Absolute dating of this phenomenons is not always a good criterium. (I think in the w- >> gw- one concerning ancient Celtic or rather pre-Celtic speaking regions which concerned western Germanic or Arabic words in w- which gave gw- (at first at least) in Iberia, France, Britain at the High-M-A / M-A periods (Arabic + Germanic to Spanish/Portuguese, Germanic words to French, Welsh, Cornish. In North these shifts didn't occur in Germanic influenced regions like High-Normandy/Picardy/Wallonia/Lorraine.
In French it isn't without weight: we see that the most of Gaulish words found in the language had been passed into Latin and learn through Latin (>> v-) and not directly inherited from Gaulish (w-).
 
Previous list slightly changed:
.
Spanish Portuguese Italian French
haba fava fava fève
hacer fazer fare faire
hada fada fata fée
halcon falcão falco faucon
hambre fome fame faim
harina farinha farina farine
haz feixe fascio faisceau
hecho feito fatto fait
helecho feto felce fougere
hembra fêmea femmina femelle
hender fender fendere fendre
herrero ferreiro fabro forgeron
hiel fel fiele fiel
hierro ferro ferro fer
hígado fígado fegato foie
higo figo fico figue
hijo filho figlio fils
hilatura fiadura filatura filature
hilo fio filo fil
hinojo funcho finocchio fenouil
hoguera fogueira falò feu
hoja folha foglia feuille
honda funda fionda fronde
hongo fungo fungo fonge
horadar furar forare forer
horca forca forca force
hormiga formiga formica fourmi
horno forno forno four
horqilla forqueta forchetta fourchette
hoz foice falce faucille
huir fugir fuggire fuir
humo fumo fumo fumée
.
The complete list of Spanish words that have lost the 'f' are practically all Spanish words starting with 'h', if we exclude words that already started with 'h' in their original language (Latin or other languages). In Spanish dictionaries, the chapter of the letter 'f' has very few pages, practically there are only neologisms; words that entered Spanish by erudite or imported from other languages, mainly nouns, but also some verbs, (pay attention to neologisms, the latin 'ferrum' is hierro in Spanish, so there is no hierrovia or hierroviario in Spanish, but ferrovía and ferroviario).
.
Finally, my monkeynesses:
Continuing to contextualize the issue of the 'f' sound in Spanish:
It is speculated that this exchange of 'f' for 'h' and 'v' for 'b' in the languages of Iberia and remote areas of Sardinia has its origin in a common linguistic substrate. Due to this phenomenon does not occur completely in all intermediate territories and the isolation and distance between Iberia and Sardinia, and even more so, of their remote areas, it can also be speculated that the origin of this phenomenon is much deeper because when a person with the dentition of a hunter-gatherer tries to pronounce the sound 'f', the sound that comes out tends to be 'h' and when try to pronounce 'v' it tends to come out 'b' (you can try to imitate that) Speech adapts to differences in dentition within and across populations, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-020-80190-8 .
At least, the article "Population Genomics of Stone Age Eurasia" reported Iberian western Cardial farmers estimated with 27% – 43% hunter-gatherer ancestry, which goes in the sense of this hunter-gatherer origin of the substitution in Iberia, of the 'f' for the 'h' and the 'b' for the 'v'.
 
it can also be speculated that the origin of this phenomenon is much deeper because when a person with the dentition of a hunter-gatherer tries to pronounce the sound 'f', the sound that comes out tends to be 'h' and when try to pronounce 'v' it tends to come out 'b' (you can try to imitate that)

For anyone else wondering how to imitate that:

n17n2MG.png

1
 
A phenomenon which is rarely taken in account in phonetic evolutions of dialects and standards is that whatever the different results of evolution, language evolved quicker and in a"more natural" way when it is not academically learned and written. This can play in bilinguism depending on the dates of learning of a new (dominant) language with a link to intensity of scholarisation; the learners changing language rather lately in a scholarised standardised system can reproduce correctly sounds they would have expelled in their native language.
Thanks to Jose Luis and AnthrogenicaMember - Wiki is not always perfect but this abstract is interesting and seems serious.
 
In the Iberian Peninsula, there are some inscriptions from the time of the Roman Empire, in local languages using the Latin alphabet, but as a general rule, the populations of peninsular origin were very far from the literate because literate belonged to the administrative and erudite elite (a tiny minority in the crowds of the Empire), as such, writing must have had little influence in the process of formation of the Latin vernaculars on the Iberian peninsula.

People of European origin, laugh a lot at the exchanges of sounds with which Asians (Japanese, Koreans, Chinese ...) pronounce English but for Asians it is an effort because if a sound does not exist in a language, its speakers can hardly pronounce it and distinguish it in adulthood. When learning Latin, this must have been what happened to the peninsular populations that didn't have the sounds of F and V.
 

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