Spanish guitarist (Shutterstock: see below)
Blog Words : Chris Stewart | 03 August

Is Spanish the most tuneful language?

Chris Stewart argues that Spanish is the most 'musical' language on earth. Do you agree?

Part of the pleasure of living abroad – and especially in hispanophone lands – is getting to know the language. Spanish is particularly pleasing because of its musicality.

In Gerald Brenan’s South from Granada, he describes a character thus: ‘He was one of those Spaniards, and there are not a few, who believe that the more they say a thing, the more true it becomes.’

It’s true; this is a very common trait among the Spanish, right across the social spectrum. They tell you a thing then, when they’ve got to the end of the first version, they move seamlessly into the second one. Then, just as you open your mouth to burble something about already knowing that, they are way into the third and – if you’re lucky – final rendition, though I have known extreme cases go to six, each hot on the heels of the last.

I’ve pondered this phenomenon a lot, and finally come up with some sort of conclusion. This is it: it would be foolish to argue the relative merits of Spanish and English, but Spanish definitely has it over English in the music department. And the Spanish know how to use the music in their language, and revel in it.

It’s not like English where you tend to say a thing and that’s it said. In Spanish even the most banal pronouncement can have the cadence, the rhythm and rhyme of music. And so the speaker, even in the midst of his first improvisation, may hit upon a more felicitous way of delivering the phrase. Thus as soon as the Spaniard reaches the end, they launch into the second, more polished version. A neat inversion here, a change of tense to produce a pleasing alliteration there... and so it continues, like the development of a musical phrase.

If you don’t know what’s going on it can sound just like repetition, but I believe there’s more to it than that.

What complicates the issue is that people – or, more particularly, men – tend to speak all at the same time. You might find three men in a noisy bar talking fast, loud and simultaneously, each honing and polishing his every sentence. You will be wondering how on earth they actually communicate.

Now, the astonishing thing is that, if you were to take each of those three men outside and test them on what each of the others has said, you’d find that all of the information has in fact got through. This seems to me – an Englishman accustomed to waiting my turn to have my say, saying it and then listening to my interlocutor – truly miraculous. I’m constantly reminded that there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

Main image: Flamenco guitar (Shutterstock)

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