Unknown Theft of Portuguese Letters
by Anita G.
Spanish at Junior High School 73 in Maspeth,
Queens; Newtown High School in Elmhurst, Queens;
and Queens College, which also happens to be in
Queens, I know a thing or two about Spanish, even
though I chose to be an English major. My
extensive knowledge of Portuguese, on the other
hand, stems from a recent trip to the Iberian
Peninsula, spending one week in Portugal and one
week in Spain, where I deliciously retrieved from
the recesses of my brain enough Spanish to find
my way and get something to eat.
My first clue that something linguistically
nefarious had happened in Portugal surfaced
when I stared at the emergency exit of our tour
bus in Lisbon. Instead of the familiar Spanish
term for exit, salida, I saw saída. What had
happened to the "l"?
I had both a Spanish and Portuguese dictionary
with me. At first I casually compared words. With
increasing alarm as I went through the
alphabet, I learned that the single "l"
in Spanish was often something else in Portuguese,
but, more significantly, the double "l"
had disappeared completely.
Yes, the Spanish llamar had become chamar in
Portuguese, llama was now lhama and llegar,
chegar. lluvia was now chuva. Calle, the word for
street, was rua in Portuguese, similar to the
French rue, which derives from the Vulgar Latin
ruga, but we shall avoid vulgarity in this essay,
How did it happen that Spanish ended up with a
surplus of l's and Portuguese a severe shortage?
Imperialism. Conquest. Theft.
Oh yes, the Portuguese did their share of
circling the globe in sailing ships. Remember
Vasco da Gama, the first guy to find a way to get
to India by water? Portuguese, that's what he was.
The Spaniards were powerful too, sailing all over
the place and settling in South America and
Florida and who knows where else. But their
most historically significant caper was the theft
of Portuguese letters in the middle of the night.
The Spaniards had for unknown reasons developed a
lust for more l's in their words. They even
invented words with double l's, unknown in Latin,
their parent language. In time a leader emerged
for Spain's pro-l movement: Lorenzo Lupo
Llamarosa y Lopez, known as El Lupo, the wolf, by
his followers. And on one fateful night, October
12, 1491, exactly one year before Christopher
Columbus landed in the western hemisphere, El
Lupo and his rag-tag band of lusty, lonely
lemmings crossed the border into Portugal, over
the mountains and to the west.
The raid took place while the Portuguese were
sleeping. Slowly and stealthily, El Lupo and his
band of thieves raided Portuguese homes, stores,
taverns, and museums looking for l's they could
steal and take back in the large bags they had
slung over their shoulders. But their greatest
haul came when they broke into all of Portugal's
printing presses, taking every l but a few, for
El Lupo had a bit of kindness in his soul, and
besides, he didn't want Portugal to wage war with
Spain over a part of the alphabet.
The next day the Portuguese awoke to a new normal,
as did the Spaniards, and neither language has
been the same since that time.
And now for a salida. Or saída.