c(h)/qu => k and early/mobile spanish/italian writing

Tearing myself away from puffing the undoubted pleasures of wines of the Penedès for a moment, I would point out that mediaeval Romance languages constitute another possible origin of the use of k- instead of c- or qu- by naughty boys and girls. Here’s a brief and highly speculative sequence of events that I hope will be torn to pieces as quickly as possible by Spanish/Catalan philologists, who I meet everywhere except on the web:

  1. Early on, there are quite a lot of examples. The oldest I know of is in what looks to this ignoramus like borderline Asturo-Leonese and is a list of the cheeses dispensed in 980 by the steward of the convent of San Justo y Pastor in Rozuela (León). Here what we now call queso is written keso.
  2. Some usages of this nature remain common, both in this language area and elsewhere, but a whirl through the RAE corpus for the first couple of centuries of the new millennium suggests that handy little things like ke become much less frequent in (I think) all Iberian languages. Why? As a result of an influx of Occitanian oral and written styles during the reconquest? For some reason related to the increasing dominance of Castilian? I don’t know, but here are some nice maps.
  3. Along with substantial inclusions from Mozarabic, Castilian and other peninsular languages acquire lots of often fairly dodgy Latinisms along with the new learning of the Renaissance. This seems to have been bad news for the letter k.
  4. By the time we get to Cervantes it’s more or less all over for our favourite letter.
  5. Although the relationship between written and spoken Castilian is still much simpler than that of all neighbouring languages, it’s only after the War of the Spanish Succession that serious attempts begin to be made to clear things up. Unfortunately, this does not lead to a reduction in the dominance of c and q.
  6. After that, the first references I know of to k-isms here are to anarchist slogans in the 80s and SMSing in the 90s.

My impression is that something similar happened in Italy:

  1. The Capua placito of 960, the first surviving document in vulgar Italian, is krystal-klear in its orthography: Sao ko kelle terre, per kelle fini qui ki contene, trenta anni le possette parte Sancti Benedicti.
  2. Attempts are made in the C15th and 16th to rationalise Tuscan, the dominant dialect. The most interesting example is that of the dramatist Giovanni Giorgio Trissino, inspiration for Cervantes, who suggests (unsuccessfully) to Pope Clement VII in his 1529 Epistola de le lettere nuovamente aggiunte ne la lingua Italiana the adoption of Greek vowels and the replacement of ch- with k- in order better to represent sounds in the vernacular that are poorly distinguished in the written language. The most celebrated example is the publication in 1612 by the Accademici della Crusca of a vocabulary, irregularly updated until 1923 and one of the inspirations for the Spanish RAE.
  3. There seems to be renewed interest in spelling reform from people like Manzoni as Italian nationalism peaks in the C19th, but I do not know what form it takes.
  4. Costa Gavras, L’amerikano, ditto anarchists and mobiles. For more, read this article by Loreto Ganzini: PDF/HTML.

I know of no local evidence linking spelling variants with post-Spartacist passions, nor does there seem to be any likelihood that the folks who paint slogans on walls read much C10th Asturo-Leonese, so I think the most likely source of all those Ks out there is either the American interpretation referred to in the comments of this post, the mobile = cool hypothesis referred to in this one, or the proportionally substantial population of enthusiastically k-spraying Italian anargists.

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  1. I’m convinced by your account of the Spanish use, but but the time interval between the Spartacists and American use is too great for me to be able to accept that one.

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