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  • The Written Record as Witness: Language Shift from Arabic to Romance in the Documents of the Mozarabs of Toledo in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
  • Yasmine Beale-Rivaya

Scholarship on the history of languages in the Iberian Peninsula has mainly focused on one of two things: either the development of the Latin Vulgate into the Romance and, subsequently, the languages and culture of modern Spain and Portugal; or the nature of the Arabic language in al-Andalus and the contributions or loans of this language to Spanish. Such studies tend to treat the languages in the Iberian Peninsula as singular or self-contained entities with well-defined boundaries (Tuten; Penny; Corriente, Árabe andalusí; Corriente, Vicente and Abu-Haida, Manual de dialectología). Cross-linguistic studies mainly approach the language contact in this region from the perspective of incidences of borrowing or influence (Perdiguero; Sayahi). In sum, these scholars have been striving to understand how the [End Page 27] linguistic make-up of medieval Iberia –especially the Arabic language– continues to be pertinent to the languages and cultures of Spain and Portugal today.

Other scholars have moved beyond this unidirectional methodology in order to better grasp the spaces “in between” and the layers involved in the convivencia of the Middle Ages. This is especially true in the case of literary scholars who have turned to Aljamiado and Morisco literature to bridge the gaps between the Arabic, Hebrew and Romance frontier (Jones and Hitchcock; Hitchcock, Mozarabs, The “Kharjas”; Sola-Solé, Sobre árabes, Las jarchas romances; Wacks; Monroe; Barletta; Corriente, Arabe andalusí; Armistead, Silverman and Morley; Hamilton; Stern and Harvey; Peñarroja Torrejón).

Studies on glosses have had a laddering effect on our perception of the past. They have allowed us to observe how the perception of the same events or data sets of the past have changed over time (Dagenais). In spite of all this, the study of language through literature does not alone accurately reflect the all aspects of sociolinguistic variability in medieval Iberia. In contrast, a strong corpus of legal texts speaks to the linguistic shift in the landscape along Andalusi/Christian border areas such as medieval Toledo subsequent to the Christian conquest in 1085. This article strives to contribute to our understanding of the shift from Andalusi-Arabic to Romance and Castilian in medieval Toledo, also known as the Marca Media, through an analysis of the corpus of legal documents of the Arabized Christians, known as Mozarabs.

Twelfth- and thirteenth-century Mozarabic documents of Toledo, mostly written in Arabic with a handful written in Hebrew or Romance, deal with purchases or sales of land parcels, rentals, donations, and releases from slavery. These documents are currently housed in the Archivo Histórico Nacional in Madrid and in the Archivo Catedralicio y Capitulares of the Cathedral of Toledo. Ángel González Palencia edited them in their entirety in his fundamental work, Los mozárabes de Toledo en los siglos XII y XIII.1 [End Page 28]

As a body, the Mozarabic documents of Toledo point to the shift in language use and demography that occurred in this region as a result of the Christian conquest in 1085. The structured language of this collection, often regarded for its historical value, complements the more stylized language found in literary and philosophical treaties in that it illustrates the layers of linguistic and cultural practice in medieval Iberia. Further, because legal documents encompass the activities of many segments of a given population, the collection represents a wider sector of the communities living in Toledo than do the literary and philosophical treaties, which very often trace the practices of a small elite group. The collection from the Marca Media maps the very real linguistic shift of this frontier region.

Through a sustained analysis of this collection and of language within the notarial documents of the Mozarabs, this article traces the “Castilianization” of Toledo.2 Although certainly not the only means of understanding shift or change, this collection provides us with one manner of understanding how immigration affected both the language and the demography of this city. Mozarabic documents are particularly important due to this community’s central role in Toledo’s transition from al-Andalus...


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