¿Se habla «cristiano» en España?

As Tudor history buffs will know, Henry VIII’s first queen, Catherine of Aragon hailed from Spain and therefore spoke fluent Spanish. The Showtime series The Tudors have taken advantage of this to allow some of the characters to communicate in Spanish (with subtitles of course).

In season 4 of course, Queen Catherine is no longer with us, but her daughter Mary (the future Queen Mary I or “Bloody Mary”) is multilingual in at least Spanish and English. In this week’s episode, she welcomes a Spanish courtier in Spanish. He seems caught off guard, but Mary says she speaks “Spanish” because, after all, isn’t she the daughter of Catherine of Aragon? (¡Sí claro!).

Well, the subtitle says “Spanish”, but what Mary actually says in the Spanish dialogue is that she speaks “cristiano” (lit “Christian”). It was the case that in that period of history, Catherine and Mary’s dialect of Spanish (probably Castillian) may have been associated with Christianity in contrast to the Moors who did originally speak Arabic (although many later switched to Mozarabic, a sister language of Spanish spoken in Islamic Iberia). In the same vein Catherine of Aragon’s parents, Ferdinand and Isabella were noted for being able to oust the last of the Moorish (Islamic) rulers, hence the religious distinction was an important part of Mary’s family history.

Oddly though I haven’t been able to find any references to Spanish being called “Cristiano”. What there has been is a long running distinction between the term español “Spanish” vs. castellano, literally “Castillian” to designate the language of Castille in central Spain which then became the basis of standard Spanish. In Iberia though, Spanish has co-existed with other related languages including Catalan, Asuturian, Andalucian and others. Hence the persistence of “castellano” in Spain even though people outside of Spain (particularly in Mexico, the Caribean and Central America) prefer “español”.

This is interesting, but I am still wondering if the dialogue writers really meant “cristiano” or “castellano”. It looks like a little more investigation is in order….

Comments can be sent to ejp10@psu.edu if you have information.

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