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I am curious about the history of the word "al". For example, was there a time when "a el" was the proper usage and "al" came later (presumably because of the slurring of speech)?

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up vote 9 down vote accepted

From this page (emphasis mine):

Las contracciones al y del aparecen en la lengua escrita siglos antes de que existiera la Real Academia, como lo atestiguan numerosos documentos de entre los siglos X y XVIII.

(...)

Los académicos no hicieron sino recoger este uso, de manera que en la primera edición del Diccionario de Autoridades, en 1726, aparece consignada al y en su segunda edición, en 1732, del, registrándose ambas en todas las ediciones sucesivas del Diccionario académico, hasta nuestros días.

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muchas gracias! –  Eric Nov 20 '11 at 4:41
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