I'm writing a book about a sailor in the Spanish Armada. The story begins in 1588, by which time he is about 20 years old, and continues into the early years of the 17th century. As it is in a sort of "flash-back diary" form, I want the language to be as authentic as possible.

For example, didn't they use the future subjunctive, spell with an X, and use instead of ? Are there any other differences along these lines I should know about conjugations, pronouns, or spelling in the 16th century?

  • 3
    Check this existing question for some interesting content
    – Diego
    Jan 26 '17 at 20:03
  • 3
    Welcome to Spanish Language! This is indeed a very interesting question, but it may be too broad as there could be many differences (big or small) to be covered. Maybe you only want the main ones, but bear in mind that even so it can be difficult to answer. If that is the case, I would recommend to narrow the question so we can focus in the key aspects that are more important for your book. You can also expect answers that teach you how to get your own answer, more that giving an answer directly.
    – Charlie
    Jan 27 '17 at 7:41

I personally think that the best thing you can do to get yourself ready to write as a genuine beginning-of-the-17st-century person is to read the first edition of El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha, first published in 1605. Just the original title gives you a hint of what you can expect:

El ingenioso hidalgo don Qvixote de la Mancha.

Yes, it uses X as the nowadays J. And it uses V as the nowadays U and vice versa (example: nouenta marauedis) as they were considered variations of the same letter. Just have a look at the first pages (Tassa and El rey) and you will discover more:

  • The use of the Ç as the nowadays Z (examples: conde de Benalcaçar, onças, lança).
  • The use of the double S in some words (examples: lector carissimo, sossiego).
  • The use of the ~ not only in the Ñ to make abbreviations, usually omitting a following N (examples: se hace menciõ, lleno de pẽsamiẽtos varios).
  • The use of Y in some cases instead of I (examples: seyscientos, traygais, vereys).
  • The use of the ZE and ZI syllables instead of CE, CI (examples: hazerlos, dezia).
  • The lack of some H's (examples: ay instead of hay, aora instead of ahora, although agora was also used in this case).

Apart from that, a lot of different words were used. You can check the Covarrubias dictionary (1611) to see if some word was of use in the first years of the XVII century. Tip: go to the NTLLE, look up a word and see if an entry titled "Covarrubias" appear.

As for the grammar, yes, the future subjuntive was way more used than today:

[...] y la otra tercia parte, para el juez que lo sentenciare.

Other aspects:

  • The vos (second person plural) pronoun was used instead of the nowadays usted.
  • The second person plural termination of verbs was still sometime -des instead of -eis, but that form was disappearing at the time: huuieredes, hallaredes, trataredes.
  • Pronouns suffixed to verbs: llenosele instead of se le llenó.
  • Lacks almost all the nowadays tildes.

I could carry on and on, but I really think you should check the book for yourself and then start asking questions about the words, forms and constructions you do not understand, one at a time. That would get you the best documentation for your book and will bring very interesting questions about the history of the Spanish language to this site.

Good luck!

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