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The Glosses

Spanish Manuscripts

Medieval Spanish Manuscripts. During the middle Ages, glosses (or annotations) were used to clarify texts written in Latin.

Glosses, or annotations, are explanations about a text that are written in the margins or between lines and clarify the meaning of the text or translate it to another language. Annotations may vary in length, from a single word to a whole paragraph that translates or explains the original text.

During the middle Ages, glosses were used to clarify texts written in Latin. Many scribes wrote annotations giving relevant translations to the Latin texts that ended up in their hands. With the emergence of the Romance languages, Latin was a language only used in texts. The clearest evidence of this is found in the Reichenau Glosses which explain The Vulgate, a 4th century Latin translation of the Bible. Many of these glosses have permitted scholars to study the Romance languages that were appearing in Europe with roots in vulgar Latin, as well as other languages such as Irish or old English.

For Spanish speakers, glosses have a special importance. In 1911, a scholar of Moorish architecture dedicated himself to transcribing around 1,000 glosses from the 6th Century that he had found in the library of the Moorish-style San Millán de la Cogolla Monastery in the La Rioja Autonomous Region of Spain. The Emilianus glosses, as they are known as today, were then sent to the Castilian Spanish scholar Ramón Menéndez Pidal. It was then that they realized the historical importance that the Emilianus glosses held. Within the annotations, one could see that the Latin words were already evolving into what would become different Romance Languages.

It was thought that the glosses were written in what was a primitive form of Castilian Spanish, although today most linguists agree that they were actually written in Navarro-Arogonese in the La Rioja dialect.

Around the same period of time other glosses were found in the Santo Domingo de Silos Monastery in the Burgos province. Known as the Silos Glosses, they consist of 368 handwritten annotations.

According to some linguists both glosses were made by the same scribe, although the Silos Glosses were made after the Emilianus glosses. Ruiz Asencio, a linguist who also believes that the glosses were produced by the same scribe, provided evidence to support this by demonstrating that the system of abbreviations used was the same in both cases.

The importance of these glosses is that they are written in a language that is not Latin. They prove that the monks, who were the intellectuals of the period, already were having a difficult time understanding some of the Latin grammatical structures, which leads scholars to believe that the commoners had already forgotten Latin completely.

Additionally, as pointed out by Ramón Menéndez Pidal, the scribe gives us a view of the real language spoken in the La Rioja zone which at the time was a sort of crossroads, due to its location on the Way of Saint James pilgrimage route between the regions of Navarra, Aragon, Basque Country and Castile, where languages and people mixed together. The La Rioja Dialect, in turn, incorporated terms from all the surrounding dialects.