The letter Ñ

“Ñ” is an alphabet of modern Latin origin pronounced as “enye”. To write this, a squiggle is put on top of the letter n. The squiggle is called tilde or virgulilla in Spanish.

The symbol tilde (˜) was used by scribes to omit the second letter of a double letter word. For example, in Old Spanish, the word “anno” meaning “year” was shortened to “año” by using the tilde or virgulilla. It was a form of shorthand on the second letter to make the scribes’ works easier and faster.

Tilde is also a diacritic mark placed to indicate that the letter is pronounced in a different way. More often than not, it requires nasalization. Ñ stands alone as a letter. It represents a palatal-nasal sound. You can observe this way of pronouncing with the Portuguese.

Ñ is typed in a keyboard by pressing “Alt+0209”. The small letter “ñ” on the other hand is typed with “Alt+0241”.

The Origin of the letter

Ñ was included in the Spanish alphabet in the 18th century. The Spanish has been using the letter in their language like in the words jalapeño, piñata and compañero. During the Spanish colonization in the Philippines, we also adapted to their language. We even patterned many of the words in the Filipino language from the Spanish slang. This is evident in the Tagalog and Visayan dialects. Perhaps this is one of the effects of their 300-year settlement in the Philippines from 15th to 18th century.

Ñ in the Filipino Language

In the 1930s, language writer and former senator Lope K. Santos devised the Filipino alphabet. It initially consists of 20 letters. This was taught in schools and commonly known as the “abakada”. However due to changes in time and the need to adapt, the Department of Education, Culture and Sports (DECS) revised the alphabet in 1976. It now consists of 28 letters. Eight more letters were added – c, ch, f, j, ll, ñ, q, rr, v, x, z. this was later declared as the Modern Filipino Alphabet. Ñ is the 16th letter in the modern alphabet.

Example of Filipino words loaned from the Spanish language are señor, señorita, doña, Santo Niño, piñata, el niño, and la niña.

Filipinos also incorporated the letter in their names. As part of the Spanish influence, some Filipino first names and surnames have the letter “ñ”. Some of the common surnames are Ibañez, Muñoz, Nuñez, Oñate and Zuñiga.


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