The history of the Spanish language
Spanish (español) or Castilian (Castellano) is a Romanic language and, in terms of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese the most widely spoken language in the world. For more than 406 million people, Spanish is their mother tongue, while more than 180 million speak Spanish as a second language. The historical origin of the language lies in Spain, but most speakers can now be found in Latin America.
Spanish descends from vulgar Latin, the language of the Romans, who ruled the Iberian Peninsula for 700 years. Under the influence of Keltiberian, Basque, Visigothic, and later Arabic, the language developed from Latin. Striking differences are the disappearance of the Latin names, the softened consonants (vita became Vida), and the diphthongation of short vowels (terra became Tierra).
Political fragmentation on the Iberian Peninsula and its different substrates led to the emergence of several related languages such as Portuguese and Galician, which still exist today, and Mozarabic, the Spanish related language spoken by Spanish Christians living in Muslim territory.
Catalan did not develop from Spanish but originated separately from vulgar Latin. Because Spanish was originally the language of Castile, the language in Spain itself is usually referred to as ‘Castilian’ (Castellano). The first texts in Spanish date from the 9th century. The Cantar de Mio Cid, from the 12th century, is one of the oldest long texts in Spanish.
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The first dictionary was written in 1492, the year in which Christopher Columbus discovered America, which marked the beginning of the spread of Spanish as a world language. (The countries that are Spanish-speaking today are collectively called the Hispanidad). Since then, pronunciation and vocabulary have developed differently in the old (Spain) and the new world (Latin/South America). In the same year, the Jews were expelled from Spain, so that Jewish Spanish, better known as Ladino, developed into a third variant.
In the seventeenth century, the language underwent a number of sound shifts that largely ignored Latin American Spanish and Ladino. That is why Latin American is closer to the Spanish of 1492 than it is today. In 1713 the Real Academia Española was founded, promoting the unity of the language within Spain. The current standard language is largely based on the dialect of the Toledo area.
In Spain, the other languages were banned in 1714 with the rise of the dynasty of the House of Bourbon and successive despots more or less actively persecuted them at various periods, gradually losing their speakers. The last in that line was the dictator Francisco Franco (himself a Galician), who burned down entire foreign-language libraries and ordered the Guardia Civil to pay fines for anyone who spoke differently. Since the restoration of democracy in 1975, the other Spanish languages have regained their official constitutional status and have clearly been revived.
In Spain itself, in addition to the regional variants of Spanish, other Romance languages are spoken: Galician, Catalan, Valencian, Astur-Leonese, Aragonese, and Aranes. Due to the presence of these regional languages within the Spanish state borders, the name ‘Spanish’ or español for the language is nowadays considered politically incorrect and is spoken in the country of ‘Castilian’. Basque, which is spoken in a small part of northern Spain, is not a Romanesque, but an Indo-European language.
Spanish is an official language in the following countries. Not all inhabitants declared by country have Spanish as their mother tongue (2011 figures):
– Mexico: 114.8 million
– Colombia: 46.9 million
– Spain: 46,3 million
– Argentina: 40.8 million
– Peru: 29.4 million
– Venezuela: 29,3 million
– Chile: 17.3 million
– Guatemala: 14.8 million
– Ecuador: 14.7 million
– Cuba: 11.3 million
– Bolivia: 10.1 million
– Dominican Republic: 10.1 million
– Honduras: 7.8 million
– Paraguay: 6.6 million
– El Salvador: 6.2 million
– Nicaragua: 5.9 million
– Costa Rica: 4.7 million
– Puerto Rico (dependent territory of the United States): 3.7 million
– Uruguay: 3.4 million
– Panama: 3.6 million
– Equatorial Guinea (only African country that is Spanish-speaking): 0.7 million
Most of the countries mentioned above are monolingual, with only Spanish as the official language. Exceptions are Bolivia (with Quechua and Aymara also official), Equatorial Guinea (French), Paraguay (Guaraní), Peru (Quechua and Aymara), and Spain itself (Catalan, Galician, Basque, Aragonese, Asturian, and Aranesian). In other countries, there are sometimes large communities that use languages other than Spanish as mother tongues or colloquial languages (examples: several Indian languages in Mexico and Guarani and Quechua in Argentina).
In the United States, Spanish has more than 40 million speakers. Most of these speakers are immigrants, but there is also a part that descends from the Spanish-Mexican population that lived in the southwest of the United States when it was conquered by the Americans. In Puerto Rico, Spanish is recognized as an official language and the constitution of New Mexico states that the state is bilingual through the use of English and Spanish.
Spanish is also spoken by significant communities in Brazil, Belize, Guyana, the Philippines, Morocco, Western Sahara, and the Netherlands Antilles. In none of these countries and territories is Spanish official. Spanish is also not recognized in Andorra and Gibraltar, which border Spain. Catalan and English are the official languages there.