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Spanish Language & History
The history of the Spanish language and the origin of the dialects of Spain begin with the linguistic evolution of Vulgar Latin. Castilian & Andalusian dialects emerged in the Iberian peninsula (Hispania) during the middle ages.The emergence of modern Spanish more or less coincided with the reconquest of Moorish Spain which was completed by Isabella of Castile & Ferdinand of Aragón. Keep reading to learn more.
Spanish is the native language of 332 million people in the world. In addition to Spain, Spanish is the official language of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and Venezuela. In addition, it is widely spoken in several other nations, including Canada, Morocco, the Philippines, and the United States.
Spanish is one of the Romance languages in the Italic subfamily of the Indo-European language family, and within Spain, and has two major dialects: Andalusian and Castilian. Many other dialects exist in other geographical areas, namely North and South America.
History of the Spanish Language & Vulgar Latin
The Spanish language originated in the Southwest region of Europe known as the Iberian Peninsula. Sometime before the end of the 6th century BC, the region's first inhabitants, the Iberians, began to mingle with the Celts, a nomadic people from central Europe. The two groups formed a people called the Celtiberians, speaking a form of Celtic.
Under Roman rule, in 19 BC, the region became known as Hispania, and its inhabitants learned Latin from Roman traders, settlers, administrators, and soldiers. When the classical Latin of the educated Roman classes mixed with the pre-Roman languages of the Iberians, Celts, and Carthaginians, a language called Vulgar Latin appeared. It followed the basic models of Latin but borrowed and added words from the other languages.
Even after the Visigoths, Germanic tribes of Eastern Europe, invaded Hispania in the AD 400s, Latin remained the official language of government and culture until about AD 719, when Arabic-speaking Islamic groups from Northern Africa called Moors completed their conquest of the region. Arabic and a related dialect called Mozarabic came to be widely spoken in Islamic Spain except in a few remote Christian kingdoms in the North such as Asturias, where Vulgar Latin survived.
During the succeeding centuries, the Christian kingdoms gradually reconquered Moorish Spain, retaking the country linguistically as well as politically, militarily, and culturally. As the Christians moved South, their Vulgar Latin dialects became dominant. In particular, Castilian, a dialect that originated on the Northern Central plains, was carried into Southern and Eastern regions.
Castilian & Andalusian
The resulting language was a hybrid because Castilian borrowed many words from Mozarabic, and modern Spanish has an estimated 4,000 words with Arabic roots.
The creation of a standardized Spanish language based on the Castilian dialect began in the 1200s with King Alfonso X, who was called the Learned–King of Castile and Leon. He and his court of scholars adopted the city of Toledo, a cultural center in the central highlands, as the base of their activities. There, scholars wrote original works in Castilian and translated histories, chronicles, and scientific, legal, and literary works from other languages (principally Latin, Greek, and Arabic). Indeed, this historic effort of translation was a major vehicle for the dissemination of knowledge throughout ancient Western Europe. Alfonso X also adopted Castilian for administrative work and all official documents and decrees.
The Castilian dialect of Spanish gained wider acceptance during the reign of the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragón, who completed the reconquest of Spain in 1492 by pushing the Moors from their last stronghold in the southern city of Granada. Isabella and Ferdinand made Castilian the official dialect in their kingdom. In the same year the Moors were defeated, an important book appeared: Antonio de Nebrija's Arte de la lengua castellana (The Art of the Castilian Language). It was the first book to study and attempt to define the grammar of a European language.
The Castilian dialect of Toledo became the written and educational standard in Spain, even though several spoken dialects remained. The most noteworthy was Andalusian, a dialect spoken in the southern city of Seville in the Andalucía region.
Spanish Around the World
Spanish in the Americas
Beginning in the 1400s, Spanish explorers, conquistadors, and colonizers carried their language to Central America, South America, and parts of North America.
Both the Castilian and Andalusian dialects made the trip. Castilian was used in administrative and cultural centers such as Mexico City, Mexico; Potosí, Bolivia; and Lima, Peru. These cities retained close links to the Spanish capital of Madrid, which was in the Castile region. But because many of the people involved in expeditions were from Andalucía, the Andalusian dialect also traveled to the Spanish colonies. It became dominant in Argentina and Central America, which were regions remote from the influence of the Spanish government's administrative centers. Spain lost control of its American colonies in the 1800s, but the Spanish language remained and is now the official language of almost every Latin American nation.
The Spanish spoken in the Americas differs somewhat from European Spanish today because many words were borrowed from the languages of the indigenous peoples. Most of these words reflect features unique to the new territories, such as proper names, plants and animals, and geographic features.
Spanish Language in the United States
In 1565 Spanish conquerors and explorers established the settlement of Saint Augustine in what is now Florida. It was the first permanent European settlement in what is now the United States. In the 1600s and 1700s Spanish explorations and settlements extended the Spanish language North from Mexico into present-day Arizona, California, Southern Colorado, New Mexico, and Texas. When the United States annexed these areas following the Mexican War (1846-1848), many of the region's Spanish-speaking inhabitants remained, creating a distinct linguistic and cultural population in the Southwestern United States.
After the Spanish-American War (1898), the United States gained control over Cuba, Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico. Over time, many Spanish speakers from these countries moved to the mainland of North America. The immigrants primarily settled in neighborhoods in California, Florida, New York, and New Jersey, where they continued to use Spanish.
Immigration by Spanish speakers further increased during the 20th century. Many legal and illegal immigrants crossed the border between Mexico and the United States to work in agriculture and industry, and other immigrants fled political instability in Chile, Cuba, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua. Also, many Latin American students came to North America to study at colleges and universities.
The presence of Spanish in American culture grew throughout the late 20th century. As more native Spanish speakers sent their children to school, elementary and high schools established bilingual classes. Television executives also recognized the Spanish-speaking market and created television networks and shows in Spanish. The government printed forms and tests in Spanish. By the 1990s more than 17 million people in the United States spoke Spanish as their primary language at home.
Spanish Language in the Philippines
In the Philippines, which were incorporated into the Spanish Empire in the mid-16th century, Spanish served as the language of the ruling class, of civil and judicial administration, and of culture. Because Mexico often mediated communication between the Philippines and Spain, Philippine Spanish in general is similar to the Castilian dialect used in Mexico. In 1898, at the conclusion of the Spanish-American war, Spain ceded the Philippines to the United States. For many years afterwards, Spanish was one of the official languages of the Philippines, along with English and Tagalog. Today, Spanish is no longer an official language, and its usage has gradually declined.
Spanish Translation and Interpreting
Spanish Quick Facts
Alternate Names & Spellings: Español, Castellano, Castilian
Language Family: Indo-European, Italic, Romance, Italo-Western, Western, Gallo-Iberian, Ibero-Romance, West Iberian, Castilian
Official Language of: Panama, Uruguay, Venezuela, Mexico, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico, Spain, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras
Spoken by Approximately 322,299,000 people
Also Spoken In: United States
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