• Spanish Language History

The lingua franca of 21 countries

Spanish is the second most commonly spoken language in the world, surpassed only by Mandarin Chinese. It is a Romance language with approximately 500 million speakers. Between 322 to 358 million speak it as their first language, while the remainder acquired it as a second language. Countless more have learned Spanish as a foreign language at varying levels of fluency. Spanish is spoken in Spain and 43 other countries including: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Mexico and other Latin American countries.

Spanish is one of the most interesting and popular languages in the world today. It is the chosen lingua franca (an adopted common language among different language speakers) of 21 countries. Likewise, Spanish is one of the official languages of the United Nations and a number of other international organisations, including the European Union and the African Union.

The language of renowned personalities, including Garcia Márquez and Picasso, Spanish is also known as Castilian or Castellano and is known to have originated from the Castile region in Spain. With that said, there are certain significant differences between Latin American Spanish and Castilian Spanish. Speakers of these two continents are still able to communicate.

Origins & Roots of the Spanish Language

Classified as a Western Romance language, Spanish is a member of the Indo-European family of languages and comes from the same branch that also includes a number of other modern languages, including French and Italian.

The roots of the Spanish language go back to Vulgar Latin which was the name given to the group of dialects spoken by farmers, traders and soldiers in the Roman army. Unsurprisingly, Vulgar Latin was characterised by geographical variations in pronunciation and other differences in tongues. Native speakers of the Latin language, however, still understood speakers of Vulgar Latin despite these differences.

The demise of the Western Empire in the 5th century caused these regional differences to slowly fade away – an event that is also credited for the birth of the Romance languages. With that said, the exact year or time period when these languages started to emerge cannot be pinpointed with complete accuracy. While inscriptions from the 10th century did start exhibiting Romance features, the first texts that actually displayed clearly Spanish features date back to the 12th century. Since a vernacular writing system had not been developed for the Romance language, standardisation took a significant amount of time.

King Alfonso X is often credited for the standardisation of the Spanish language based on the Castilian dialect. The King, also known as the Learned King of Castile and Leon, gathered a group of scholars who used to write works in Castilian and would translate a number of important texts including histories and scientific works.

Spanish first started to appear in writing in Latin religious texts in the 11th century. Spanish prose flowered during the reign of King Alfonso X the Wise of Castile (1252-84). The first Spanish grammar and first dictionaries were published during the 15th and 16th centuries. Spanish is written in the Latin alphabet and has 27 letters and 2 digraphs.

The Spanish conquests that began in the 1400s have greatly contributed to the proliferation of the language to regions as far as Central and South America. Even though Spain lost control of most of the region in the 1800s, Spanish still remains the official language of quite a number of the countries in the region and it is widely understood by many more.

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