Spanish Language history
Interested in discovering the origin of the Spanish language? You should be – the history of the Spanish language is fascinating! What started as the language of Spain is now the second most spoken native language in the world, surpassed only by Chinese. The Spanish language is also not only the official Spain language, but the official language of Equatorial Guinea in Africa and 18 countries in South America.
When counting regions that have not granted the Spanish language official status, there are large Spanish-speaking populations in 43 countries. Notably, most Americans can speak enough Spanish to communicate with their fellow citizens. Combined, this puts the total number of speakers at around 500 million, with an additional 21 million learning Spanish as a foreign language.
Given its prominent position, it’s no surprise that the Spain language is considered a world language. It is one of the six official languages of the UN and the official language of other international organisations, including the European Union and the African Union. This is all due to the history of the Spanish language and the conquests, colonisation, and migration of the Spanish throughout history.
Join us as we uncover the history of the Spanish language in depth. First, we travel back to the origin of the Spanish language, where it all began. You’ll then discover the significant historical milestones that shaped the Spain language and its writing system, and how it grew into its leading position in the modern world. So let’s return to the origin of the Spanish language and see what we discover.
Origins & Roots of the Spanish language
The history of the Spanish language is long and interesting. Classified as a Western Romance language, Spanish is a member of the Indo-European family of languages. It developed from the same branch that includes several other modern languages, including French and Italian. Like these other Romance languages, the origin of the Spanish language can be traced back to Latin.
Latin was first brought to the Iberian Peninsular by the Romans in the 3rd century BC. It mixed with local languages and developed its own flavour. After the demise of the Roman Empire in the 5th century, the language became isolated from other Latin-speaking countries. It continued to evolve in isolation and grow increasingly distinct from other Romance languages until the first version of the Spanish language emerged.
The initial version of the language was known as Old Spanish and became the Spain language used for official purposes and literature. Several dialects emerged throughout the different regions of Spain. Arabic heavily influenced the language during the Middle Ages because of the Muslim Moorish conquests. As a result, around 4,000 Spanish words are of Arabic origin, though their pronunciation was altered to follow Spanish phonology.
Modern “Spanish Language”
King Alfonso X gets credit for making the Spanish language standard based on the Castilian dialect of Old Spanish. In the 13th century, he commissioned groups of scholars to write important texts on law, astronomy, history, and science in Castilian. King Alfonso X also requested the translation of classical literary works into Spanish. As a result of his efforts, the Castilian dialect became the Spain language.
The following monarchs were equally as important in the history of the Spanish language. Under the reign of Isabella and Ferdinand, Spanish conquests of the Americas began in the 1400s. These conquests contributed to the origin of the Spanish language on these continents, with the monarchs ruling that the Castilian variety of Spanish was made the official language in all territories.
As the Spanish Empire grew, the Royal Spanish Academy was founded in 1713 to standardise the language across its colonies. Spain lost control of most of the conquered regions in the 1800s. The Spanish language, however, remained and continued to grow in popularity. Spanish also remains the official language of several countries in the region and is widely understood by many more.
Alphabets & Writing System of the Spanish language
Spanish uses the Latin alphabet for its written form. Inscriptions as early as the 10th century began exhibiting features of Romance languages, classed by historians as the origin of the Spanish language in written form. However, texts that clearly displayed characteristics of the Spanish language only appeared in the 12th century as a vernacular writing system needed to be developed.
These original texts are distinctly Spanish due to one additional letter: ñ (“en-yeh”). The letter ñ did not exist in Latin and is not a feature of other Romance languages. Therefore, while the full Latin alphabet has 26 letters, the Spanish language uses 27 letters. The language also used two digraphs (“ch” and “ll”) which were also classified as letters until 2010, when the Royal Spanish Academy removed them from the official alphabet.
Besides the letters, other characters are also unique to the Spain language. One such example is the use of ⟨¿⟩ and ⟨¡⟩. These punctuation marks are used at the beginning of questions and exclamatory statements in written text. The history of the Spanish language attributes these unusual punction marks to John Wilkin, who initially proposed the inverted exclamation mark to denote irony in 1668.
European vs South American Spanish
The origin of Spanish language may have started in Spain, and it is the official Spain language today. However, the language has since made its way across the globe; Spanish is currently the second most-spoken native language in the world! There are over 500 million speakers worldwide, and Spanish is the official language of 21 countries.
The majority of Spanish speakers live in one of two places: Spain or the Americas. When we look at the history of the Spanish language, this distribution makes sense. Although the language originated in Spain, periods of colonisation took the Spanish language to South America. Periods of migration further contributed to the spread, and the rise of the internet only made communications easier.
The Spain language and Latin American language are mutually intelligible, but there are some differences in pronunciation. Another major difference is that the Spain language is the only version of Spanish that uses the pronoun “vosotros.” These discrepancies arose as the two languages were isolated from each other and influenced by other neighbouring languages.
Spanish Translation Services
From the humble origin of the Spanish language to its world-leading position in the present day, the history of the Spanish language is truly fascinating. As the world has become more globalised and the language has grown, so has the need for professional Spanish translations.
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