Spanish Language History
Spanish is the fourth most-spoken language in the world after Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, and English. As of 2009, there were more than 500 million Spanish speakers in the world, including native speakers, and those who speak it as a second language. By the year 2050, ten percent of the world's population will speak Spanish, and the United States will become the largest Spanish-speaking country. People who can converse in Spanish now will be better prepared to communicate with that large portion of the population.
How did the Spanish language become so widely spoken? Where did it originate, and how did it spread across the globe to be spoken in so many countries, by so many people today? Spanish has one of the richest and longest histories of any of the world's languages.
Spanish Language Origin
Spanish originated on the Iberian Peninsula, located in the southwestern region of Europe, although it wasn't known as Spanish at the time. Toward the end of the sixth century before the common era (BCE), a nomadic tribe from central Europe known as the Celts moved into the area, and mixed with the peninsula's inhabitants, the Iberians. The result was a new people called the Celtiberians, and they spoke a form of the Celtic language.
By the nineteenth century BCE, the region was commonly known as Hispania. The Hispanic people learned Latin from Roman settlers, soldiers, and traders. Soon, a new language formed that was a mixture of classical Latin and the Celtiberian language. This was the beginning of the history of Spanish. The new mixed language closely resembled classical Latin, but also used many words from other languages. It became known as Vulgar Latin, and would eventually evolve into modern Spanish.
During the fourth century of the common era (CE), Hispania was invaded by the Visigoths and Germanic tribes from eastern Europe. It was the Visigoths who converted the Hispanic monarchy to Roman Catholicism. These events influenced the language, but none so much as when the Arabic-speaking Moors conquered the region around 718 CE. During their occupation, many of the country's residents learned Arabic and eventually spoke it exclusively, but Vulgar Latin survived in certain northern kingdoms still occupied by Christians.
Over the next several centuries, the Christian kingdoms of the north began a crusade called the Reconquista to take back the country and drive the Moors out. As they moved south, retaking the country as they went, they reestablished themselves politically, religiously, and linguistically. Vulgar Latin once again became the dominant language of the peninsula, especially one of its dialects, Castilian, contributing a key factor to the history of Spanish.
As the people in the southern regions began adopting Castilian, they borrowed several words from Arabic. This created a hybrid language that eventually became the Andalucian dialect of the Spanish language, which is spoken in the southern region of Spain, Andalucia. Today, modern Spanish has approximately 4,000 words with Arabic roots.
By the middle of the 13th century, Christians had reclaimed most of the Iberian Peninsula, with one small Moorish realm remaining in the area of Granada. It was at this time that the reigning monarch, King Alfonso X, began moving the country toward adopting a standardized language based on the Castilian dialect. Alfonso X decreed that Castilian be used for all official documents and other administrative work. He appointed a group of scholars to translate scientific and legal documents, literary works, and histories into Castilian. This is one of the most important points in Spanish history as it helped to establish Spanish as the country's official language.
In 1469, another important event in Spanish history took place. Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married, and united the two main kingdoms of the region under one monarchy. This event set in motion the creation of the Kingdom of Spain, and the beginning of the modern era in the region. In 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista, pushing the remaining Moors out of Granada. That year, they also made Castilian the official dialect in their kingdom, yet another important step toward standardizing the Spanish language.
One of the most important events in the history of Spanish also took place in 1492. A man named Antonio de Nebrija wrote a book called Arte de la Lengua Castellana, or The Art of the Castilian Language. It was the first book ever to define grammar for a European language. Eventually, Castilian became the standard for writing and education in Spain, although several dialects remain, most notably Andalucian.
Another important event happened in 1492, as anyone who has studied Spanish history knows. Ferdinand and Isabella bankrolled a transatlantic journey for a man named Christopher Columbus. He landed in North America, and opened up an entire new world to Spain, the Spanish people, and the Spanish language. As more explorers and missionaries traveled to, and settled in North and eventually South America, they shared Castilian with the indigenous people, who once again combined the new language with the ones they already spoke, and Spanish evolved again.
Spanish Language Today
Today, Castilian remains the basis for Spanish spoken all over the world. Spanish is still spoken in Spain, as well as places such as Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Panama, Puerto Rico, Cuba, and numerous others. Every country and region has put its own mark on the language, changing words here and there, or using the same words but applying different meanings. But ultimately, it's all the Spanish language, much the same way that both England and the United States speak English, just with slightly different vocabulary and accents.
Linguistically, these are minor differences that have evolved over the entire history of Spanish. While they may require slight adjustments to facilitate understanding, in the end, speaking the same language does more to unite people than to divide them. Being part of a global community, and communicating with friends, family, customers, travelers, or anyone else you may encounter is one of the biggest benefits of knowing Spanish.