The History and Origin of the Spanish Language
The history and origin of Spanish is truly fascinating and a must-know for all Spanish learners.
Currently, Spanish is spoken by 400 million people around the world. This number continues to grow, even in countries where Spanish isn’t the official language (such as the United States).
Embracing the origin of the Spanish language allows you to understand the journey and adversities it has experienced throughout history.
What’s more, knowing the origin of Spanish and its timeline is helpful for identifying subtle differences within the regions where it’s spoken.
Join me in this educational blog post as I uncover the fascinating evolution and origin of Spanish!
Spanish Timeline: Roots and Origin of Spanish
Spanish is a Romance language. Like Portuguese, French, and Italian, Spanish derives from Latin. It’s also closely tied to the history of Spain, as it’s where the language took full force and expanded to other regions of the world.
5,000 years ago, Spain and the Iberian Peninsula were inhabited by native settlers who spoke their own dialects. This collection of native tongues known as Proto-Indo-European languages paved the road for the Spanish you know and learn today.
Proto-Indo-European languages gave birth to several dialects such as Vasco (Basque), Cántabro (Cantabrian), and Celtíbero (Celtiberian) in the region known as Hispania (Spain).
The Roman Empire conquered Hispania in 218 BC and took on a process of imposing their cultural practices to the native population of the Iberian Peninsula.
The Romans introduced Latin to their new territory and its combination with native dialects allowed a more evolved version named Vulgar Latin to take over the area.
Vulgar Latin eventually replaced several Proto-Indo-European languages in Hispania.
Soon after, the Iberian Peninsula was also of interest to Barbarian Germanic invaders. Once they set their goal on occupying the Peninsula, the Roman Empire in the area collapsed in 476 AD.
Spanish Timeline: The Moors Occupy Spain
Spain was conquered by the Visigodos who continued to use Vulgar Latin as their language.
At the same time, in the 8th century, Islam began to take force in the Middle East. The Arab Caliphate took over Northern Africa and turned their eye to the Visigodo Empire in Spain.
The Muslim Empire conquered the province known today as Andalucía and established the Independent Caliphate of Cordoba. They constructed their most prominent and powerful cities using Arabic-influenced architecture and design. A perfect example of Moor influence is the UNESCO world heritage site, La Alhambra in Granada.
Some of the Visigodos were able to move to other areas of Spain, establishing their own kingdom, such is the case of the Kingdom of Asturias.
Simultaneously as the Arab Moors took over Spain, Latin started to change around Europe. It transformed into the Romance languages you know today as French, Italian, Romanian, Portuguese, and Castellano (Castillian).
The Arab occupation allowed the Moors to introduce their Mozarabic language in the region. Mozarabic was widely spoken by the Hispanic population who were part of the Caliphate.
Curiously, there are over 4,000 modern Spanish words that are derived from Arabic.
Read more: 40 Spanish Words That Came From Arabic
At the same time the Moors were taking over, other Christian Catholic kingdoms of Spain such as Castilla, Aragón, Toledo, Galicia, Zaragoza, and León started to thrive in other parts of Spain.
Spanish Timeline: The Rise of Castellano
The first version of the Spanish language appeared based on the Castilian dialect from the province of Castilla. It had influences from Vulgar Latin and Mozarabic.
King Alfonso X and his scholars in the city of Toledo adopted this particular dialect in the year 1200. They wrote and translated the first original chronicles, stories, and legal works in Castellano. King Alfonso X also adopted Castilian as the official language for administrative tasks and for the establishment of decrees.
The Christian Catholic Kingdoms united to expel the Arabs from the region in 1492. With the dissolvement of the Caliphate and the reconquest of Spain, the Mozarabic language eventually disappeared, becoming obsolete.
This new Kingdom meant a new ruler had to take over. Isabel from Castilla and Fernando de Aragón became the rightful King and Queen of Spain. Together, they began a process of reunifying the country and overcoming the Moorish invasion.
El Castellano (Castillian) became relevant in the majority of Spain and eventually earned the status of official language with a fully developed writing system. The widespread use of the language allowed scholars to create literary masterpieces and to translate other classical pieces to Spanish.
Spanish Timeline: Conquest of the Americas
In 1492, the Spanish Kingdom of Isabel and Fernando gave an Italian explorer named Christopher Columbus the power and opportunity to seek other routes to Asia. His adventurous quest eventually led him to the American continent.
With the arrival of Spanish conquistadors in America, the native and indigenous civilizations were colonized and forced to take on Spanish religion, traditions, and the official language.
The Spanish focused immense efforts on eradicating the culture, traditions, religion, and languages of Indigenous populations through slavery and war. Their efforts, however, weren’t completely successful, as the legacy of Indigenous American cultures remains alive today.
The imposition of the Spanish language in the southern Spanish colonies of the United States, Mexico, the Caribbean, Central, and South America took words from native dialects and spurred Spanish to evolve once again.
This is particularly visible in countries like Mexico, Peru, and Guatemala, where Spanish borrowed words from Quechúa and Nahuatl.
Spanish Timeline: The Royal Spanish Academy
While colonization continued to impose the language in the American continent, Spanish continued to evolve in its homeland.
La Real Academia Española (The Royal Spanish Academy) emerged in 1713. Its purpose was and continues to be the establishment of rules that regulate the use of the Spanish language. This means it approves changes in grammar and the use of specific words and concepts in Spanish.
To this day, the institution continues to function and has a wide influence over the evolution and studies of the origin of Spanish.
Did you know? The Spanish language made it all the way to Asia! In fact, it was once the official language of the Philippines. Learn more: The Spanish Philippines: Its History and Influence on 7,000 Islands
Spanish Timeline: The Global Spread of the Spanish Language
As the Viceroyalty of New Spain began to dissolve in Latin America, new nations started to rise and gained independence from Spain in the 19th century. These countries adopted Spanish as the official language, which replaced several indigenous dialects and evolved to what you know today as Latin American Spanish. This part of the Spanish timeline is essential to its expansion around the world.
Each and every single one of these Spanish-speaking nations adopted native vocabulary, grammar rules, and accents of its own. The name Castellano stopped being used in Latin America.
The use of the pronoun vos (you) also started to disappear and Latin American nations started to take the pronoun tú (you) as a norm. Read this fascinating article about the use of voseo in Spanish to learn more.
Throughout the 20th and 21st century, Latin American countries created their own institutions to regulate the use of the language and to study the Spanish timeline. In collaboration with the Royal Spanish Academy, the Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española (Association of Spanish Language Academies) was founded.
Today, Latin American Spanish and Castellano still borrow and take influence from other languages. You’ll find Americanisms, Italianisms, and other influences widely used by Spanish speakers. The Royal Spanish Academy has even approved several of these new words in its official dictionaries.
The Future of the Spanish Timeline
Globalization continues to affect the origin of Spanish and the evolution of the Spanish timeline. Migration, technology, and commercial opportunities are taking Spanish to all corners of the world. Spanish is the official language in 21 countries and it’s the third most used language on the internet.
Spanish defeats other commonly used languages in longevity, such as English. The origin of Spanish dates back even to older times than English. It’s even taking over English in countries like the United States, where almost 41 million people speak Spanish.
Read more interesting and curious facts about Spanish in this entertaining blog post that’ll knock your socks off.
Speak Spanish Like a Native Speaker
I hope learning the history and origin of Spanish motivates you to continue learning this amazing language that’s broken barriers in its journey.
Taking on the quest of learning and becoming fluent in this fascinating language is definitely challenging. Choosing the right strategies brings you closer to your goal of becoming fluent.
Sign up for a free class with our certified teachers from Guatemala and converse with a native speaker. Engaging in conversation with those who speak Spanish naturally, allows you to understand pronunciation and improve your Spanish reading, and listening skills.
Bilingualism supports you in improving your cognitive abilities and capacity to make decisions. Don’t miss out on the opportunity of expanding your communication possibilities and connect with people from different nationalities and diverse cultures.
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