How Many Words Are in the Spanish Language? Really?
In this article, we will try to solve the big question: how many words are in the Spanish language?
It’s a somewhat complicated question since languages are constantly evolving since they’re one of the most important forms of human communication.
To keep a specific count of how many words the Spanish language has is a complex endeavor. Spanish is one of the most spoken in the world and one of the richest and most alive.
So, if you’re interested in learning more about the intricacies of this language and the linguistics that characterizes it, keep reading!
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Is It Easy to Know the Number of Spanish Words?
In a language so globally widespread like Spanish, it’s natural to see many variants and dialects.
For example, we have Mexican Spanish, Colombian Spanish, Chilean Spanish, Spanish Spanish, and so on. In other words, each Spanish-speaking country has its own dialect.
As we indicated previously, Spanish is a living language spoken in more than 20 countries, and according to the Cervantes Institute, almost 591 million people speak Spanish worldwide.
And the numbers continue to increase!
This language is not close to becoming a dead language. That is why we say that it’s a living language; therefore, the vocabulary evolves continuously every day.
It has many words used in several Spanish-speaking countries, which are understood and, therefore, accepted within the language itself.
Answering the big question is complex, and it’s almost impossible to indicate how many words make up the Spanish language.
Many variables must be considered: idioms, dialects, regional vocabularies, new words, and words Spanish speakers borrow from other languages.
What Constitutes a Word in Any Language?
Let’s start by defining what is considered a “word” within a language, whatever it may be.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a word means a speech sound or series of speech sounds that symbolize and communicate a meaning. But what makes a word to be a real one?
Dictionary.com says that a word does not become real when added to a dictionary. On the contrary, terms already used in everyday speech are real and living words, making them a candidate to be added to a dictionary.
Languages are generally highly stable and, at the same time, prone to constant change, so linguistic variability is due to internal or cognitive changes and external or social changes.
This is where contact between several languages can contribute to variability in a language and, therefore, change the structure or vocabulary of them.
This contact with other languages can lead to a cross-linguistic influence in spoken and written communication and at lexical, semantic, phonetic, phonological, prosodic, graphemic, morphological, syntactic, and pragmatic levels.
That’s how easily a language can change over time!
Efforts to Document and Update the Spanish Language
Each language has an entity in charge of adding these words to the official dictionaries so that their existence and meanings are recorded.
In Italy, for example, the Accademia della Crusca studies and researches the Italian language instead of regulating it.
For French, there is the Académie Française, which regulates and perfects the vocabulary and grammatical rules.
In the case of the Spanish language, we have the RAE, Real Academia Española, or Royal Spanish Academy, who have taken on the task of ensuring the correctness of this language, along with 21 other academies from the Americas and the Philippines.
Yeah! The Filipinos also speak Spanish because they were a Spanish colony.
Javier Bezos, a spelling specialist at the Urgent Spanish Foundation (Fundéu), explains that “we create words spontaneously, simply because we need to express a concept. And if we don’t have the word, we try to explain it or invent it.”
The Royal Spanish Academy has adapted over the years to maintain the Spanish language and not break unity in the Hispanic sphere.
To develop all the projects, updates, and writing of dictionaries and linguistic books, the RAE employs 46 academics from different branches. Among them are historians, writers, philologists, and researchers.
In addition, the RAE has created the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, where different representatives review the various publications and analyze and research new Spanish words that should be added to their dictionaries.
Another dictionary responsible for collecting terms and words is the Historical Dictionary of the Spanish Language, which has approximately 350 million words in use and disuse. Yes, 350 million!
That’s the beautiful thing about languages: anyone can create a word. Even you!
Variants That Affect the Spanish Word Count
Although all languages have their own words created dozens of years ago, new ones are added every year that are not 100% typical of the native language.
This is where variants can influence the addition of new terms to Spanish that are not necessarily derived from it.
One of these phenomena is word borrowing, which is when two languages come into contact and “borrow” words from one another. This is one of the most commonly attested language contact phenomena.
Word borrowing or “loanwords” is not only recognized as the most common phenomenon in language contact. But it also occupies an important place in linguistics due to what it contributes to the grammar of a language.
One of the most obvious reasons foreignism or loanwords exist is because of the need to refer to an object, animal, or person and that there is no word in Spanish.
For example, the word “tomate” came from Nahuatl and was introduced into Spanish to be later borrowed or used in the rest of the European languages.
There are also foreignisms. This is when people use a foreign word with a different phonetic or pronunciation, such as “túnel” in Spanish, which in English is “tunnel.”
Another form of loanwords is when the word is broken down and translated separately. An example is the English word interview, which in Spanish is “entrevista,” which means entre: inter and vista: view.
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So, How Many Words Are There in the Spanish Language?
As we mentioned before, knowing the exact number of Spanish words is challenging.
But we can get an approximate amount considering the reference of terms compiled by the Royal Spanish Academy.
However, it’s important to emphasize that in these sources of information, adding new words is rigorous and can sometimes take up to 10 years to be accepted and added to the dictionary.
Even some words stop being used in that period of analysis!
The RAE indicates that Spanish has more than 93,000 words, and about 19,000 of those words are Americanisms.
Considering that the RAE adds approximately 200 new words to the dictionary every year and that new words are constantly being created in more than 20 Spanish-speaking countries, it will likely reach 100,000 Spanish words very soon.
Learn Spanish and Add New Words to Your Vocabulary
The richness of languages is that they’re constantly evolving, and with globalization, word borrowing intensifies, so languages continue to intertwine and increase new terms to communicate.
To better understand Spanish, you don’t need to learn the 93,000 words the RAE has collected. But knowing at least 5,000 will help you communicate easily.
Start by learning the most basic words and practicing the most common and everyday phrases to converse fluently with a Spanish-speaking person.
Contact language professionals to increase your Spanish knowledge and manage your conversations.
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