Languages in Spain: How Many Languages Are Spoken in Spain?
The diversity of languages in Spain is both fascinating and shocking. While español is the most common Romance language spoken in Spain, it shares its home with more than 15 other languages—none of which are official, aside from Spanish, but they’re spoken and acknowledged in regional pockets of the country.
While Spanish is spoken by more than 572 million speakers worldwide, it’s the native or second language of more than 46 million people (99.9% of the population) within the borders of Spain. Despite the dominance of the only official language in Spain, 7 major regional languages continue to flourish, accounting for the languages spoken at home by 16% of the population (upwards of 8 million people).
In order to explore the languages of Spain, we will need to create a clear distinction between a dialect and a language. While they’re similar in nature as forms of human communication, they’re different in their categories and usage. Interestingly, according to linguist Max Weinreich, “a language is a dialect with an army and a navy,” in reference to its connection to a political identity.
The Difference Between Dialects and Languages in Spain
While the distinction between the a dialect and language may seem vague, it’s actually quite simple:
A language is a system of communication used in both spoken and written form. It’s typically concentrated in a particular geographical and political area. The word “language” is a broad umbrella term for a “complex system including its rules for combining its components, such as words.”
In contrast, a dialect refers to a “regional or social variety of a language distinguished by pronunciation, grammar, or vocabulary.” In other words, dialects are different versions of the same language. An example is British English and American English—both of which are variations, or dialects, of the English language.
In this blog post, we will not be exploring the complex divergences of Spain’s dialects, but instead we’ll learn about the regional languages in Spain that embody the unique diversity of its intercultural melting-pot.
7 Most Common Languages in Spain
The seven most common languages in Spain, organized from highest population to lowest are:
- Spanish (99%)
- Catalan (8%)
- Valencian (4%)
- Galician (3%)
- Basque (1%)
- Aranese (0,007%)
- Extremaduran (0,4%)
1. Spanish or Castellano
Let’s jump back to our conversation about dialects and languages for a moment:
Castellano—the regional version of Spanish spoken nationwide in Spain—is one of the six major languages in Spain as well as a dialect of the Spanish language. For instance, you will hear other Spanish dialects in places like Colombia or Guatemala. Castilian is significant to historical linguistics as the original language from which all modern Spanish dialects developed worldwide (due to colonization).
According to a 2011 linguistic study, roughly 9.8 million people speak Catalan, which is about 19% of the population in Spain. It’s the official language of Catalonia and Andorra, the northeastern region of Spain. It is also found in the Balearic Islands.
Many linguists consider Valencian to be the same language as Catalan but Valencian speakers beg to differ. The Acadèmia Valenciana de la Llengua (AVL) consider Catalan and Valencian to be two names for the same language.
Along the border with France where the Valencian Community reside, a population of 2 million speaks Valencian, a dialect of Catalan. Valencian is a Romance language with roughly 85% of the lexical set from Spanish. València is located on Spain’s eastern coast, at the mouth of the Turia River, right in the centre of the Gulf of València. It is situated on the shores of the Mediterranean, a stretch of water which has gradually forged the city’s character over the centuries.
Galician is spoken by 5% of the population, which roughly amounts to 2.4 million people. This official language of Galicia is a Portuguese-influenced language in the northwestern part of Spain. It is also a Romance language but it differs from other Spanish languages in that it’s mutually intelligible with Portuguese. This is because Galicia and Portugal were united during medieval times.
There are about 800,000 native Basque speakers in the Basque Country and Navarre. That’s about 2% of the population and it is the official language of the Basque Country. It is located in the northern border of Spain. It’s also referred to as Euskara and it’s the only language in Spain that has no ties with any Romance language. It is one of the oldest languages in Europe—even older than Latin.
About 4,700 people speak Aranese in Catalonia, Spain. It is used in the Val d’Aran region in the northeastern part of Spain and derives from the Gascon dialect of Occitan. A whopping 90% of its inhabitants understand it, while a lesser 65% speak it. Due to its ubiquity, Aranese has a co-official status with Spanish and Catalan in the region.
In 1994, it was cited that there were 200,000 Extremaduran native speakers. There are two varieties of Extremaduran: a Western one, and an Eastern one, which is more influenced by Spanish. It is spoken in the autonomous community of Extremadura in the western part of Spain.
Endangered Minority Languages in Spain
An endangered minority language is one that could become extinct in the next century. The lack of their use in some regions or countries make them an endangered minority language.There are some endangered minority languages in Spain. Less and less people use them so they slowly and steadily begin to fade. Some examples of these are Aragonese, Asturian and Leonese.
Which Language in Spain Would You Like to Speak?
What are your favorite languages in Spain? Catalan? Or maybe Basque? As you now know, the wide variety of languages in Spain is a whole new world of wonder and excitement. Spain is a country rich in culture and linguistic heritage. The different languages in Spain, including español, create a unique world of their own. And this is just the beginning. Are you curious to learn a new language? Spanish is rich and expressive. It’s full of history and traditions. Which Spanish language do you wish you could speak? (or already do?) Let us know in the comments!
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