Which Languages and Cultures Influenced Spanish?
Consistent exchange between other languages and cultures has evolved Spanish to an expressive, rich, and diverse language. It’s continuously growing in different regions and as a language it’s alive and thriving.
In this blog post, we’ll dive into the relationship the Spanish language has to other cultures and languages, a long-time connection that’s facilitated shared knowledge and international cooperation for Spanish-speakers.
Languages and Cultures are Connected
Learning a new language is not just about the alphabet, spelling, and grammar.
In essence, language learning requires you to learn about the society that speaks it in order to grasp it completely.
Languages are fundamental for understanding the different aspects we share in our identity as they allow us to discover and express our customs and way of life. Language is the first thing that can unite a group of people, even with different cultural backgrounds, because it let’s us discover similarities and communicate with each other.
Recent Influences on Spanish
Spanish as we know it has been influenced by many languages and cultures.
It’s considered a Romance language and the roots and ancient history can be traced back to Vulgar Latin and Arabic. I recommend you check out our blog post on the extensive history and timeline of Spanish for more details.
As Spanish expands throughout the world, it has become the catalyst for new dialects, new words, and unique expressions.
You wouldn’t expect it, but modern Spanish is highly enrichening, and has influences from other cultures and languages outside of its well-known Romance and Latin roots.
Let’s take a look at the languages and cultures that have influenced Spanish as we know it.
Spanish-speakers from South American cultures adopted italianismos (“italianisms”) into their daily vocabulary. Much of this influence is due to the heavy influx of Italian immigrants that arrived in the turn of the 20th century to countries like Uruguay, Argentina, and Colombia.
In recent years, Spain welcomed plenty of Italian workers and these italianismos are an important part of the language.
A lot of these expressions are tied to gastronomy but there’s a wider variety and examples:
- chao – ciao (hello, bye)
- la birra – birra (beer)
- el laburo – lavoro (work)
- la novela – novella (novel)
- la gazeta – gazetta (gazette)
- la mafia
- la pizza
- el brócoli
- la pasta
Not only are both Spanish and French romance languages, but France’s close location to Spain has been highly influential in both of these cultures throughout history.
Cultural exchange between both countries is key to 21st century Spanish and Castellano. These languages share lexical, alphabetical and grammatical similarities.
Like Italian, most contemporary French influence comes from culinary culture and the fashion industry. Some French words we’re using in Spanish are:
- el chandal – chandail (tracksuit)
- el leotardo – léotard (leotard)
- las mascota – mascotte (mascot)
- el país – pays (country)
- el jamón – jambon (ham)
- el chofer – chauffeur (driver)
- el quiche
- el chef
The linguistic influence of Euskera, a Basque language from Spain, on the Spanish language is quite significant.
Considering the geographical closeness, it was (and continues to be) easy for the two languages to intermix.
Euskera is one of several Indo-European languages that are alive and spoken today. In ancient times the language was not as heavily influenced by Latin, and unlike other Romance languages, this Basque language prevails to this day.
Currently Euskera is spoken widely in Northern Spain, where it’s influenced Spanish speakers who interact with Basque speakers to adopt common words and phrases into their daily vocabulary.
Several words from Basque origin are also accepted by the Royal Spanish Academy. You wouldn’t imagine it, but many common Spanish surnames like García are from this region.
Basque words you may hear used in day-to-day Spanish are:
-el chaparro (short)
-la chatarra (junk)
-el aquelarre (coven)
-la boina (beret)
-la izquierda (left)
Catalán is also a language from Spain, but unlike Euskera, it has Romance roots.
Although it’s only spoken in the province of Catalonia, the exchange between Spanish and Catalan cultures is vast and they’ve coexisted in the country for quite some time, growing together and influencing one another.
In today’s times, in cities like Barcelona, both languages are used to communicate, unlike smaller communes where Catalan is the norm.
Due to the recent political climate and independence movements of Catalonia, a percentage of the population is campaigning to boycott the Catalan language; something impossible to do as many Catalan words are used in daily Spanish vocabulary.
Some of those words are:
-añorar – enyorar (yearn)
-la chuleta – xula (cutlet)
-la faena – feina (task)
-el forastero – foraster (outsider)
-el peaje – peatge (toll)
Quechúa and Nahuatl
It’s no surprise that languages like Quechúa and Nahuatl have influenced Spanish. A long period of Spanish occupation in the Americas and interaction with indigenous cultures gave room for these languages to leave their mark in the Spanish language.
Quechúa was widely spoken throughout Colombia, Perú, Ecuador, Argentina, Bolivia, and Chile. Along with other Indo-American languages like Nahuatl and Maya, they gave Spanish new concepts and words.
To this day Quechúa-speaking populations communicate mixing words in Spanish, this is also visible in other multilingual countries like Mexico and Guatemala, where there are plenty of dialects that derive from Nahuatl.
These indigenous languages are quite ancient and as the world moves forward there’s plenty of words that do not have a direct translation to Spanish and vice-versa, so you’ll quite often hear these languages and cultures intertwined. Some examples of Quechúa and
Nahuatl words we’ve adopted into Spanish are:
-la carpa – karpa (tent)
-la cancha – kancha (court)
-el puma (mountain lion)
-el aguacate – ahuacatl (avocado)
-el chocolate – xocolatl (chocolate)
-el tomate – tomatl (tomato)
-el elote – elotl (corn)
The English language plays a substantial role in present-day Spanish, since current generations are surrounded by English and Anglo-American values.
Thanks to technology, as well as the arts and entertainment, the amount of words Spanish-speakers borrow or transform from English is high.
The proximity of Latin American countries to the United States and the high percentage of Hispanic population in the country has also created a cultural blend of Hispanic-American traditions and customs.
Native Spanish-speakers are taking words in english that are not part of the vocabulary and are bringing them to the table in everyday conversations. Some examples of loan-words native Spanish-speakers have adopted from American english are:
- la internet
- el chat
- el sándwich – sandwich
- el software
- el tweet
- el club
- el golf
- el trailer
- el fútbol – football
- el link
- el cóctel – cocktail
- el bar
- el hobby
When You Learn a Language, You Discover Culture
I hope reading this blog post has given you some food for thought to reflect on how languages and cultures not only develop at the same time, but influence one another. Separating them is difficult, while embracing and learning the culture of a language provides more context for you to express yourself more appropriately. Why do you think languages and cultures mesh so well together? Leave me your answer in the comments section!
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