Spanish and Castilian are two words that are used interchangeably to designate the same language. However, this undifferentiation generates some debates and discussions because it is, above all, inaccurate and controversial.
To start at the beginning, let’s see what the Dictionary of the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE) says about it. The following are the definitions of the masculine names “Spanish” and “Castilian” according to the RAE:
Knowing how the Royal Spanish Academy defines Spanish and Castilian, the first fact that draws attention is that the origin of the Spanish language is found, precisely, in the Romance dialect originating in Castile, a region with imprecise limits located in the center of the Iberian Peninsula (former kingdom of Castile).
With this starting point, from Worldly Translations we can begin to unravel the origins and debates that arise around these two names that are usually used to designate the same language.
What controversies exist between Spanish and Castilian?
The main discussion around the name of the Spanish language (spoken in Spain, Latin America, Equatorial Guinea and in other Spanish-speaking areas) revolves around whether it is more appropriate to call it Spanish or Castilian; or if both forms are equivalent to each other.
This overriding controversy is twofold. On the one hand, if it is more appropriate to use the term based on its origin (the Castilian romance) or based on its best-known name (Spanish). On the other hand, if when referring to Castilian it refers only to the Spanish spoken in Spain, or if it is a synonym of Spanish in any Spanish-speaking country in the world.
Like many of the discussions related to the naming of a language that is identified with a certain territory (Spanish with Spain and Castilian with Castile, the ancient kingdom where the language originates and from which it extends to America), this controversy is considered extralinguistic. Why? Simply because it carries a historical past that implies a fight in favor of a single denomination to facilitate its international identification.
Are there discussions from the linguistic point of view?
From a purely linguistic perspective, it is not possible to justify preferences for one denomination or another to designate the Spanish language. According to the Royal Spanish Academy and the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language, Spanish and Castilian are then synonymous.
However, according to the Pan-Hispanic Dictionary of Doubts, also belonging to the RAE: “The Spanish term is more recommendable because it lacks ambiguity, since it refers univocally to the language spoken today by nearly four hundred million people. Likewise, it is the denomination that is used internationally (Spanish, espagnol, Spanisch, espagnolo, etc.). Although it is also synonymous with Spanish, it is preferable to reserve the term Castilian to refer to the Romanesque dialect born in the Kingdom of Castile during the Middle Ages, or to the dialect of Spanish that is currently spoken in this region. In Spain, the name Castilian is also used when referring to the common language of the State in relation to the other co-official languages in their respective autonomous territories”.
To complete this last idea, the Spanish Constitution of 1978, in its third article, uses the specific name “Castilian” to differentiate the official language from the other “Spanish languages” such as Basque, Aragonese, Catalan or Valencian, Asturleonian, Galician or Aranese.
Therefore, it is evident that although they designate the same language, the controversies around Spanish and Castilian exceed the linguistic scope and are more related to political and territorial disputes.