The Spanish language is one of the three most widely spoken languages on the planet, along with English and Chinese. More than 577 million people speak Spanish in the world, of which 480 million have it as their mother tongue; therefore, 7.6% of the world’s population today is Spanish-speaking.
As language aficionados, these compelling data lead us to think about the origin of the Spanish language and how it spread in this way around the world. As we have done with the history of the English language, in this article we invite you to learn more about this widespread language.
What is the origin of the Spanish language?
To begin to unravel the origin of the Spanish language, we will begin by understanding the meaning of its name. According to the Royal Spanish Academy (RAE), the word “Spanish” derives from the Provençal “espaignol” which comes from the medieval Latin “hispaniolus” (it means “from Hispania”, the way the Romans called the Iberian Peninsula). Undoubtedly, knowing the etymology of this word gives us some guidelines about its genesis.
Like Portuguese, French, Italian, Catalan, Galician and Provençal, the Spanish language comes from Latin, since most of the Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Rome and was part of its empire, as well than many other European territories. After the fall of the Roman Empire (5th century), the influence of the so-called “cult Latin” gradually diminished among the common people and vulgar Latin was installed with substantially different phonetics, syntax and lexicon. In this context, in which the deformations of Latin arise, the typical Castilian romance of the region is born, which gave rise to the Kingdom of Castile and which spread throughout the peninsula during the Middle Ages.
As we have seen in our article “Spanish and Castilian: Are they or are they not the same?”, This is how the first version of the Spanish language emerged, which initially not only had a marked influence from vulgar Latin, but also took words from Greek , Celtic and Germanic.
How did this language evolve?
However, the creation of a standard Spanish language, based on the Castilian dialect, would begin several centuries later, more specifically in the year 1200. At that time, King Alfonso X of Castillla – called “el Sabio” – and his court of scholars settled in the city of Toledo, chosen as the base for their cultural activities. There, they wrote original works in Spanish and translated stories, chronicles, and scientific, legal and literary works from other languages (mainly from Latin, Greek and Arabic).
These intellectual activities that characterized the time and went down in history under the name of “Toledo School of Translators” were transcendental for the dissemination of knowledge in ancient Western Europe. Likewise, at this stage Alfonso X also adopted the Castilian dialect for administrative work and the dissemination of all official documents and decrees.
Later, during the reign of the Catholic monarchs Isabel de Castilla and Fernando de Aragón, the Castilian dialect of Spain gained wide acceptance after completing the Reconquest of Spain in 1492, where they made Castilian the official language in their kingdom. In addition, a no less important detail is that in that same year a very important book for the history of the Spanish language was published: “Grammatica” by Antonio de Nebrija, the first work dedicated to the study of the Castilian language and its rules.
From this publication on, grammar was considered the discipline that studies the rules of a language until the advent of linguistics as a scientific discipline in the 19th century. The publication of “Grammatica” was also a tool for the dissemination of Spanish, since from 1492 its predominance spread throughout much of the globe. Likewise, the authors of new grammars after Nebrija took his work as a basis for spelling in the Spanish language.
What is happening today with the Spanish language?
Today, the Spanish language is widespread throughout the planet, as it is spoken by more than 577 million people as a native, second and foreign language. It is the second language in the world in number of native speakers and the second language of international communication after English.
Spanish is a universal, multicultural and constantly evolving language, three attributes that make it a reference language for global communication.