Spanish (español, castellano) is a member of the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family, and as such, was originally derived from Vulgar Latin. In the 16th century, Spanish was brought from Spain to Latin America, parts of Oceana, and the Philippines during the period of Spanish colonization. Today, Spanish is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, which also include Chinese, Hindi, and English. While estimates vary, Spanish is thought to have roughly 450 million native speakers, with the vast majority being found in Latin America, making Spanish the second most widely spoken native language in the world.
Mexico is currently the country with the most native speakers of Spanish (20% of the total number of Spanish speakers in the world). According to one study, the United States has the second greatest number of Spanish speakers in the world, and by 2050 could outpace Mexico with the highest number of Spanish speakers. In Latin America, Spanish is the official de facto or de jure language in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Puerto Rico (co-official with English), Uruguay, and Venezuela.
In the United States, roughly 45 million people aged 5 or older speak Spanish at home, and Spanish represents the most widely spoken non-English language. The areas with the largest density of Spanish speakers tend to be in southern and border regions, including California, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and Florida, although there are significant populations of Spanish speakers now in nearly every state. Spanish in the United States has also developed its own unique features, such as the incorporation of many English words, as well as combining Spanish and English in a colloquial form popularly known as “Spanglish.”
Given its wide geographic distribution, Spanish has naturally developed numerous different regional dialects. The two main dialect groups are Peninsular Spanish (Castilian) from Spain, and Latin American Spanish found throughout Central and South America. Numerous dialects and sub-dialects have in turn evolved in each of these regions. Although there are some differences in vocabulary, grammar, and pronunciation, there are relatively few major differences between the two primary groups of the Spanish language and they are generally mutually intelligible. The key differences between Peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish include variations in phonology, morphology, and vocabulary.
For example, in terms of morphology, the second-person singular pronoun vos is commonly used in Latin America (along with tú), whereas it has disappeared altogether in Spain and only tú is used (with usted representing a more formal register in both regions). The use of the second-person singular pronoun vos was a feature in medieval Castilian as a polite form (like vous in French) but was eventually lost in the Iberian Peninsula. Additionally, the second-person plural pronoun used in Spain is vosotros, whereas ustedes is more commonly used in Latin America.
Spanish is an inflected (fusional) language, the noun and adjective systems possess two genders and numbers. Spanish verbs are classified into three forms, based on their infinitive ending: -ar, -er, and -ir. Verbs undergo inflection based on tense (past, present, future), number, person, T-V distinction (formal or informal), mood, aspect, and voice. Because conjugated verbs indicate the person and number of its subject, subject pronouns are frequently omitted, unless needed for disambiguation or emphasis.
Spanish is also a subject-verb-object language, although the constituent order can be highly variable as with other Romance languages. Additionally, Spanish is a “T-V Language,” using different persons for formal and informal addresses, although the usage varies by region.
Approximately 75% of Spanish vocabulary has been derived from Latin, with significant influences from Ancient Greek and Arabic. The large Arabic influence comes from the period of Moorish conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, beginning in the 8th century CE and lasting in lessening degrees until 1491 when Spanish Christian forces retook the Emirate of Granada, the last remaining Muslim territory in the peninsula. In Latin America, Spanish has also absorbed vocabulary from a variety of indigenous languages, such as Quechua, Nahuatl, Taíno, Guarani, and more. Spanish words derived from Arabic tend to include the letters al- at the beginning.
Spanish utilizes the Latin alphabet with 26 letters, with the addition of the character ñ. However, the letters k and w are only used in words and names that come from foreign languages. An acute accent is used with vowels to distinguish between certain homophones, particularly when one is stressed and the other is a clitic. Spanish is also a phonetic language, meaning that letters are pronounced consistently and each letter represents a certain sound, unlike in English. This also makes Spanish a fairly simple language to learn, especially when it comes to spelling and speaking.
FUN FACTS: Although Spanish is most well known as the primary language in Spain and Latin America, it is also spoken in some areas in Africa, including Ceuta, Canary Islands, Melilla, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon (Cocobeach), and Western Sahara. Also, while the large number of cognates (words that sound similar) between Spanish and English make Spanish one of the easier languages to learn for English speakers, there are also a number of false cognates (“false friends”), namely words that sound similar but have very different meanings. For example, the Spanish verb discutir actually means “to argue,” not “to discuss.”
At Piedmont Global Language Solutions (PGLS), we offer document translation, interpretation, localization, and other language services in Spanish. Whether you need to translate public information notices into Latin American Spanish, a Mexican Spanish interpreter for a community meeting, or want to localize your website into Castilian Spanish to market your products or services in Spanish, PGLS is here to help with all of your Spanish language needs.