Who speaks Spanish?
Español or castellano is the official language in Spain (together with some other co-official or recognized languages) and is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world (by about 250 million people). It is also the official language of several Latin American countries: Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Panama, Cuba, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Paraguay, Uruguay and Argentina.
The main other languages spoken in Spain are Gallego in Galicia, Basque or Euskera in the Basque province, Catalan in Catalonia. The latter is used throughout the North-East of the country from about 6 million people, in Catalonia, in the area of Valencia and in the Balearic Islands. Basque (Euskera) is a pre-Indo-European language of uncertain origin, spoken by half a million people. Gallego is a Romance language similar to Portuguese, spoken in the North-West of the country by about 2 and a half million people.
In the fifteenth century the Spanish linguistic scene was as follows:
1.- Castilian dialects;
2.- Asturian-Leonese dialect;
3.- Navarro-Aragonese dialects;
4.- Mirandese dialect;
5.- Catalan dialects;
6.- Galician-Portuguese dialect;
Through the following centuries Mirandese merged with Galician, while Castilian absorbed the Asturian-Leonese and the Navarro-Aragonese. Two languages have imposed themselves: Castilian, which became synonymous of Spanish, and Catalan. The Spanish language deriving from the Castilian dialect was imposed by the Edict of Toledo (1253) and was then spread throughout the country by the Reconquista.
What are the main linguistic features of Spanish?
Most of the Spanish vocabulary is of Latin origin, but the presence of many Arabic words must be mentioned (more than a few of them easily recognizable by the initial al-, corresponding to the Arab article al-), as well as terms from other overseas countries and cultures. Its grammatical structure is basically similar to that of the other Romance languages.
There are not many non-Latin elements in modern Spanish. The ancient languages of the Iberians are virtually unknown and only seem to have similarities with Basque. The Celtic presence is found almost only in toponyms. About 300 words are of Germanic origin, many of them already present in Vulgar Latin. TheItalian Petrarchan lyric was influential on Spanish culture during the Renaissance centuries (XVI and XVII), and the French influence was felt especially in the XVIII century. The role of English has become a leading one in the last century.
Spanish is characterized by:
1.- Latin e and o change into the diphtongs ie and ue (piel, "skin", cuerpo, "body");
2.- The lenition of voiceless consonants into voiced (madera, "wood" from Latin materia) and of voiced consonants into spirants (caballo, "horse" with a b somewhat similar to a v) and even up to disappearing (feo, "ugly", from Latin foedum);
3.- The passage of f- to h- (herir, "hurt!).
Where does Spanish come from?
The oldest text of the Spanish literature is called L'auto des los Reys Magos, and was composed by an unknown author around the XXII century. Subsequent texts belong to the epic tradition, on whose early development three different theories have been proposed: that of French origin, that of Visigoth origin and that of Arab derivation.
It is assumed that the vernacular literature arose from the epic songs, of which only the Poema o Cantar del mio Cid (about the legendary hero, "El Cid Campeador") remains. It was composed between XXII and XXIII century. There are traces - in the chronicles - of other poems, unfortunately lost.