WHAT IS SPANISH?
Spanish or Castilian (castellano) is a Romance language originally from the northern area of Spain. It is the official language of Spain, most Latin American countries, and the official language of Equatorial Guinea, in Africa. In total, twenty-five nations and territories use Spanish as their primary language. It is one of six official languages of the United Nations.
Spanish originated as a dialect of Latin along the remote cross road strips among the Cantabria, Burgos, Soria and La Rioja provinces of Northern Spain. From there, its use gradually spread inside the
The language is spoken most extensively in the Americas, Spain and in Africa and Asia Pacific. It is also the second most widely spoken language in the United States] and by far the most popular studied foreign language in U.S. schools and Universities. Due to many linguistic similarities and close territorial ties, Spanish is also a very popular second langauge in Brazil, Portugal, Italy, and France where these countries together form a considerable proportion of the langauges non-native or secondary speakers.
Naming and origin
Spaniards tend to call this language español (Spanish) when contrasting it with languages of foreign states, such as French and English, but call it castellano (Castilian), that is, the language of the Castile region, when contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. This reasoning also holds true for the language's preferred name in some Hispanic American countries. In this manner, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole
El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. (…) Las demás lenguas españolas serán también oficiales en las respectivas Comunidades Autónomas…
Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. (…) The other Spanish languages shall also be official in their respective Autonomous Communities…
The name castellano is however widely used for the language as a whole in
Classification and related languages
Castilian Spanish has closest affinity to the other West Iberian Romance languages: Asturian (asturianu), Galician (galego), Ladino (dzhudezmo/spanyol/kasteyano), and Portuguese (português), as well as, in some ways, to Aragonese (aragonés) and Catalan (català).
Catalan, an East Iberian language which exhibits many Gallo-Romance traits, is more similar to the neighbouring Occitan language (occitan) than Spanish and Portuguese are to each other. In fact, it wasn't until the earliest years of the 20th century that Catalan was considered a variant of the Occitan language. Spanish and Portuguese share similar grammars and a majority of vocabulary as well as a common history of Arabic influence while a great part of the peninsula was under Islamic rule (both languages expanded over Islamic territories). Their lexical similarity has been estimated as 89%. See Differences between Spanish and Portuguese, for further information.
Ladino, which is essentially medieval Castilian and closer to modern Spanish than any other language, is spoken by many descendants of the Spanish Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. In many ways it is not a separate language but a parallel dialect of Castilian. Ladino lacks Native American vocabulary which was influential during the Spanish colonial period, and it retains many archaic features which have since been lost in standard Castilian. It does, however, contain other vocabulary which is not found in standard Castilian, including vocabulary from Hebrew as well as Turkish and other languages spoken wherever the Sephardim settled.
Spanish and Italian share a very similar phonological system and do not differ very much in grammar. At present, the lexical similarity with Italian is estimated at 82%. As a result, Spanish and Italian are mutually intelligible to various degrees. Mutual intelligibility with French and Romanian is lower (lexical similarity is respectively 75% and 71%) and for French "understanding" of Spanish from French speakers (with no knowledge of the language) falls at an estimated 45% - as much as English. The common features of the writing systems of the Romance languages allow for a greater amount of interlingual reading comprehension than oral communication would.
One defining characteristic of Spanish was the diphthongization of the Latin short vowels e and o into ie and ue, respectively, when they were stressed. Similar sound changes can be found in other Romance languages, but in Spanish they were particularly significant. Some examples:
- Lat. petra > Sp. piedra, It. pietra, Fr. pierre, Port./Gal. pedra "stone".
- Lat. moritur > Sp. muere, It. muore, Fr. meurt / muert, Rom. moare, Port./Gal. morre "he dies".
More peculiar to early Spanish (as in the Gascon dialect of Occitan, and possibly due to a Basque substratum) was the mutation of Latin initial f- into h- whenever it was followed by a vowel which did not diphthongate. Compare for instance:
- Lat. filium > It. figlio, Port. filho, Fr. fils, Occitan filh (but Gascon hilh) Sp. hijo (but Ladino fijo);
- late Lat. *fabulare > Lad. favlar, Port. falar, Sp. hablar;
- but Lat. focum > It. fuoco, Port. fogo, Sp./Lad. fuego.
Some consonant clusters of Latin also produced characteristically different results in these languages, for example:
- Lat. clamare, acc. flammam, plenum > Lad. lyamar, flama, pleno; Sp. llamar, llama, lleno. However, in Spanish there are also the forms clamar, flama, pleno; Port. chamar, chama, cheio.
- Lat. acc. octo, noctem, multum > Lad. ocho, noche, muncho; Sp. ocho, noche, mucho; Port. oito, noite, muito.
The Spanish language developed from Vulgar Latin, with influences from Basque, and to some minor extent Celtiberian and Arabic, in the north of the Iberian Peninsula, between Biscay and current Cantabria's corners, partly as strongly innovative and differing variant from its nearest cousin, Leonese speech, with a higher degree of Basque influence (see Iberian Romance languages). Typical features of Spanish diachronical phonology include lenition (Latin vita, Spanish vida), palatalization (Latin annum, Spanish año, and Latin anellum, Spanish anillo) and diphthongation (stem-changing) of short e and o from Vulgar Latin (Latin terra, Spanish tierra; Latin novus, Spanish nuevo). Similar phenomena can be found in other Romance languages as well.
The first Latin to Spanish grammar (Gramática de
From the 16th century onwards, the language was brought to the Americas and Spanish East Indies by Spanish colonization. Also in this epoch, Spanish became the main language of Politics and Art across the major part of Europe. In the 18th century, French took its place.
In the 20th century, Spanish was introduced in Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara and parts of the United States, such as Spanish Harlem in New York City, that had not been part of the Spanish Empire.
The vast majority of the world's Spanish speakers are located in the Americas. Of those countries with the largest numbers of Spanish speakers, only Spain is situated outside of the
Spanish holds no official recognition in the former British colony of Belize. However, according to the 2000 census, 52.1% of the population speaks the language "very well."  It is mainly spoken by Hispanic descendants who have remained in the region since the 17th century. However, English remains the sole official language.
Spanish has become increasingly important in Brazil due to proximity and increased trade with its Spanish-speaking neighbours, for example, as a member of the Mercosur trading bloc. In 2005, the National Congress of Brazil approved a bill, signed into law by the President, that makes Spanish available as a foreign language in the country's secondary schools. In many border towns and villages (especially along the Uruguayan-Brazilian border) a mixed language commonly known as Portuñol is also spoken.
In the United States, 42.7 million people were of Hispanic heritage according to the 2005 census. Some 32 million people, or 12% of the whole population aged 5 years or older speak Spanish at home. The Spanish language has a long history in the United States (many states from the south used to be part of
Spanish is official in Spain, the country for which it is named and from which it originated. It is also spoken widely in Gibraltar, although English is used for official purposes. Likewise, it is spoken in Andorra though Catalan is the official language. It is also spoken by small communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany. Spanish is an official language of the European Union. In
Although Spanish was an official language in the Philippines, it was never spoken by a majority of the population. Its importance fell in the first half of the 20th century following the
In Africa, Spanish is official in Equatorial Guinea and Gabon (only Cocobeach). It is also spoken in the territories of Peñón de Alhucemas, Ceuta, the Chafarinas Islands, Melilla, Peñón de Vélez de la Gomera, and in the autonomous community of Canary Islands. In Morocco, a former Franco-Spanish protectorate that is also geographically close to
Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is also spoken in Easter Island, a territorial possession of
The island nations of Guam, Palau, Northern Marianas, Marshall Islands and Federated States of Micronesia all once had Spanish speakers, since Marianas and Caroline Islands were Spanish colonial possessions until late 19th century (see Spanish-American War), but Spanish has since been forgotten. It now only exists as an influence on the local native languages.
There are important variations among the regions of
Spanish has three second-person singular pronouns: tú, usted, and in some parts of
Vos is used extensively as the primary spoken form of the second-person singular pronoun in many countries of Latin America, including Argentina, Costa Rica, the central mountain region of Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay, the Antioquia and Valle del Cauca states of Colombia and the State of Zulia in Venezuela. In
Spanish forms also differ regarding second-person plural pronouns. The Spanish dialects of
Some words can be different, even embarrassingly so, in different Hispanophone countries. Most Spanish speakers can recognize other Spanish forms, even in places where they are not commonly used, but Spaniards generally do not recognise specifically American usages. For example, Spanish mantequilla, aguacate and albaricoque (respectively, "butter", "avocado", "apricot") correspond to
The Real Academia Española (Royal Spanish Academy), together with the 21 other national ones (see Association of Spanish Language Academies), exercises a standardizing influence through its publication of dictionaries and widely respected grammar and style guides. Due to this influence and for other sociohistorical reasons, a standardized form of the language (Standard Spanish) is widely acknowledged for use in literature, academic contexts and the media.
Spanish is written using the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the character ñ (eñe), which represents the phoneme /ɲ/ and is regarded as a letter of its own distinct from n, despite being typographically an n with a tilde. The digraphs ch (che) and ll (elle) are considered single letters, with their own names and places in the alphabet, because each represents a single phoneme (/tʃ/ and /ʎ/, respectively). However, the digraph rr (erre doble, "double r", or simply erre as opposed to ere), which also represents a single phoneme /r/, was not similarly regarded as a single letter. Thus, the traditional Spanish alphabet had 28 letters (29 if one counted w, which is only used in foreign names and loanwords):
a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.
Since 1994, the two digraphs are to be treated as letter pairs for collation purposes. Words with ch are now alphabetically sorted between those with ce and ci, instead of following cz as they used to, and similarly for ll. Nevertheless, the names che and elle are still used colloquially.
With the exclusion of a very small number of regional terms such as México (see Mexico: Toponymy), pronunciation can be entirely determined from spelling. A typical Spanish word is stressed on the syllable before the last if it ends with a vowel (not including y) or with a vowel followed by n or s; it is stressed on the last syllable otherwise. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by placing an acute accent on the stressed vowel.
The acute accent is used, in addition, to distinguish between certain homophones, especially when one of them is a stressed word and the other one is a clitic: compare el ("the", masculine singular definite article) with él ("he" or "it"), or te ("you", object pronoun), de (preposition "of" or "from"), and se (reflexive pronoun) with té ("tea"), dé ("give") and sé ("I know", or imperative "be").
The interrogative pronouns (qué, cuál, dónde, quién, etc.) also receive accents in direct or indirect questions, and some demonstratives (ése, éste, aquél, etc.) can be accented when used as pronouns. The conjunction o ("or") is written with an accent between numerals so as not to be confused with a zero: e.g., 10 ó 20 should be read as diez o veinte rather than diez mil veinte ("10,020"). Accent marks are frequently omitted in capital letters (a widespread practice in the early days of computers where only lowercase vowels were available with accents), although the RAE advises against this.
In rare cases, u is written with a diaeresis (ü) when it comes between g and a front vowel (e or i), to indicate that it should be pronounced, rather than silent as usual (e.g., cigüeña, "stork", is pronounced /θ̟iˈɰweɲa/, /s̟iˈɰweɲa/; if it were written cigueña, it would be pronounced /θ̟iˈɰeɲa/, /s̟iˈɰeɲa/).
Interrogative and exclamatory clauses are introduced with inverted question ( ¿ ) and exclamation marks ( ¡ ).
- Initial /f/, when it had evolved into a vacillating /h/, was lost in most words (although this etymological h- is preserved in spelling and in some Andalusian dialects is still aspirated).
- The bilabial approximant /β̞/ (which was written u or v) merged with the bilabial oclusive /b/ (written b). There is no difference between the pronunciation of orthographic b and v in contemporary Spanish, excepting specific areas in
Spain(particularly the ones influenced by Catalan) and Latin America.
- The voiced alveolar fricative /z/ which existed as a separate phoneme in medieval Spanish merged with its voiceless counterpart /s/. The phoneme which resulted from this merger is currently spelled s.
- The voiced postalveolar fricative /ʒ/ merged with its voiceless counterpart /ʃ/, which evolved into the modern velar sound /x/ by the 17th century, now written with j, or g before e, i. Nevertheless, in most parts of
Argentinaand in , y and ll have both evolved to /ʒ/ or /ʃ/. Uruguay
- The voiced alveolar affricate /dz/ merged with its voiceless counterpart /ts/, which then developed into the interdental /θ/, now written z, or c before e, i. But in Andalusia, the Canary Islands and the
this sound merged with /s/ as well. See Ceceo, for further information. Americas
The consonant system of Medieval Spanish has been better preserved in Ladino and in Portuguese, neither of which underwent these shifts.
Spanish has a phonemic stress system — stress is fixed, and different stress patterns of the same word can result in separate meanings for one and the same word. Spanish makes abundant use of this feature, especially in distinguishing verb conjugation forms. For example, the word camino (with penultimate stress) means "road" or "I walk" whereas caminó (with final stress) means "you (formal)/he/she/it walked". Another example is the word práctico (first-syllable stress) "practical", which is different from practico (second-syllable stress) "I practice," and practicó (last-syllable stress) "you (formal)/he/she/it practiced." Also, since Spanish syllables are all pronounced at a more or less constant tempo, the language is said to be syllable-timed.
As mentioned above, stress can always be predicted from the written form of a word. An amusing example of the significance of stress and intonation in Spanish is the riddle
Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two-gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but limited inflection of nouns, adjectives, and determiners. (For a detailed overview of verbs, see Spanish verbs and Spanish irregular verbs.)
It is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually (though not always) places adjectives after nouns. Its syntax is generally Subject Verb Object, though variations are common. It is a pro-drop language (allows the deletion of pronouns when pragmatically unnecessary) and verb-framed.
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