Brief History of Spanish Language | Newsdle

Brief History of Spanish Language


Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world (over 430 million native speakers) and the most spoken Romance language. Other Romance languages include French, Italian and Portuguese. There are also said to be over 180 million second language learners of Spanish around the world, so there’s no better time to learn Spanish!

History of Spanish language

Latin was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans in the late 3rd century BC. As a Romance language, Spanish evolved from Latin. More specifically, Spanish evolved from a dialect of spoken Latin, which we refer to today as ‘Vulgar Latin’. This differs from the Classical Latin used in literature.

The historical origins of Spanish language lie in Spain. However, most Spanish mother tongue speakers can now be found in Latin America.

The first standardized norm of Spanish was promoted by Alfonso X the Wise in the 13th century, who chose it as the main language for administration. Spanish language is most commonly known as Castilian, which references the dialect that modern Spanish originated from.

In the late 15th century, the kingdoms of Castile and Leon merged with Aragon. This led to Castilian becoming the official language of all of Spain. Spanish language expanded internationally in the Early Modern period with the Spanish conquests.

During the dictatorship of Francisco Franco in Spain from 1939 to 1975, policies were introduced to increase the prevalence of Castilian language in Spain. Franco’s aim was to suppress other languages such as Catalan, Basque and Galician and harsh punishments were introduced.

Did you know? Spanish was a major diplomatic language until the 18th century.

Which countries speak Spanish?

Spanish is an official language in each of the following 20 countries (in alphabetical order):

  • Argentina
  • Bolivia
  • Chile
  • Colombia
  • Costa Rica
  • Cuba
  • Dominican Republic
  • Ecuador
  • El Salvador
  • Equatorial Guinea
  • Guatemala
  • Honduras
  • Mexico
  • Nicaragua
  • Panama
  • Paraguay
  • Peru
  • Spain
  • Uruguay
  • Venezuela

Spanish is also spoken in Puerto Rico, which is a US overseas territory (not a country).

Mexico tops the list with the most Spanish speakers (113 million), followed by Colombia (50 million), Argentina (45 million), Spain (43 million) and United States (41 million).

Is Spanish spoken differently around the world?

With over 430 million native speakers across 20 countries, there are lots of different accents and varieties of Spanish that have emerged.

When Spanish explorers first colonized the Americas, many of them came from southern Spain and spoke Andalusian Spanish. This version of Spanish was different to the version of Spanish spoken in northern Spain.

Today, there are two main subtypes of Spanish that exist – Northern Spanish (which is most common in Spain) and the version of Andalusian Spanish that travelled with the Spanish conquests (which we refer to as Latin American Spanish).

Tip: At Newsdle, we offer all lessons in Spanish (Spain) and Spanish (Latin America). You can pick up on the slight differences in written Spanish and listen to the spoken audio to hear a variety of accents from our native Spanish speaking content team!

Key differences between Northern Spanish and Latin American Spanish 

  • In Northern Spanish, z’s and c’s are pronounced as th.
  • In Latin American Spanish, c’s, s’s and z’s are all pronounced the same way, which is known as seseo.
  • Northern Spanish speakers tend to use the present perfect tense more frequently.
  • Latin American speakers more commonly use the simple past tense in place of the above.
  • Northern Spanish speakers use vosotros (you – plural, informal) in informal settings. Ustedes (you – plural, informal) for formal situations.
  • Latin American speakers use ustedes for both informal and formal situations.

The Standardization of Spanish language globally

The Royal Spanish Academy was founded in 1723 with the aim of standardizing Spanish language. It’s still the authoritative source on Castilian Spanish today, with its latest dictionary volume being produced in 2014. Despite the Royal Spanish Academy being the go-to authority for Spanish language, other Spanish speaking countries have their own databases to track regional differences.

Does Spanish have Old Spanish like English has Old English?

Yes! However, you’ll be delighted to know that Old Spanish is much easier to interpret for modern speakers than Middle English or Old English are. This gives a unique opportunity when studying Spanish to access ancient texts and artefacts, which is a true delight!

To see how languages evolve, watch this really interesting TED Talk by Michael Corballis on the origins and evolution of languages.

Why should I learn Spanish today? 

As Spanish language continues to grow globally, there’s never been a better time to learn Spanish. Learning a language is so much more than the ability to translate. From meeting friends, to travel and work opportunities, read our top 7 reasons why you should start learning Spanish today!

We created Newsdle to provide students a platform to study Spanish at their own pace, with fun and engaging news-based lessons from beginner to advanced levels. Study daily lessons at your level across our website and app, with loads of features to help you on your language learning journey!

Spanish in the United States

Over 40 million people in the US are native Spanish (mother tongue) speakers. There are around 12 million bilingual speakers of Spanish in the US. It’s estimated that by 2050 one in three people will speak Spanish, including non-native speakers.

Are you one of the over 8 million students in the US studying Spanish? Ask your teacher to request a free trial of our Classroom platform.

We hope you enjoyed our brief history of Spanish language. Be sure to follow us and check back more for more Spanish learning blog content.

¡Hasta luego!

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