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History of the Spanish Language


Like all modern languages, Spanish did not appear from one day to another fully-formed. The development of the tongue into what today is the fourth most widely-spoken idiom in the world was a process that has developed over the last two thousand years, incorporating features of cultures from Asia to the Americas to become what it is today.


In common with other romance languages, such as Italian, French, Portuguese and Romanian, Spanish is based primarily on the Latin brought to the Iberian continent with the Roman Empire. The conquest of the area that today we call Spain and Portugal was completed in 19 B.C, and remained a colony until the first years of the fifth century.

What today we call Spanish was previously known as Castilian, a variation on the spoken (‘Vulgar’) Latin that developed from its classical form amongst the colonised territories. The language developed alongside Catalan, Basque, Aragonese, Galician and other native tongues of the area, and it was only in recent times, after the modern nation state of Spain became recognised due to the union of the kingdoms of Castile and Aragon, that the tag Spanish became widely used.

One curiosity of this change is that many countries in Latin America, such as Argentina, who conserve some parts of medieval Castilian in their grammar and vocabulary, persist in calling their language Castellano rather than Español.


Spanish has also been greatly influenced by contact with other cultures, both as colonisers and the colonised. The Arab settlements following the collapse of the Roman Empire left a massive impact on the local vocabulary – it is estimated that around 8% of the language derives from Arabic roots, making it the second-largest influence on the language after Latin. This list includes everyday terms such as arroz (rice), algodón (cotton) and asesino (murderer, assassin); even the interjection considered almost a stereotype of the Spanish people, Olé! traces its origins back to those Moorish settlers.

The colonisation of the Americas, a process that started in 1492 with the discovery of the continent by Christopher Columbus under Spanish patronage, also brought with it great changes in the local language. While the conquistadors imposed their tongue from Mexico to Argentina, native languages also imparted their own influences on vocabulary, most notably in the naming of the new species of flora and fauna discovered across the region.

This trend is more noticeable in Latin America itself, where many Spanish terms have been superseded by their indigenous counterparts. Interestingly, different countries in the region itself use the terms of local tribes instead of a standard denominator; for example, an avocado is aguacate in Mexico (and Spain for that matter) from the Nahuatl language, while in Chile, Argentina and elsewhere in South America, the Quechua term palta is preferred.


The Spanish language, as well as being the native tongue of over 450 million people worldwide, also has a rich cultural history. Masterpieces penned in the language include Don Quixote de la Mancha, written in 1605 and considered one of the founding works of modern world literature. Although composed by Frenchman, opera Carmen was set in Seville and tells the story of a naïve soldier seduced by a gypsy woman, and is widely recognised as one of the greatest operas in history.

In the modern day, Spanish continues to become ever more important on the world stage, as the Latin American region continues to post prodigious economic growth figures while the Hispanic community of United States increases exponentially in both size and prominence.


It is amongst the top 10 in the world for second language speakers, and is an essential tongue for anyone wishing to do business in the Americas.