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Spanish language
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Spanish language

Spanish is an Iberian Romance language, and the third or fourth most spoken language in the world. It is spoken as a first language by about 352 million people, or by 417 million including non-native speakers (according to 1999 estimates). The majority of Spanish speakers live in Latin America.

Spanish (español or castellano)
Spoken in:Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Spain, USA and 40 other countries.
Total speakers: 392 Million
       West Iberian
Official status
Official language of:Mexico, Colombia, Argentina, Spain and 17 other countries
Language codes
ISO 639-1: es
ISO 639-2: spa

Table of contents
1 “Spanish” or “Castilian”
2 Classification
3 History
4 Geographic distribution
5 Variations
6 Grammar
7 Phonology
8 Writing system
9 Examples of Spanish
10 Reference
11 See also
12 External links

“Spanish” or “Castilian”

Main article: Names given to the Spanish language

As well as español (English: 'Spanish'), the language is also commonly referred to as castellano (English: 'Castilian').


Spanish is a member of the Romance branch of Indo-European.


Main article: History of the Spanish language

The Spanish language was developed from vulgar Latin, with influence from Basque and Arabic, in the north of Iberian Peninsula (see Iberian Romance languages). Typical features of Spanish diachronical phonology include lenition (Latin vita, Spanish vida), palatalization (Latin annum, Spanish año) and diphthongation of breve E/O from vulgar Latin (Latin terra, Spanish tierra; Latin novus, Spanish nuevo); similar phenomena can be found in most Romance languages as well.

For the Reconquista, this north dialect was going to the south.

The language was brought to the Americas, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Marianas, Palau and the Philippines, by the Spanish colonization since 16th century.

In the 20th century, Spanish was introduced in Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara.

Geographic distribution

Spanish is one of the official languages of the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations.

With close to 100 million first-language speakers, Mexico boasts the largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. The four next largest populations reside in Colombia (42 million), Argentina (39 million), Spain (c. 34 million) and the United States of America (c. 30 million).

Spanish is the official and most important language in 20 countries: Argentina, Bolivia (co-official Aymará), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea (co-official French), Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay (co-official Guaraní), Peru (co-official Quechua and Aymará), Puerto Rico, Spain (co-official Catalan, Galician, Basque and Aranese), Uruguay and Venezuela .

It is the most important and widely-spoken language, but without official recognition, in Andorra, Belize, and Gibraltar

In the United States - which has no officially recognized national language - Spanish is spoken by some three-quarters of its over 40 million Hispanic population. It is also being learnt and spoken by a miniscule, though slowly growing, proportion of its non-Hispanic population for its increasing use in business, commerce and politics. On a federal level it shares a privileged position along with the more dominant English. On a statal level, however, Spanish does hold co-official status in various states. [See Spanish in the United States for futher information.]

Spanish is also spoken in Canada, Israel, northern Morocco, Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey (as Judaeo-Spanish) and Western Sahara.

In the Philippines, where its use has been in decline, Spanish ceased to be an official language in 1973. It is now spoken by less than 0.01% of the population; 2,658 speakers (1990 Census).


Main article: Variations of the Spanish language

There are important variations in dialect among the various regions of Spain and Spanish-speaking America. In Spain the North Castilian dialect pronunciation is commonly taken as the national standard (although the characteristic weak pronouns usage or laismo of this dialect is deprecated).

Spanish has three second person singular pronouns , Usted and in Latin America Vos. is informal (for example, used with friends) and Usted is formal (for example, used with older people).

Vos is used in various regions of Latin America, and its use, depending on region, can be considered the accepted standard or reproached as sub-standard and considered as speech of the uneducated. The interpersonal situations where the employment of Vos is acceptable also differs between regions.

Spanish is to some extent regulated by the RAE (Real Academia Española), which, in association with twenty-one other national language academies, exercises a conservative influence through its publication of dictionaries and widely respected grammar guides and style guides.


Main article: Grammar of the Spanish language


Main article: Phonology of the Spanish language

The consonantal system of Castilian Spanish, by the 16th century, underwent the following important changes that differentiated it from some neighbouring Romance languages, such as Portuguese and Catalan):

The consonantal system of Medieval Spanish has been better preserved in Judaeo-Spanish, the language spoken by the descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th century.

Lexical stress

Spanish has a phonemic stress system — the place where stress will fall cannot be predicted by other features of the word, and two words can differ by just a change in stress. For example, the word camino (with penultimate stress) means "I walk" or "road" whereas caminó (with final stress) means "he/she/it walked". Also, since Spanish pronounces all syllables at a more or less constant tempo, it is said to be a syllable-timed language.

Writing system

Spanish is written using the Latin alphabet, with a few special letters: the vowels can be marked with an acute accent (á, é, í, ó, ú) to mark stress when it doesn't follow the normal pattern or to differentiate otherwise equally spelt words (see below), diaeresis u (ü) after g to indicate a [gw] or [gu] pronunciation, and n with tilde (ñ) to indicate the palatal nasal [J]. Traditionally, the digraphs ch, ll and rr were considered separate letters, but this is no longer the case.

Written Spanish precedes exclamatory and interrogative clauses with inverted question and exclamation marks, examples: ¿Qu;é dices? (What do you mean?) ¡No; es verdad! (That's not true!). It is one of the few languages whose written form does so.

Written Spanish also marks unequivocally stress though a series of orthographic rules. The default stress is on the final syllable when the word ends in any consonant other than "n" or "s" and on the penultimate (next-to-last) syllable on words that end in a vowel, "n" or "s". Words that don't follow the default stress have an acute accent over the stressed vowel.

A word with final stress is called aguda; a word with penultimate stress is called llana or grave; a word with antepenultimate stress (stress on the third last syllable) is called esdrújula; and a word with preantepenultimate stress (on the fourth last syllable) or earlier is called sobresdrújula in which case there is a secondary stress towards the end of the word. All esdrújula and sobresdrújula words have written accent marks.

Also, in a number of cases, homonyms are distinguished with written accents on the stressed (or only) syllable: for example, te (object case of "you") and ("tea"); se (third person reflexive) and ("I know" or imperative "Be"); como ("like" or "I eat") and cómo ("how?").

An adjective describing a person or thing always comes after the noun in Spanish, not before the noun as in English.

These rules are similar but not the same as those of Portuguese and Catalan languages.

The Spanish orthography makes it that every speaker can guess the pronunciation (adapted for accent) from the written form. While the same pronunciation could be misspelt in several ways (there are homophones, because of silent h's, vacilations between b and v, and between c and z), the orthography is more coherent than, say, English orthography.

In spite of that, there have been several initiatives to reform the spelling: Andrés Bello succeded in making his proposal official in several South American countries, but they later returned to the RAE standard. Another initiative, the O.RR.L.I, remained a curiosity. Gabriel García Márquez raised the issue of reform during a congress at Zacatecas, but, with all his prestige, he got attention but nothing going. The Academies however from time to time change several tidbits.

Spanish is nicknamed la lengua de Cervantes (the language of Cervantes, the author of the Quixote).

Examples of Spanish

Note, the third column uses the International Phonetic Alphabet, the standard for linguists, to transcribe the sounds. If you are not familiar with the IPA, or your browser is too old to display special characters correctly, there is an approximate pronunciation based on English in the fourth column. There are several examples of travellers' vocabulary and one literary reference.
English Spanish IPA transcription Figured pronunciation
Spanish español [espa'ɲol] (es-pahn-YOL)
Spanish (Castilian) castellano [kaste'ʎano] (kah-steh-YAH-no)
hello, hi hola ['ola] (OH-la)
goodbye adiós [a'ðjos] (ah-THYOSE)
please por favor [porfa'βor] ([pore faah-VORE)
thank you gracias ['graθjas] (GRAH-thyahs)
sorry perdón\ [per'ðon] (pare-THON)
that (thing) eso ['eso] (esso)
how much? cuánto ['kwanto] (KWAHN-to)
English inglés [iŋ'gles] (ing-GLESS)
yes ['si] (see)
no no ['no] (no)
I don't understand no entiendo [noen'tjendo] (no en-tYEN-do)
where's the bathroom? ¿dónde está el baño? ['dondes'tael'βaɲo] (DON-day es-TAH el BA-nyo)
cheers! (toast) ¡salud! [sa'luð] (sah-LOOTHE)
do you speak English? ¿habla usted inglés? ['aβlaws'teðiɲ'gles] (AH-blah oos-TED ing-GLESS)
English: In some village in La Mancha, whose name I do not care to recall, there dwelt no so long ago a gentleman of the type wont to keep an unused lance, an old shield, a greyhound for racing, and a skinny old horse.
Spanish: En un lugar de la Mancha, de cuyo nombre no quiero acordarme, no ha mucho tiempo que vivía un hidalgo de los de lanza en astillero, adarga antigua, rocín flaco y galgo corredor.
IPA transcription: [enunlu'ɣarðela'mantʃa de'kuɟo'nombreno'kjeroakor'ðarme noa'mutʃo'tjempokeβi'βiauni'ðalɣo ðelozðe'lanθaenasti'ʎero a'ðarɣaan'tiɣwa rro'θin'flako i'ɣalɣokorre'ðor]
El Ingenioso Hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (opening sentence).


See also

External links