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Origins and History of the Spanish Language


The Spanish language began when Southwestern Europe’s first settlers, the Iberians of Libya, got together the Celts, the nomadic Aryan tribes who migrated from the north. Together they formed the Celtiberian race and spoke a form of Celtic. At that time Spain was known as the Iberian Peninsula.

The Phoenicians of Lebanon followed. These great pioneers of peaceful and productive civilization founded Cadiz and other trading posts along the Mediterranean coast. They left a profoundly rich legacy including the invention of the alphabet.

Next came the Greeks. They founded several towns before the Phoenicians decided to claim possession of the peninsula and called for help from Carthage. But Rome came to the Greeks’ defense and this became the Second Punic War.

The Romans conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula and ruled for 600 years until the collapse of the Roman Empire in the 400s A.D. They named the region Hispania, taught classical Latin to the inhabitants, and completely absorbed them in Roman culture. When classical Latin merged with the languages of the Iberians, Celts and Carthaginians, the result was a language called Vulgar Latin.

Latin remained the official language of Hispania even after the German Visigoth tribes invaded in the 400s A.D. But in about 719 A.D. came the attack of the Moors. These were Arabic-speaking Islamic Muslims from Northern Africa and they dominated most of Hispania until the late 1400s. Vulgar Latin survived only in a few remote centers of Christianity, but the creation of a standardized Spanish language had begun 200 years earlier. More about this in a moment.

Arabic became the next largest contributor of words to what was to become the Spanish language. Thousands of Arabic words had been added by the time the Christian kingdoms finally re-took possession of Spain and expelled the Moors in the 15th century A.D. Vulgar Latin dialects, especially Castilian, now began to dominate.

The Catholic husband-wife monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon made Castilian the official Spanish language dialect when they finished the reconquest of Moorish Spain in 1492. By now, from the work of the court of scholars that had begun in the 1200s under King Alfonso X, the Spanish language had already been standardized based on the Castilian dialect.

Alfonso X was known as the Learned King of Castile and Leon. Headquartered in the central highlands city of Toledo, he and his scholars translated histories along with literary, scientific and legal works from Latin, Greek and Arabic. This played a major role in the spread of knowledge throughout ancient Western Europe. They also wrote original works and their official documents in Castilian.

And so, the Castilian dialect became Spain’s written and educational standard. Several spoken dialects survived, with Andalusian as the next most prominent.

In the end, the principal contributors of words to the Spanish language are Latin, English and Arabic, in that order. Modern Spanish is laced with about 4,000 words having Arabic roots. Non-Latin words that both Spanish and English share come from Arabic. For instance, albacore (albacora), alcohol, algebra, guitar (guitarra), coffee (café) and sofa among others.

Today, Spanish is the official language of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Spain, Uruguay and Venezuela. Spanish is the native language of over 332 million people, and is widely spoken in the United States, Canada, Morocco and the Philippines.

Copyright MBPCO 2006 and Beyond. Elizabeth Miller is an author/publisher. For more about Spanish just click spanish.