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Spanish Language

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Overview : One of the most important languages in the world, Spanish is the dominant language in the Western Hemisphere and is growing more rapidly than many other languages around the world. According to some sources, Spanish is the most commonly spoken language on Earth outside of Mandarin Chinese, and is very likely the second most common natively spoken language, as well. It is the second most common language within the United States, and the number one choice of Americans that choose to learn a second language.

Like so many other widespread languages, Spanish is divided into countless dialects that can sometimes differ quite strongly from one another. This dates back to before the spread of the Spanish Empire, as the various regions of Spain each had their own recognizable version of the language (and still do, especially in the southern areas of the country). The dominant version is now that of the Castilian region of Spain, known as castellano. Where it is spoken in Latin America and other places, however, it has seen significant local modifications and been adopted into new dialects.

Roots of the language: Much like other Romance languages such as French and Italian, Spanish descends from the Latin spoken by the Romans who conquered much of the continent in days of yore. After the fall of the Roman Empire, their former subjects continued to speak in Latin, but it eventually diverged into completely new languages based on the areas in which it was spoken.

In the eighth century, the Arabic-speaking Moors of North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula and conquered much of it. After centuries of rule, numerous Arabic words were permanently absorbed into the Spanish language. Spanish warlords slowly retook the peninsula from the Moors over a period of about eight centuries, most notably the Kingdom of Castile, whose dialect would eventually emerge as the dominant one.

During the Renaissance, Spain began founding a maritime empire that would come to span much of the globe. Perhaps the most important component was its acquisition of the vast majority of South American and North America, a conquest that drastically altered the course of history. Because of this colonial mixing, the Spanish language picked up a number of indigenous words, not to mention that the vast majority of Spanish speakers in the modern era reside far from the country where the language was born.

Language characteristics: Spanish bears a close resemblance to several other Romance languages, particularly Portuguese and Italian, with which it is nearly mutually intelligible (especially in its written form). In contrast to English, Spanish adheres quite well to its own grammatical rules, giving those who wish to learn the language an easier time. Variations between the dialects can be considerable, but rarely prevent speakers from around the world from being able to understand one another. The language is officially regulated by the Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española) in Spain, but the country with the most Spanish speakers, and therefore the most commonly spoken dialect, is actually Mexico.

Written form: Like most other European languages, Spanish uses the Latin alphabet, adding in a few special letters to express unique consonant sounds. Spanish is known for being relatively phonetic and easy to read aloud, even using accent marks to distinguish when emphasis falls on a non-standard syllable within a word. Because differences in vocabulary, verb conjugation and the use of pronouns are common throughout the different dialects of Spanish, a more standardized version, called “neutral” or Standard Spanish, is often used in literary and official contexts.

Last Updated : April 21, 2015


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