Spanish (or español) or Castilian (or castellano) is a Romance language of the Indo-European family. The term Spanish is generally used by Spaniards when referring to their language in contrast to other foreign languages, though they prefer to use the word Castilian (spoken by 74% of Spain’s population) when distinguishing their idiom from other languages spoken in Spain, such as Catalan (17%), Galician (7%) and Basque (2%). Likewise, most South American countries refer to their official language as Castilian.
The Hispanophone community counts 350 million native-speakers living in Spain, small communities in the United Kingdom, Germany and France, and, predominantly, in Latin America. Mexico contains the largest number of Spanish speakers, followed, in alphabetical order, by Argentina, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, the Dominican Republis, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Uruguay and Venezuela. Spanish has a co-official status in Bolivia, Paraguay, and Peru, where native Quechua, Aymara and Guaraní are also spoken, and along with English, in Puerto Rico. Alongside French and Portuguese, it is also one of Equatorial Guinea’s official languages. In addition, Spanish is the language of choice of 34 million Hispanics living in the United States, where it is also the most widely taught foreign language.
Spanish evolved from Vulgar Latin and was also influenced by Arabic and some Germanic languages. It evolved from the idiom spoken in the north-central part of the Iberian Peninsula. In its early written records, it is often referred to as Old Spanish, becoming Modern Spanish starting in the 16th century. Linguists have not identified a “middle” evolutionary stage of the language, though standardization of Castilian was a fait accompli by 1492, when Antonio de Nebrija wrote the first grammar of Spanish in honor of Queen Isabella of Castille.
Premised that the term dialect is not applicable to Catalan, Galician, and Basque, which are languages in their own right, there are several dialectal variations of Castilian Spanish. There are variations within present day Castilian-speaking Spain and those between European/Peninsular Spanish and Latin American Spanish. With respect to the former, linguists identify the following dialects: Andalusian, Canarian, Extremaduras, and Marcian Spanish. Ultimately, the differences among these dialects as well as those between Peninsular and Latin American Spanish are less syntactical and more phonetical and lexical in nature.
Furthermore, a peculiar form of medieval Spanish called Ladino, or Judaeo-Spanish is still spoken by many descendants of Sephardic Jews, who relocated to the Balkans region, as well as Turkey and Israel, following their expulsion from Spain in the 15th century. Ladino is considered close to Modern Spanish, though it also contains lexical borrowings from Hebrew, French, Greek and Turkish.
The standards of the Spanish language are set, monitored and upheld by the Association of Spanish Language Academies in Spain and 21 additional academies in Spanish-speaking countries.
Spanish uses the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the character ñ. Lexical similarity with other Romance language is as follows: 89% with Portuguese, 82 % with Italian, 75% with French, and 71% with Romanian.
Due to historical and geographical diversity, Spanish literature is extremely diverse. For the purpose of simplification, Spanish literature can be divided between literary works of Spain, and those of Latin America. The former made enormous contributions to all major literary periods since the Middle Ages, including the Renaissance, Baroque, Enlightenment, Romanticism, Realism and Modernism. As for the latter, it produced exceptional literary works in the 19th and 20th centuries. Four Latin American authors have been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and the best known among them is Gabriel García Márquez, who won the Prize in 1982. The Spanish Ministry of Culture annually awards the Premio Miguel de Cervantes to literary works written in Spanish.
“A word from the mouth, a stone from the sling.”