Spanish (known as Castilian in Spain) is a romance language of Iberian origin whose earliest written materials date from the 10th century. It is a member of the Romance branch of the Indo-European language family which originated in northwestern Spain in the provinces of Old and New Castile. Spaniards tend to call their language español (Spanish) when comparing it with other international languages (e.g. versus French and English), but they refer to it as castellano (Castilian) in reference to the regional languages (like Catalan, Basque, and Galician). In Spain, the pronunciation of the North Castilian dialect is commonly accepted as the national standard. The Castilian dialect is the source of modern standard Spanish.
Spanish is spoken as the official language of 21 countries, and it is widely spoken in several others. The following are countries with significant Spanish-speaking populations: Canary Islands, Andorra, Argentina, Bolivia, Cayman Islands, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Morocco, Netherlands Antilles and Aruba, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, U.S. Virgin Islands, Uruguay, and Venezuela. It is also used by large populations residing in in Andorra, Belize, Gibraltar, and the United States.
It is the official language of Spain, Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and Equatorial Guinea.
It is the second most widely-spoken language of the United States. It is the third most common language of the Internet, after English and Chinese. Spanish is also one of the six official languages of the United Nations, an official language of the European Union, and of the Organization of American States.
Spanish is spoken as a first language by about 352 million people, or by 417 million when non-native speaks are included. Most of these speakers reside in the Americas. It's a little recognized fact that Mexico and the United States are the world's top two Spanish-speaking nations when measured in terms of the total number of speakers.
Spanish is an Indo-European language, derived from Latin, and considered one of the principal Romance languages. It has a high degree of similarity with other West-Iberian Romance languages, such as Portuguese, with which it shares an estimated 89% "lexical similarity." Portuguese pronunciation makes it difficult for a Spanish-speaker to understand it, but the reverse is usually not true. Spanish is also similar to Italian, with which it shares an approximate 82% of lexical similarity. The indices for French (75%) and Romanian (71%) are much lower, and the pronunciation differences make them mutually unintelligible with Spanish, especially for persons who have not studied the other tongues.
The grammar of Spanish is similar to that of the other West Iberian dialects, but has been considerably simplified over Galician, Portuguese and Ladino. (Ladino is a post-medieval dialect of Spanish still spoken by Sephardic Jews who were expelled during the "reconquest" and settled in Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and now in Israel.)
Major Spanish Dialects
Castilian is really just another name for Spanish. Spaniards refer to their language as español (Spanish) when comparing it with other international languages, but they refer to it as castellano (Castilian) in reference to the regional languages of Spain. Latin American Spanish is a close variation of Castilian.
Within Spain, Spanish is most often referred to as "catellano," the language of Castile. Castellano is just one of several different paths taken by the Iberian provincial patois of Latin to evolve into modern speech. Other examples include Portuguese, which, by reason of its isolation along the Atlantic Coast, did not absorb so many Moorish words and terms as did Spanish, nor was it influenced by the language of the Visigoths when they conquered and settled in parts of Spain for centuries. Portuguese and its cousin, Galician, on the other hand did receive earlier influences from North Africa, when refugees from Carthage during the Punic Wars fled across into Iberia and stayed as far west as possible, to avoid the Roman legions. Catalan, by contrast, was heavily influenced by the Mediterranean culture around the port city of Barcelona, and by the languages of the neighboring French - Occitan and Gascon. Other Iberian language include Fala, Basque, Gascon-Aranese, Aragonese, Asturian, Caló and Extremaduran.
In 1479, when Ferdinand and Isabella married and then joined their kingdoms (Aragon and Castile), the alliance gave a new impulse to the centuries-long "reconquest" of Spain by Christian armies against the Moors. By 1492, under the "Catholic Monarchs," the expulsion of the Moors (and the Sephardic Jews) was complete. All the lands in Spain other than the Kingdom of Portugal, came under unified leadership. The mother tongue of Isabella of Castile, called "Castellano" (in English, "Castilian"), which had been the language of the court, now became the official language of the whole kingdom.
To this day, "Castellano" is the term used in Spain for "Spanish," especially when referring to the official language of the country, as contrasted to other languages spoken in the realm. "Español" is used to distinguish it from the languages of other countries. Elsewhere in the Spanish-speaking world, such as in Latin America and the Philippines, "castellano" is occasionally used as a term for the language, particularly as spoken in Spain, but it is much more common to hear the term "español."
Modern "castellano," spoken with a Castilian accent, is immediately distinguishable from any other kind of spoken Spanish. It is considered by those who speak it to be the prestige accent of Spanish, largely due to its long and influential history as the accent of the reigning nobility of Spain. Though Madrid (in New Castile) has been the national capital since 1561 (when Phillip II moved the throne from Seville) the origins of the Castilian accents are much older and come from much older towns in Old Castile -- Salamanca, Toledo and Segovia (the family home of Isabella herself). Apart from vocabulary choice, the Castilian version of Spanish is notable for the lisping of "z" and soft "c," a much more aspirated "j" and a slight muddying of the "s" to an "sh." In general, Castilian speakers form their words somewhat farther back in the mouth than other Spanish speakers.
By contrast, most of the troops who embarked for the new world after the successful reconquest were not from Castile, Leon or Aragon. They were from the south and west - provinces like Andalucía and Extremadura. They did not lisp their "z's" and soft "c's." They hissed their "s's" and only touched their "j's" lightly in the throat, if at all. These were the soldiers who were under the command of the conquistadores. They were the people who first colonized Spain's land claims in the New World. The Castilian accent was not an export of Spain to Latin America, except, perhaps in the highest social classes.
Latin American Spanish
The majority of the world's Spanish speakers live in Latin America. While every Latin American country is somewhat distinctive in retaining its own accent and some unique linguistic features, residents of countries such as Bolivia, Chile, Peru, Colombia, and Mexico are generally considered to speak the purest Latin American Spanish. Another variety is that spoken in the Caribbean and Latin America's costal regions. Caribbean Spanish is characterized by its informality, its fast pace, and the habitual dropping of the "s" at the end of words. Another form has developed around Buenos Aires and in parts of Uruguay. It is recognizable by some grammatical features that would be considered out-of-date elsewhere and a vocabulary and pronunciation that has been heavily influenced by the large number of Italian settlers who migrated to the area in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Latin American Spanish is spoken in Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Panama, Cuba, Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Latin American Spanish is also used by large populations residing in Belize, the United States and throughout the Caribbean.
Latin American regional dialects are derived from Castilian though they differ in terms of their phonology, but not to such a degree where a translation targeting, for example, Mexico wouldn't be completely intelligible in Spain. The best way to think of the differences in usage would be to imagine an American reading a British menu referring to "prawns" (shrimp) or being instructed to take the "lift" (elevator) to the forth floor - while there are idiomatic differences to be sure, there are few stumbling blocks.
Mexican Spanish Translation
Spanish is spoken as a first language by over 100 million people in Mexico and perhaps 20 million in the United States. Mexico is by far the world's most populous Spanish speaking nation. In Mexican Spanish, vowels tend to lose strength, while consonants are fully pronounced due to the influence of the Nahuatl language. Others have asserted that Mexican Spanish is leaning in the direction of a concomitant vowel reduction manifested in a greater stress timing likely caused by the geographic influence of American English. Mexican Spanish has also been influenced to a large extent by Mayan and Central American dialects. It is the predominant form used in the United States.
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