History of The Spanish Language – Origin and Roots

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History of The Spanish Language
  • José Anconina
  • 10 Feb, 2024
  • 11 Mins Read

The Spanish language is of Latin origin and is a member of the Romance language family, a subgroup of the Italic branch of the Indo-European Language family. Spanish is derived from Vulgar Latin, the spoken dialect of Latin that the Romans used as their mother tongue.

The history of the Spanish language started with the Roman Empire’s conquest of the Iberian Peninsula, which belongs to the Carthaginian state, in the 2nd century BC, and the spread of their native language, Latin, and the spoken dialect of Latin, Vulgar Latin, to the region.

Latin, spoken by the Romans, first evolved into Spanish and later Romance languages, including Portuguese, French, and Italian.

The Spanish language has interacted with many different cultures and languages ​​throughout history. Invasions and migrations to the Spanish peninsula affected the development of Spanish.

The Spanish language is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world, with over 559 million people around the globe speaking it.

Where did the Spanish Language Originate?

The history of the Spanish language began with the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsula and the spread of the Vulgar Latin language to the region. Spanish and Latin were fused with each other as the Romans spread their culture and language to the Iberian peninsula. The language these two different languages ​​have created together over the years is called Spanish. Spanish was influenced by Vulgar Latin, and this Latin dialect formed the roots of Spanish.

When was Spanish first spoken?

The oldest text in Spanish is a 9th-century inscription called Glosas Emilianenses. This inscription was written in a local dialect of Vulgar Latin. Its content is religious influences. The first systematic written use of Spanish happened in the 13th century in the city of Toledo.

How old is Spanish as a language?

Spanish is about 1,200 years old, but it has its roots in Latin, which is much older.

What are the Developmental Periods of the Spanish Language?

The Spanish language has continued its development in 3 main stages throughout history. 

  1. Old Spanish(BC 700-1500)
  2. Middle Spanish(BC 1500 – 1800)
  3. Modern Spanish(1800-Present)

Old Spanish(700-1500): In this period, the effects of Latin, the mother tongue of the Romans, on the Spanish language can be seen. The earliest records of the Spanish language belong to this period.

Middle Spanish(1500-1800): Spanish interacted with different cultures and languages during this period. Language structures and origins of words are standardized. Grammar rules were established, and Spanish began to spread over the world.

Modern Spanish(1800-Present): During this period, Spanish grammar and vocabulary rules were expanded and developed with the interaction of different languages. Spanish has become the most widely spoken language worldwide. More than 500 million people in the world have started to speak Spanish.

The Roots of the Spanish Language Chronologically – Timeline

The improving of the Spanish language is shown chronologically below.

  1. In the 2nd century BC, Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula, introducing Latin to the region.
  2. 8th century: The Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula and brought their language, Arabic, with them.
  3. 15th century: Spain begins to expand its empire. Spanish was declared the language of commerce and diplomacy in America, Africa, and Asia.
  4. 16th century: It is the golden Golden Age of the Spanish language. It begins with works such as Miguel de Cervantes’ Don Quixote and Fernando de Rojas’ La Celestina.
  5. 19th century: The Spanish Civil War caused the use of Spanish to decline in parts of the world.
  6. 20th century: Spanish regains its status as an important world language and is now spoken by over 500 million people

    Spanish Language Chronologically
    Spanish Language Chronologically

The History of the Spanish Language

The stages of development of the Spanish language are explained below.

  1. Pre-Roman Empire influence the Spanish Language
  2. Roman Empire influence The Spanish Language
  3. The Visigoths Influence The Spanish Language
  4. The Muslim Moors Influence The Spanish Language
  5. The Reconquista and the Rise of Castilian Spanish Language
  6. Discovery of the Americas Influence the Spanish Language
  7. Evolution of Spanish in the Modern Era Language

How did the Pre-Roman Empire the Spanish Language?

Before we get to the origins of the Spanish language, we need to know the prehistoric influences that shaped it.

Like all languages, Spanish has its origins in Africa. The history of the Nilo-Saharan languages ​​goes back to 200,000 BC. The Iberian Language, from which Spanish is named, originated in Africa and was also used in the Iberian Peninsula.

The Spanish language was not derived directly from the Ibero language. Linguist Pompeu Fabra states that the influence of the Ibero language on Spanish is minimal.

Various tribes with different languages ​​and different cultures lived on the Iberian peninsula, such as the Basques, Ligurians, Celts, Phoenicians, and Carthaginians. These tribal languages ​​have influences on the Spanish language. Spanish cannot be said to derive directly from tribal languages.

How did The Roman Empire influence The Spanish Language?

The Roman Empire had a lot of influence on the Spanish Language. The Romans conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC and ruled the Iberian Peninsula for over 500 years. Within 500 years, the cultural values ​​and mother tongue of the Roman Empire, Latin, became widespread in Spain. 

As the Romans occupied different regions, they brought different languages ​​, such as Greek and Celtic, to Spain. These different languages ​​also influenced the development of Spanish.

The Latin spoken by the soldiers and the common people, known as “Vulgar Latin,” differed from the classical Latin of the Roman elites. 

Over time, this vulgar Latin evolved and formed the basis of the Spanish language. Spanish’s vocabulary, phonetics, and grammar are deeply rooted in Latin.

Spanish isn’t the only Romance language to derive from Latin. Other Romance languages, such as Italian, French, and Portuguese, also derive from Latin.

What are Examples of Roman Influence on the Spanish language? 

  • The Spanish words “casa” (house), “mesa” (table), and “libro” (book) all come from Latin words.
  • The Spanish word order is similar to the Latin word order, with the subject, verb, and object in that order.
  • Spanish has many grammatical features unique to the Romance languages, such as the use of the subjunctive mood.
  • Spanish has several words that come from Greek and Celtic languages, such as “hospital” (hospital) and “pizarra” (blackboard).

How did The Visigoths Influence The Spanish Language?

The Visigoths were an East Germanic people living in the Roman Empire who founded the Visigoth Kingdom in Spain and Gaul. Following the Roman rule, the Visigoths gained control of the Iberian Peninsula in the 4th century. They spoke a form of Latin heavily influenced by Germanic languages. During their reign, the Vulgar Latin spoken on the Iberian peninsula evolved in isolation. As a result of the interaction of Vulgar Latin with the Germanic languages, the vocabulary expanded, and the influences of different languages on Spanish were also observed.

How did The Muslim Moors Influence The Spanish Language?

In the 8th century, the Moors, or Muslim Arabs, arrived on the Iberian Peninsula, bringing the Arabic language and culture with them. Arabic has great importance in the development of the Spanish language. The Moors stayed on the peninsula until 1492 and had a profound influence on the Spanish language. Spanish has also been heavily influenced by interaction with Arabic. Many words or language structure rules we use in Spanish were created by being influenced by Arabic. The Moors also influenced the pronunciation and grammar of the Spanish Language.

What are examples of Moors’s influence on the Spanish language? 

  • Many words of Arabic origin were adopted into Spanish, such as “alcohol” (alcohol), “almohada” (pillow), and “azucar” (sugar).
  • Many words of Arabic origin were adopted into Spanish, such as” aceituna (olive), alacrán (scorpion), jaqueca (migraine), alcancía (piggy bank), ajonjolí (sesame)”

The Moors also influenced the Spanish language in other ways. For example, they introduced the use of the definite article “el” before words beginning with “a” or “ha,” as in “el agua” (the water) and “el hada” (the fairy). 

The Reconquista and the Rise of Castilian Spanish

The Reconquista is the name given to a centuries-long war waged by Christian states to expel Moros or Muslim Arabs who ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula from the 8th century onwards. The rulers of Castile aimed to regain control of the entire peninsula and initiated a period known as the Reconquista. During the Reconquista period, Castilian Spanish was spread and spoken.

The Castilian Spanish, derived from Latin, played a crucial role in opposing the Arabic language of the Moors. In 1469, the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile united the two kingdoms, and Castilian became the official language. This marked the beginning of the end of the Moors’ reign in Spain. As a result, Castilian Spanish spread to the Americas and other parts of the world. Today, Castilian Spanish is the world’s second most-spoken language, with over 500 million speakers. 

 In 1492, Antonio Nebrija published the “Gramatica de la Lengua Castellana” (The Grammar of the Castilian Language), which further solidified the status of Castilian Spanish.

The Reconquista began in the 8th century and ended in 1492 with the fall of the Moorish kingdom of Granada.


How did the Discovery of the Americas Influence the Spanish Language?

The 15th and 16th centuries marked a significant turning point in the history of the Spanish language. With the voyages of Christopher Columbus and other Spanish explorers, the Spanish began its journey to the Americas. With the arrival of the Spanish in the Americas, the Spanish language spread across the continent.

 The Spanish colonizers imposed their culture, religion, and language on the indigenous populations. Spanish colonization brought the Spanish language to countries such as Mexico, Peru, and Argentina, where it took root and evolved into distinct Latin American Spanish dialects. The linguistic influence of Spanish in the Americas is still evident today, with Spanish being one of the most widely spoken languages in countries like Mexico and Argentina.

Spanish also absorbed many words from indigenous languages, such as Quechua and Nahuatl. Words like “aguacate” (avocado), “tomate” (tomato), and “chocolate” (chocolate) are just a few examples of the indigenous influence on the Spanish language.

In more recent history, the Spanish language experienced a significant milestone with the publication of Antonio de Nebrija’s first grammar book in 1492. This milestone solidified Spanish as a standardized language, facilitating its growth and influence worldwide.

Evolution of Spanish in the Modern Era

Spanish continued to evolve over the centuries, incorporating influences from various sources. In the 16th and 17th centuries, Spanish experienced Italian and French influences. Some vocabulary and language structure rules were borrowed from these languages during this period.

As Spanish spread across continents, regional variations emerged. These dialects, such as Mexican, Argentine, and Colombian, developed unique characteristics influenced by the local cultures and languages encountered during colonization.

Understanding the evolution of Spanish allows us to appreciate the richness of the language and its importance in today’s world.

The Spanish Language Today

Today, Spanish is the second-most spoken native language in the world, with over 559 million people using it as their mother tongue. It is the official language of 21 countries, including Spain, Mexico, and Argentina.

The Spanish language continues to thrive, with its rich history and vibrant cultural heritage attracting learners from all walks of life. Its influence can be seen in literature, music, and film, making it a language of global significance. As you embark on your journey to learn Spanish, remember the rich history behind the language. 

What are Spanish Dialects?

A dialect can be defined as a regional variant of a language characterized by distinctive elements such as vocabulary, pronunciation, and grammar. It is important to note that dialects are not separate languages but different forms of the same language. While they may vary significantly from one another, speakers of different Spanish dialects can still understand each other with relative ease. This mutual intelligibility is one of the remarkable aspects of the Spanish language.

The different Spanish dialects are listed below;

  • Mexican Spanish
  • Caribbean Spanish
  • Andean Spanish
  • Central American Spanish
  • Rioplatense Spanish
  • Colombian Spanish
  • Ecuadorian Spanish
  • Venezuelan Spanish
  • Castellano
  • Chilean Spanish

Who are the Famous Spanish Linguists?

Spanish famous linguists are listed below.

  • Pompeu Fabra
  • Ramón Menéndez Pidal
  • Joan Coromines
  • Martí de Riquer i Morera
  • Germà Colón
  • Francisco Rodríguez Adrados

What are the Official Organizations that Provide the Development of the Spanish Language?

Official Organizations that Provide the Development of the Spanish Language are explained below.

Royal Spanish Academy

The Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española) was established in 1713 with the aim of standardizing the language and establishing rules. The Royal Spanish Academy releases regular updates to its dictionary, reflecting the evolution of Spanish and incorporating new words and expressions.

Accents were introduced not only to indicate stress but also to differentiate between identical forms. For example, “si” (if) and “sí” (yes) are distinguished by the accent mark.

Association of Academies of the Spanish Language

The Association of Spanish Language Academies (Spanish: Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, ASALE), whose aim is to ensure the integrity of the Spanish language. It is an official institution that works for the use and growth of the Spanish language in more regions.

It was founded in 1951 in Mexico and represents the union of academies in Spanish-speaking countries. It also provides the development of Spanish literature and the spread of the Spanish language.

Dictionary of the Spanish language(Diccionario de la lengua española)

The Diccionario de la lengua española is the authoritative dictionary of the Spanish language. It is produced, edited, and published by the Royal Spanish Academy, with the participation of the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language. The dictionary was created to maintain the linguistic purity of the Spanish language.

José Anconina

Jose has been a Spanish Tutor at Onlinelearnspanish.com since 2023. She studied Spanish Language Teaching at university and has an M.A. in Teaching Spanish as a Foreign Language. In her free time, she likes book reading.
Jose aims to enrich his students' learning experiences by providing them with knowledge about Spanish culture and traditions.

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