Spanish language

Last updated

Pronunciation [espaˈɲol] , [kasteˈʎano] [lower-alpha 1]
Region Spain, Hispanic America, Equatorial Guinea (see below)
Ethnicity Hispanics
Native speakers
483 million native speakers (2019) [1]
75 million L2 speakers and speakers with limited capacity + 22 million students [1]
Early forms
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Spanish Braille
Signed Spanish (Mexico, Spain and presumably elsewhere)
Official status
Official language in

Regulated by Association of Spanish Language Academies
( Real Academia Española and 22 other national Spanish language academies)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 es
ISO 639-2 spa
ISO 639-3 spa
Glottolog stan1288 [3]
Linguasphere 51-AAA-b
Detailed SVG map of the Hispanophone world.svg
  Official language
  Co-official with indigenous languages
  Cultural or secondary language (more than 20% Spanish speakers or large cultural influence)
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For an introductory guide on IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Spanish ( Loudspeaker.svg español  ), or Castilian [lower-alpha 2] ( /kæˈstɪliən/ ( Loudspeaker.svg listen ), Loudspeaker.svg castellano  ), is a Romance language that originated in the Iberian Peninsula and today is a global language with more than 483 million native speakers, mainly in Spain and the Americas. It is the world's second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese, [4] [5] and the world's fourth-most spoken language, after English, Mandarin Chinese and Hindi.


Spanish is a part of the Ibero-Romance group of languages, which evolved from several dialects of Vulgar Latin in Iberia after the collapse of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th century. The oldest Latin texts with traces of Spanish come from mid-northern Iberia in the 9th century, [6] and the first systematic written use of the language happened in Toledo, a prominent city of the Kingdom of Castile, in the 13th century. Beginning in 1492, the Spanish language was taken to the viceroyalties of the Spanish Empire, most notably to the Americas, as well as territories in Africa, Oceania and the Philippines. [7]

A 1949 study by Italian-American linguist Mario Pei, analyzing the degree of difference from a language's parent (Latin, in the case of Romance languages) by comparing phonology, inflection, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation, indicated the following percentages (the higher the percentage, the greater the distance from Latin): In the case of Spanish, it is one of the closest Romance languages to Latin (20% distance), only behind Sardinian (8% distance) and Italian (12% distance). [8] Around 75% of modern Spanish vocabulary is derived from Latin, including Latin borrowings from Ancient Greek. [9] [10] Spanish vocabulary has been in contact with Arabic from an early date, having developed during the Al-Andalus era in the Iberian Peninsula and around 8% of its vocabulary has an Arabic lexical root. [11] [12] [13] [14] [11] It has also had small influences from Basque, Iberian, Celtiberian, Visigothic, and other neighboring Ibero-Romance languages. [15] [11] Additionally, it has absorbed vocabulary from other languages, particularly other Romance languages—French, Italian, Andalusi Romance, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Occitan, and Sardinian—as well as from Quechua, Nahuatl, and other indigenous languages of the Americas. [16]

Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations. It is also used as an official language by the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Union of South American Nations, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the African Union and many other international organizations. [17]

Despite its large number of speakers, the Spanish language does not feature prominently in scientific writing, though it is better represented in the humanities. [18] 75% of scientific production in Spanish is divided into three thematic areas: social sciences, medical sciences and arts/humanities. Spanish is the third most used language on the internet after English and Chinese. [19]

Estimated number of speakers

It is estimated that there are more than 437 million people who speak Spanish as a native language, which qualifies it as second on the lists of languages by number of native speakers. [4] Instituto Cervantes claims that there are an estimated 477 million Spanish speakers with native competence and 572 million Spanish speakers as a first or second language—including speakers with limited competence—and more than 21 million students of Spanish as a foreign language. [20]

Spanish is the official or national language in Spain, Equatorial Guinea, and 18 countries and one territory in the Americas. Speakers in the Americas total some 418 million. It is also an optional language in the Philippines as it was a Spanish colony from 1569 to 1899. In the European Union, Spanish is the mother tongue of 8% of the population, with an additional 7% speaking it as a second language. [21] The country with the largest number of native speakers is Mexico. [22] Spanish is the most popular second language learned in the United States. [23] In 2011 it was estimated by the American Community Survey that of the 55 million Hispanic United States residents who are five years of age and over, 38 million speak Spanish at home. [24]

According to a 2011 paper by U.S. Census Bureau Demographers Jennifer Ortman and Hyon B. Shin, [25] the number of Spanish speakers is projected to rise through 2020 to anywhere between 39 million and 43 million, depending on the assumptions one makes about immigration. Most of these Spanish speakers will be Hispanic, with Ortman and Shin projecting between 37.5 million and 41 million Hispanic Spanish speakers by 2020.

Names of the language and etymology

Map indicating places where the language is called castellano (in red) or espanol (in blue) Carta de Idioma Espanol Castellano.png
Map indicating places where the language is called castellano (in red) or español (in blue)

Names of the language

In Spain and in some other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, Spanish is called not only español (Spanish) but also castellano (Castilian), the language from the kingdom of Castile, contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain such as Galician, Basque, Asturian, Catalan, Aragonese and Occitan.

The Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole Spanish State in contrast to las demás lenguas españolas (lit. "the other Spanish languages"). Article III reads as follows:

El castellano es la lengua española oficial del Estado. ... Las demás lenguas españolas serán también oficiales en las respectivas Comunidades Autónomas...
Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. ... The other Spanish languages shall also be official in their respective Autonomous Communities...

The Spanish Royal Academy, on the other hand, currently uses the term español in its publications, but from 1713 to 1923 called the language castellano.

The Diccionario panhispánico de dudas (a language guide published by the Spanish Royal Academy) states that, although the Royal Spanish Academy prefers to use the term español in its publications when referring to the Spanish language, both terms—español and castellano—are regarded as synonymous and equally valid. [26]


The term castellano comes from the Latin word castellanus, which means "of or pertaining to a fort or castle". [27]

Different etymologies have been suggested for the term español (Spanish). According to the Royal Spanish Academy, español derives from the Provençal word espaignol and that, in turn, derives from the Vulgar Latin *hispaniolus. It comes from the Latin name of the province of Hispania that included the current territory of the Iberian Peninsula. [28]

There are other hypotheses apart from the one suggested by the Royal Spanish Academy. Spanish philologist Menéndez Pidal suggested that the classic hispanus or hispanicus took the suffix -one from Vulgar Latin, as it happened with other words such as bretón (Breton) or sajón (Saxon). The word *hispanione evolved into the Old Spanish españón, which eventually, became español.[ citation needed ]


The Visigothic Cartularies of Valpuesta, written in a late form of Latin, were declared in 2010 by the Spanish Royal Academy as the record of the earliest words written in Castilian, predating those of the Glosas Emilianenses. CartulariosValpuesta.jpg
The Visigothic Cartularies of Valpuesta, written in a late form of Latin, were declared in 2010 by the Spanish Royal Academy as the record of the earliest words written in Castilian, predating those of the Glosas Emilianenses.

The Spanish language evolved from Vulgar Latin, which was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans during the Second Punic War, beginning in 210 BC. Previously, several pre-Roman languages (also called Paleohispanic languages)—some related to Latin via Indo-European, and some that are not related at all—were spoken in the Iberian Peninsula. These languages included Basque (still spoken today), Iberian, Celtiberian and Gallaecian.

The first documents to show traces of what is today regarded as the precursor of modern Spanish are from the 9th century. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era, the most important influences on the Spanish lexicon came from neighboring Romance languagesMozarabic (Andalusi Romance), Navarro-Aragonese, Leonese, Catalan, Portuguese, Galician, Occitan, and later, French and Italian. Spanish also borrowed a considerable number of words from Arabic, as well as a minor influence from the Germanic Gothic language through the migration of tribes and a period of Visigoth rule in Iberia. In addition, many more words were borrowed from Latin through the influence of written language and the liturgical language of the Church. The loanwords were taken from both Classical Latin and Renaissance Latin, the form of Latin in use at that time.

According to the theories of Ramón Menéndez Pidal, local sociolects of Vulgar Latin evolved into Spanish, in the north of Iberia, in an area centered in the city of Burgos, and this dialect was later brought to the city of Toledo, where the written standard of Spanish was first developed, in the 13th century. [30] In this formative stage, Spanish developed a strongly differing variant from its close cousin, Leonese, and, according to some authors, was distinguished by a heavy Basque influence (see Iberian Romance languages). This distinctive dialect spread to southern Spain with the advance of the Reconquista , and meanwhile gathered a sizable lexical influence from the Arabic of Al-Andalus, much of it indirectly, through the Romance Mozarabic dialects (some 4,000 Arabic-derived words, make up around 8% of the language today). [31] The written standard for this new language was developed in the cities of Toledo, in the 13th to 16th centuries, and Madrid, from the 1570s. [30]

The development of the Spanish sound system from that of Vulgar Latin exhibits most of the changes that are typical of Western Romance languages, including lenition of intervocalic consonants (thus Latin vīta > Spanish vida). The diphthongization of Latin stressed short e and o—which occurred in open syllables in French and Italian, but not at all in Catalan or Portuguese—is found in both open and closed syllables in Spanish, as shown in the following table:

LatinSpanishLadinoAragoneseAsturianGalicianPortugueseCatalanGascon / OccitanFrenchSardinianItalianRomanianEnglish
petrapiedrapedrapedra, pèirapierrepedra, perdapietrapiatrǎ'stone'
moriturmueremuerremorremormorísmeurtmòritmuoremoare'dies (v.)'
mortemmuertemortemortmòrtmortmorte, mortimortemoarte'death'
Chronological map showing linguistic evolution in southwest Europe Linguistic map Southwestern Europe.gif
Chronological map showing linguistic evolution in southwest Europe

Spanish is marked by the palatalization of the Latin double consonants nn and ll (thus Latin annum > Spanish año, and Latin anellum > Spanish anillo).

The consonant written u or v in Latin and pronounced [w] in Classical Latin had probably "fortified" to a bilabial fricative /β/ in Vulgar Latin. In early Spanish (but not in Catalan or Portuguese) it merged with the consonant written b (a bilabial with plosive and fricative allophones). In modern Spanish, there is no difference between the pronunciation of orthographic b and v, with some exceptions in Caribbean Spanish.[ citation needed ]

Peculiar to Spanish (as well as to the neighboring Gascon dialect of Occitan, and attributed to a Basque substratum) was the mutation of Latin initial f into h- whenever it was followed by a vowel that did not diphthongize. The h-, still preserved in spelling, is now silent in most varieties of the language, although in some Andalusian and Caribbean dialects it is still aspirated in some words. Because of borrowings from Latin and from neighboring Romance languages, there are many f-/h-doublets in modern Spanish: Fernando and Hernando (both Spanish for "Ferdinand"), ferrero and herrero (both Spanish for "smith"), fierro and hierro (both Spanish for "iron"), and fondo and hondo (both Spanish for "deep", but fondo means "bottom" while hondo means "deep"); hacer (Spanish for "to make") is cognate to the root word of satisfacer (Spanish for "to satisfy"), and hecho ("made") is similarly cognate to the root word of satisfecho (Spanish for "satisfied").

Compare the examples in the following table:

LatinSpanishLadinoAragoneseAsturianGalicianPortugueseCatalanGascon / OccitanFrenchSardinianItalianRomanianEnglish
filiumhijofijo (or hijo)fillofíufillofilhofillfilh, hilhfilsfizu, fìgiu, fillufigliofiu'son'
facerehacerfazerferfacerfazerferfar, faire, har (or hèr)fairefàghere, fàere, fàirifarea face'to do'
febremfiebre(calentura)febrefèbre, frèbe, hrèbe (or
focumfuegofueufogofocfuòc, fòc, huècfeufogufuocofoc'fire'

Some consonant clusters of Latin also produced characteristically different results in these languages, as shown in the examples in the following table:

LatinSpanishLadinoAragoneseAsturianGalicianPortugueseCatalanGascon / OccitanFrenchSardinianItalianRomanianEnglish
clāvemllave, claveclaveclaullavechavechaveclauclégiae, crae,craichiavecheie'key'
flammallama, flamaflamachamachama, flamaflamaflammeframmafiammaflamă'flame'
plēnumlleno, plenoplenoplenllenucheocheio, plenopleplenpleinprenupienoplin'plenty, full'
octōochogüeitoocho, oitooitooito (oito)vuit, huitch, ch, uèithuitotoottoopt'eight'
muitomoltmolt (arch.)très,


Antonio de Nebrija, author of Gramatica de la lengua castellana
, the first grammar of a modern European language. Juan de Zuniga dibujo con orla.jpg
Antonio de Nebrija, author of Gramática de la lengua castellana , the first grammar of a modern European language.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish underwent a dramatic change in the pronunciation of its sibilant consonants, known in Spanish as the reajuste de las sibilantes , which resulted in the distinctive velar [x] pronunciation of the letter j and—in a large part of Spain—the characteristic interdental [θ] ("th-sound") for the letter z (and for c before e or i). See History of Spanish (Modern development of the Old Spanish sibilants) for details.

The Gramática de la lengua castellana , written in Salamanca in 1492 by Elio Antonio de Nebrija, was the first grammar written for a modern European language. [33] According to a popular anecdote, when Nebrija presented it to Queen Isabella I, she asked him what was the use of such a work, and he answered that language is the instrument of empire. [34] In his introduction to the grammar, dated 18 August 1492, Nebrija wrote that "... language was always the companion of empire." [35]

From the sixteenth century onwards, the language was taken to the Spanish-discovered America and the Spanish East Indies via Spanish colonization of America. Miguel de Cervantes, author of Don Quixote , is such a well-known reference in the world that Spanish is often called la lengua de Cervantes ("the language of Cervantes"). [36]

In the twentieth century, Spanish was introduced to Equatorial Guinea and the Western Sahara, and to areas of the United States that had not been part of the Spanish Empire, such as Spanish Harlem in New York City. For details on borrowed words and other external influences upon Spanish, see Influences on the Spanish language.


Miguel de Cervantes, considered by many the greatest author of Spanish literature, and author of Don Quixote, widely considered the first modern European novel. Cervantes Jauregui.jpg
Miguel de Cervantes, considered by many the greatest author of Spanish literature, and author of Don Quixote , widely considered the first modern European novel.

Most of the grammatical and typological features of Spanish are shared with the other Romance languages. Spanish is a fusional language. The noun and adjective systems exhibit two genders and two numbers. In addition, articles and some pronouns and determiners have a neuter gender in their singular form. There are about fifty conjugated forms per verb, with 3 tenses: past, present, future; 2 aspects for past: perfective, imperfective; 4 moods: indicative, subjunctive, conditional, imperative; 3 persons: first, second, third; 2 numbers: singular, plural; 3 verboid forms: infinitive, gerund, and past participle. Verbs express T-V distinction by using different persons for formal and informal addresses. (For a detailed overview of verbs, see Spanish verbs and Spanish irregular verbs.)

Spanish syntax is considered right-branching, meaning that subordinate or modifying constituents tend to be placed after their head words. The language uses prepositions (rather than postpositions or inflection of nouns for case), and usually—though not always—places adjectives after nouns, as do most other Romance languages.

The language is classified as a subject–verb–object language; however, as in most Romance languages, constituent order is highly variable and governed mainly by topicalization and focus rather than by syntax. It is a "pro-drop", or "null-subject" language—that is, it allows the deletion of subject pronouns when they are pragmatically unnecessary. Spanish is described as a "verb-framed" language, meaning that the direction of motion is expressed in the verb while the mode of locomotion is expressed adverbially (e.g. subir corriendo or salir volando; the respective English equivalents of these examples—'to run up' and 'to fly out'—show that English is, by contrast, "satellite-framed", with mode of locomotion expressed in the verb and direction in an adverbial modifier).

Subject/verb inversion is not required in questions, and thus the recognition of declarative or interrogative may depend entirely on intonation.


Spanish spoken in Spain

The Spanish phonemic system is originally descended from that of Vulgar Latin. Its development exhibits some traits in common with the neighboring dialects—especially Leonese and Aragonese—as well as other traits unique to Castilian. Castilian is unique among its neighbors in the aspiration and eventual loss of the Latin initial /f/ sound (e.g. Cast. harina vs. Leon. and Arag. farina). [37] The Latin initial consonant sequences pl-, cl-, and fl- in Spanish typically become ll- (originally pronounced [ʎ]), while in Aragonese they are preserved, and in Leonese they present a variety of outcomes, including [tʃ], [ʃ], and [ʎ]. Where Latin had -li- before a vowel (e.g. filius) or the ending -iculus, -icula (e.g. auricula), Old Spanish produced [ʒ], that in Modern Spanish became the velar fricative [x] (hijo, oreja, where neighboring languages have the palatal lateral [ʎ] (e.g. Portuguese filho, orelha; Catalan fill, orella).

Segmental phonology

Spanish vowel chart, from Ladefoged & Johnson (2010:227) Spanish vowel chart.svg
Spanish vowel chart, from Ladefoged & Johnson (2010 :227)

The Spanish phonemic inventory consists of five vowel phonemes (/a/, /e/, /i/, /o/, /u/) and 17 to 19 consonant phonemes (the exact number depending on the dialect [38] ). The main allophonic variation among vowels is the reduction of the high vowels /i/ and /u/ to glides—[j] and [w] respectively—when unstressed and adjacent to another vowel. Some instances of the mid vowels /e/ and /o/, determined lexically, alternate with the diphthongs /je/ and /we/ respectively when stressed, in a process that is better described as morphophonemic rather than phonological, as it is not predictable from phonology alone.

The Spanish consonant system is characterized by (1) three nasal phonemes, and one or two (depending on the dialect) lateral phoneme(s), which in syllable-final position lose their contrast and are subject to assimilation to a following consonant; (2) three voiceless stops and the affricate /tʃ/; (3) three or four (depending on the dialect) voiceless fricatives; (4) a set of voiced obstruents/b/, /d/, /ɡ/, and sometimes /ʝ/—which alternate between approximant and plosive allophones depending on the environment; and (5) a phonemic distinction between the "tapped" and "trilled" r-sounds (single r and double rr in orthography).

In the following table of consonant phonemes, /ʎ/ is marked with an asterisk (*) to indicate that it is preserved only in some dialects. In most dialects it has been merged with /ʝ/ in the merger called yeísmo . Similarly, /θ/ is also marked with an asterisk to indicate that most dialects do not distinguish it from /s/ (see seseo ), although this is not a true merger but an outcome of different evolution of sibilants in Southern Spain.

The phoneme /ʃ/ is in parentheses () to indicate that it appears only in loanwords. Each of the voiced obstruent phonemes /b/, /d/, /ʝ/, and /ɡ/ appears to the right of a pair of voiceless phonemes, to indicate that, while the voiceless phonemes maintain a phonemic contrast between plosive (or affricate) and fricative, the voiced ones alternate allophonically (i.e. without phonemic contrast) between plosive and approximant pronunciations.

Consonant phonemes [39]
Labial Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar
Nasal m n ɲ
Stop p b t d ʝ k ɡ
Continuant f θ * s ( ʃ ) x
Lateral l ʎ *
Flap ɾ
Trill r


Spanish is classified by its rhythm as a syllable-timed language: each syllable has approximately the same duration regardless of stress. [40] [41]

Spanish intonation varies significantly according to dialect but generally conforms to a pattern of falling tone for declarative sentences and wh-questions (who, what, why, etc.) and rising tone for yes/no questions. [42] [43] There are no syntactic markers to distinguish between questions and statements and thus, the recognition of declarative or interrogative depends entirely on intonation.

Stress most often occurs on any of the last three syllables of a word, with some rare exceptions at the fourth-last or earlier syllables. The tendencies of stress assignment are as follows: [44]

In addition to the many exceptions to these tendencies, there are numerous minimal pairs that contrast solely on stress such as sábana ('sheet') and sabana ('savannah'); límite ('boundary'), limite ('[that] he/she limits') and limité ('I limited'); líquido ('liquid'), liquido ('I sell off') and liquidó ('he/she sold off').

The orthographic system unambiguously reflects where the stress occurs: in the absence of an accent mark, the stress falls on the last syllable unless the last letter is n, s, or a vowel, in which cases the stress falls on the next-to-last (penultimate) syllable. Exceptions to those rules are indicated by an acute accent mark over the vowel of the stressed syllable. (See Spanish orthography.)

Geographical distribution

Geographical distribution of the Spanish language
Official or co-official language
Active learning of Spanish. Geographical places of the spanish language.png
Geographical distribution of the Spanish language
  Official or co-official language
Active learning of Spanish.

Spanish is the primary language of 20 countries worldwide. It is estimated that the combined total number of Spanish speakers is between 470 and 500 million, making it the second most widely spoken language in terms of native speakers. [46] [47]

Spanish is the third most spoken language by total number of speakers (after Mandarin and English). Internet usage statistics for 2007 also show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Mandarin. [48]


Percentage of people who self reportedly know enough Spanish to hold a conversation, in the EU, 2005
Native country
More than 8.99%
Between 4% and 8.99%
Between 1% and 3.99%
Less than 1% Knowledge of Spanish in European Union.svg
Percentage of people who self reportedly know enough Spanish to hold a conversation, in the EU, 2005
  Native country
  More than 8.99%
  Between 4% and 8.99%
  Between 1% and 3.99%
  Less than 1%

In Europe, Spanish is an official language of Spain, the country after which it is named and from which it originated. It is widely spoken in Gibraltar, and also commonly spoken in Andorra, although Catalan is the official language there. [49]

Spanish is also spoken by small communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. [50] Spanish is an official language of the European Union. In Switzerland, which had a massive influx of Spanish migrants in the 20th century, Spanish is the native language of 2.2% of the population. [51]


Hispanic America

Most Spanish speakers are in Hispanic America; of all countries with a majority of Spanish speakers, only Spain and Equatorial Guinea are outside the Americas. Nationally, Spanish is the official language—either de facto or de jure —of Argentina, Bolivia (co-official with Quechua, Aymara, Guarani, and 34 other languages), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico (co-official with 63 indigenous languages), Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay (co-official with Guaraní), [52] Peru (co-official with Quechua, Aymara, and "the other indigenous languages" [53] ), Puerto Rico (co-official with English), [54] Uruguay, and Venezuela. Spanish has no official recognition in the former British colony of Belize; however, per the 2000 census, it is spoken by 43% of the population. [55] [56] Mainly, it is spoken by the descendants of Hispanics who have been in the region since the seventeenth century; however, English is the official language. [57]

Due to their proximity to Spanish-speaking countries, Trinidad and Tobago and Brazil have implemented Spanish language teaching into their education systems. The Trinidad government launched the Spanish as a First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative in March 2005. [58] In 2005, the National Congress of Brazil approved a bill, signed into law by the President, making it mandatory for schools to offer Spanish as an alternative foreign language course in both public and private secondary schools in Brazil. [59] In September 2016 this law was revoked by Michel Temer after impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. [60] In many border towns and villages along Paraguay and Uruguay, a mixed language known as Portuñol is spoken. [61]

United States

Spanish spoken in the United States and Puerto Rico. Darker shades of green indicate higher percentages of Spanish speakers. Spanish spoken at home in the United States.svg
Spanish spoken in the United States and Puerto Rico. Darker shades of green indicate higher percentages of Spanish speakers.

According to 2006 census data, 44.3 million people of the U.S. population were Hispanic or Hispanic American by origin; [62] 38.3 million people, 13 percent of the population over five years old speak Spanish at home. [63] The Spanish language has a long history of presence in the United States due to early Spanish and, later, Mexican administration over territories now forming the southwestern states, also Louisiana ruled by Spain from 1762 to 1802, as well as Florida, which was Spanish territory until 1821.

Spanish is by far the most common second language in the US, with over 50 million total speakers if non-native or second-language speakers are included. [64] While English is the de facto national language of the country, Spanish is often used in public services and notices at the federal and state levels. Spanish is also used in administration in the state of New Mexico. [65] The language also has a strong influence in major metropolitan areas such as those of Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, New York, San Francisco, Dallas, and Phoenix; as well as more recently, Chicago, Las Vegas, Boston, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Salt Lake City, Atlanta, Nashville, Orlando, Tampa, Raleigh and Baltimore-Washington, D.C. due to 20th- and 21st-century immigration.


Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, writer, poet, journalist and promoter of the Spanish language. Donato ndongo.jpg
Donato Ndongo-Bidyogo, writer, poet, journalist and promoter of the Spanish language.
Bilingual signage of Museum of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army in Western Sahara written in Spanish and Arabic. Museo de la Guerra en Rabuni, sede del gobierno de la RASD.jpg
Bilingual signage of Museum of the Sahrawi People's Liberation Army in Western Sahara written in Spanish and Arabic.

In Africa, Spanish is official (along with Portuguese and French) in Equatorial Guinea, as well as an official language of the African Union. In Equatorial Guinea, Spanish is the predominant language when native and non-native speakers (around 500,000 people) are counted, while Fang is the most spoken language by number of native speakers. [66] [67]

Spanish is also spoken in the integral territories of Spain in North Africa, which include the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the Plazas de soberanía, and the Canary Islands archipelago (population 2,000,000), located some 100 km (62 mi) off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. In northern Morocco, a former Spanish protectorate that is also geographically close to Spain, approximately 20,000 people speak Spanish as a second language, while Arabic is the de jure official language. A small number of Moroccan Jews also speak the Sephardic Spanish dialect Haketia (related to the Ladino dialect spoken in Israel). Spanish is spoken by some small communities in Angola because of the Cuban influence from the Cold War and in South Sudan among South Sudanese natives that relocated to Cuba during the Sudanese wars and returned in time for their country's independence. [68]

In Western Sahara, formerly Spanish Sahara, Spanish was officially spoken during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, Spanish in this disputed territory is maintained by populations of Sahrawi nomads numbering about 500,000 people, and is de facto official alongside Arabic in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, although this entity receives limited international recognition. [69] [70]


La Illustracion Filipina (1892).jpg
La Solidaridad newspaper and Juan Luna (a Filipino Ilustrado ).

Spanish and Philippine Spanish was an official language of the Philippines from the beginning of Spanish administration in 1565 to a constitutional change in 1973. During Spanish colonization (1565–1898), it was the language of government, trade and education, and spoken as a first language by Spaniards and educated Filipinos. In the mid-nineteenth century, the colonial government set up a free public education system with Spanish as the medium of instruction. This increased use of Spanish throughout the islands led to the formation of a class of Spanish-speaking intellectuals called the Ilustrados . By the time of Philippine independence in 1898, around 70% of the population had knowledge of Spanish, with 10% speaking it as their first and only language and about 60% of the population spoke it as their second or third language. [71]

Despite American administration after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish–American War in 1898, the usage of Spanish continued in Philippine literature and press during the early years of American administration. Gradually, however, the American government began increasingly promoting the use of English, and it characterized Spanish as a negative influence of the past. Eventually, by the 1920s, English became the primary language of administration and education. [72] But despite a significant decrease in influence and speakers, Spanish remained an official language of the Philippines when it became independent in 1946, alongside English and Filipino, a standardized version of Tagalog.

Early flag of the Filipino revolutionaries ("Long live the Philippine Republic!"). The first two constitutions were written in Spanish. Bandera 03.jpg
Early flag of the Filipino revolutionaries ("Long live the Philippine Republic!"). The first two constitutions were written in Spanish.

Spanish was removed from official status in 1973 under the administration of Ferdinand Marcos, but regained its status as an official language two months later under Presidential Decree No. 155, dated 15 March 1973. [73] It remained an official language until 1987, with the ratification of the present constitution, in which it was re-designated as a voluntary and optional auxiliary language. [74] In 2010, President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo encouraged the reintroduction of Spanish-language teaching in the Philippine education system. [75] But by 2012, the number of secondary schools at which the language was either a compulsory subject or an elective had become very limited. [76] Today, despite government promotions of Spanish, less than 0.5% of the population report being able to speak the language proficiently. [77] Aside from standard Spanish, a Spanish-based creole language—Chavacano—developed in the southern Philippines. The number of Chavacano-speakers was estimated at 1.2 million in 1996. However, it is not mutually intelligible with Spanish. [78] Speakers of the Zamboangueño variety of Chavacano were numbered about 360,000 in the 2000 census. [79] The local languages of the Philippines also retain Spanish influence, with many words being derived from Mexican Spanish, owing to the administration of the islands by Spain through New Spain until 1821, and then directly from Madrid until 1898. [80] [81]

Philippine Spanish

Philippine Spanish is a dialect of the Spanish language in the Philippines. The variant is very similar to Mexican Spanish, because of Mexican and Latin American emigration to the Spanish East Indies over the years. From 1565 to 1821, the Philippines, which were a part of the Spanish East Indies, were governed by the Captaincy General of the Philippines as a territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain centered in Mexico. It was only administered directly from Spain in 1821 after Mexico gained its independence that same year. Since the Philippines was a former territory of the Viceroyalty of New Spain for most of the Spanish colonial period, Spanish as was spoken in the Philippines had a greater affinity to American Spanish rather than to Peninsular Spanish.


Chavacano or Chabacano [tʃaβaˈkano] is a group of Spanish-based creole language varieties spoken in the Philippines. The variety spoken in Zamboanga City, located in the southern Philippine island group of Mindanao, has the highest concentration of speakers. Other currently existing varieties are found in Cavite City and Ternate, located in the Cavite province on the island of Luzon.[4] Chavacano is the only Spanish-based creole in Asia.


Spanish is also the official language and the most spoken on Easter Island which is geographically part of Polynesia in Oceania and politically part of Chile. Easter Island's traditional language is Rapa Nui, an Eastern Polynesian language.

Announcement in Spanish on Easter Island, welcoming visitors to Rapa Nui National Park Parque Nacional Rapa Nui.jpg
Announcement in Spanish on Easter Island, welcoming visitors to Rapa Nui National Park

Spanish loan words are present in the local languages of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia, all of which formerly comprised the Spanish East Indies. [82] [83]

Spanish speakers by country

The following table shows the number of Spanish speakers in some 79 countries.

Worldwide Spanish fluency (grey and * signifies official language)
CountryPopulation [84] Spanish as a native language speakers [85] Native speakers and proficient speakers as a second language [86] Total number of Spanish speakers (including limited competence speakers) [86] [87] [88]
Flag of Mexico.svg  Mexico*127,792,286 [89] 118,463,449 (92.7%) [90] 123,702,933 (96,8%) [1] 125,875,402 (98.5%) [88]
Flag of the United States.svg  United States 327,167,439 [91] 41,460,427 [92] (13.5%) [93] 41,460,427 [94] [95] (82% of the Hispanics speak Spanish very well in 2011. [96] There are 59.8 mill. of Hispanics in 2018 [97] + 2.8 mill. non Hispanic Spanish speakers [98] )56,817,620 [1] (41 million as a first language + 15.8 million as a second language (8 million students). Not considered some of the 8.4 million undocumented Hispanics not accounted by the Census
Flag of Colombia.svg  Colombia*50,372,424 [99] 49,522,424 (98,9%)49,969,445 (99,2%) [1]
Flag of Spain.svg  Spain*47,329,981 [100] 43,496,253 (91,9%) [1] 46,383,381 (98%) [101]
Flag of Argentina.svg  Argentina*45,376,763 [102] [104] 42,269,777 (95.5%) [105] 44 514 605 (98,1%) [1] 45,104,502 (99.4%) [88]
Flag of Venezuela.svg  Venezuela*32,605,423 [106] 31,507,179(1,098,244 with other mother tongue) [107] 31,725,077 (97.3%) [1] 32,214,158 (98.8%) [88]
Flag of Peru.svg  Peru*32,824,358 [108] 27,211,393 (82.9%) [109] [110] 29,541,922 (86.6%) [1]
Flag of Chile.svg  Chile*19,458,310 [111] 18 660 519 (281,600 with other mother tongue) [112] 18,660,519 (95.9%) [1] 19,322,102 (99.3%) [88]
Flag of Ecuador.svg  Ecuador*17,424,000 [113] 16 204 320 (93%) [114] 16,692,192 (95.8%) [1] 16,845,732 (98.1%) [88]
Flag of Guatemala.svg  Guatemala*18,055,025 [115] 12,620,462 (69.9%) [116] 14,137,085 (78.3%) [1] 15,599,542 (86.4%) [88]
Flag of Cuba.svg  Cuba*11,209,628 [117] 11 187 209 (99.8%) [1] 11,187,209 (99.8%) [1]
Flag of the Dominican Republic.svg  Dominican Republic*10,448,499 [118] 10 197 735 (97.6%) [1] 10 197 735 (97.6%) [1] 10,302,220 (99.6%) [88]
Flag of Bolivia.svg  Bolivia*11,584,000 [119] 7,031,488 (60.7%) [120] 9,614,720 (83%) [1] 10,182,336 (87.9%) [88]
Flag of Honduras (2008 Olympics).svg  Honduras*9,251,313 [121] 9 039 287 (207,750 with other mother tongue) [122] 9,039,287 (98.7%) [1]
Flag of El Salvador.svg  El Salvador*6,765,753 [123] 6 745 456 [124] 6,745,456 (99.7%) [1]
Flag of France.svg  France 65,635,000 [125] 477,564 (1% [126] of 47,756,439 [127] )1,910,258 (4% [101] of 47,756,439 [127] ) 6,685,901 (14% [128] of 47,756,439 [127] )
Flag of Nicaragua.svg  Nicaragua*6,218,321 [123] [84] 6,037,990 (97.1%) (490,124 with other mother tongue) [123] [129] 6,218,321(180,331 limited proficiency) [123]
Flag of Brazil.svg  Brazil 211,671,000 [130] 460,018 [1] 460,0186,056,018 (460,018 native speakers + 96,000 limited proficiency + 5,500,000 can hold a conversation) [131]
Flag of Italy.svg  Italy 60,795,612 [132] 255,459 [133] 1,037,248 (2% [101] of 51,862,391 [127] )5,704,863 (11% [128] of 51,862,391 [127] )
Flag of Costa Rica.svg  Costa Rica*4,890,379 [134] 4,806,069 (84,310 with other mother tongue) [135] 4,851,256 (99.2%) [88]
Flag of Paraguay.svg  Paraguay*7,252,672 [136] 4,460,393 (61.5%) [137] 4,946,322 (68,2%) [1]
Flag of Panama.svg  Panama*3,764,166 [138] 3,263,123 (501,043 with other mother tongue) [139] 3,504,439 (93.1%) [88]
Flag of Uruguay.svg  Uruguay*3,480,222 [140] 3,330,022 (150,200 with other mother tongue) [141] 3,441,940 (98.9%) [88]
Flag of Puerto Rico.svg  Puerto Rico*3,474,182 [142] 3,303,947 (95.1%) [143] 3,432,492 (98.8%) [88]
Flag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom 64,105,700 [144] 120,000 [145] 518,480 (1% [101] of 51,848,010 [127] )3,110,880 (6% [128] of 51,848,010 [127] )
Flag of the Philippines.svg  Philippines*101,562,305 [146] 438,882 [147] 3,016,773 [148] [149] [150] [151] [152] [153] [154]
Flag of Germany.svg  Germany 81,292,400 [155] 644,091 (1% [101] of 64,409,146 [127] )2,576,366 (4% [128] of 64,409,146 [127] )
Flag of Morocco.svg  Morocco 34,378,000 [156] 6,586 [157] 6,5861,664,823 [1] [158] (10%) [159]
Flag of Equatorial Guinea.svg  Equatorial Guinea*1,622,000 [160] 1,683 [161] 918,000 [88] (90.5%) [88] [162]
Flag of Romania.svg  Romania 21,355,849 [163] 182,467 (1% [101] of 18,246,731 [127] ) 912,337 (5% [128] of 18,246,731 [127] )
Flag of Portugal.svg  Portugal 10,636,888 [164] 323,237 (4% [101] of 8,080,915 [127] )808,091 (10% [128] of 8,080,915 [127] )
Flag of Canada (Pantone).svg  Canada 34,605,346 [165] 553,495 [166] 643,800 (87% [167] of 740,000 [168] ) [20] 736,653 [87]
Flag of the Netherlands.svg  Netherlands 16,665,900 [169] 133,719 (1% [101] of 13,371,980 [127] )668,599 (5% [128] of 13,371,980 [127] )
Flag of Sweden.svg  Sweden 9,555,893 [170] 77,912 (1% [126] of 7,791,240 [127] )77,912 (1% of 7,791,240)467,474 (6% [128] of 7,791,240 [127] )
Flag of Australia (converted).svg  Australia 21,507,717 [171] 111,400 [172] 111,400447,175 [173]
Flag of Belgium (civil).svg  Belgium 10,918,405 [174] 89,395 (1% [101] of 8,939,546 [127] )446,977 (5% [128] of 8,939,546 [127] )
Flag of Benin.svg  Benin 10,008,749 [175] 412,515 (students) [87]
Flag of Cote d'Ivoire.svg  Ivory Coast 21,359,000 [176] 341,073 (students) [87]
Flag of Poland.svg  Poland 38,092,000324,137 (1% [101] of 32,413,735 [127] )324,137 (1% of 32,413,735)
Flag of Austria.svg  Austria 8,205,53370,098 (1% [101] of 7,009,827 [127] )280,393 (4% [128] of 7,009,827 [127] )
Flag of Algeria.svg  Algeria 33,769,669223,422 [157]
Flag of Belize.svg  Belize 333,200 [177] 173,597 [157] 173,597 [157] 195,597 [157] (62.8%) [178]
Flag of Senegal.svg  Senegal 12,853,259205,000 (students) [87]
Flag of Denmark.svg  Denmark 5,484,72345,613 (1% [101] of 4,561,264 [127] )182,450 (4% [128] of 4,561,264 [127] )
Flag of Israel.svg  Israel 7,112,359130,000 [157] 175,231 [179]
Flag of Japan.svg  Japan 127,288,419100,229 [180] 100,229167,514 (60,000 students) [87]
Flag of Gabon.svg  Gabon 1,545,255 [181] 167,410 (students) [87]
Flag of Switzerland.svg   Switzerland 7,581,520150,782 (2,24%) [182] [183] 150,782165,202 (14,420 students) [184]
Flag of Ireland.svg  Ireland 4,581,269 [185] 35,220 (1% [101] of 3,522,000 [127] )140,880 (4% [128] of 3,522,000 [127] )
Flag of Finland.svg  Finland 5,244,749133,200 (3% [128] of 4,440,004 [127] )
Flag of Bulgaria.svg  Bulgaria 7,262,675130,750 (2% [101] of 6,537,510 [127] )130,750 (2% [128] of 6,537,510 [127] )
Flag of Bonaire.svg  Bonaire and Flag of Curacao.svg  Curaçao 223,65210,699 [157] 10,699 [157] 125,534 [157]
Flag of Norway.svg  Norway 5,165,80021,187 [186] 103,309 [87]
Flag of the Czech Republic.svg  Czech Republic 10,513,209 [187] 90,124 (1% [128] of 9,012,443 [127] )
Flag of Hungary.svg  Hungary 9,957,731 [188] 83,206 (1% [128] of 8,320,614 [127] )
Flag of Aruba.svg  Aruba 101,484 [189] 6,800 [157] 6,800 [157] 75,402 [157]
Flag of Trinidad and Tobago.svg  Trinidad and Tobago 1,317,714 [190] 4,100 [157] 4,100 [157] 65,886 [157] (5%) [191]
Flag of Cameroon.svg  Cameroon 21,599,100 [192] 63,560 (students) [87]
Flag of Andorra.svg  Andorra 84,48433,305 [157] 33,305 [157] 54,909 [157]
Flag of Slovenia.svg  Slovenia 35,194 (2% [101] of 1,759,701 [127] ) 52,791 (3% [128] of 1,759,701 [127] )
Flag of New Zealand.svg  New Zealand 21,645 [193] 21,64547,322 (25,677 students) [87]
Flag of Slovakia.svg  Slovakia 5,455,40745,500 (1% [128] of 4,549,955 [127] )
Flag of the People's Republic of China.svg  China 1,339,724,852 [194] 30,000 (students) [195]
Flag of Gibraltar.svg  Gibraltar 29,441 [196] 22,758 (77.3% [197] )
Flag of Lithuania.svg  Lithuania 2,972,949 [198] 28,297 (1% [128] of 2,829,740 [127] )
Flag of Luxembourg.svg  Luxembourg 524,8534,049 (1% [126] of 404,907 [127] )8,098 (2% [101] of 404,907 [127] )24,294 (6% [128] of 404,907 [127] )
Flag of Russia.svg  Russia 143,400,000 [199] 3,320 [157] 3,320 [157] 23,320 [157]
Flag of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic.svg  Western Sahara*513,000 [200] n.a. [201] 22,000 [157]
Flag of Guam.svg  Guam 19,092 [202]
Flag of the United States Virgin Islands.svg US Virgin Islands 16,788 [203] 16,788 [157] 16,788 [157]
Flag of Latvia.svg  Latvia 2,209,000 [204] 13,943 (1% [128] of 1,447,866 [127] )
Flag of Turkey.svg  Turkey 73,722,988 [205] 1,134 [157] 1,134 [157] 13,480 [157] [206]
Flag of Cyprus.svg  Cyprus 2% [128] of 660,400 [127]
Flag of India.svg  India 1,210,193,422 [207] 9,750 (students) [208]
Flag of Estonia.svg  Estonia 9,457 (1% [128] of 945,733 [127] )
Flag of Jamaica.svg  Jamaica 2,711,476 [209] 8,000 [210] 8,000 [210] 8,000 [210]
Flag of Namibia.svg  Namibia 3,870 [211]
Flag of Egypt.svg  Egypt 3,500 [212]
Flag of Malta.svg  Malta 3,354 (1% [128] of 335,476 [127] )
Flag of Europe.svg  European Union (excluding Spain)*460,624,488 [213] 2,397,000 (934,984 already counted) [214]
Total7,626,000,000 (Total World Population) [215] 476,539,415 [216] [20] (6.2 %) [217] 498,922,113 [20] (6.5 % )552,081,838 [216] [1] [218] (7.2 %) [219]

Dialectal variation

A world map attempting to identify the main dialects of Spanish. Variedades principales del espanol.png
A world map attempting to identify the main dialects of Spanish.

There are important variations (phonological, grammatical, and lexical) in the spoken Spanish of the various regions of Spain and throughout the Spanish-speaking areas of the Americas.

The variety with the most speakers is Mexican Spanish. It is spoken by more than twenty percent of the world's Spanish speakers (more than 112 million of the total of more than 500 million, according to the table above). One of its main features is the reduction or loss of unstressed vowels, mainly when they are in contact with the sound /s/. [220] [221]

In Spain, northern dialects are popularly thought of as closer to the standard, although positive attitudes toward southern dialects have increased significantly in the last 50 years. Even so, the speech of Madrid, which has typically southern features such as yeísmo and s-aspiration, is the standard variety for use on radio and television. [222] [223] [224] [225] However, the variety used in the media is that of Madrid's educated classes, where southern traits are less evident, in contrast with the variety spoken by working-class Madrid, where those traits are pervasive. The educated variety of Madrid is indicated by many as the one that has most influenced the written standard for Spanish. [226]


The four main phonological divisions are based respectively on (1) the phoneme /θ/ ("theta"), (2) the debuccalization of syllable-final /s/, (3) the sound of the spelled s, (4) and the phoneme /ʎ/ ("turned y"), [227]


The main morphological variations between dialects of Spanish involve differing uses of pronouns, especially those of the second person and, to a lesser extent, the object pronouns of the third person.


An examination of the dominance and stress of the voseo dialect in Hispanic America. Data generated as illustrated by the Association of Spanish Language Academies. The darker the area, the stronger its dominance. Voseo-extension-real.PNG
An examination of the dominance and stress of the voseo dialect in Hispanic America. Data generated as illustrated by the Association of Spanish Language Academies. The darker the area, the stronger its dominance.

Virtually all dialects of Spanish make the distinction between a formal and a familiar register in the second-person singular and thus have two different pronouns meaning "you": usted in the formal and either or vos in the familiar (and each of these three pronouns has its associated verb forms), with the choice of or vos varying from one dialect to another. The use of vos (and/or its verb forms) is called voseo . In a few dialects, all three pronouns are used, with usted, , and vos denoting respectively formality, familiarity, and intimacy. [229]

In voseo, vos is the subject form (vos decís, "you say") and the form for the object of a preposition (voy con vos, "I am going with you"), while the direct and indirect object forms, and the possessives, are the same as those associated with : Vos sabés que tus amigos te respetan ("You know your friends respect you").

The verb forms of general voseo are the same as those used with except in the present tense (indicative and imperative) verbs. The forms for vos generally can be derived from those of vosotros (the traditional second-person familiar plural) by deleting the glide [i̯], or /d/, where it appears in the ending: vosotros pensáis > vos pensás; vosotros volvéis > vos volvés, pensad! (vosotros) > pensá! (vos), volved! (vosotros) > volvé! (vos) .

General voseo (River Plate Spanish)
PresentSimple pastImperfect pastFutureConditionalPresentPast
The forms in bold coincide with standard -conjugation.

In Chilean voseo on the other hand, almost all verb forms are distinct from their standard -forms.

Chilean voseo
PresentSimple pastImperfect pastFutureConditionalPresentPast
The forms in bold coincide with standard -conjugation.

The use of the pronoun vos with the verb forms of (vos piensas) is called "pronominal voseo". Conversely, the use of the verb forms of vos with the pronoun (tú pensás or tú pensái) is called "verbal voseo".
In Chile, for example, verbal voseo is much more common than the actual use of the pronoun vos, which is usually reserved for highly informal situations.

And in Central American voseo, one can see even further distinction.

Central American voseo
PresentSimple pastImperfect pastFutureConditionalPresentPast
The forms in bold coincide with standard -conjugation.
Distribution in Spanish-speaking regions of the Americas

Although vos is not used in Spain, it occurs in many Spanish-speaking regions of the Americas as the primary spoken form of the second-person singular familiar pronoun, with wide differences in social consideration. Generally, it can be said that there are zones of exclusive use of tuteo (the use of ) in the following areas: almost all of Mexico, the West Indies, Panama, most of Colombia, Peru, Venezuela and coastal Ecuador.

Tuteo as a cultured form alternates with voseo as a popular or rural form in Bolivia, in the north and south of Peru, in Andean Ecuador, in small zones of the Venezuelan Andes (and most notably in the Venezuelan state of Zulia), and in a large part of Colombia. Some researchers maintain that voseo can be heard in some parts of eastern Cuba, and others assert that it is absent from the island. [230]

Tuteo exists as the second-person usage with an intermediate degree of formality alongside the more familiar voseo in Chile, in the Venezuelan state of Zulia, on the Caribbean coast of Colombia, in the Azuero Peninsula in Panama, in the Mexican state of Chiapas, and in parts of Guatemala.

Areas of generalized voseo include Argentina, Nicaragua, eastern Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Colombian departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Risaralda, Quindio and Valle del Cauca. [229]


Ustedes functions as formal and informal second person plural in over 90% of the Spanish-speaking world, including all of Hispanic America, the Canary Islands, and some regions of Andalusia. In Seville, Huelva, Cadiz, and other parts of western Andalusia, the familiar form is constructed as ustedes vais, using the traditional second-person plural form of the verb. Most of Spain maintains the formal/familiar distinction with ustedes and vosotros respectively.


Usted is the usual second-person singular pronoun in a formal context, but it is used jointly with the third-person singular voice of the verb. It is used to convey respect toward someone who is a generation older or is of higher authority ("you, sir"/"you, ma'am"). It is also used in a familiar context by many speakers in Colombia and Costa Rica and in parts of Ecuador and Panama, to the exclusion of or vos. This usage is sometimes called ustedeo in Spanish.

In Central America, especially in Honduras, usted is often used as a formal pronoun to convey respect between the members of a romantic couple. Usted is also used that way between parents and children in the Andean regions of Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela.

Third-person object pronouns

Most speakers use (and the Real Academia Española prefers) the pronouns lo and la for direct objects (masculine and feminine respectively, regardless of animacy, meaning "him", "her", or "it"), and le for indirect objects (regardless of gender or animacy, meaning "to him", "to her", or "to it"). The usage is sometimes called "etymological", as these direct and indirect object pronouns are a continuation, respectively, of the accusative and dative pronouns of Latin, the ancestor language of Spanish.

Deviations from this norm (more common in Spain than in the Americas) are called " leísmo ", " loísmo ", or " laísmo ", according to which respective pronoun, le, lo, or la, has expanded beyond the etymological usage (le as a direct object, or lo or la as an indirect object).


Some words can be significantly different in different Hispanophone countries. Most Spanish speakers can recognize other Spanish forms even in places where they are not commonly used, but Spaniards generally do not recognize specifically American usages. For example, Spanish mantequilla, aguacate and albaricoque (respectively, 'butter', 'avocado', 'apricot') correspond to manteca (word used for lard in Peninsular Spanish), palta, and damasco, respectively, in Argentina, Chile (except manteca), Paraguay, Peru (except manteca and damasco), and Uruguay.

Relation to other languages

Spanish is closely related to the other West Iberian Romance languages, including Asturian, Aragonese, Galician, Ladino, Leonese, Mirandese and Portuguese.

It is generally acknowledged that Portuguese and Spanish speakers can communicate in written form, with varying degrees of mutual intelligibility. [231] [232] [233] [234] Mutual intelligibility of the written Spanish and Portuguese languages is remarkably high, and the difficulties of the spoken forms are based more on phonology than on grammatical and lexical dissimilarities. Ethnologue gives estimates of the lexical similarity between related languages in terms of precise percentages. For Spanish and Portuguese, that figure is 89%. Italian, on the other hand its phonology similar to Spanish, but has a lower lexical similarity of 82%. Mutual intelligibility between Spanish and French or between Spanish and Romanian is lower still, given lexical similarity ratings of 75% and 71% respectively. [235] [236] And comprehension of Spanish by French speakers who have not studied the language is much lower, at an estimated 45%. In general, thanks to the common features of the writing systems of the Romance languages, interlingual comprehension of the written word is greater than that of oral communication.

The following table compares the forms of some common words in several Romance languages:

Latin Spanish Galician Portuguese Astur-Leonese Aragonese Catalan French Italian Romanian English
nosnosotrosnós1nós1nós, nosotrosnusatrosnosaltres
(arch. nós)
frater germanum
(lit. "true brother")
(arch. frare)4
dies martis (Classical)
feria tertia (Ecclesiastical)
martesmartes/terza feiraterça-feiramartesmartesdimartsmardimartedìmarți'Tuesday'
(or canciu)
(arch. plus)
(arch. chus or plus)
(or més)
(arch. pus or plus)
manus sinistramano izquierda6
(arch. mano siniestra)
man esquerda6mão esquerda6
(arch. mão sẽestra)
manu izquierda6
(or esquierda;
also manzorga)
man cucha esquerra6
(arch.  sinistra)
main gauchemano sinistramâna stângă'left hand'
nullam rem natam
(lit. "no thing born")
(also ren and res)
(neca and nula rés
in some expressions; arch. rem)
(also un res)
cāseus formaticusquesoqueixoqueijoquesuquesoformatgefromageformaggio/caciocaș7'cheese'

1. Also nós outros in early modern Portuguese (e.g. The Lusiads ), and nosoutros in Galician.
2. Alternatively nous autres in French.
3. Also noialtri in Southern Italian dialects and languages.
4. Medieval Catalan (e.g. Llibre dels fets ).
5. Depending on the written norm used (see Reintegrationism).
6. From Basque esku, "hand" + erdi, "half, incomplete". Notice that this negative meaning also applies for Latin sinistra(m) ("dark, unfortunate").
7. Romanian caș (from Latin cāsevs) means a type of cheese. The universal term for cheese in Romanian is brânză (from unknown etymology). [237]


The Rashi script, originally used to print Judaeo-Spanish. Rashiscript.PNG
The Rashi script, originally used to print Judaeo-Spanish.
An original letter in Haketia, written in 1832. Delacroix letter.png
An original letter in Haketia, written in 1832.

Judaeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino, [238] is a variety of Spanish which preserves many features of medieval Spanish and Portuguese and is spoken by descendants of the Sephardi Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. [238] Conversely, in Portugal the vast majority of the Portuguese Jews converted and became 'New Christians'. Therefore, its relationship to Spanish is comparable with that of the Yiddish language to German. Ladino speakers today are almost exclusively Sephardi Jews, with family roots in Turkey, Greece, or the Balkans, and living mostly in Israel, Turkey, and the United States, with a few communities in Hispanic America. [238] Judaeo-Spanish lacks the Native American vocabulary which was acquired by standard Spanish during the Spanish colonial period, and it retains many archaic features which have since been lost in standard Spanish. It contains, however, other vocabulary which is not found in standard Spanish, including vocabulary from Hebrew, French, Greek and Turkish, and other languages spoken where the Sephardim settled.

Judaeo-Spanish is in serious danger of extinction because many native speakers today are elderly as well as elderly olim (immigrants to Israel) who have not transmitted the language to their children or grandchildren. However, it is experiencing a minor revival among Sephardi communities, especially in music. In the case of the Latin American communities, the danger of extinction is also due to the risk of assimilation by modern Castilian.

A related dialect is Haketia, the Judaeo-Spanish of northern Morocco. This too tended to assimilate with modern Spanish, during the Spanish occupation of the region.

Writing system

Spanish is written in the Latin script, with the addition of the character ñ (eñe, representing the phoneme /ɲ/, a letter distinct from n, although typographically composed of an n with a tilde). Formerly the digraphs ch (che, representing the phoneme /t͡ʃ/) and ll (elle, representing the phoneme /ʎ/), were also considered single letters. However, the digraph rr (erre fuerte, 'strong r', erre doble, 'double r', or simply erre), which also represents a distinct phoneme /r/, was not similarly regarded as a single letter. Since 1994 ch and ll have been treated as letter pairs for collation purposes, though they remained a part of the alphabet until 2010. Words with ch are now alphabetically sorted between those with cg and ci, instead of following cz as they used to. The situation is similar for ll. [239] [240]

Thus, the Spanish alphabet has the following 27 letters:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, Ñ, O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.

Since 2010, none of the digraphs (ch, ll, rr, gu, qu) is considered a letter by the Spanish Royal Academy. [241]

The letters k and w are used only in words and names coming from foreign languages (kilo, folklore, whisky, kiwi, etc.).

With the exclusion of a very small number of regional terms such as México (see Toponymy of Mexico), pronunciation can be entirely determined from spelling. Under the orthographic conventions, a typical Spanish word is stressed on the syllable before the last if it ends with a vowel (not including y) or with a vowel followed by n or an s; it is stressed on the last syllable otherwise. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by placing an acute accent on the stressed vowel.

The acute accent is used, in addition, to distinguish between certain homophones, especially when one of them is a stressed word and the other one is a clitic: compare el ('the', masculine singular definite article) with él ('he' or 'it'), or te ('you', object pronoun) with ('tea'), de (preposition 'of') versus ('give' [formal imperative/third-person present subjunctive]), and se (reflexive pronoun) versus ('I know' or imperative 'be').

The interrogative pronouns (qué, cuál, dónde, quién, etc.) also receive accents in direct or indirect questions, and some demonstratives (ése, éste, aquél, etc.) can be accented when used as pronouns. Accent marks used to be omitted on capital letters (a widespread practice in the days of typewriters and the early days of computers when only lowercase vowels were available with accents), although the Real Academia Española advises against this and the orthographic conventions taught at schools enforce the use of the accent.

When u is written between g and a front vowel e or i, it indicates a "hard g" pronunciation. A diaeresis ü indicates that it is not silent as it normally would be (e.g., cigüeña, 'stork', is pronounced [θiˈɣweɲa]; if it were written *cigueña, it would be pronounced *[θiˈɣeɲa]).

Interrogative and exclamatory clauses are introduced with inverted question and exclamation marks (¿ and ¡, respectively).


The Royal Spanish Academy Headquarters in Madrid, Spain. Academia de la Lengua.jpg
The Royal Spanish Academy Headquarters in Madrid, Spain.

Royal Spanish Academy

Arms of the Royal Spanish Academy Coat of Arms of the Royal Spanish Academy.svg
Arms of the Royal Spanish Academy

The Royal Spanish Academy (Spanish : Real Academia Española), founded in 1713, [242] together with the 21 other national ones (see Association of Spanish Language Academies), exercises a standardizing influence through its publication of dictionaries and widely respected grammar and style guides. [243] Because of influence and for other sociohistorical reasons, a standardized form of the language (Standard Spanish) is widely acknowledged for use in literature, academic contexts and the media.

Association of Spanish Language Academies

Countries members of the ASALE. Paises con academia de la lengua espanola.png
Countries members of the ASALE.

The Association of Spanish Language Academies (Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, or ASALE) is the entity which regulates the Spanish language. It was created in Mexico in 1951 and represents the union of all the separate academies in the Spanish-speaking world. It comprises the academies of 23 countries, ordered by date of Academy foundation: Spain (1713), [245] Colombia (1871), [246] Ecuador (1874), [247] Mexico (1875), [248] El Salvador (1876), [249] Venezuela (1883), [250] Chile (1885), [251] Peru (1887), [252] Guatemala (1887), [253] Costa Rica (1923), [254] Philippines (1924), [255] Panama (1926), [256] Cuba (1926), [257] Paraguay (1927), [258] Dominican Republic (1927), [259] Bolivia (1927), [260] Nicaragua (1928), [261] Argentina (1931), [262] Uruguay (1943), [263] Honduras (1949), [264] Puerto Rico (1955), [265] United States (1973) [266] and Equatorial Guinea (2016). [267]

Cervantes Institute

Cervantes Institute headquarters, Madrid Banco Espanol del Rio de la Plata (Madrid) 05.jpg
Cervantes Institute headquarters, Madrid

The Instituto Cervantes (Cervantes Institute) is a worldwide nonprofit organization created by the Spanish government in 1991. This organization has branched out in over 20 different countries, with 75 centers devoted to the Spanish and Hispanic American cultures and Spanish language. The ultimate goals of the Institute are to promote universally the education, the study, and the use of Spanish as a second language, to support methods and activities that help the process of Spanish-language education, and to contribute to the advancement of the Spanish and Hispanic American cultures in non-Spanish-speaking countries. The institute's 2015 report "El español, una lengua viva" (Spanish, a living language) estimated that there were 559 million Spanish speakers worldwide. Its latest annual report "El español en el mundo 2018" (Spanish in the world 2018) counts 577 million Spanish speakers worldwide. Among the sources cited in the report is the U.S. Census Bureau, which estimates that the U.S. will have 138 million Spanish speakers by 2050, making it the biggest Spanish-speaking nation on earth, with Spanish the mother tongue of almost a third of its citizens. [268]

Official use by international organizations

Spanish is one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, the World Trade Organization, the Organization of American States, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Antarctic Treaty Secretariat, the Latin Union, the Caricom, the North American Free Trade Agreement, and numerous other international organizations.

See also


  1. In yeísmo dialects, castellano is pronounced [kasteˈɟʝano] .
  2. Note that in English, "Castilian" or "Castilian Spanish" may be understood as referring to European Spanish (peninsular Spanish) to the exclusion of dialects in the New World or to Castilian Spanish to the exclusion of any other dialect, rather than as a synonym for the entire language.[ citation needed ]

Related Research Articles

Royal Spanish Academy

The Royal Spanish Academy is Spain's official royal institution with a mission to ensure the stability of the Spanish language. It is based in Madrid, Spain, but is affiliated with national language academies in 22 other hispanophone nations through the Association of Academies of the Spanish Language. The RAE's emblem is a fiery crucible, and its motto is Limpia, fija y da esplendor.

Asturleonese language language

Asturleonese is a Romance language spoken primarily in northwestern Spain, namely in historical regions and Spain's modern-day autonomous communities of Asturias, northwestern Castile and León and Cantabria. The name of the language is largely uncommon among its native speakers, as it forms a dialect continuum of mutually intelligible varieties and therefore it is primarily referred to by various regional glossonyms like Leonese, Cantabrian, Asturian or Mirandese. Extremaduran is sometimes included as well.

Names given to the Spanish language overview about the names given to the Spanish language

There are two names given in Spanish to the Spanish language: español ("Spanish") and castellano ("Castilian"). Spanish speakers from different countries or backgrounds can show a preference for one term or the other, or use them indiscriminately, but political issues or common usage might lead speakers to prefer one term over the other. This article identifies the differences between those terms, the countries or backgrounds that show a preference for one or the other, and the implications the choice of words might have for a native Spanish-speaker.

Spanish dialects and varieties Spanish dialects

Some of the regional varieties of the Spanish language are quite divergent from one another, especially in pronunciation and vocabulary, and less so in grammar.

Spanish language in the Philippines Spanish Philippines

Spanish was the official language of the Philippines from the beginning of Spanish rule in the late 16th century, through the conclusion of the Spanish–American War in 1898 and remained co-official, along with English, until 1987. It was at first removed in 1973 by a constitutional change, but after a few months it was re-designated an official language by presidential decree and remained official until 1987, with the present Constitution re-designating it instead as an "optional and voluntary language".

Rioplatense Spanish dialect spoken in countries near the Río de la Plata

Rioplatense Spanish, also known as Rioplatense Castilian, is a variety of Spanish spoken mainly in the areas in and around the Río de la Plata Basin of Argentina and Uruguay. It is also referred to as River Plate Spanish or Argentine Spanish. Being the most prominent dialect to employ voseo in both speech and writing, many features of Rioplatense are also shared with the varieties spoken in Eastern Bolivia and Chile. This dialect is often spoken with an intonation resembling that of the Neapolitan language of Southern Italy, but there are exceptions. The usual word employed to name the Spanish language in this region is castellano and seldom español. See names given to the Spanish language.

Association of Academies of the Spanish Language Coordinating body of Spanish language regulators

The Association of Academies of the Spanish Language is an entity whose end is to work for the unity, integrity, and growth of the Spanish language. It was created in Mexico in 1951 and represents the union of all the separate academies in the Spanish-speaking world. The association publishes reference works on the Spanish language and commemorative editions of Hispanic literature, among other publications.

Spanish orthography The system for writing in Spanish

Spanish orthography is the orthography used in the Spanish language. The alphabet uses the Latin script. The spelling is fairly phonemic, especially in comparison to more opaque orthographies like English, having a relatively consistent mapping of graphemes to phonemes; in other words, the pronunciation of a given Spanish-language word can largely be predicted from its spelling and to a slightly lesser extent vice versa. Notable features of Spanish punctuation include the lack of the serial comma and the inverted question and exclamation marks: ⟨¿⟩ ⟨¡⟩.

Standard Spanish Standard form of the Spanish language

Standard Spanish is a linguistic variety, or lect, that is considered a correct educated standard for the Spanish language, mainly in its written form. There are different standard forms, including the Mexican standard, the Latin American standard, the Peninsular standard or European standard and the Rioplatense standard, in addition to the standard forms developed by international organizations and multinational companies. A 2014 study shows that people in Santiago, Chile, consider Peruvian Spanish the most correct form of Spanish.

Languages of Spain overview about the languages spoken in Spain

The languages of Spain, or Spanish languages, are the languages spoken or once spoken in Spain. Most languages spoken in Spain belong to the Romance language family, of which Spanish is the only language which has official status for the whole country. Various other languages have co-official or recognised status in specific territories, and a number of unofficial languages and dialects are spoken in certain localities.

Chilean Spanish is any of several varieties of Spanish spoken in most of Chile. Chilean Spanish dialects have distinctive pronunciation, grammar, vocabulary, and slang usages that differ from those of standard Spanish. The Royal Spanish Academy recognizes 2,214 words and idioms exclusively or mainly produced in Chilean Spanish, in addition to many still unrecognized slang expressions.

Asturian language Romance language of the West Iberian group

Asturian is a West Iberian Romance language spoken in Principality of Asturias, Spain. Asturian is part of a wider linguistic group, the Astur-Leonese languages. The number of speakers is estimated at 100,000 (native) and 450,000. There are three main variants in the Astur-Leonese language family: Western, Central, and Eastern. For historical and demographic reasons, the standard is based on Central Asturian. Asturian has a distinct grammar, dictionary, and orthography. It is regulated by the Academy of the Asturian Language. Although it is not an official language of Spain it is protected under the Statute of Autonomy and is an elective language in schools.

Dominican Spanish Spanish as spoken in the Dominican Republic

Dominican Spanish is Spanish as spoken in the Dominican Republic; and also among the Dominican diaspora, most of whom live in the United States, chiefly in New York City, Delaware, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington, D.C., Rhode Island, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Miami.

In English, Castilian Spanish sometimes refers to the variety of Peninsular Spanish spoken in northern and central Spain or as the language standard for radio and TV speakers. In Spanish, the term castellano (Castilian) usually refers to the Spanish language as a whole, or to the medieval Old Spanish language, a predecessor to modern Spanish.

Tehuelche language language

Tehuelche is one of the Chonan languages of Patagonia. Its speakers were nomadic hunters who occupied territory in present-day Chile, north of Tierra del Fuego and south of the Mapuche people. It is also known as Aonikenk or Aonekko 'a'ien.

Colombian Spanish dialect of Spanish spoken and written in Colombia

Colombian Spanish is a grouping of the varieties of Spanish spoken in Colombia. The term is of more geographical than linguistic relevance, since the dialects spoken in the various regions of Colombia are quite diverse. The speech of coastal areas tends to exhibit phonology typical of Caribbean Spanish, while highland varieties do not. The Caro and Cuervo Institute in Bogotá is the main institution in Colombia to promote the scholarly study of the language and literature of both Colombia and the rest of Spanish America. The educated speech of Bogotá, a generally conservative variety of Spanish, has high popular prestige among Spanish-speakers throughout the Americas.

Languages of Morocco languages of a geographic region

There are a number of languages of Morocco. The two official languages are Standard Arabic and Tamazight. Moroccan Arabic is the spoken native vernacular. The languages of prestige in Morocco are Arabic in its Classical and Modern Standard Forms and French, the latter of which serves as a second language for approximately 33% of Moroccans. According to a 2000–2002 survey done by Moha Ennaji, author of Multilingualism, Cultural Identity, and Education in Morocco, "there is a general agreement that Standard Arabic, Moroccan Arabic, and Berber are the national languages." Ennaji also concluded "This survey confirms the idea that multilingualism in Morocco is a vivid sociolinguistic phenomenon, which is favored by many people."

Paraguayan Spanish Dialect

Paraguayan Spanish is the set of dialects of the Spanish language spoken in Paraguay. In addition, it influences the speech of the Argentine provinces of Misiones, Corrientes, Formosa, and, to a lesser extent, Chaco. Paraguayan Spanish possesses marked characteristics of Spanish previously spoken in northern Spain, because the majority of the first settlers were from Old Castile and the Basque Country.

Early Modern Spanish is the variant of Spanish used between the end of the fifteenth century and the end of the seventeenth century, marked by a series of phonological and grammatical changes that transformed Old Spanish into Modern Spanish.


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