Spanish language

Last updated

  • español
  • castellano
Pronunciation [espaˈɲol]
[kasteˈʎano] [lower-alpha 1]
Native speakers
586 million total speakers
489 million native speakers (2020) [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
Linguasphere 51-AAA-b
Hispanophone global world map language 2.svg
  Spanish as official language.
  Unofficial, but spoken by more than 25% of the population.
  Unofficial, but spoken by 10–20% of the population.
  Unofficial, but spoken by 5–9% of the population.
  Spanish-based creole languages spoken.
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Spanish ( Loudspeaker.svg español   or Loudspeaker.svg castellano , lit.'Castilian' [lower-alpha 2] ) is a Romance language that evolved from colloquial spoken Latin in the Iberian Peninsula of Europe. Today, it is a global language with nearly 500 million native speakers, mainly in the Americas and Spain. It is the world's second-most spoken native language after Mandarin Chinese, [3] [4] and the world's fourth-most spoken language overall after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi, as well as the world's most widely spoken Romance language.


Spanish is a part of the Ibero-Romance group of languages of the Indo-European language family, 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, [5] and the first systematic written use of the language happened in Toledo, a prominent city of the Kingdom of Castile, in the 13th century. Modern Spanish was then taken to the viceroyalties of the Spanish Empire beginning in 1492, most notably to the Americas, as well as territories in Africa and the Philippines. [6]

As a Romance language, Spanish is a descendant of Latin and has one of the smaller degrees of difference from it (about 20%) alongside Sardinian and Italian. [7] Around 75% of modern Spanish vocabulary is derived from Latin, including Latin borrowings from Ancient Greek. [8] [9] Alongside English and French, it is also one of the most taught foreign languages throughout the world. [10] Spanish does not feature prominently as a scientific language; however, it is better represented in areas like humanities and social sciences. [11] Spanish is also the third most used language on internet websites after English and Chinese. [12] Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and 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. [13]

Name of the language and etymology

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

Name of the language

In Spain and in some other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, Spanish is called not only español 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 Royal Spanish Academy (Real Academia Española), 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 Royal Spanish 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. [14]


The term castellano comes from the Latin word castellanus, which means "of or pertaining to a fort or castle". [15]

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. [16]

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 Royal Spanish 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 Royal Spanish 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. [18] 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). [19] 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. [18]

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 by some scholars 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. [21] 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. [22] In his introduction to the grammar, dated 18 August 1492, Nebrija wrote that "... language was always the companion of empire." [23]

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"). [24]

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.

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 in 20 countries worldwide. As of 2020, it is estimated that about 463 million people speak Spanish as a native language, making it the second most spoken language by number of native speakers. An additional 75 million speak Spanish as a second or foreign language, making it the fourth most spoken language in the world overall after English, Mandarin Chinese, and Hindi with a total number of 538 million speakers. [26] Spanish is also the third most used language on the Internet, after English and Chinese. [27]


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 also widely spoken in Gibraltar and Andorra. [28]

Spanish is also spoken by immigrant communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, Italy, and Germany. [29] Spanish is an official language of the European Union.


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), [30] Peru (co-official with Quechua, Aymara, and "the other indigenous languages" [31] ), Puerto Rico (co-official with English), [32] 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. [33] [34] 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. [35]

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. [36] 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. [37] In September 2016 this law was revoked by Michel Temer after impeachment of Dilma Rousseff. [38] In many border towns and villages along Paraguay and Uruguay, a mixed language known as Portuñol is spoken. [39]

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; [40] 38.3 million people, 13 percent of the population over five years old speak Spanish at home. [41] 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, and Puerto Rico which was Spanish until 1898.

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. [42] 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. [43] 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.


Spanish language signage in Malabo, capital city of Equatorial Guinea. Malabo 08207.JPG
Spanish language signage in Malabo, capital city of Equatorial Guinea.

In Africa, Equatorial Guinea gained its independence from Spain on 1968, but maintains Spanish as its official language alongside French and Portuguese, being currently the only African country where Spanish is an official language. [44] It is also the most widely spoken language (considerably more than the other two official languages), and according to the Instituto Cervantes 87.7% of the population are fluent in Spanish. [45] Fang is the most spoken language by number of native speakers. [46] [47] Spanish is also an official language of the African Union.

Spanish is also spoken in the integral territories of Spain in North Africa, which include the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, the Canary Islands located some 100 km (62 mi) off the northwest coast of mainland Africa, and minuscule outposts known as plazas de soberanía. In northern Morocco, a former Spanish protectorate, approximately 20,000 people speak Spanish as a second language, while Arabic is the de jure official language and French is a second administrative language. Spanish is spoken by very small communities in Angola due to Cuban influence from the Cold War and in South Sudan among South Sudanese natives that relocated to Cuba during the Sudanese wars and returned for their country's independence. [48]

In Western Sahara, formerly Spanish Sahara, Spanish was officially spoken during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today, Spanish is present alongside Arabic in the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, although this entity receives limited international recognition and the number of Spanish speakers is unknown. [49] [50]


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

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 was 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. While this increased the use of Spanish throughout the islands and led to the formation of a class of Spanish-speaking intellectuals called the Ilustrados , only populations in urban areas or with places with a significant Spanish presence used the language on a daily basis or learned it as a second or third language. By the end of Spanish rule in 1898, only about 10% of the population had knowledge of Spanish, mostly those of Spanish descent or elite standing. [51]

Despite American administration of the Philippines after the defeat of Spain in the Spanish–American War, Spanish continued to be used in Philippine literature and press during the early years of American administration. Gradually however, the American government began promoting the use of English at the expense of Spanish, characterizing it as a negative influence of the past. Eventually, by the 1920s, English became the primary language of administration and education. [52] Nevertheless, despite a significant decrease in influence and speakers, Spanish remained an official language of the Philippines upon independence 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 briefly removed from official status in 1973 under the administration of Ferdinand Marcos, but regained official status two months later under Presidential Decree No. 155, dated 15 March 1973. [53] 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. [54] In 2010, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo encouraged the reintroduction of Spanish-language teaching in the Philippine education system. [55] However, the initiative failed to gain any traction, with the number of secondary schools at which the language is either a compulsory subject or offered as an elective remaining very limited. [56] Today, while the most optimistic estimates place the number of Spanish speakers in the Philippines at around 1.8 million people, interest in the language is growing, with some 20,000 students studying the language every year. [57]

Aside from standard Spanish, a Spanish-based creole language called Chavacano developed in the southern Philippines. However, it is not mutually intelligible with Spanish. [58] The number of Chavacano-speakers was estimated at 1.2 million in 1996. [59] The local languages of the Philippines also retain significant Spanish influence, with many words derived from Mexican Spanish, owing to the administration of the islands by Spain through New Spain until 1821, until direct governance from Madrid afterwards to 1898. [60] [61]


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

As a legacy of comprising the former Spanish East Indies, Spanish loan words are present in the local languages of Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Marshall Islands and Micronesia. [62] [63]


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. The indicative mood is the unmarked one, while the subjunctive mood expresses uncertainty or indetermination, and is commonly paired with the conditional, which is a mood used to express "would" (as in, "I would eat if I had food); the imperative is a mood to express a command, commonly a one word phrase – "¡Di!", "Talk!".

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 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.

Spanish 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 Spanish. Spanish 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). [64] The Latin initial consonant sequences pl-, cl-, and fl- in Spanish typically become ll- (originally pronounced [ʎ]), while in Aragonese they are preserved in most dialects, 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 [65] ). 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 [66]
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. [67] [68]

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. [69] [70] 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-to-last or earlier syllables. Stress tends to occur as follows: [71] [ better source needed ]

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 ('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.)

Speaker population

Spanish is the official, or national language in 18 countries and one territory in the Americas, Spain, and Equatorial Guinea. With a population of over 410 million, Hispanophone America accounts for the vast majority of Spanish speakers, of which Mexico is the most populous Spanish-speaking country. In the European Union, Spanish is the mother tongue of 8% of the population, with an additional 7% speaking it as a second language. [72] Additionally, Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States and is by far the most popular foreign language among students. [73] In 2015, it was estimated that over 50 million Americans spoke Spanish, about 41 million of whom were native speakers. [74] With continued immigration and increased use of the language domestically in public spheres and media, the number of Spanish speakers in the United States is expected to continue growing over the forthcoming decades. [75]

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 [76] Spanish as a native language speakers [77] Native speakers and proficient speakers as a second language [78] Total number of Spanish speakers (including limited competence speakers) [78] [79] [80]
Mexico*128,972,439 [81] 119,557,451 (92.7%) [82] 124,845,321 (96,8%) [1] 127,037,852 (98.5%) [80]
United States 328,239,523 [83] 41,757,391 [84] (13.5%) [85] 41,757,391 [86] [87] (82% of U.S. Hispanics speak Spanish very well (according to a 2011 survey). [88] There are 60.5 million Hispanics in the U.S. as of 2019 [89] + 2.8 mill. non Hispanic Spanish speakers [90] )56,657,391 [1] (41.8 million as a first language + 14.9 million as a second language. To avoid double counting, the number does not include 8 million Spanish students and some of the 8.4 million undocumented Hispanics not accounted by the Census
Colombia*51,049,498 [91] 50,199,498 (98.9%)50,641,102 (99.2%) [1]
Spain*47,026,208 [1] 43,546,005 (92%) [1] 46,383,381 (98%) [92]
Argentina*45,808,747 [93] [95] 44,297,059 (96.7%) [96] 44 938 381 (98,1%) [1] 45,533,895 (99.4%) [80]
Venezuela*32,605,423 [97] 31,507,179(1,098,244 with other mother tongue) [98] 31,725,077 (97.3%) [1] 32,214,158 (98.8%) [80]
Peru*33,149,016 [99] 27,480,534 (82.9%) [100] [101] 29,834,114 (86.6%) [1]
Chile*19,678,363 [102] 18,871,550 (281,600 with other mother tongue) [103] 18,871,550 (95.9%) [1] 19,540,614 (99.3%) [80]
Ecuador*17,424,000 [104] 16 204 320 (93%) [105] 16,692,192 (95.8%) [1] 16,845,732 (98.1%) [80]
Guatemala*18,055,025 [106] 12,620,462 (69.9%) [107] 14,137,085 (78.3%) [1] 15,599,542 (86.4%) [80]
Cuba*11,209,628 [108] 11 187 209 (99.8%) [1] 11,187,209 (99.8%) [1]
Dominican Republic*10,448,499 [109] 10 197 735 (97.6%) [1] 10 197 735 (97.6%) [1] 10,302,220 (99.6%) [80]
Bolivia*11,584,000 [110] 7,031,488 (60.7%) [111] 9,614,720 (83%) [1] 10,182,336 (87.9%) [80]
Honduras*9,251,313 [112] 9 039 287 (207,750 with other mother tongue) [113] 9,039,287 (98.7%) [1]
El Salvador*6,765,753 [114] 6 745 456 [115] 6,745,456 (99.7%) [1]
France 65,635,000 [116] 477,564 (1% [117] of 47,756,439 [118] )1,910,258 (4% [92] of 47,756,439 [118] ) 6,685,901 (14% [119] of 47,756,439 [118] )
Nicaragua*6,218,321 [114] [76] 6,037,990 (97.1%) (490,124 with other mother tongue) [114] [120] 6,218,321(180,331 limited proficiency) [114]
Brazil 211,671,000 [121] 460,018 [1] 460,0186,056,018 (460,018 native speakers + 96,000 limited proficiency + 5,500,000 can hold a conversation) [122]
Italy 60,795,612 [123] 255,459 [124] 1,037,248 (2% [92] of 51,862,391 [118] )5,704,863 (11% [119] of 51,862,391 [118] )
Costa Rica*4,890,379 [125] 4,806,069 (84,310 with other mother tongue) [126] 4,851,256 (99.2%) [80]
Paraguay*7,252,672 [127] 4,460,393 (61.5%) [128] 4,946,322 (68,2%) [1]
Panama*3,764,166 [129] 3,263,123 (501,043 with other mother tongue) [130] 3,504,439 (93.1%) [80]
Uruguay*3,480,222 [131] 3,330,022 (150,200 with other mother tongue) [132] 3,441,940 (98.9%) [80]
Puerto Rico*3,474,182 [133] 3,303,947 (95.1%) [134] 3,432,492 (98.8%) [80]
United Kingdom 64,105,700 [135] 120,000 [136] 518,480 (1% [92] of 51,848,010 [118] )3,110,880 (6% [119] of 51,848,010 [118] )
Philippines*101,562,305 [137] 438,882 [138] 3,016,773 [139] [140] [141] [142] [143] [144] [145]
Germany 81,292,400 [146] 644,091 (1% [92] of 64,409,146 [118] )2,576,366 (4% [119] of 64,409,146 [118] )
Morocco 34,378,000 [147] 6,586 [148] 6,5861,664,823 [1] [149] (10%) [150]
Equatorial Guinea*1,622,000 [151] 1,683 [152] 918,000 [80] (90.5%) [80] [153]
Romania 21,355,849 [154] 182,467 (1% [92] of 18,246,731 [118] ) 912,337 (5% [119] of 18,246,731 [118] )
Portugal 10,636,888 [155] 323,237 (4% [92] of 8,080,915 [118] )808,091 (10% [119] of 8,080,915 [118] )
Canada 34,605,346 [156] 553,495 [157] 643,800 (87% [158] of 740,000 [159] ) [160] 736,653 [79]
Netherlands 16,665,900 [161] 133,719 (1% [92] of 13,371,980 [118] )668,599 (5% [119] of 13,371,980 [118] )
Sweden 9,555,893 [162] 77,912 (1% [117] of 7,791,240 [118] )77,912 (1% of 7,791,240)467,474 (6% [119] of 7,791,240 [118] )
Australia 21,507,717 [163] 111,400 [164] 111,400447,175 [165]
Belgium 10,918,405 [166] 89,395 (1% [92] of 8,939,546 [118] )446,977 (5% [119] of 8,939,546 [118] )
Benin 10,008,749 [167] 412,515 (students) [79]
Ivory Coast 21,359,000 [168] 341,073 (students) [79]
Poland 38,092,000324,137 (1% [92] of 32,413,735 [118] )324,137 (1% of 32,413,735)
Austria 8,205,53370,098 (1% [92] of 7,009,827 [118] )280,393 (4% [119] of 7,009,827 [118] )
Algeria 33,769,669223,422 [148]
Belize 324,528 [169] 165,000 [170] 165,296 [169]
Senegal 12,853,259205,000 (students) [79]
Denmark 5,484,72345,613 (1% [92] of 4,561,264 [118] )182,450 (4% [119] of 4,561,264 [118] )
Israel 7,112,359130,000 [148] 175,231 [171]
Japan 127,288,419100,229 [172] 100,229167,514 (60,000 students) [79]
Gabon 1,545,255 [173] 167,410 (students) [79]
Switzerland 7,581,520150,782 (2,24%) [174] [175] 150,782165,202 (14,420 students) [176]
Ireland 4,581,269 [177] 35,220 (1% [92] of 3,522,000 [118] )140,880 (4% [119] of 3,522,000 [118] )
Finland 5,244,749133,200 (3% [119] of 4,440,004 [118] )
Bulgaria 7,262,675130,750 (2% [92] of 6,537,510 [118] )130,750 (2% [119] of 6,537,510 [118] )
Bonaire and Curaçao 223,65210,699 [148] 10,699 [148] 125,534 [148]
Norway 5,165,80021,187 [178] 103,309 [79]
Czech Republic 10,513,209 [179] 90,124 (1% [119] of 9,012,443 [118] )
Hungary 9,957,731 [180] 83,206 (1% [119] of 8,320,614 [118] )
Aruba 101,484 [181] 6,800 [148] 6,800 [148] 75,402 [148]
Trinidad and Tobago 1,317,714 [182] 4,100 [148] 4,100 [148] 65,886 [148] (5%) [183]
Cameroon 21,599,100 [184] 63,560 (students) [79]
Andorra 84,48433,305 [148] 33,305 [148] 54,909 [148]
Slovenia 35,194 (2% [92] of 1,759,701 [118] ) 52,791 (3% [119] of 1,759,701 [118] )
New Zealand 21,645 [185] 21,64547,322 (25,677 students) [79]
Slovakia 5,455,40745,500 (1% [119] of 4,549,955 [118] )
China 1,339,724,852 [186] 30,000 (students) [187]
Gibraltar 29,441 [188] 22,758 (77.3% [189] )
Lithuania 2,972,949 [190] 28,297 (1% [119] of 2,829,740 [118] )
Luxembourg 524,8534,049 (1% [117] of 404,907 [118] )8,098 (2% [92] of 404,907 [118] )24,294 (6% [119] of 404,907 [118] )
Russia 143,400,000 [191] 3,320 [148] 3,320 [148] 23,320 [148]
Western Sahara*513,000 [192] n.a. [193] 22,000 [148]
Guam 19,092 [194]
US Virgin Islands 16,788 [195] 16,788 [148] 16,788 [148]
Latvia 2,209,000 [196] 13,943 (1% [119] of 1,447,866 [118] )
Turkey 73,722,988 [197] 1,134 [148] 1,134 [148] 13,480 [148] [198]
Cyprus 2% [119] of 660,400 [118]
India 1,210,193,422 [199] 9,750 (students) [200]
Estonia 9,457 (1% [119] of 945,733 [118] )
Jamaica 2,711,476 [201] 8,000 [202] 8,000 [202] 8,000 [202]
Namibia 3,870 [203]
Egypt 3,500 [204]
Malta 3,354 (1% [119] of 335,476 [118] )
European Union (excluding Spain)*460,624,488 [205] 2,397,000 (934,984 already counted) [206]
Total7,626,000,000 (Total World Population) [207] 479,607,963 [208] [160] (6.2 %) [209] 501,870,034 [160] (6.5 % )555,428,616 [208] [1] [210] (7.2 %) [211]

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.

While being mutually intelligible, 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/. [212] [213]

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. [214] [215] [216] [217] 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. [218]


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"), [219]


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 feature 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 feature 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. [221]

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. [222] [ better source needed ] 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. [223]

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. [221]


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. [224] [225] [226] [227] 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 is phonologically 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. [228] [229] 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 Spanish vocabulary has been influenced by several languages: As in other European languages, Classical Greek words (Hellenisms) are abundant in several fields, mainly in Art, Science, Politics, Nature, etc. [230] Its vocabulary has also been influenced by Arabic, having developed during the Al-Andalus era in the Iberian Peninsula, with around 8% of its vocabulary having Arabic lexical roots. [231] [232] [233] [234] It has also been influenced by Basque, Iberian, Celtiberian, Visigothic, and other neighboring Ibero-Romance languages. [235] [234] Additionally, it has absorbed vocabulary from other languages, particularly other Romance languages such as French, Italian, Mozarabic, Portuguese, Galician, Catalan, Occitan, and Sardinian, as well as from Quechua, Nahuatl, and other indigenous languages of the Americas. [236]

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
nōs (alterōs)1,2
"we (others)"
nosotrosnós, nosoutros3nós3nós, nosotrosnusatrosnosaltres
(arch. nós)
nous4noi, noialtri5noi'we'
frātre(m) germānu(m)
"true brother"
(arch. frare)6
die(m) mārtis (Classical)
"day of Mars"
tertia(m) fēria(m) (Late Latin)
"third (holi)day"
martesmartes, terza feiraterça-feiramartesmartesdimartsmardimartedìmarți'Tuesday'
(arch. cançón)
canción, cançom8cançãocanción
(also canciu)
(arch. plus)
(arch. chus or plus)
(also més)
(arch. pus or plus)
manu(m) sinistra(m)mano izquierda9
(arch. mano siniestra)
man esquerda9mão esquerda9
(arch. mão sẽestra)
manu izquierda9
(or esquierda;
also manzorga)
man cucha esquerra9
(arch.  sinistra)
main gauchemano sinistramâna stângă'left hand'
rēs, rĕm "thing"
nūlla(m) rem nāta(m)
"no born thing"
mīca(m) "crumb"
(also ren and res)
(neca and nula rés
in some expressions; arch. rem)
(also un res)
cosaresrien, nulniente, nulla
mica (negative particle)
nimic, nul'nothing'
cāseu(m) fōrmāticu(m)

1. In Romance etymology, Latin terms are given in the Accusative since most forms derive from this case.
2. As in "us very selves", an emphatic expression.
3. Also nós outros in early modern Portuguese (e.g. The Lusiads ), and nosoutros in Galician.
4. Alternatively nous autres in French.
5. noialtri in many Southern Italian dialects and languages.
6. Medieval Catalan (e.g. Llibre dels fets ).
7. Modified with the learned suffix -ción.
8. Depending on the written norm used (see Reintegrationism).
9. From Basque esku, "hand" + erdi, "half, incomplete". Notice that this negative meaning also applies for Latin sinistra(m) ("dark, unfortunate").
10. 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 Latin American communities, the danger of extinction is also due to assimilation by modern Spanish.

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/ or /ʝ/), 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) are considered letters by the Royal Spanish 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) and closed by the usual question and exclamation marks.


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

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.svg
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, the Inter-American Development Bank, and numerous other international organizations.

See also


  1. In yeísmo dialects, castellano is pronounced [kasteˈʝano] .
  2. Refers to the medieval Kingdom of Castile and the broader cultural region of Castile, where the Spanish language originated.

Related Research Articles

Royal Spanish Academy Official regulator for the Spanish language

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, and 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.

Names given to the Spanish language Overview of 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.

Chamorro language Austronesian language spoken on the Mariana Islands

Chamorro is an Austronesian language spoken by about 58,000 people. It is the native and spoken language of the Chamorro people, the indigenous people of the Marianas. There are three different dialects of Chamorro - Guamanian, Rotanese, and the general NMI dialects.

Extremaduran language

Extremaduran is a group of vernacular Romance dialects, related to the Asturleonese language, spoken in Extremadura and adjoining areas in the province of Salamanca. It is difficult to establish the exact boundary between Extremaduran and the Spanish varieties spoken in most of Extremadura.

Spanish dialects and varieties Dialects of Spanish

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.

<i>Voseo</i> Use in Spanish of the pronoun vos for the second-person familiar singular

In Spanish grammar, voseo is the use of vos as a second-person singular pronoun, along with its associated verbal forms, in certain regions where the language is spoken. In those regions it replaces tuteo, i.e. the use of the pronoun and its verbal forms. Voseo can also be found in the context of using verb conjugations for vos with as the subject pronoun, as in the case of Chilean Spanish, where this form coexists with the ordinary form of voseo.

Rioplatense Spanish Variety of Spanish spoken in Argentina and Uruguay

Rioplatense Spanish, also known as Rioplatense Castilian, is a variety of Spanish spoken mainly 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. It is the most prominent dialect to employ voseo in both speech and writing. Many features of Rioplatense are also shared with the varieties spoken in south and eastern Bolivia, and Paraguay. This dialect is often spoken with an intonation resembling that of the Neapolitan language of Southern Italy, but there are exceptions.

Spanish orthography 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 use of inverted question and exclamation marks: ⟨¿⟩ ⟨¡⟩.

Central American Spanish Spanish dialect family

Central American Spanish is the general name of the Spanish language dialects spoken in Central America. More precisely, the term refers to the Spanish language as spoken in Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua. Panamanian Spanish is considered a variety of Caribbean Spanish.

The Qʼeqchiʼ language, also spelled Kekchi, Kʼekchiʼ, or Kekchí, is one of the Mayan languages, spoken within Qʼeqchiʼ communities in Guatemala and Belize.

Chilean Spanish Dialect

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 the 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. The dialects of the Astur-Leonese language family are traditionally classified in 3 groups: 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 of Asturias and is an elective language in schools. For much of its history, the language has been ignored or "subjected to repeated challenges to its status as a language variety" due to its lack of official status.

Portuguese and Spanish, although closely related Romance languages, differ in many aspects of their phonology, grammar and lexicon. Both belong to a subset of the Romance languages known as West Iberian Romance, which also includes several other languages or dialects with fewer speakers, all of which are mutually intelligible to some degree. A 1949 study by Italian-American linguist Mario Pei, analyzing the degree of difference from a language's parent by comparing phonology, inflection, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation, indicated the following percentages : In the case of Spanish it was 20%, the third closest Romance language to Latin, only behind Sardinian and Italian. Portuguese was 31%, making it the second furthest language from Latin after French.

In English, Castilian Spanish can mean the variety of Peninsular Spanish spoken in northern and central Spain, the standard form of Spanish, or Spanish from Spain in general. The International Phonetic Association defines Castilian Spanish as the formal Spanish spoken in Castile by educated speakers. In Spanish, the term castellano (Castilian) refers to the Spanish language as a whole, or to the medieval Old Spanish, a predecessor to Early Modern Spanish.

Cuzco Quechua is a dialect of Southern Quechua spoken in Cuzco and the Cuzco Region of Peru.

Colombian Spanish Dialects of Spanish spoken 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 the northern coastal area tends to exhibit phonological innovations typical of Caribbean Spanish, while highland varieties have been historically more conservative. 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.

Guatemalan Spanish

Guatemalan Spanish is the national variant of Spanish spoken in the Central American country of Guatemala. About 13.7 million of the 17 million population speak Spanish. It includes the use of the second-person singular personal pronoun vos alongside the standard Spanish second-person singular pronouns and usted to form a three-level system of second-person singular address.

Salvadoran Spanish

Salvadoran Spanish is geographically defined as the form of Spanish spoken in the country of El Salvador. The Spanish dialect in El Salvador shares many similarities to that of its neighbors in the region, but it has its stark differences in pronunciation and usage. El Salvador, like most of Central America, uses voseo Spanish as its written and spoken form, similar to that of Argentina. Vos is used, but many Salvadorans understand tuteo. Vos can be heard in television programs and can be seen in written form in publications. Usted is used as a show of respect, when someone is speaking to an elderly person.

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.

Spanish personal pronouns Personal pronouns in Spanish

Spanish personal pronouns have distinct forms according to whether they stand for the subject (nominative) or object, and third-person pronouns make an additional distinction for direct object (accusative) or indirect object (dative), and for reflexivity as well. Several pronouns also have special forms used after prepositions.



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