Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)

spain-flag-300x168 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)With approximately 400 million speakers worldwide, Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian), ranks second, after Chinese, among the world’s most widely spoken languages (Ref.: Ethnologue). Twenty one countries recognize Spanish as either the official or most important language:

  1. LA-Flag-Map-Pic Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Argentina
  2. Bolivia (with Aymará)
  3. Chile
  4. Colombia
  5. Costa Rica
  6. Cuba
  7. Dominican Republic
  8. Ecuador
  9. El Salvador
  10. Equatorial Guinea (with French)
  11. Guatemala
  12. Honduras
  13. Mexico
  14. Nicaragua
  15. Panama
  16. Paraguay (with Guaraní)
  17. Peru (with Quechua and Aymará)
  18. Puerto Rico
  19. Spain (with Catalan, Galician, Basque and Aranese)
  20. Uruguay
  21. Venezuela

Mexico is the country with the highest concentration of Spanish speakers (almost 100 million), followed by  Colombia (44 million), Spain (c. 41 million), Argentina (39 million) and the United States (c. 30 million).

There is a significant number of Spanish speakers in Canada (c. 230 thousand), Israel  (c. 100 thousand, including Spanish and Judaeo-Spanish, Ladino), northern Morocco (c. 20 thousand), the Netherlands Antilles, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey (c. 15 thousand – Judaeo-Spanish, Ladino) and Western Sahara (formerly Spanish Sahara, where it is one of the main languages along with Arab and Hassani ).

Spanish was the official language in the Philippines Until 1973, where the official languages now are Tagalog and English. Although the number of Filipinos who speak Spanish has decreased significantly (to less than 0.01% of the population), some remnants of Spanish still remain. For instance, Spanish decimals are sill used by many when counting money and many native Filipino languages include many Spanish loan words.

quora_Latin-300x197 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)

The evolution of the Spanish language

Like all Romance languages, Spanish originated from Latin, more accurately from Vulgar Latin (sermo vulgaris) as opposed to Classical Latin. Vulgar Latin was the vernacular of the soldiers of the Roman legions who conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 218 BC. The Romans ruled Spain for more than six centuries, imposing not only their language, but also Roman Law and the Christian religion on the local population. As is often the case, the evolution of Spanish was influenced by several other languages that contributed to the lexicon over time.

The Castilian dialect originated in the medieval County of Castilia (Condado de Castilla), where there was a strong Basque influence in addition to Germanic and Visigoth. At the time of the discovery of America, the Castilian dialect predominated in Spain and it was the dialect that was brought to the New World.

Germanic Influence

In 406 CE much of the Suebi tribe joined the Vandals and Alans and fought for control of Gaul against the Franks, who were allied with the Visigoths-and-Suebians2.fw_ Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Romans. Eventually, the Suebi crossed the Pyrenees Mountains and entered Spain and, by 409 CE, they controlled the northwestern region of the Iberian Peninsula. The Suebi would remain in the kingdom of Galiza (today Galicia) for 175 years frequently battling the Visigoths, who came to Spain in 416 CE and eventually dominated most of the Peninsula.

The Suebi (or Suevi) were a Germanic tribe. They lived in the near and to the south of the Baltic sea. Their name – Suebi actually originated from “Mare Suebicum,” – the name that the Romans gave the Baltic Sea. In fact, the Romans thought of all the Germanic peoples with whom they interacted as Suebi. Eventually, the Suebi would migrate to the area that is today modern Germany. Their name lives on in the historic region of Swabia. The Suebi were also closely related to the Alamanni and, at some point in history, the names Suebi and Alamanni (aka Alemanni) became synonymous.

Although their linguistic influence was not significant, the Suebi left their imprint in the Spanish lexicon, mainly in war-related terminology, but also in daily life terminology (See Table 1). It is interesting to note that about 1% of the in modern Galicia place names are of Germanic origin.

Table 1 – Examples of words of Germanic origin

Spanish word English meaning
bandera flag
guerra war
yermo inhabited
espuela spur
espía spy
guisar to cook, stew
ropa clothes
jabón soap
sala parlor, sitting room, living room, lounge
rueca distaff
guante glove

moorish-Califate Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Arabic Influence

In 429 EC, the Romans were defeated by the Vandals. An East Germanic tribe, or group of tribes, the Vandals lived in what is now Silesia, a region of Central Europe now located mostly in Poland, with small parts in the Czech Republic and Germany. The Vandals invaded North Africa, but before advancing to Africa, they  they settled, temporarily, in the Spanish province of Andalusia (originally, Vandalusia). In 711 Muslim forces invaded and in seven years conquered the Iberian peninsula where they remained until 1492, when they were defeated and expelled from Spain.

The Islamic faith quickly spread across the Sahara to West Africa and, in 711 CE, the Arabs and Berbers (also called Amazigh, “free men”, pl. Imazighen, – a predominantly Caucasoid and Muslim ethnic group) defeated the European army and advanced to the city of Toledo. By 718 CE, the Muslims dominated most of the Spanish Peninsula, with exception of a small band along the Cantabric Sea, to where the Visigoths had fled.

During Moorish rule, Christians, Muslims and Jews coexisted in peace and harmony in the Iberian Peninsula.  The Moors were unusually tolerant of other races and cultures.  They did little or no proselytizing, but demanded an extra tax from non-believers. Moorish aristocracy promoted private land ownership and encouraged Jews in banking. Thus, for centuries, Spain enjoyed unparalleled economic prosperity. The Moorish civilization enlightened Europe and ushered in the Renaissance period.

cordoba-mezquita_2617357_s-300x189 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)
Founded in 785, Córdoba’s gigantic mosque is an architectural hybrid that has experienced two big ‘modern’ changes: a 16th-century cathedral plonked right in the middle; and the closing of 19 once-important doorways, which would have filled the original Mezquita with light. Source:

The great Caliphate of Cordova, in southern Spain was the capital of the Moorish empire and the intellectual center of Europe at the beginning of the 9th century. Students flocked to Cordova from France and England to study philosophy, science and medicine with Muslim, Christian and Jewish scholars.

When London was a village of small mud huts, Cordova was a city of half million inhabitants, who occupied more than one hundred thousand dwellings. The gardens of Codova houses had orchards, artificial fountains and marble balconies where residents were able to keep cool in the Summer. In the Winter, dwellers were kept warm by hot air ducts under mosaic floors. There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries. While paper was still an unknown commodity in the West, the Great Library in Cordova stored about six hundred thousand manuscripts.

This era of intellectual and economic prosperity would come to an end as a result of internal rifts within the Moorish power structure. The caliphs were eliminated and Cordova fell to other Moorish forces. The great library of Cordova was destroyed in 1013 and, along with its scholars, the library’s books were scattered to the capital towns of small emirates. As the Moors fought against each other, the Christian kingdoms to the North were uniting to fight against them and expel them from Europe. By 1492, the Reyes Católicos (Catholic Kings) were firmly established in the Kingdom of Granada, and soon the Europeans regained control of all of Spain

The Moors did not impose the Arabic language on the Spanish Latin speaking population. However, while the Spanish fiercely defended their language and religion, but many Latin terms became arabicized and some Arabic terms, such as laud, mameluco, marmota, droga, friso, máscara, papagayo, replaced Latin terms. Many Spanish terms that begin with “al-”, such as : “alcancía, albañil, alcalde, …” and toponyms that begin with “guad-” (river), such as Guadalupe (from Guad = river; al = he or she; lupe = women); Guadalajara, Guadalcanal, etc., are of Arabic origin. Also, the strong pronunciation of the letter j (jota) is due to the Arab legacy. Spanish inherited thousands of words from Arabic (See Table 2  for a few examples).

Table 2 – Examples of Spanish words of Arabic origin

Spanish word  English meaning
alcalde mayor
alguacil bailiff
albacea executor
adalid champion
alférez second lieutenant
alfanje scimitar
rebato surprise attack
alarde show, display
almacén grocery store
almoneda auction, clearance
aduana customs
tarifa rate, tariff, duty
arancel tariff, custom duty
alhóndiga corn exchange
alfombra rug, carpet
almohada pillow
albornoz bathrobe
zaragüelles Type of undergarment, such as the wide underpants with pleats in the regional costume of Valencia, or the white underpants in the regional costume of Aragon.
álcali alkali
alquimia alchemy
alambique still
alcohol alcohol
talco talcum
alcanfor camphor,
solimán Substance obtained by distilling mercuric chloride – a very poisonous substance used for medical purposes as a disinfectant.
álgebra algebra
algoritmo algorithm
cero zero
cifra figure, cipher
guarismo (frml) figure
tarima (platform) dais, floor
taracea inlay, marquetry
alhaja a piece of jewelry, a gem, a treasure
abalorio glass bead
ajorca bracelet
taza cup
jarra jar
albañil bricklayer
alcoba bedroom
azotea terrace roof, flat roof
tabique partition wall, partition, brick (Mexico)
alféizar windowsill
azulejo tile (of glazed ceramic)
alcantarilla drain (cloaca), sewer (sumidero), fountain (Venezuela)
arroz rice
azúcar sugar
azafrán saffron
berenjena egg plant
zanahoria carrot
sandía watermelon
algarroba carob, carob bean
alcachofa artichoke,
alubia bean, haricot bean
aceituna olive
algodón cotton
albérchigo clingstone peach
acequia irrigation ditch or channel
zanja ditch, drain, irrigation channel
noria water wheel, ferris wheel,  big wheel

Greek Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Greek Influence

At different times throughout the centuries, Spanish inherited thousands of terms from Greek (See Table 3). Greek roots continue to be used to create new Spanish terms, such as helicóptero and, more recently, telemetría


Table 3 – Examples of Spanish words of Greek origin

Spanish word English meaning
escuela school
cuerda chord
huérfano orphan
gobernar (to) govern
púrpura purple
golpear hit, strike
Denia A town on the Mediterranean
Calpe A town in Costa Blanca

The rule in Spanish is that words ending in “o” are masculine and words ending in “a” are feminin. However, words ending in “e” or “a” may also be masculine. Some of these are or Greek origin. See the table below:

Spanish word (Masc.) English meaning
clima climate
programa program
sistema system
lema motto
tema theme
problema problem
idioma language
drama drama
Gallo-Romance-300x211 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)
Gallo is a regional language of France. It is not as commonly spoken as it once was, as the standard form of French now predominates. Gallo is classified as one of the Oïl languages. Source: Wikipedia

French Influence

Galicisms were incorporated into the Spanish lexicon during the Middle Ages by travelers along the Camino de Santiago, a road that extended from Paris to Santiago de Compostela, in the North West corner of Spain. Most of the medieval Gallo-Romance loan terms were introduced into Spanish during times when France predominated over its neighbors in the Iberian Peninsula. In some instances, these Galicisms displaced similar words in medieval Spanish. One of the major contributions was the introduction of the suffix -aje/-age, such as encaje (lace), plumaje (feathers), lineaje (lineage) and triage (triage), laringe (larinx), cónjuge (spouse)

French lexical influence on (early) modern Spanish reflects France’s predominance in European cultural, political, social, and intellectual life from the sixteenth century forward. Almost all loans from this period are nouns. Technical terminology of the Much technical terminology of the natural and social sciences coming into existence during this time, entered Spanish from Gallo-Romance through written sources. These neologisms often take the form of semantic loans and calques. The modern influx of Gallicisms provoked the first overt reaction against loanwords in restricted circles of the educated speech community.

Table 4 – Examples of Spanish words of French origin (Middle Ages)

Spanish word English meaning
alemán German
batalla battle
barón (title) Baron
ciprés cypress
coraje courage
hereje heretic
pincel paint brush
escote neckline
jamón ham
joya jewel
manjar delicacy
mantel tablecloth

In the 18th century, during the dynasty of the Borbones, who were of French origin, Spanish incorporated more Galicisms (See Table 5).

Table 5 – Examples of Spanish words of French origin (18th Century)

Spanish word English meaning
bayoneta bayonet
bufanda scarf
brigada brigade
gabinete office (as a doctor’s office)
espectro specter
cadete cadet
funcionario functionary
espectador spectator
petimetre a vain person, excessively concerned with personal appearance
Discovery-of-America-map-300x200 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)
The discovery of America was a treasure hunt kicked off by a cup of coffee. Source: Coffee Humor – Rogers Family Company

Early American Influence

When Columbus discovered America, Spanish exported its language to the New World and, in turn, added many words to its own vocabulary, mainly nouns, for names of fruits that did not exist in Europe (See Table 6).

Table 6 – Examples of Spanish words of American origin

Spanish word English meaning
tabaco tobacco
patatas potato
tomates tomato
maíz maize
cacao cocoa
cacahuete peanut
café coffee
chocolate chocolate
canoa canoe
pirañas piranha
tiburones shark
huracán hurricane
cacique chief
Aztecas Aztecs
Mayas Mayas
Aimarás Aimaras
Araucanos Araucans
Incas Incas

Modern English Influence

Since the 20th century Spanish, like many other languages, imported many words from English (Anglicisms), particularly American English. (See table 7.)

Table 7 – Examples Spanish Anglicisms

Spanish word English meaning
bistec  beefsteak
cheque  check
club  club
ponche  punch
pijama  pyjamas
guisqui*  whisky
champú  shampoo
túnel  tunnel
vagón  wagon
yate  yacht
software  software
rock, rock and roll  rock, rock and roll
rocket*  rocket
tenis  tennis
fútbol, futbol football
smoking* tuxedo
esquí ski
filme, film film
slogan slogan
snack-bar* snack-bar
hockey  hockey

*These terms are no listed in the 22nd Edition of the Dictionary of the Real Academia Española

Other Influences

Flag-map-Italy Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Italian is another language from which Spanish has borrowed words. Actually, both languages have borrowed from each other. The following are a few examples:

Italian loan words:


Spanish  English meaning
aguantar endure, bear
apoyar support
arsenal arsenal
asalto assault
bazofia something of low value, something considered rubbish
bicoca Something really cheap, a bargain
bisoño Inexperienced, green

Italian influence is particularly strong in the Rio Platense region of South America (Argentina and Uruguay). It is estimated that more than 90% of the population of these two countries is or European descent. In Argentina, more than 60% of the population of almost 25 million is of Italian descent. They say that Argentines are Italians who just happen to speak Spanish.

Portugal-flag-map.fw_ Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Portuguese Influence

Portugal is Spain’s neighbor in Europe and Portuguese-speaking Brazil is the largest country in South America, therefore, it stands to reason that Portuguese and Spanish have influenced each other. See below a list of some Spanish words borrowed from Portuguese.

Examples of Portuguese loan words:

Spanish word English meaning
biombo folding screen
virar to turn, to swerve
buzo diver, track suit, turtle neck, sweatshirt, jumper, wise guy
mermelada marmalade
caramelo caramel
catre folding bed
carambola fluke, pileup, cannon, carom,
bandeja tray,
brincar to jump up
pleamar high tide
mejillón mussel
ostra oyster

Galicia-and-Basque-300x253 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)Galician influence

Galician-Portuguese originated in Galicia (Spain) at the beginning of the Middle Ages, and was carried by the Christian conquerors to present day Portugal. For historical and political reasons, the language split into Galician and Portuguese in the second half of the 14th century.

Examples of Galician loan words:

Spanish word English meaning
alguien someone
morriña homesickness
macho male, macho, manly
chubasco heavy rain shower
achantarse to feel intimidated
vigía a lookout, a watch tower
arisco unsociable, unfriendly
payo term used by gypsies to refer to non-gypsies

Galician-300x231 Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)

Catalonian Influence

Catalonia is an autonomous community of Spain politically designated as a nationality.It consists of four provinces: Barcelona, Girona, Lleida, and Tarragona. The capital and largest city is Barcelona, the second-largest city in Spain and the center of one of the largest metropolitan areas in Europe and the Mediterranean basin.

Examples of Catalonian loan words:

Spanish word English meaning
paella paella
nao vessel, ship
seo cathedral
anguila eel
anís anise
armatoste a large object of little or no use
bandolero thief
barraca stall, booth
butifarra type o sausage
capicúa palindromic, reads the same both ways
cartel poster, sign
entremés hors d’oeuvre, appetizer
faena task, job
forastero stranger, outsider
grúa crane

Basque Influence

Basque is one of the oldest European languages and it defies classification. While most European languages belong to the Indo-European branch, Basque does not fit in that classification. While The modern Basque vocabulary is a mixture of original Basque words and borrowed terms, mainly Latin and Romance languages, grammatically, Basque does not appear to be connected to Indo-European languages.

Examples of Basque loan words:

Spanish word English meaning
izquierda left
ascua ember
pizarra slate, board
chaparro short, squat
boina beret
zamarra leather/sheepskin jacket
cencerro cowbell
aquelarre witches’ sabbath
chabola shack, shanty

The RoDon-Quijote Spanish (Español, Castellano, Castilian)yal Academy of the Spanish Language (RAE) 

To ensure that Spanish speakers will always be able to read Cervantes is one of the primary objectives of this institution, founded in 1713. Its Charter is  to preserve the purity and elegance of the language and, for more than thirty decades, it has done just that.

Notwithstanding the borrowings, cultural adaptations, proliferation of dialects, every Spanish speaker is able to read the same text. The credit for this is owed to this ancient institution.

The Academy watches over every detail, from the elimination of the ç, the use of some double consonants, accents and diphthongs, matters of alphabetization and the introduction of new words into the RAE Dictionary, among others.

However, it has endured some harsh criticism. American countries find it too conservative, elitist and slow to change. Too focused on the language of Madrid, to the detriment other parts of Spain and other countries. The REA has made concentrated efforts to address these issues in recent editions of the Dictionary of the Spanish Language. The dictionary is available online at