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Spanish or Castilian (español or castellano) is a Romance language in the Ibero-Romance group that originated in northern Spainmarker and gradually spread in the Kingdom of Castile, evolving into the principal language of government and trade in the Iberian peninsula. It was taken most notably to the Americas as well as to Africa and Asia Pacific with the expansion of the Spanish Empire between the fifteenth and nineteenth centuries.

Today, 329 million people speak Spanish as a native language. It is the second most spoken language in the world in terms of native speakers, after Mandarin Chinese. Mexicomarker contains the largest population of Spanish speakers. Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Naming and origin

Castilian evolved from several dialects and languages, now collectively termed Spanish. Latin, which is at the origin of Spanish words, was introduced to the Iberian Peninsulamarker by Romans during the Second Punic War around 210 BC. During the 5th century, Hispania was invaded by Germanic Vandals, Suevi, Alans, and Visigoths, resulting in numerous dialects of Vulgar Latin. After the Moorish Conquest in the 8th century, Arabic became a powerful influence in the evolution of Iberian languages, of which Castilian is thought to have evolved on the northern fringes of the Iberian Peninsulamarker in the Christian Kingdom of Castile during the 10th century. Modern Spanish developed with the Readjustment of the Consonants (:es:Reajuste de las sibilantes del castellano) that began in 15th-century Castile. The language continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of other languages, as well as developing new words.

In Spain and in some parts of the Spanish speaking world, but not all, it is rare to use the term (Spanish) to refer to this language, even when contrasting it with languages such as French and English. Rather, people call it (Castilian), that is, the language of the Castile region, when contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. In this manner, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term to define the official language of the whole Spanish State, as opposed to (lit. the other Spanish languages). Article III reads as follows:

However, to some in other linguistic regions, this is considered as demeaning to them and they will therefore use the term castellano exclusively.

The name castellano (Castilian), which refers directly to the origins of the language and the sociopolitical context in which it was introduced in the Americas, is preferred particularly in the Spanish regions where other languages are spoken (Catalonia, Basque Country, Valencian Community, Balearic Islands and Galicia) as well as in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay and Venezuela, instead of , which is more commonly used to refer to the language as a whole in the rest of Latin America and Spain.

There is some controversy in Spain about the name of the language, which is a part of a greater controversy about Catalan, Basque and Galician nationalisms.

Geographic distribution

Spanish is recognized as one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of American Statesmarker, the Organization of Ibero-American States, the African Union, the Union of South American Nations, the Latin Unionmarker, and the Caricom and has legal status in the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Country Population Number of Spanish speakers (first language) Number of Spanish speakers (second language) Spanish speakers as percentage of population Total number of Spanish speakers
Mexicomarker 109,610,000 101,027,537 6,938,313 98.5% 107,965,850
United Statesmarker 304,059,724 42,859,894 6,000,000 15.4% 48,859,894
Spainmarker 46,661,950 41,529,136 4,572,870 98.8% 46,102,006
Colombiamarker 45,140,000 44,702,142 76,716 99.2% 44,778,880
Argentinamarker 40,134,425 38,866,177 1,027,441 99.4% 39,893,618
Venezuelamarker 28,520,000 27,516,096 661,441 98.8% 28,177,760
Perumarker 29,165,000 23,264,921 1,991,969 86.6% 25,256,890
Chilemarker 16,928,873 15,225,828 1,584,543 99.3% 16,810,371
Ecuadormarker 14,065,000 13,074,824 722,273 98.1% 13,797,765
Guatemalamarker 14,027,000 9,075,469 3,043,859 86.4% 12,119,328
Cubamarker 11,204,000 11,136,776 99.4% 11,136,776
Dominican Republicmarker 10,090,000 9,987,082 62,558 99.6% 10,049,640
Boliviamarker 10,227,299 4,267,851 4,721,945 87.9% 8,989,796
Hondurasmarker 7,706,441 7,146,118 135,332 99.0% 7,281,450
El Salvadormarker 7,185,000 7,163,445 99.7% 7,163,445
Francemarker 64,057,790 440,106 5,721,380 6,161,486
Nicaraguamarker 5,743,000 5,019,382 551,328 97.0% 5,570,710
Moroccomarker 34,343,219 20,000 5,480,000 5,500,000
Costa Ricamarker 4,549,903 4,345,130 87,126 99.2% 4,432,256
Paraguaymarker 6,349,000 3,498,299 914,256 69.5% 4,412,555
Puerto Rico 3,982,000 3,786,882 147,334 98.8% 3,934,216
United Kingdommarker 60,943,912 107,654 3,814,846 3,922,500
Uruguaymarker 3,361,000 3,246,726 77,303 98.9 3,324,029
Panamamarker 3,454,000 2,652,672 476,419 93.1% 3,129,091
Philippinesmarker 96,061,683 2,658 3,014,115 3,016,773
Germanymarker 82,369,548 140,000 2,566,972 2,706,972
Italymarker 58,145,321 89,905 1,968,320 2,058,225
Brazilmarker 196,342,587 409,564 1,000,000 1,409,564
Equatorial Guineamarker 1,153,915 1,044,293 90.5% 1,044,293
Canadamarker 33,212,696 909,000 92,853 1,001,853
Portugalmarker 10,676,910 9,744 727,282 737,026
Netherlandsmarker 16,645,313 19,978 662,116 682,094
Belgiummarker 10,403,951 85,990 515,939 601,929
Romaniamarker 22,246,862 544,531 544,531
Swedenmarker 9,045,389 101,472 442,601 544,073
Australia 21,007,310 106,517 374,571 481,088
Polandmarker 38,500,696 316,104 316,104
Austriamarker 8,205,533 267,177 267,177
Ivory Coastmarker 20,179,602 235,806

Algeriamarker 33,769,669 223,000 223,379
Denmarkmarker 5,484,723 219,003 219,003
Israelmarker 7,112,359 130,000 45,231 175,231
Switzerlandmarker 7,581,520 123,000 14,420 1.7% 137,420
Japanmarker 127,288,419 76,565 60,000 136,565
Bulgariamarker 7,262,675 133,910 133,910
Belizemarker 301,270 106,795 21,848 42.7% 128,643
Netherlands Antillesmarker 223,652 10,699 114,835 56.1% 125,534
Irelandmarker 4,156,119 123,591 123,591
Senegalmarker 12,853,259 101,455 101,455
Greecemarker 10,722,816 86,742 86,742
Finlandmarker 5,244,749 85,586 85,586
Hungarymarker 9,930,915 85,034 85,034
Arubamarker 100,018 6,800 68,602 75.3% 75,402
Croatiamarker 4,491,543 73,656 73,656
Andorramarker 84,484 29,907 25,356 68.7% 58,040
Western Saharamarker 382,617 21,720 25,800 47,520
Slovakiamarker 5,455,407 43,164 43,164
Norwaymarker 4,644,457 12,573 23,677 36,250
New Zealandmarker 4,173,460 21,645 21,645
Guammarker 154,805 19,092 19,092
Virgin Islands 108,612 16,788 16,788
Russiamarker 140,702,094 3,320 13,122 16,442
Lithuaniamarker 3,565,205 13,943 13,943
Gibraltarmarker 27,967 13,857 49.5% 13,857
Cyprusmarker 792,604 11,044
Turkeymarker 71,892,807 380 8,000 8,380
Jamaicamarker 2,804,322 8,000 8,000
Luxembourgmarker 486,006 3,000 4,344 7,344
Maltamarker 403,532 6,458 6,458
Trinidad and Tobagomarker 1,047,366 4,100 4,100
Other immigrants in the E.U. 1,399,531 1,399,531
Other students of Spanish 6,735,080 6,735,080
Total: 427,260,446 67,595,073 494,855,519


It is estimated that the combined total of native and non-native Spanish speakers is between 470 and 500 million, making it the fourth most spoken language by total number of speakers (after Chinese, English and Hindi). Global internet usage statistics for 2007 show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Chinese.


In Europe, Spanish is an official language of Spain, the country after which it is named and from which it originated. It is also spoken in Gibraltarmarker, though English is the official language. Likewise, it is the most spoken language in Andorramarker, though Catalan is the official language. It is also spoken by small communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdommarker, Francemarker, and Germanymarker. Spanish is an official language of the European Union. In Switzerlandmarker, Spanish is the mother tongue of 1.7% of the population, representing the largest minority after the 4 official languages of the country.


Latin America

Most Spanish speakers are in Latin America; of all countries with a majority of Spanish speakers, only Spainmarker and Equatorial Guineamarker are outside the Americas. Mexicomarker has the most native speakers of any country. Nationally, Spanish is the official language—either de facto or de jure—of Argentinamarker, Boliviamarker (co-official with Quechua and Aymara), Chilemarker, Colombiamarker, Costa Ricamarker, Cubamarker, Dominican Republicmarker, Ecuadormarker, El Salvadormarker, Guatemalamarker, Hondurasmarker, Mexicomarker , Falkland Islands marker, Nicaraguamarker, Panamamarker, Paraguaymarker (co-official with Guaraní), Perumarker (co-official with Quechua and, in some regions, Aymara), Uruguaymarker, and Venezuelamarker. Spanish is also the official language (co-official with English) in the U.S. commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

Spanish has no official recognition in the former British colony of Belizemarker; however, per the 2000 census, it is spoken by 43% of the population. Mainly, it is spoken by the descendants of Hispanics who have been in the region since the 17th century; however, English is the official language.

Spain colonized Trinidad and Tobagomarker first in 1498, introducing the Spanish language to the Carib people. Also the Cocoa Panyols, laborers from Venezuela, took their culture and language with them; they are accredited with the music of "Parang" ("Parranda") on the island. Because of Trinidad's location on the South American coast, the country is greatly influenced by its Spanish-speaking neighbors. A recent census shows that more than 1 500 inhabitants speak Spanish. In 2004, the government launched the Spanish as a First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative in March 2005. Government regulations require Spanish to be taught, beginning in primary school, while thirty percent of public employees are to be linguistically competent within five years.

Spanish is important in Brazilmarker because of its proximity to and increased trade with its Spanish-speaking neighbors, and because of its membership in the Mercosur trading bloc. In 2005, the National Congress of Brazilmarker approved a bill, signed into law by the President, making Spanish language teaching mandatory in both public and private secondary schools in Brazilian states that border on Spanish-speakingcountries. In many border towns and villages (especially in the Uruguayan-Brazilian and Paraguayan-Brazilian border areas), a mixed language known as Portuñol is spoken.

United States

In the 2006 census, 44.3 million people of the U.S. population were Hispanic or Latino by origin; 34 million people, 12.2 percent, of the population more than five years old speak Spanish at home. Spanish has a long history in the United States because many south-western states and Floridamarker were part of Mexico and Spain, and it recently has been revitalized by Hispanic immigrants. Spanish is the most widely taught foreign language in the country. Although the United States has no formally designated "official languages," Spanish is formally recognized at the state level in various states besides English; in the U.S. state of New Mexicomarker for instance, 30% of the population speaks the language. It also has strong influence in metropolitan areas such as Los Angelesmarker, Miamimarker, San Antoniomarker, New York Citymarker, and in the last decade, the language has rapidly expanded in Charlottemarker, Atlantamarker, Baltimoremarker, Bostonmarker, Chicagomarker, Clevelandmarker, Dallasmarker, Detroitmarker, Washington, DCmarker, Houstonmarker, Phoenixmarker and other major Sun-Belt cities. Spanish is the dominant spoken language in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. With a total of 33,701,181 Spanish (Castilian) speakers, according to US Census Bureau, the U.S. has the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking population. Spanish is the most popular studied foreign language in U.S.marker schools and universities.


In Africa, Spanish is official in Equatorial Guineamarker (co-official with French and Portuguese), as well as an official language of the African Union. Today, in Western Saharamarker, it is a de facto official language and nearly 200,000 refugee Sahrawis are able to read and write in Spanish, and several thousands have received university education in foreign countries as part of aid packages (mainly in Cubamarker and Spainmarker). 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. It is also spoken in the Spanish cities in continental North Africa (Ceutamarker and Melillamarker) and in the autonomous community of Canary Islandsmarker (143,000 and 1,995,833 people, respectively). Within Northern Morocco, a former Franco-Spanish protectorate that is also geographically close to Spain, approximately 20,000 people speak Spanish as a second language. It is spoken by some communities of Angolamarker, because of the Cuban influence from the Cold War, and in Nigeriamarker by the descendants of Afro-Cuban ex-slaves.


During Spanish control, it was an official language of the Philippinesmarker, until the change of Constitution in 1973, although only a small percentage ever spoke it. During most of the colonial period it was the language of government, trade and education, and spoken mainly by Spaniards living in the islands and by Filipinos educated in their schools. However, by the mid 19th century a free public school system in Spanish was established throughout the islands, which increased the numbers of Spanish speakers. Following the U.S. occupation and administration of the islands, the importance of Spanish fell, especially after the 1920s. The US authorities' imposition of English as the medium of instruction in schools and universities coupled with the prohibition of Spanish in media and educational institutions gradually reduced the importance of the language. After the country became independent in 1946, Spanish remained an official language along with English and Tagalog-based Filipino. However, the language lost its official status in 1973 during the Ferdinand Marcos administration. Under the Corazon Aquino administration which took office in 1986, the mandatory teaching of Spanish in colleges and universities was also stopped, and thus, younger generations of Filipinos have little or no knowledge of Spanish. The Spanish language retains a large influence in local languages, with many words coming from or being derived from European Spanish and Mexican Spanish, due to the control of the islands by Spain through Mexico City. As of the 1990 Philippine census, only 2,660 people were reported to speak Spanish, with most speakers residing in Manilamarker.Spanish has made significant contributions to various Philippine languages such as Tagalog, Cebuano and other indigenous dialects and tongues. One of the 170 languages in the Philippines is a Spanish-based creole called Chavacano, spoken in majority by people from the Zamboanga area. Though the indigenous grammatical structure of the national language was retained, over 5,000 Spanish loanwords have found their way into the vocabulary of Filipino.


Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is also spoken in Easter Islandmarker, a territorial possession of Chile. The U.S. Territories of Guammarker, Palaumarker, and Northern Marianasmarker, and the independent associated U.S. Territory of Marshall Islandsmarker and the Federated States of Micronesiamarker all once had Spanish speakers, since the Marianasmarker and the Caroline Islandsmarker were Spanish colonial possessions until the late 19th century (see Spanish-American War), but Spanish has since been forgotten. It now only exists as an influence on the local native languages and is spoken by Hispanic American resident populations.

Dialectal variation

While all Spanish dialects use the same written standard, there are important variations spoken among the regions of Spain and throughout Spanish-speaking America. One major phonological difference between Castilian, broadly speaking, the dialects spoken in northern Spain, and the dialects of southern Spain and all the Latin American dialects of Spanish, is the absence of a voiceless dental fricative ( as in English thing) in the latter. In Spain, the Castilian dialect is commonly regarded as the standard variety used on radio and television,, although attitudes towards southern dialects have changed significantly in the last 50 years.In addition to variations in pronunciation, minor lexical and grammatical differences exist. For example, is the use of slightly different pronouns and differs from the standard.

The variety with the most speakers is Mexican Spanish. It is spoken by more than the twenty percent of the Spanish speakers (107 millions of the total 494 millions, according to the table above). One of its main features is the reduction or loss of the unstressed vowels, mainly when they are in contact with the sound /s/. It can be the case that the words: pesos, pesas, and peces are pronounced the same ['pesə̥s].


Spanish has three second-person singular pronouns: , , and . The use of the pronoun and/or its verb forms is called .
Countries that feature , in blue.
The deeper the blue is, the more predominant is.
Countries where is a regionalism are in green; countries without are in red.


 is the subject form   [you say] and object of a preposition (a vos digo) [to you I say], while "os" is the direct object form   [I saw you (all)] and indirect object without express preposition   [I say to you (all)].

Since vose is historically the 2nd-person plural, verbs are conjugated as such despite the fact the word now refers to a single person:
The possessive form is : . Adjectives, when used in conjunction with vos, do not agree with the pronoun but instead with the real referents in gender and number: .

Two main types of may be distinguished: reverential and American dialectal. In archaic solemn usage, expressed special reverence and could be used to address both the second person singular and the second person plural. In contrast, the more commonly known American form of is always used to address only one speaker and implies closeness and familiarity. Unlike the first type, the second one need not involve vos and may instead be expressed simply in the use of the plural form of the verb (even in combination with the pronoun ).

The pronominal employs the use of as a pronoun to replace and , which are second-person singular informal.

  • As a subject employs: instead of
  • As a vocative: instead of
  • As a term of preposition: instead of
  • And as a term of comparison: instead of

However, for the (that which uses the pronominal verbs and its complements without preposition) and for the possessive, they employ the forms of , respectively: In other words, in the previous examples the authors conjugate the pronoun subject with the pronominal verbs and its complements of .

The verbal consists of the use of the second person plural, more or less modified, for the conjugated forms of the second person singular: . The verbal paradigm of is characterized by its complexity. On the one hand, it affects, to a distinct extent, each verbal tense. On the other hand, it varies in functions of geographic and social factors and not all the forms are accepted in cultured norms.

Extension in Latin America

 is used extensively as the primary spoken form of the second-person singular pronoun, although with wide differences in social consideration. Generally, it can be said that there are zones of exclusive use of   in the following areas: almost all of Mexicomarker, the West Indies, Panamamarker, the majority of Perumarker and Venezuelamarker, Coastal Ecuadormarker and; the Atlantic coast of Colombiamarker.

They alternate as a cultured form and as a popular or rural form in: Boliviamarker, north and south of Perumarker, Andean Ecuadormarker, small zones of the Venezuelan Andes, a great part of Colombiamarker, and the oriental border of Cubamarker.

 exists as an intermediate formality of treatment and   as a familiar treatment in: Chilemarker,  the Venezuelan state of Zulia,  the Pacific coast of Colombiamarker,  Central America, and the Mexican states of Tabascomarker and Chiapasmarker.

Areas of generalized include Argentina, Costa Rica, Bolivia (east), El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Colombian region of Antioquia.


Spanish forms also differ regarding second-person plural pronouns. "Usted" (Ud.) was initially the written abbreviation of "vuestra merced" (your grace). The Spanish dialects of Latin America have only one form of the second-person plural for daily use, (formal or familiar, as the case may be, though non-formal usage can sometimes appear in poetry and rhetorical or literary style). In Spain there are two forms — (formal) and (familiar). The pronoun is the plural form of in most of Spain, but in the Americas (and in certain southern Spanish cities such as Cádizmarker and in the Canary Islandsmarker) it is replaced with . It is notable that the use of for the informal plural "you" in southern Spain does not follow the usual rule for pronoun–verb agreement; e.g., while the formal form for "you go", , uses the third-person plural form of the verb, in Cádiz or Seville the informal form is constructed as , using the second-person plural of the verb. In the Canary Islands, though, the usual pronoun–verb agreement is preserved in most cases.


Some words can be different, even significantly so, 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 recognise specifically American usages. For example, Spanish mantequilla, aguacate and albaricoque (respectively, 'butter', 'avocado', 'apricot') correspond to manteca, palta, and damasco, respectively, in Peru (except manteca and damasco), Argentina, Chile, Paraguay and Uruguay. The everyday Spanish words coger ('to catch'), pisar ('to step on') and concha ('seashell') are considered extremely rude in parts of Latin America, where the meaning of coger and pisar is also "to have sex" and concha means "vulva". The Puerto Rican word for "bobby pin" (pinche) is an obscenity in Mexico, but in Nicaraguamarker simply means "stingy", and in Spainmarker refers to a chef's helper. Other examples include taco, which means "swearword" (among other meanings) in Spain but is known to the rest of the world as a Mexican dish. Pija in many countries of Latin America and Spain itself is an obscene slang word for "penis", while in Spainmarker the word also signifies "posh girl" or "snobby". Coche, which means "car" in Spain and central Mexico, for the vast majority of Spanish-speakers actually means "baby-stroller", while carro means "car" in some Latin American countries and "cart" in others, as well as in Spain. Papaya is the slang term in Cuba for "vagina" therefore in Cuba when referring to the actual fruit Cubans call it fruta bomba instead.

Real Academia

The (Royal Spanish Academy), 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.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.

Classification and related languages

Spanish is closely related to the other West Iberian Romance languages: Asturian, Galician, Ladino, Leonese and Portuguese. Catalan, an East Iberian language which exhibits many Gallo-Romance traits, is more similar to Occitan to the east than to Spanish or Portuguese.

Spanish and Portuguese have similar grammars and vocabularies as well as a common history of Arabic influence while a great part of the peninsula was under Islamic rule (both languages expanded over Islamic territories). Their lexical similarity has been estimated as 89%. See Differences between Spanish and Portuguese for further information.


Judaeo-Spanish (also known as Ladino), which is essentially medieval Spanish and closer to modern Spanish than any other language, is spoken by many descendants of the Sephardi Jews who were expelled from Spain in the 15th century. Therefore, it has somewhat the same relationship to Spanish as Yiddish does to German. Ladino speakers are currently almost exclusively Sephardi Jews, with family roots in Turkey, Greece or the Balkans: current speakers mostly live in Israel and Turkey, and the United States, with a few pockets in Latin America. It lacks the Native American vocabulary which was influential 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 Castilian, 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 Israelmarker) 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.

Vocabulary comparison

Spanish and Italian share a very similar phonological system. At present, the lexical similarity with Italian is estimated at 82%. As a result, Spanish and Italian are mutually intelligible to various degrees. The lexical similarity with Portuguese is greater, 89%, but the vagaries of Portuguese pronunciation make it less easily understood by Hispanophones than Italian is . Mutual intelligibility between Spanish and French or Romanian is even lower (lexical similarity being respectively 75% and 71%): comprehension of Spanish by French speakers who have not studied the language is low at an estimated 45% – the same as English. The common features of the writing systems of the Romance languages allow for a greater amount of interlingual reading comprehension than oral communication would.

Latin Spanish Galician Portuguese Leonese Catalan Italian French Romanian English
(alterum) (outros)¹ (altri)² (autres)³ we
(lit. "true brother", i.e. not a cousin) brother
/cançóm4 song

(archaically also )

(archaically also )

(archaically also )

(also )

(also and archaically also )
left hand

(lit. "no thing born")

(neca and nula rés in some expressions; archaically also )
/ / nothing

1. also in early modern Portuguese (e.g. The Lusiads)

2. in Southern Italian dialects and languages

3. Alternatively

4. Depending on the written norm used. See Reintegracionismo


A page of , in medieval Castilian.
Spanish evolved from Vulgar Latin, with some loan words from Arabic during the Andalusianmarker period and other surviving influences from Basque and Celtiberian, as well as Germanic languages via the Visigoths. Spanish developed along the remote crossroad strips among the Alavamarker, Cantabriamarker, Burgosmarker, Soriamarker and La Riojamarker provinces of Northern Spain (see Glosas Emilianenses), as a strongly innovative and differing variant from its nearest cousin, Leonese, with a higher degree of Basque influence in these regions (see Iberian Romance languages). Typical features of Spanish diachronical phonology include lenition (Latin , Spanish ), palatalization (Latin , Spanish , and Latin , Spanish ) and diphthongation (stem-changing) of short e and o from Vulgar Latin (Latin , Spanish ; Latin , Spanish ). Similar phenomena can be found in other Romance languages as well.

This northern dialect from Cantabriamarker was carried south during the , and remains a minority language in the northern coastal Moroccomarker.

The first Latin-to-Spanish grammar ( ) was written in Salamancamarker, Spain, in 1492, by Elio Antonio de Nebrija. When it was presented to Isabel de Castilla, she asked, "¿Para qué querría yo un trabajo como éste, si ya conozco la lengua?" ("What would I want a work like this for, if I already know the language?"), to which he replied, "Su alteza, la lengua es el instrumento del Imperio" ("Your highness, the language is the instrument of the Empire.")

From the 16th century onwards, the language was taken to the Americas and the Spanish East Indies via Spanish colonization.

In the 20th century, Spanish was introduced to Equatorial Guineamarker and the Western Saharamarker, and to areas of the United States that had not been part of the Spanish Empire, such as Spanish Harlemmarker in New York Citymarker. For details on borrowed words and other external influences upon Spanish, see Influences on the Spanish language.


A defining feature of Spanish was the diphthongization of the Latin short vowels e and o into ie and ue, respectively, when they were stressed. Similar sound changes are found in other Romance languages, but in Spanish, they were significant. Some examples:
  • Lat. > Sp. , It. , Fr. , Rom. , Port./Gal. , Cat. "stone".
  • Lat. > Sp. , It. , Fr. / , Rom. , Port./Gal. , Cat. "die".

Peculiar to early Spanish (as in the Gascon dialect of Occitan, and possibly due to a Basque substratum) was the mutation of Latin initial f- into h- whenever it was followed by a vowel that did not diphthongate. Compare for instance:
  • Lat. > It. , Port. , Gal. , Fr. , Cat. , Occitan (but Gascon ) Sp. (but Ladino );
  • Lat. > Lad. , Port./Gal. , Sp. ;
  • but Lat. > It. , Port./Gal. , Cat. , Sp./Lad. .

Some consonant clusters of Latin also produced characteristically different results in these languages, for example:
  • Lat. , acc. , > Lad. , , ; Sp. , , . However, in Spanish there are also the forms , , ; Port. , , ; Gal. , , .
  • Lat. acc. , , > Lad. , , ; Sp. , , ; Port. , , ; Gal. , , .

By the 16th century, the consonant system of Spanish underwent the following important changes that differentiated it from neighboring Romance languages such as Portuguese and Catalan:
  • Initial , when it had evolved into a vacillating , was lost in most words (although this etymological h- is preserved in spelling and in some Andalusian and Caribbean dialects it is still aspirated in some words).
  • The consonant written ‹u› or ‹v› (in Latin, this was , at the time of the merger it may have been a bilabial fricative ) merged with the consonant written ‹b› (a voiced bilabial plosive, ). In contemporary Spanish, there is no difference between the pronunciation of orthographic ‹b› and ‹v›, excepting emphatic pronunciations that cannot be considered standard or natural.
  • The voiced alveolar fricative which existed as a separate phoneme in medieval Spanish merged with its voiceless counterpart . The phoneme which resulted from this merger is currently spelled s.
  • The voiced postalveolar fricative merged with its voiceless counterpart , which evolved into the modern velar sound by the 17th century, now written with j, or g before e, i. Nevertheless, in most parts of Argentina and in Uruguay, y and ll have both evolved to or .
  • The voiced alveolar affricate merged with its voiceless counterpart , which then developed into the interdental , now written z, or c before e, i. But in Andalusiamarker, the Canary Islandsmarker and the Americas this sound merged with as well. See Ceceo, for further information.

The consonant system of Medieval Spanish has been better preserved in Ladino and in Portuguese, neither of which underwent these shifts

Writing system

Spanish is written in the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the character ‹ñ› ( , representing the phoneme , a letter distinct from ‹n›, although typographically composed of an ‹n› with a tilde) and the digraphs ‹ch› ( , representing the phoneme ) and ‹ll› ( , representing the phoneme ). However, the digraph ‹rr› ( , 'strong r", , 'double r', or simply ), which also represents a distinct phoneme , is not similarly regarded as a single letter. Since 1994 ‹ch› and ‹ll› have been treated as letter pairs for collation purposes, though they remain a part of the alphabet. Words with ‹ch› are now alphabetically sorted between those with ‹ce› and ‹ci› , instead of following ‹cz› as they used to. The situation is similar for ‹ll›.

Thus, the Spanish alphabet has the following 29 letters:

a, b, c, ch, d, e, f, g, h, i, j, k, l, ll, m, n, ñ, o, p, q, r, s, t, u, v, w, x, y, z.

The letters "k" and "w" are used only in words and names coming from foreign languages (kilo, folklore, whiskey, William, 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 ‹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 ('the', masculine singular definite article) with ('he' or 'it'), or ('you', object pronoun), (preposition 'of'), and (reflexive pronoun) with ('tea'), ('give' [formal imperative/third-person present subjunctive]) and ('I know' or imperative'be').

The interrogative pronouns ( , , , , etc.) also receive accents in direct or indirect questions, and some demonstratives ( , , , etc.) can be accented when used as pronouns. The conjunction ('or') is written with an accent between numerals so as not to be confused with a zero: e.g., should be read as rather than ('10,020'). Accent marks are frequently omitted in 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 RAE advises against this.

When ‹u› is written between ‹g› and a front vowel (‹e 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 ; if it were written ‹cigueña›, it would be pronounced .

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


The phonemic inventory listed in the following table includes phonemes that are preserved only in some dialects, other dialects having merged them (such as yeísmo); these are marked with an asterisk (*). Sounds in parentheses are allophones. Where symbols appear in pairs, the symbol to the right represents a voiced consonant.

Table of Spanish consonants
Bilabial Labio-

Dental Alveolar Palatal Velar

Lexical stress

Spanish is a syllable-timed language, so each syllable has the same duration regardless of stress. 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:
  • In words ending in vowels and , stress most often falls on the penultimate syllable.
  • In words ending in all other consonants, the stress more often falls on the last syllable.
  • Preantepenultimate stress occurs rarely and only in words like guardándoselos ('saving them for him/her') where a clitic follows certain verbal forms.

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

An amusing example of the significance of intonation in Spanish is the phrase (What do you mean, how do I eat? I eat the way I eat!).


Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two-gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but limited inflection of nouns, adjectives, and determiner. (For a detailed overview of verbs, see Spanish verbs and Spanish irregular verbs.)

It is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually, though not always, places adjectives after nouns - as most other Romance languages. Its syntax is generally Subject Verb Object, though variations are common. It is a pro-drop language (or null subject language), that is, it allows the deletion of pronouns which are pragmatically unnecessary, and is verb-framed.


English Spanish IPA phonemic transcription

(abstract phonemes) 1
IPA phonetic transcription

(actual sounds) 2




(Castilian) Spanish














How are you? (informal)





Good morning







Good afternoon/evening







Good night














Please 3
Thank you







Excuse me




I am sorry




Hurry! (informal)



Because 3
Why? 3




When? 3
Where? 3
How much? 3
I do not understand 3
Help me (please) (formal)


Help me! (informal)


Where is the bathroom?







Do you speak English? (informal)







Bless you




1 Phonemic representation of the abstract phonological entities (phonemes), 2 phonetic representation of the actual sounds pronounced (phones). In both cases, when several representations are given, the first one corresponds to the dialect in the recording (Castilian with yeísmo) and the rest to several other dialects not in the recording.

3 The nasal and rhotic sounds undergo a certain degree of neutralization and are represented as and in phonemic transcription even when the phonetic realization differs from and .

See also

Local varieties

European Spanish

American Spanish

African Spanish



  1. Spanish language total. Ethnologue. Retrieved 14 August 2009.
  2. Ethnologue: Languages of the World, 16th Edition, ed. M. Paul Lewis 2009
  3. UN (2009 estimate)
  4. Britannica encyclopedia [1]
  5. eurobarometer (2006), [2] for Europe countries
  6. Spanish students for countries out of Europe according to Instituto Cervantes 06-07 (There aren't concrete sources about spanish speakers as a second language except to Europe and Latin America countries).
  7. Demografía de la lengua española (page 28)
  8. Population figure for 2008 from U.S. Population in 1990, 2000, and 2008, U.S. Census Bureau
  9. 34,559,894 legal inmigrants( US Census 2008)+ 8,300,000 illegal immigrants (Pew Hispanic Center 2008,, They aren't new generations of inmigrants living in USA as many of the legal inmigrants).
  10. Siginificant figure about the legal hispanic population (46,943,613 from a total US population of 304,059,724) Census Bureau 2008
  11. INE
  12. 89.0% speak spanish as a first language ( eurobarometer (2006))
  13. DANE
  14. INDEC (2009)
  15. INE (2009)
  16. INE (Chile - 2009)
  17. INEC (2009)
  18. 1% of 44.010.619 (population of France older than 15 years in 2005). Source: Eurobarometer 2006
  20. Between 4 and 7 million speakers (Ammadi, 2002) [3]
  21. 95,10% of the population speaks spanish ( U.S. Census Bureau)
  22. 59,017 inmigrants from Spain (spanish census 2001) + 48,637 inmigrants from Colombia. Open Channels and colombian consul (1999)
  23. 1,816,773 spanish + 1,200,000 spanish creole: Antonio Quilis "La lengua española en Filipinas", 1996 pag.234, (page 23), (page 249),, The figure 2,900,000 spanish speakers, we can find in "Pluricentric languages: differing norms in different nations" (page 45 by R.W.Thompson), or in More than 2 million spanish speakers and around 3 million with chavacano speakers according to "Instituto Cervantes de Manila" (
  24. Britannica Book of the Year 1998 [4]
  25. 14,905 spanish (Cesus 2001) + 75,000 from Ecuador [5]
  26. Inmigrants from spanish speaking countries ( Demografía de la lengua española)
  27. Equatorial Guinea census (2009)
  28. PMB Statistics,
  29. Spanish (census 2001)
  30. 1% of 8,598,982 (population of Belgium older than 15 years in 2005). Source: Eurobarometer 2006
  31. Sweden Census SCB (2002)
  32. Page 32 of the de la lengua española". 104,000 according to Britannica Book of the Year 2003
  33. Page 32 of the "Demografía de la lengua española" + 33,913 students according to Anuario Instituto Cervantes 06-07
  34. Page 32 of "Demogeafía de la lengua española"
  35. students according to Anuario Instituto Cervantes 06-07
  36. Between 150,000 and 200,000 in Tinduf ( + 48,000 in Wilaya of Oran (page 31 of Demografía de la lengua española])
  37. 50,000 sefardíes (Britannica Book of the Year 1998)[6] + 80,000 from Iberoamerica[7]
  38. Pages 34, 35 of the "Demografía de la lengua española".
  39. Britannica Book of the Year 1998 [8]
  41. Inmigrants from spanish speaking countries [9]
  42. Page 32 of Demografía de la lengua española
  43. Page 32 of Demografía de la lengua española
  44. 35.4% speak spanish as a first language
  46. Spanish 1970 census [10]
  47. New Zealand census (2006)
  48. Page 37 of the Demografía de la lengua española
  49. There are 2,397,380 immigrants from Spain and Latin America according to the page 37 of the "Demografía de la lengua española" (997,849 already counted)
  50. 17.8 million students in the world according to (Junta de Castilla y León) (11,064,920 already counted)
  51. CIA The World Factbook United States
  52. CIA World Factbook — Gibraltar
  53. BBC Education — Languages, Languages Across Europe — Spanish.
  54. Ethnologue – Paraguay(2000). Guaraní is also the most-spoken language in Paraguay by its native speakers.
  55. Belize Population and Housing Census 2000
  56. CIA World Factbook — Belize
  57. The Secretariat for The Implementation of Spanish, Government of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
  58. Mercosul, Portal Oficial (Portuguese)
  59. U.S. Census Bureau Hispanic or Latino by specific origin.
  60. U.S. Census Bureau 1. Percent of People 5 Years and Over Who Speak Spanish at Home: 2006, U.S. Census Bureau 2. 34,044,945 People 5 Years and Over Who Speak Spanish at Home: 2006
  61. , MLA Fall 2002.
  62. El País
  63. , Statistical Abstract of the United States: page 47: Table 47: Languages Spoken at Home by Language: 2003
  64. , MLA Fall 2002.
  65. El refuerzo del español llega a los saharauis con una escuela en los campos de Tinduf
  66. Ethnologue – Equatorial Guinea ((2000)
  67. CIA World Factbook – Equatorial Guinea (Last updated 20 September 2007)
  68., The Languages of Morocco.
  69. (See Article XV, Section 3(3)
  70. Eleanor Greet Cotton, John M. Sharp (1988) Spanish in the Americas, Volumen 2, pp.154-155, URL
  71. Lope Blanch, Juan M. (1972) En torno a las vocales caedizas del español mexicano, pp.53 a 73, Estudios sobre el español de México, editorial Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, México URL.
  72. Real Academia Española
  73. 3 Guys From Miami: Fruta Bomba
  74. Urban Dictionary: papaya
  75. Diccionario Panhispánico de Dudas, 1st ed.
  76. Real Academia Española, Explanation at Spanish Pronto ,


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