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Spanish language

Spanish () is a Romance language named for its origins as the native tongue of a large proportion of the inhabitants of Spain. It is also named Castilian ( ) after the Spanish region of Castile where it originated. Spanish is the second most natively spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7]

In 1999 there were, according to Ethnologue, 358 million people speaking Spanish as a native language and a total of 417 million speakers[8] worldwide. Currently these figures are between 400[9][10] and 500[11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26] million people respectively. Mexico contains the largest population of Spanish speakers. Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, and is used as an official language by the European Union and Mercosur.

Spanish is a part of the Ibero-Romance group that evolved from several dialects of spoken Latin in central-northern Iberia around the ninth century[27] and gradually spread with the expansion of the Kingdom of Castile (present northern Spain) into central and southern Iberia during the later Middle Ages. Early in its history, the Spanish vocabulary was enriched by its contact with Basque and Arabic, and the language continues to adopt foreign words from a variety of other languages, as well as developing new words. Spanish 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, where it became the most important language for government and trade.[28]

Due to its increasing presence in the demographics and popular culture of the United States, particularly in the fast-growing states of the Sun Belt, Spanish is the most popular second language learned by native speakers of American English. The increasing political stability and economies of many larger Hispanophone nations, the language's immense geographic extent in Latin America and Europe for tourism, and the growing popularity of warmer, more affordable, and culturally vibrant retirement destinations found in the Hispanic world have contributed significantly to the growth of learning Spanish as a foreign language across the globe.

Spanish is the third most commonly used language on the Internet after English and Mandarin. It is also the third most studied language and third language in international communication, after English and French, in the world.[29][30][31]


Names of the language

Geographical distribution of the preferential use of the terms castellano (Castilian), in red, vs. espa ol (Spanish), in blue.

In Spain and in some other parts of the Spanish-speaking world, Spanish is called (Castilian) as well as (Spanish), that is, the language of the region of Castile, contrasting it with other languages spoken in Spain such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan. Speakers of these regional languages prefer the term castellano, as they consider their own languages equally "Spanish". The Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term to define the official language of the whole Spanish State, in contrast to (lit. the rest of the Spanish languages). Article III reads as follows:

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

Two etymologies for espa ol have been suggested. The Spanish Royal Academy Dictionary derives the term from the Proven al word espaignol, and that in turn from the Medieval Latin word Hispaniolus, 'from—or pertaining to—Hispania'.[32] Other authorities[33][34] attribute it to a supposed medieval Latin *hispani ne, with the same meaning. The Diccionario panhisp nico de dudas (a language guide published by the Spanish Royal Academy) states that, although the Spanish Royal Academy prefers to use the term espa ol in its publications when referring to the Spanish language, both terms, espa ol and castellano, are regarded as synonymous and equally valid.[35]

The name castellano is preferred in all of Spanish-speaking South America except Colombia. The term is more commonly used to refer to the language as a whole when relating to a global context.


A page of , the oldest preserved Spanish epic poem, in medieval Spanish. first Grammar]] of modern European languages. Miguel de Cervantes.

The first documents regarded as precursors of modern Spanish are from the ninth century. The dialects reflected in those documents emerged from the ancestral Vulgar Latin (common Latin), which had been brought to Iberia by the Romans during the Second Punic War around 210 BC, absorbing influences from the native Iberian languages such as Celtiberian, Basque and other paleohispanic languages. Later, it gained other external influences, most notably from the Arabic of the later Al-Andalus period.[36]

Local versions of Vulgar Latin evolved into Spanish in the central-north of Iberia, in an area defined by the then remote crossroad strips of lava, Cantabria, Burgos, Soria and La Rioja, within the Kingdom of Castile (see Glosas Emilianenses). Several features from these dialects are thought to have been brought later to the city of Toledo, were the written standard of Spanish was first developed, in the 13th century.[37] In this formative stage, Spanish (Castilian) 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 progressively spread south with the advance of the , and so gathered a sizable lexical influence from Al-Andalus Arabic, especially in the later Medieval period. The written standard for this new language was developed in the cities of Toledo (13th to 16th centuries) and Madrid (from the 1560s).[37]

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 > Spanish ). The diphthongization of Latin stressed short and 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:

Latin Spanish Ladino Aragonese Asturian Galician Portuguese Catalan Occitan French Italian Romanian English
piedra piedra (or pyedra) piedra piedra pedra pedra pedra pedra/p ira pierre pietra piatr 'stone'
muere muere muere muerre morre morre mor mor s meurt muore moare 'dies (v.)'
muerte muerte muerte muerte morte morte mort m rt mort morte moarte 'death'
tierra tierra (or tyerra) tierra tierra terra terra terra t rra terre terra ar 'land'

Spanish is marked by the palatalization of the Latin double consonants and (thus Latin > Spanish , and Latin > Spanish ).

The consonant written or in Latin and pronounced in Classical Latin had probably "fortified" to a bilabial fricative 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 .

Peculiar to Spanish (as well as to the neighboring Gascon dialect of Occitan, and sometimes attributed to a Basque substratum) was the mutation of Latin initial 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.

Compare the examples in the following table:

Latin Spanish Ladino Aragonese Asturian Galician Portuguese Catalan Occitan French Italian Romanian English
hijo fijo fillo f u fillo filho fill filh/hilh fils figlio fiu 'son'
hacer fazer fer facer facer fazer fer far/faire/har (or h r) faire fare face 'to do'
hierro/fierro fierro fierro fierro ferro ferro ferro f rre/h r fer ferro fier 'iron'
fuego fuego fuego fueu fogo fogo foc fu c/f c/hu c feu fuoco foc 'fire'

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

Latin Spanish Ladino Aragonese Asturian Galician Portuguese Catalan Occitan French Italian Romanian English
llave clave clau llave chave chave clau clau cl chiave cheie 'key'
llama flama flama llama chama chama flama flama flamme fiamma flac r 'flame'
lleno pleno plen llenu cheo cheio ple plen plein pieno plin 'full'
ocho ocho g eito ocho/oito oito oito vuit/huit u ch/u ch/u it huit otto opt 'eight'
mui (arch.)
molt moult (arch.) molto mult 'much'

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Spanish underwent a dramatic change in the pronunciation of its sibilant consonants, known in Spanish as the , which resulted in the distinctive velar pronunciation of the letter j and in a large part of Spain the characteristic interdental ("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 , written in Salamanca in 1492 by Elio Antonio de Nebrija, was the first grammar written for a modern European language.[38] 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.[39] In his introduction to the grammar, dated August 18, 1492, Nebrija wrote that "... language was always the companion of empire."[40]

From the sixteenth century onwards, the language was taken to America and the Spanish East Indies via Spanish colonization of America. Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, 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").[41]

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.


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

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


Segmental phonology

The Spanish phonemic inventory consists of five vowel phonemes (, , , , ) and 17 to 19 consonant phonemes (the exact number depending on the dialect). The main allophonic variation among vowels is the reduction of the high vowels and to glides and respectively when unstressed and adjacent to another vowel. Some instances of the mid vowels and , determined lexically, alternate with the diphthongs and 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, which in syllable-final position lose their contrast and are subject to assimilation to a following consonant; (2) three voiceless stops and the affricate ; (3) three or four (depending on the dialect) voiceless fricatives; (4) a set of voiced obstruents , , , and sometimes which alternate between fricative 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, and are marked with an asterisk (*) to indicate that they are preserved only in some dialects. In most dialects they have been merged, respectively, with and , in the mergers called, respectively, seseo and ye smo. The phoneme is in parentheses () to indicate that it appears only in loanwords. Each of the voiced obstruent phonemes , , , and 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 fricative pronunciations.

Table of consonant phonemes of Spanish[42]
! colspan=2| Labial   Dental   Alveolar   Palatal   Velar 
Fricative * ()     
Lateral *
V and B

The letters v and b are both normally pronounced identically as or similar, and this is the only correct pronunciation. The Royal Spanish Academy considers the pronunciation for the letter v to be incorrect and affected. However, some Spanish speakers maintain the pronunciation of the sound as it is in other western European languages. The sound is used for the letter v , in the Spanish language, by a few second-language speakers in Spain whose native language is Catalan, in the Balearic Islands, in the Valencian Community, and in southern Catalonia.[43] In the USA it is also common due to the proximity and influence of English phonology, and the is also occasionally used in Mexico. Some parts of Central America also use , which the Royal Academy attributes to the interference of local indigenous languages.

Historically, the pronunciation was uncommon, but considered correct well into the twentieth century.


Spanish is classified by its rhythm as a syllable-timed language, meaning that each syllable has approximately the same duration regardless of stress.[44][45]

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.[46][47] Subject/verb inversion is not required in questions, and thus the recognition of declarative or interrogative may depend entirely on intonation.

Stress most often occurs on any of the last three syllables of a word, with some rare exceptions at the fourth-last or earlier syllables. The tendencies of stress assignment are as follows:[48]

  • In words that end with a vowel, stress most often falls on the penultimate syllable.
  • In words that end with a consonant, stress most often falls on the last syllable, with the following exceptions: The grammatical endings -n (for third-person-plural of verbs) and -s (whether for plural of nouns and adjectives or for second-person-singular of verbs) do not change the location of stress. Thus regular verbs ending with -n and the great majority of words ending with -s are stressed on the penult. Although a significant number of nouns and adjectives ending with -n are also stressed on the penult (e.g. joven, virgen, mitin), the great majority of nouns and adjectives ending with -n are stressed on their last syllable (e.g. capit n, almac n, jard n, coraz n).
  • Preantepenultimate stress (stress on the fourth-to-last syllable) occurs rarely, and only on verbs with clitic pronouns attached (e.g. guard ndoselos 'saving them for him/her/them').

In addition to the many exceptions to these tendencies, there are numerous minimal pairs which contrast solely on stress such as s bana ('sheet') and sabana ('savannah'), as well as l mite ('boundary'), limite ('[that] he/she limits') and limit ('I limited'), or also l quido ('liquid'), liquido ('I sell off') and liquid ('he/she sold off').

The spelling 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 syllable; if and only if the absence of an accent mark would give the wrong stress information, an acute accent mark appears over the stressed syllable.

Geographical distribution

Active learning of Spanish.[49]

Spanish is the primary language of 20 countries worldwide. It is estimated that the combined total number of Spanish speakers is between 470 and 500 million, making it the second most widely spoken language in terms of native speakers.[50][51] Spanish is the third most spoken language by total number of speakers (after Mandarin and English). Internet usage statistics for 2007 show Spanish as the third most commonly used language on the Internet, after English and Mandarin.[52]


Knowledge of Spanish language in European Union in 2006.

In Europe, Spanish is an official language of Spain, the country after which it is named and from which it originated. It is widely spoken in Gibraltar, although English is the official language.[53] It is also commonly spoken in Andorra, although Catalan is the official language.[54] Spanish is also spoken by small communities in other European countries, such as the United Kingdom, France, and Germany.[55] Spanish is an official language of the European Union. In Switzerland, Spanish is the native language of 1.7% of the population, representing the largest minority after the 4 official languages of the country.[56]

Spanish is the fourth most widely studied second language in Western Europe after English, French, and German. In countries where those languages are natively spoken, chiefly France, the United Kingdom and Germany, Spanish is often the third most popular foreign language. Neighbouring Portugal and France have considerable minorities with a high degree of Spanish competency.

The Americas

Latin America

Most Spanish speakers are in Latin America; of all countries with a majority of Spanish speakers, only Spain and Equatorial Guinea are outside America. Mexico has the most native speakers of any country. Nationally, Spanish is the official language either de facto or de jure of Argentina, Bolivia (co-official with Quechua and Aymara), Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay (co-official with Guaran ),[57] Ecuador and Peru (co-official with Quechua and, in some regions, Aymara), Uruguay, and Venezuela. Spanish is also the de facto and official language (co-official with English) in Puerto Rico.[58]

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.[59][60] 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.[61]

Spain colonized Trinidad and Tobago 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.[62] In 2004, the government launched the Spanish as a First Foreign Language (SAFFL) initiative in March 2005.[63] 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.[62]

Spanish is important in Brazil because of its proximity to and increased trade with its Spanish-speaking neighbors, and because of its membership in the Mercosur trading bloc and the Union of South American Nations.[64] In 2005, the National Congress of Brazil approved a bill, signed into law by the President, making Spanish language teaching mandatory in both public and private secondary schools in Brazil.[65] In many border towns and villages (especially in the Uruguayan-Brazilian and Paraguayan-Brazilian border areas), a mixed language known as Portu ol is spoken.[66]

United States

Spanish spoken in the United States. Darker shades of blue indicate higher percentages of Spanish speakers.

According to 2006 census data, 44.3 million people of the U.S. population were Hispanic or Latino by origin;[67] 34 million people, 12.2 percent, of the population more than five years old speak Spanish at home.[68] Spanish has a long history in the United States because many south-western states were part of Mexico, and Florida was also a colony of Spain. The language recently has been revitalized in the U.S. by an influx of Hispanic immigrants. Spanish is the most widely taught language in the country after English. Although the United States has no formally designated "official languages," Spanish is formally recognized at the state level in various states in addition to English. In the U.S. state of New Mexico, 40% of the population speaks the language. It also has strong influence in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio, New York City, Tampa, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Chicago, and in the twenty-first century the language has rapidly expanded in Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Dallas, Detroit, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, Richmond, and Washington, DC. Spanish is the dominant spoken language in Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory. With a total of 37 million Spanish speakers, according to US Census Bureau,[69] the U.S. has the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking population.[70] Spanish ranks second, behind English, as the language spoken most widely at home.[71]


In Africa, Spanish is official in Equatorial Guinea (co-official with French and Portuguese), as well as an official language of the African Union. In Equatorial Guinea, Spanish is the predominant language when native and non-native speakers (around 500,000 people) are counted, while Fang is the most spoken language by number of native speakers.[72][73]

Today, in Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony, an unknown number of 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 Cuba and Spain). Sahrawi Press Service, the official news service of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic of Western Sahara, has been available in Spanish since 2001,[74] the official site of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic is in Spanish[75] and RASD TV, the official television channel of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, broadcasts in Spanish.[76] The Sahara Film Festival, Western Sahara's only film festival, mainly shows Spanish-language films. Spanish is used to document Sahrawi poetry and oral traditions and has also be used in Sahrawi literature.[77] Despite Spanish having been used by the Sahrawi people for over a century due to Western Sahara's history as a former Spanish colony, the Cervantes Institute has denied support and Spanish-language education to Sahrawis in Western Sahara and the Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria.[78] A group of Sahrawi poets known as Generaci n de la Amistad saharaui produces Sahrawi literature in Spanish.[79]

Spanish is also spoken in the Spanish autonomous cities of Ceuta (75,241) and Melilla (73,460) in continental North Africa, and in the autonomous community of the Canary Islands (2,117,519), a Spanish archipelago located just off the northwest coast of mainland Africa. 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.[80] It is spoken by some communities of Angola, because of the Cuban influence from the Cold War, and in South Sudan among South Sudanese natives that relocated to Cuba during the Sudanese wars and returned in time for their country's independence.[81]


Spanish was used by the colonial governments and the educated classes in the former Spanish East Indies, namely the Philippines, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. From 1565 to 1973 it was an official language of the Philippines. Up to 1899 it was the language of government, trade and education, and spoken as a first language by Spaniards and educated Filipinos. In the mid-nineteenth century the colonial government set up a free public school system with Spanish as the medium of instruction. This increased the use of Spanish throughout the islands and led to a class of Spanish-speaking intellectuals called the Ilustrados. Although Spanish never became the language of a majority of the population,[82] Philippine literature and press primarily used Spanish up to the 1940s. It continued as an official language until the change of Constitution in 1973. Following the U.S. occupation and administration of the islands in 1899, the American government increasingly imposed English, especially after the 1920s. The US authorities conducted a campaign of introducing English as the medium of instruction in schools, universities and public spaces, and prohibited the use of Spanish in media and educational institutions.

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 regime of Ferdinand Marcos. In 2007 the Arroyo administration announced that it would pass legislation to reintroduce Spanish in the Philippine education system. In 2010 a Memorandum was signed between Spanish and Philippine authorities to cooperate in implementing this decree. Today, Radio Manila broadcasts daily in Spanish. Worthy of mention is the Chavacano, a Spanish-Philippine pidgin, spoken by 600,000 people both in the Philippines and Sabah.

The local languages of the Philippines retain much Spanish influence, with many words being derived from Spanish from Spain and Mexican Spanish, due to the control of the islands by Spain through Mexico City until 1821, and directly from Madrid until 1898.[83]

Among the countries and territories in Oceania, Spanish is also spoken in Easter Island, a territorial possession of Chile. The U.S. Territories of Guam and Northern Marianas, and the independent states of Palau, Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia all once had majority Spanish speakers, since the Marianas and the Caroline Islands were Spanish colonial possessions until the late nineteenth century (see Spanish-American War), but Spanish is no longer used by the masses but there are still native and second-language speakers. It also exists as an influence on the local native languages and is spoken by Hispanic American resident populations.


The Antarctic Treaty regulates international relations with respect to Antarctica. Argentina and Chile, both Spanish-speaking countries, claim territories according to this treaty. The Argentine Antarctica sector had a winter population of 169 in 1999, and in the Chilean Antarctic Territory, according to the national census of 2002, the population was 130 (115 male, 15 female).[84]

Spanish speakers by country

The following table shows the number of Spanish speakers in some 70 countries.

Country Population[85] Spanish as a native language speakers[86][87][88][89][90] Bilingual and as a second language speakers (in countries where Spanish is official)[91][92] or as a foreign language (where it is not official)[93] Spanish speakers as percentage of population[94] Total number of Spanish speakers
116,147,000[95][96] }}[97] }} 98.5%[94] }}
313,640,000[98] 36,995,602[99] 13,004,398 15.9% 50,000,000[100][101][102][103][104][105][106]
47,212,990[107] }}[108] }} 98.8%[94] }}
46,535,000[109] }}[110] 130,080 99.2%[94] }}
41,119,000[111][112] 36,552,109[113] 4,321,488 99.4%[94] }}
29,821,000[114] }}[115] 753,397 98.8%[94] }}
30,135,875[116] }}[117] 744,942 86.6%[94] }}
17,402,630[118] 17,153,127[119] 85,914 99.3%[94] }}
14,865,000[120] 12,466,200[121] 2,126,986 98.1%[94] }}
15,073,375[122] }}[123] }} 86.4%[94] }}
11,235,863[124] 11,235,863[125] 99.4%[94] }}
10,225,000[124] 10,006,500[126] 177,600 99.6%[94] }}
10,426,154[127] }}[128] }} 87.9%[94] }}
8,215,313[129] 8,007,563[130] 125,597 99.0%[94] }}
6,183,002[131] 6,168,902[132] 99.7%[94] }}
65,821,885[133] 440,106[134] 5,721,380 9.4% 6,161,486[91]
5,822,000[124] 5,331,876[135] 315,464 97.0%[94] }}
31,759,997[136] 20,000[137] 5,480,000 17.32% 5,500,000[138][139]
190,732,694[140] 460,018[141][142] 5,000,000[143] 2.86% 5,460,018
4,615,646[144] 4,530,228[145] 48,493 99.2%[94] }}
6,337,127[146] 3,612,162[147] 446,145 69.5%[94] }}
3,998,000[124] }}[148] }} 98.8%[94] }}
62,041,708[149] + 7,554 Argentinians in 2008, + 5,131 Chileans in 2004 + 7,410 Peruvians in 2008 3,737,633 6.4% 3,922,500[91]
3,372,000[124] 3,221,800[150] 113,108 98.9%[94] }}
3,508,000[124] 3,006,957[151] 258,991 93.1%[94] }}
94,013,200[152] 2,930[153] 3,013,843 3.2% 3,016,773[154][155][156][157][158][159][160][161]
81,802,000[162] 178,976[163] 2,527,996 3.3% 2,706,972[91]
60,605,053[164] 422,249[165] 1,968,320 3.5% 1,635,976[91]
1,170,308[166] 1,683[167] 1,057,446 90.5%[94][168] }}
34,605,346[169] 909,000[170][171][172] 92,853[93] 2.9% 1,001,853
10,636,888[173] 9,570[174] 727,282 6.9% 737,026[91]
16,665,900[175] 59,578[176] 622,516 4.1% 682,094[91]
10,918,405[177] 85,990[178] 515,939 5.5% 601,929[91]
22,246,862 544,531 2.4% 544,531[91]
9,045,389 101,472[179] 442,601 6% 544,073[91]
21,007,310 106,517[180] 374,571[181] 2.3% 481,088[93]
38,500,696 316,104 0.8% 316,104[91]
8,205,533 267,177 3.3% 267,177[91]
20,179,602 235,806 [93] 1.2% 235,806
33,769,669 223,000[182] 0.7% 223,379
5,484,723 219,003 4% 219,003[91]
7,112,359 130,000[183] 45,231 2.5% 175,231[184]
127,288,419 78,952[185] 60,000[93] 0.1% 138,952
7,581,520 123,000[186] 14,420 1.7%[187] 137,420
7,262,675 133,910 1.8% 133,910[91]
301,270 106,795[188] 21,848 42.7% 128,643[188]
223,652 10,699 114,835 56.1% 125,534
4,156,119 123,591 3% 123,591[91]
12,853,259 101,455[93] 0.8% 101,455
10,722,816 86,742 0.8% 86,742[91]
5,244,749 85,586 1.6% 85,586[91]
9,930,915 85,034 0.9% 85,034[91]
101,484[189] 6,800 68,602 75.3% 75,402[190]
4,491,543 73,656 1.6% 73,656[91]
1,317,714[191] 4,100[192] 61,786 5%[193] }}
84,484 29,907[194] 25,356 68.7%[195] 58,040
5,455,407 43,164 0.8% 43,164[91]
4,644,457 12,573 23,677 0.8% 36,250[91]
140,702,094 3,320 20,000[196] 0.01% 23,320
1,339,724,852[197] 3,055[198] 20,000[199] 0.0020% 23,055
4,173,460 21,645[200] 0.5% 21,645
154,805 19,092 12.3% 19,092[201]
US Virgin Islands 108,612 16,788 15.5% 16,788
3,565,205 13,943 0.4% 13,943[91]
27,967 13,857 49.5% 13,857
73,722,988[202] 1,134[203] 12,346[204] 0.031% 13,480
792,604 1.4% 11,044[91]
2,804,322 8,000 0.3% 8,000
486,006 3,000 4,344 1.5% 7,344[91]
403,532 6,458 1.6% 6,458[91]
513,000[85] n.a.[205] n.a. n.a. n.a.
Other immigrants in the E.U. }}[206]
Other Spanish students }}[207]
Total native speakers in the world + bilingual and as a second language where Spanish is official: 7,000,000,000 (Total World Population)[208] }} [209] 30,578,092 }}% }} [210]
Total with Spanish speakers as a foreign language: 78,693,433 }}% }} [11][211]

Dialectal variation

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 (107 million of the total 494 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 ye smo and s-aspiration, is the standard variety for use on radio and television,[214][215][216][217] and is the variety that has most influenced the written standard for Spanish.[218]


Three of the main phonological divisions are based respectively on (1) the phoneme ("theta"), (2) the phoneme ("turned y"),[219] and (3) the "debuccalization" (also frequently called "aspiration") of syllable-final . The phoneme (spelled z , or c before e or i ) a voiceless dental fricative as in English thing is maintained in northern and central Spain, but is merged with the sibilant in southern Spain, the Canary Islands, and all of American Spanish.[220] This merger is called seseo in Spanish. The phoneme (spelled ll ) a palatal lateral consonant sometimes compared in sound to the lli of English million tends to be maintained in less-urbanized areas of northern Spain and in highland areas of South America, but in the speech of most other Spanish-speakers it is merged with ("curly-tail j") a non-lateral, usually voiced, usually fricative, palatal consonant sometimes compared to English /j/ (yod) as in yacht, and spelled y in Spanish. This merger is called ye smo in Spanish. And the debuccalization (pronunciation as , or loss) of syllable-final is associated with southern Spain, the Caribbean, and coastal areas of South America.


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


An examination of the dominance and stress of the voseo dialect in Latin America. Data generated as illustrated by the Association of Spanish Language Academies. The darker the country, 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 t or vos in the familiar (and each of these three pronouns has its associated verb forms), with the choice of t 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 usted, t , and vos denoting respectively formality, familiarity, and intimacy.[221]

In voseo, is the subject form , "you say") and the form for the object of a preposition (Voy con vos, "I'm going with you"), while the direct and indirect object forms, and the possessives, are the same as those associated with t : Vos sab s que tus amigos te respetan ("You know your friends respect you"). Additional examples:

The verb forms of voseo are the same as those used with t except in the present tense (indicative and subjunctive) of -ar and -er verbs, and in the present subjunctive of -ir verbs. The forms for vos generally can be derived from those of vosotros (the traditional second-person familiar plural) by deleting the glide where it appears in the ending: vosotros pens is > vos pens s; vosotros quer is > vos quer s.

The use of the pronoun vos with the verb forms of t (e.g. vos piensas) is called "pronominal voseo". And conversely, the use of the verb forms of vos with the pronoun t (e.g. t pens s) is called "verbal voseo".

Distribution in Spanish America

The voseo pronoun is used in Central America's Nicaragua more frequently than in neighboring countries. Although is not used in Spain, in large areas of Spanish America it occurs as the primary spoken form of the second-person singular familiar 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 Mexico, the West Indies, Panama, most of Peru and Venezuela, coastal Ecuador and the Pacific coast of Colombia.

(the use of t ) as a cultured form alternates with 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 claim that voseo can be heard in some parts of eastern Cuba, while others assert that it is absent from the island.[222]

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

Areas of generalized include Argentina, Costa Rica, eastern Bolivia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Paraguay, Uruguay and the Colombian departments of Valle del Cauca and Antioquia.[221]


The second person plural maintains the formal/familiar distinction with ustedes and vosotros respectively in most of Spain, but in areas of Andalusia, in the Canary Islands, and in all of Spanish America, both functions are merged in the use of ustedes, regardless of familiarity. In Seville, 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.


Usted is the usual second-person singular pronoun in a formal context, used to portray 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 t 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 portray respect between the members of a romantic couple. Usted is also used in this way, as well as between parents and children, in the Andean regions of Colombia and Venezuela.

Third-person object pronouns

Most speakers use (and the Real Academia Espa ola 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"). This 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 "le smo", "lo smo", or "la smo", according to which respective pronoun le, lo, or la has expanded beyond the etymological usage (i.e. le as a direct object, or lo or la as an indirect object).


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 recognize specifically American usages. For example, Spanish mantequilla, aguacate and albaricoque (respectively, 'butter', 'avocado', 'apricot') correspond to manteca, palta, and damasco, respectively, in Argentina, Chile (except manteca), Paraguay, Peru (except manteca and damasco), and Uruguay. The everyday Spanish words coger ('to take'), 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 Nicaragua it simply means 'stingy', and in Spain refers to a chef's helper. Other examples include taco, which means 'swearword' (among other meanings) in Spain, 'traffic jam' in Chile and 'heels' (shoe) in Peru 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 Spain the word also signifies 'posh girl' or 'snobby'. Coche, which means 'car' in Spain, central Mexico and Argentina, for the vast majority of Spanish-speakers actually means 'baby-stroller' or 'pushchair', while carro means 'car' in some Latin American countries and 'cart' in others, as well as in Spain. Papaya is the slang term for 'vagina' in parts of Cuba and Venezuela, where the fruit is instead called fruta bomba and lechosa, respectively.[223][224]

Relation to other languages

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

It should be noted that although Portuguese and Spanish are very closely related, particularly in vocabulary (89% lexically similar according to the Ethnologue of Languages), syntax and grammar, there are also some differences that don't exist between Catalan and Portuguese. Although Spanish and Portuguese are widely considered to be mutually intelligible, it has been noted that while most Portuguese speakers can understand spoken Spanish with little difficulty, Spanish speakers face more difficulty in understanding spoken Portuguese. The written forms are considered to be equally intelligible, however.

Vocabulary comparison

Spanish and Italian share a similar phonological system. At present, the lexical similarity with Italian is estimated at 82%.[225] The lexical similarity with Portuguese is greater at 89%. Mutual intelligibility between Spanish and French or Romanian is lower (lexical similarity being respectively 75% and 71%):[225] 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 Astur-Leonese Aragonese Catalan French Italian Romanian English
1 1
(arch. )
2 3 we

(lit. "true brother")

(arch. )5
4 song

(arch. )

(arch. )

(arch. )

(arch. )

(arch. )

(or )

(arch. )
left hand

(lit. "no thing born")

(also )

( and
in some expressions; arch. )
) nothing
6 cheese

1. Also in early modern Portuguese (e.g. The Lusiads).
2. Alternatively in French.
3. Also in Southern Italian dialects and languages.
4. Depending on the written norm used (see Reintegracionism).
5. Medieval Catalan (e.g. Llibre dels fets).
6. Note that Romanian ca (from Latin ) means a type of cheese. The universal term for cheese in Romanian is br nz (from unknown etymology).[226]


Judaeo-Spanish (also known as Ladino),[227] 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 fifteenth century.[227] Therefore, its relationship to Spanish is comparable with that of the Yiddish language 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.[227] 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 Spanish, including vocabulary from Hebrew, French, Greek and Turkish, and other languages spoken where the Sephardim settled.

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

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

Writing system

Spanish is written in the Latin script, with the addition of the character (, 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 cg and ci , instead of following cz as they used to. The situation is similar for ll .[228][229]

Thus, the Spanish alphabet has the following 27 letters and 2 digraphs:

A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H, I, J, K, L, M, N, , O, P, Q, R, S, T, U, V, W, X, Y, Z.[230]
Ch,[231] Ll.[232]

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 M xico (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 ('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. 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 Real Academia Espa ola advises against this.

When u is written between g and a front vowel e i , it indicates a "hard g" pronunciation. A diaeresis indicates that it is not silent as it normally would be (e.g., cig e a, 'stork', is pronounced ; if it were written *cigue a, it would be pronounced *).

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


Royal Spanish Academy

Arms of the Royal Spanish Academy. The Royal Spanish Academy Headquarters in Madrid, Spain. The (Royal Spanish Academy), founded in 1713,[233] 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.[234] 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.[235] The Association of Spanish Language Academies (Asociaci n de Academias de la Lengua Espa ola, or ASALE) is the entity which regulates the Spanish language. It comprises the academies of 22 countries, ordered by date of Academy foundation: Spain (1713),[236] Colombia (1871),[237] Ecuador (1874),[238] Mexico (1875),[239] El Salvador (1876),[240] Venezuela (1883),[241] Chile (1885),[242] Peru (1887),[243] Guatemala (1887),[244] Costa Rica (1923),[245] Philippines (1924),[246] Panama (1926),[247] Cuba (1926),[248] Paraguay (1927),[249] Dominican Republic (1927),[250] Bolivia (1927),[251] Nicaragua (1928),[252] Argentina (1931),[253] Uruguay (1943),[254] Honduras (1949),[255] Puerto Rico (1955),[256] and United States (1973).[257]

Instituto Cervantes

Cervantes Institute headquarters, Madrid. The Instituto Cervantes (Cervantes Institute) is a worldwide non-profit organization created by the Spanish government in 1991. This organization has branched out in over 20 different countries with 54 centres devoted to the Spanish and Hispanic American culture and Spanish Language. The ultimate goals of the Institute are to promote the education, the study and the use of Spanish universally as a second language, to support the methods and activities that would help the process of Spanish language education, and to contribute to the advancement of the Spanish and Hispanic American cultures throughout non-Spanish-speaking countries.

Official use by international organizations

Spanish is recognised as one of the official languages of the United Nations, the European Union, 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 and the North American Free Trade Agreement.

See also

Spanish language institutions
Spanish-speaking world
Romance languages

Influences on the Spanish language
Dialects and languages influenced by Spanish

Spanish dialects and varieties


260. ^


  • .

External links

ace:Bahsa Seupanyo kbd: af:Spaans als:Spanische Sprache ang:Sp onisc spr c ar: an:Idioma castell n arc: frp:Castilyan ast:Castellanu gn:Karai e' ay:Kastilla aru az: span dili bn: zh-min-nan:Se-pan-g -g be: be-x-old: bcl:Tataramon na Espanyol bg: bar:Schbanisch bo: bs: panski jezik br:Spagnoleg ca:Castell cv: ceb:Kinatsila cs: pan l tina co:Lingua spagnola cy:Sbaeneg da:Spansk (sprog) de:Spanische Sprache dv: nv:Naakaii bizaad dsb: pa ina et:Hispaania keel el: eml:Spagn l es:Idioma espa ol eo:Hispana lingvo ext:Lengua castellana eu:Gaztelania ee:Spangbe fa: hif:Spanish bhasa fo:Spanskt m l fr:Espagnol fy:Spaansk fur:Lenghe spagnole ga:An Sp innis gv:Spaainish gag: span dili gd:Sp inntis gl:Lingua castel gan: got: /Heispansks hak:S -p n-ng -ng xal: ko: haw: lelo Sepania hy: hi: hsb: pani ina hr: panjolski jezik io:Hispaniana linguo ilo:Pagsasao nga Espaniol id:Bahasa Spanyol ia:Lingua espaniol iu: os: zu:IsiSpanish is:Sp nska it:Lingua spagnola he: jv:Basa Spanyol kl:Spanskisut kn: pam:Castila (amanu) krc: ka: csb:Szpa sczi j z k kk: kw:Spaynek rw:Icyesipanyole sw:Kihispania kv: kg:Kispanya ht:Pany l ku:Ziman span lad:Lingua castilyana lez: ltg:Span u vol da la:Lingua Hispanica lv:Sp u valoda lb:Spuenesch lt:Ispan kalba lij:Lengua spagn lla li:Castiliaans ln:Lispanyoli jbo:sanbau lmo:Lengua spagn la hu:Spanyol nyelv mk: mg:Fiteny espaniola ml: mt:Lingwa Spanjola mi:Reo P niora mr: xmf: arz: mzn: ms:Bahasa Sepanyol mwl:Lh ngua castelhana mdf: mn: nah:Caxtill ntlaht lli nl:Spaans nds-nl:Spaans ne: ja: ce:Ispanhoyn mott no:Spansk nn:Spansk nov:Spanum oc:Espanh u mhr: uz:Ispan tili pa: pnb: pap:Spa o km: pms:Lenga spagneula tpi:Tok Spen nds:Spaansche Spraak pl:J zyk hiszpa ski pt:L ngua castelhana crh: span tili ty:Reo Paniora ro:Limba spaniol rm:Lingua spagnola qu:Kastilla simi rue: ru: sah: se:Sp nskagiella sm:Gagana spaniolo sa: sc:Limba ispagnola sco:Spainyie leid stq:Spoanisk sq:Gjuha spanjolle scn:Lingua spagnola simple:Spanish language ss:Sipanishi sk: paniel ina sl: pan ina szl:Szpa elsko godka ckb: sr: sh: panski jezik fi:Espanjan kieli sv:Spanska tl:Wikang Kastila ta: roa-tara:L nga spagnole tt: te: tet:Lia-espa ol th: tg: chr: tr: spanyolca udm: uk: ur: ug: vec: ngoa spagno a vep:Ispanijan kel' vi:Ti ng T y Ban Nha vo:Spany nap k fiu-vro:Hispaania kiil wa:Espagnol (lingaedje) zh-classical: vls:Spoans war:Kinatsila wuu: yi: yo: d Sp n zh-yue: bat-smg: spanu kalba zh:

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