With roots dating back to Roman rule, it’s not surprising that the Spanish language is one of the most common in the world. The language boasts over 500 million native speakers scattered across 31 countries.
In the first of our articles on Europe’s key languages, Bubbles explores the history behind the Spanish language and its path to global prominence.
A Romance language, Spanish can trace it roots back to the evolution of Latin in the southwest of Europe. Under Roman rule the region became known as Hispania in 19 BC, and the Roman language, which was taught to locals by Roman traders and soldiers, merged with a cluster of other dialects to form what historians refer to as Vulgar Latin.
Following the collapse of the Western Empire in the 5th Century, regional varieties of Vulgar Latin began to drift apart. It wasn’t until the 12th Century that the area now known as Spain first began to produce texts with a clear resemblance to the Spanish language as we know it today.
Once established across the local region, the spread of Spanish was continued by the Kingdom of Castile. Although impacted by the Islamic Moor conquest, the language remained only slightly affected by Arabic, and was quickly spread in its near-original form around the rest of Spain during the 11th Century, when the kingdom began its Christian reconquest, soon taking control of almost all of the Peninsula.
The now widespread language became known as Castilian, which is how it’s still known today in many Latin countries.
The following spread of Spanish across the ocean was a result of exploration by the Spanish Empire, and from the 16th Century onwards it was transported to the Americas through Spanish colonisation. This led to Spanish taking hold in the region as it spread across most of Central and South America. The publication of the first Spanish dictionary soon followed in the year 1611 at the hand of Sebastian de Covarrubias, a Spanish lexicographer.
Of course, the geographical spread of Spanish across continents led to variations in the language, and these remain prominent today. For example, the world ‘coche’ means ‘car’ in Spain, but in Guatemala it’s a slang word for ‘pig’. Similarly, ‘buzo’ is a standard word for ‘diver’ in Spain, but in Latin American countries such as Chile and Costa Rica it’s a common term for ‘sweatpants’.
Today, Spanish is spoken by more than 570 million people around the world and remains the official language for 31 countries. According to statistics from language reference the Ethnologue, it now boasts the second highest number of native speakers, coming in behind Mandarin Chinese. Following a 15-year-study, German linguistic expert Ulrich Ammon also revealed that Spanish is one of the most successful second languages in the world, making it a popular subject in schools around the world.
Despite originating in Spain, the language now has its highest number of native speakers in Mexico, where over 100 million claim is as their mother tongue. However, one of the language’s strongest growth regions is the US, where it has become a key factor in recent presidential elections. In fact, there are now more than 37 million Spanish speakers in the US, up by 223 per cent since 1980 according to Pew Research.
Factors Behind its Success
Perhaps one of the main reasons for the language’s success in recent years is the economic growth of its speakers’ nations. According to the National Statistics Institute (NSI) in Spain, the country’s growth rate has increased from a negative rate of -0.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2012 to 0.8 per cent in the final quarter of 2015, as the Spanish economy expands at one of the fastest rates in Europe. This growth spurt has promoted an increase in overseas businesses exploring Spanish translation as they consider expansion into these increasingly affluent regions.
The Spanish language is also finding its feet on the internet and now accounts for 8 per cent of world internet users, or more than 290 million people. This has further opened up the Spanish-speaking markets for many international companies. In Spain, for example, 67 per cent of internet users shop online, which works out at 19.2 million people – a tempting figure for retailers when compared to 2013 when just 44 per cent of internet users in Spain shopped online.
A lot has contributed to the evolution of the Spanish language and today it stands as a truly global language in the modern world with a flourishing presence in international politics, economics and culture across the globe.
If you’re considering an expansion into any country in the Spanish-speaking world, don’t forget that language is about more than just words. Bubbles’ Spanish translation experts have real-world knowledge and experience of how people use the language and their input will provide invaluable advice to ensure that your marketing and business material is translated without a hitch.