Short history of the Spanish language

No doubt Spanish is a charming language. But why? How did it evolve and why is there a Spanish version of almost every English song?

Origins of the Spanish language. The Romans.

Spanish is an extremely diverse language. As any other language, it keeps changing and evolving as the time goes by, however, there were a few moments in history that enriched it largely.

You may remember the Punic Wars we were taught about at school. They are the three wars fought between Rome and Carthage. Why did they fight? Well, both wanted to rule the Mediterranean.

And Hannibal? No, not Hannibal Lecter, the one who scared us all in The Silence of the Lambs. When it comes to Spanish, Hannibal the Warrior is more important – the one who crossed the Iberian Peninsula and the Pyrenees to surprise the Romans from the North.

After Romans won the second Punic War, they flooded the Iberian Peninsula and named their new province Hispania. Romans brought many new objects of everyday use, work procedures, genes and most importantntly – the language —the Vulgar Latin— the basis of the Spanish language. However, the Romans and Latin were just the beginning.

Aqueduct of Segovia – the Roman monument in the centre of Segovia, Spain, 1st century AD (photo: Zuzana Gombiková)

Arabic gems hidden in Spanish

The Arabic presence in the Iberian Peninsula was another important factor. Muslims had spent a long time there – from 711 until 1492. They influenced not only the language, but also the culture. In 1492, the Catholic Monarchs (Los Reyes Católicos), Isabella I of Castile (Isabel I de Castilla) and Ferdinand of Aragon (Fernando II de Aragón) conquered the town of Granada (la Toma de Granada, 1492) and finally made Spain a Catholic country. Fortunately, the Arabic heritage remained. Words like la almohada (a pillow), la alcachofa (an artichoke), el albaricoque (an apricot), el alcalde (a mayor), el alcohol (alcohol), el cafe (coffee), el chaleco (a waistcoast, a vest, a jacket), ¡hola! (hello) or la jarra (a jug, a large beer), all of them are Arabic gifts for the Spanish language.

Alhambra – the Moorish palace in Granada, Spain (photo: Zuzana Gombiková)

Beautiful relief sculpture inside Alhambra in Granada, Spain (photo: Andrea Froncová)



1492: The discovery of America

There is another reason to remember the year of 1492. In October 1492, after more than two months of sailing across the Atlantic, Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colón) reached a small island (part of an archipelago called “the Bahamas” later on), and named the island “San Salvador”. They navigated on three tiny ships (Pinta, Nina, Santa María) – none of them was more than 20 m long. A terrible thought for a terrestrial Central European, isn’t it? If the natives had known what those three tiny boats would ultimately mean for their culture, they would have probably sunk them the very first night. That did not happen, so this very moment can be considered important for the Spanish language evolution. Why? The Europeans discovered a paradise. A vast land full of animals, plants, objects, minerals and nations they couldn’t even name. Thus, before they killed off native tribes, they adopted thousands of native words and enriched the European Spanish, as well as other languages.

Words as coca (a coca plant), cóndor (a condor), maté (mate the tea) originates from the Quechua language spoken by Incas. The Europeans appropriated other words from the Aztecan language of Nahuatl – cacao (a cocoa), chile (a chili), guacamole (the avocado spread) or chocolate (a chocolate). There were also many Taíno (an extinct Arawakan language) words adopted – maíz (a corn), tiburón (a shark) or barbacoa (a barbecue). The Taíno word canoe was the very first word of Indigenous American Indian origin incorporated in the Castillian (Castellano – European Spanish spoken in Madrid – the pure Spanish).

If you’d like to know more about Christopher Columbus, his voyages and what happened after the discovery of America, watch this video (in Spanish).

Why is there a Spanish version of almost every English song? Well, the reason is quite simple. There are almost 500 million Spanish speakers around the world. And that is definitely a market that cannot be overlooked.





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