Culture and speech are closely connected. Both processes move forward in parallel and are expressed precisely through language. Likewise, the study of language always acts as a mirror for the culture and the lifestyle of its speakers.
Bearing this in mind, the question is: how did the Spanish language make its way around the world, spreading such a magnificent heritage?
“We must insist that a command of the language is an indispensable means of obtaining accurate and thorough knowledge, because much information can be gained by listening to conversations of the natives and by taking part in their daily life which, to the observer who has no command of the language, will remain entirely inaccessible”, Franz Boas (1958-1942) wrote in his book Introduction to the Handbook of American Indian Languages (1911).
This author, considered the “Father of North American anthropology”, recognized that some cultural aspects — such as poetry, literature and music — can only be studied through language.
In 2020, Spanish e-books sold in Spain accounted for 65% of global Spanish e-book sales revenue. Mexico was the second largest market with over 11% of global sales. The U.S. ranked third.
The Spanish language stands as a true cultural powerhouse. Its protagonists include poet Gonzalo de Berceo (1198-1264), novelist and playwright Miguel de Cervantes (1547-1616), writer Pedro Calderón de la Barca (1600-1681), painter Francisco de Goya (1746 -1828), poet and prose writer Federico García Lorca (1898-1936), painter and sculptor Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and artist Salvador Dalí (1904-1989), to name only a few.
The Events that Favored its Evolution
Spanish turns out to be the outcome of the contributions of numerous cultures, from those that coexisted peacefully to the ones that fought each other. Thus, this language underwent several changes and modifications over the course of time:
● 218 B.C.: Romans landed at Emporion, northeast of Spain. For the next three centuries, they conquered the entire Iberian Peninsula. Most of its inhabitants — Celts, Basques, Phoenicians, Greeks, Iberians and Carthaginians — ended up adopting Latin, in its classical and vulgar forms, as well as the Latin way of life and religion.
● 410: the Roman Empire was invaded by the Visigoths, who occupied almost the entirety of the Iberian Peninsula for two centuries. The words that were incorporated into Latin after the so-called “barbarian invasions” are called Germanisms.
● 711: the last Gothic king was defeated by Tarik and his army of Moors. The Muslims conquered the Iberian Peninsula in less than a year and the Arab domination lasted eight centuries. The cultural exchange between Jews, Muslims and Christians caused the language to incorporate many Arabicisms (words influenced by the Arabic language).
● 9th century: Christians resisting the Muslim invasion took refuge in the north region of the Iberian Peninsula, where Castilian emerged. In other areas, Latin gave rise to other dialects, such as Galician-Portuguese, Asturleonian, Catalan and Mozarabic.
● 11th and 12th centuries: the Reconquest wars gained momentum and the Christians advanced south. They settled in Castile at the beginning of the 15th century and took first León, then Granada in 1492, thus reconquering the Iberian Peninsula.
Just as Latin had arrived in the Iberian Peninsula through conquest, the same phenomena occurred with Castilian in America. The Spaniards imposed their own language over the languages of the various Native American peoples. In addition, the colonization of this continent also gave the Spanish language more visibility all over the globe.
And although there are differences and nuances between different Spanish dialects, the truth is that the Spanish speaking world still speaks the same language on both sides of the Atlantic to this day. Over the centuries, this linguistic stability has made the language so unique and emblematic.
The Uniqueness Provided by the Multiple Contributions
Spanish is an ever-evolving language, which has been influenced by multiple factors, such as immigration, the mass media, science and technology.
New terms are still being coined constantly: for instance, the vast Spanish catalogue includes many words borrowed or inspired from other languages, such as Italianisms (namely avanti, birra, capo), Gallicisms (words of French origin, such as chalet, amateur, chef), and Anglicisms, English words which are widely spread through the different industries, such as TV and cinema, fashion, business, sports, etc. (e.g., spoiler, fashion, marketing, among others).
An African cultural element can also be observed in American Spanish, especially in Antillean, and linked to folkloric aspects, such as the Havana troupes and the Dominican carnival, as well as the practice of witchcraft, Santeria and other rituals.
Mexico has the highest number of Spanish speakers (over 124 million), followed by Colombia (over 50 million), Argentina (45 million), the U.S. (over 41 million) and Spain (over 40 million).
Nowadays, Spanish is the third most widely spoken language in the world — if we add up people with native proficiency, those with limited proficiency and language students. It is also the mother tongue of almost 493 million people, and it continues to expand, being the second language in the U.S. and the most studied foreign language in Europe.
Therefore, it is no coincidence that, by 2060, it is estimated that the U.S. could become the second largest Spanish-speaking nation on the globe, followed by Mexico. Why? 27.5% of the population of that country will have Hispanic roots. Thus, knowing the powerful socio-cultural heritage of this language becomes a true priority.