A Brief History of the Spanish Language
The history of the language is tied closely to the history of Spain.
In general, more than 400 million people speak Spanish as a first language spread throughout more than 23 countries. In addition, it is the most spoken language in the western hemisphere.
El “Castellano” or Castilian, as known historically, is the product of over 2000 years of evolution. Its main root was Latin which got its foothold from the first Roman soldiers who invaded Spain before the time of Christ. Diverse invasions, mainly of the Celts and Arabs and later from the French slowly forged the language to its present form.
At the end of the fifteenth century, the union of the monarchies of Castilla and Aragon furthered the language's dominance over most of the Iberian peninsula. As a result, the Castilian dialect became the official language of the region. Spanish then crossed the Atlantic with discoverers, conquerors and missionaries.
The first known written documents in Spanish are the Glosas Emilianeses which were written in 964 in a monastery in San Millan de la Gogolla. El Cantar del Mio Cid, written in the Middle Ages, is one of the oldest literary pieces.
It was not until the year of the Discovery of the Americas when the first Grammar was published; whose author was Elio Antonio de Nebrija.
Besides the discovery of the Americas, the year 1492 is historically important as a date in which the Arabs were ousted from Spain and the peninsula was unified under the rule of the Catholic kings, Fernando and Isabella.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw the conformation and consolidation of Spanish orthography and pronunciation. In morphology, tense forms appeared, regarding syntax; word order became more rigid and also the position of pronouns became fixed. Don Quijote of Cervantes, written in the seventeenth century, is considered to be Spain’s main literary masterpiece.
With the political unification of Castilla and Aragon, el “Castellano” became the language of legal documents, politics and diplomacy. Spanish was considered, during the sixteenth century, the official imperial language and became the subject of a tremendous amount of analysis, systematization and discussion by Spanish intellectuals. 1611 saw the publication of the first Spanish dictionary by Sebastian de Covarrubias.
Spanish was the major diplomatic language until the eighteenth century. The lexicon at this time began to incorporate a large body of words from other languages, both European and Native American. From Italian came such new words as soneto, medalla and piano. Gallicisms included jardín and sargento while words like patata, cóndor, alpaca and puma came from Quechua and Guarani, South America. From the family of Nahuatl languages in Mexico, came such familiar vocabulary as chocolate, tomate and cacao.
In 1713, the Real Academia Española was founded. It established authoritative criteria for the sanctioning of neologisms and the incorporation of international words. Spanish grammar was formalized during this period and there was a great flourish in Hispanic literature, helped by the expressive freedom allowed both writers and speakers by Spanish's relatively free word order, creating a variety of diverse literary styles.
The twentieth century has seen further alterations in how Spanish is used by its speakers. The eruption of neologisms, fueled by technological and scientific advances, remains unabated. They range from the classic termómetro, átomo and psicoanálisis to the most modern and barely Hispanicised: filmar, radar, casete, PC and módem.