(/ˈspænɪʃ/ ( listen); español (help·info)) or Castilian (/kæˈstɪliən/ ( listen), castellano (help·info)), is a Western Romance language that originated in the Castile region of Spain and today has hundreds of millions of native speakers in the Americas and Spain. It is a global language and the world’s second-most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.
The Spanish language evolved from Vulgar Latin, which was brought to the Iberian Peninsula by the Romans during the Second Punic War, beginning in 210 BC. Previously, several pre-Roman languages (also called Paleohispanic languages)—unrelated to Latin, and some of them unrelated even to Indo-European—were spoken in the Iberian Peninsula. These languages included Basque (still spoken today), Iberian, Celtiberian and Gallaecian.
The first documents to show traces of what is today regarded as the precursor of modern Spanish are from the 9th century. Throughout the Middle Ages and into the modern era, the most important influences on the Spanish lexicon came from neighboring Romance languages—Mozarabic (Andalusi Romance), Navarro-Aragonese, Leonese, Catalan, Portuguese, Galician, Occitan, and later, French and Italian. Spanish also borrowed a considerable number of words from Arabic, as well as a minor influence from the Germanic Gothic language through the migration of tribes and a period of Visigoth rule in Iberia. In addition, many more words were borrowed from Latin through the influence of written language and the liturgical language of the Church. The loanwords were taken from both Classical Latin and Renaissance Latin, the form of Latin in use at that time.
According to the theories of Ramón Menéndez Pidal, local sociolects of Vulgar Latin evolved into Spanish, in the north of Iberia, in an area centered in the city of Burgos, and this dialect was later brought to the city of Toledo, where the written standard of Spanish was first developed, in the 13th century. In this formative stage, Spanish 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 spread to southern Spain with the advance of the Reconquista, and meanwhile gathered a sizable lexical influence from the Arabic of Al-Andalus, much of it indirectly, through the Romance Mozarabic dialects (some 4,000 Arabic-derived words, make up around 8% of the language today). The written standard for this new language was developed in the cities of Toledo, in the 13th to 16th centuries, and Madrid, from the 1570s.
In the 15th and 16th centuries, Spanish underwent a dramatic change in the pronunciation of its sibilant consonants, known in Spanish as the reajuste de las sibilantes, which resulted in the distinctive velar [x] pronunciation of the letter ⟨j⟩ and—in a large part of Spain—the characteristic interdental [θ] (“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 Gramática de la lengua castellana, written in Salamanca in 1492 by Elio Antonio de Nebrija, was the first grammar written for a modern European language. 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. In his introduction to the grammar, dated 18 August 1492, Nebrija wrote that “… language was always the companion of empire.”
From the sixteenth century onwards, the language was taken to the Spanish-discovered 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”).
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.