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The Linguistic Diversity of the Spanish Language

The Linguistic Diversity of the Spanish Language
on April, 25 2013

Spanish. One of the romance languages. A language spoken by roughly 406 million native speakers; with 60 million people speaking it as their second language and around 20 million more studying it as a foreign language.

Spanish is the second most spoken language in the world, next to Mandarin. It is one of the official languages in the United Nations as well as in Mercosur and the European Union. Outside of Spain, Spanish is the official language in South America except for French Guyana and Brazil, in Panama, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador and Costa Rica. It is also spoken in the Canary and Balearic islands, in Equatorial New Guinea and in some parts of Africa and Morocco. Spanish is also widely spoken in southern Florida, the city of New York, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and in Texas.

If might be confusing if you have taken Spanish language classes for years and yet you could not understand native Spanish speakers. Do not think that you have wasted several years of study. You are not alone on that score because Spanish is such a diverse language. Geography and political distribution have a hand in the confusion. There are 19 separate countries and Puerto Rico as well where Spanish is the official or dominant language. Therefore there is not a standard Spanish and millions of speakers do not use Castilian or the standard Latin American Spanish, for that matter, which is the one taught in most schools in the United States.

Let us take a look at the different styles of the Spanish language.

Standard Latin American

At times it is called Highland Spanish for this style of Spanish is mostly spoken in the mountainous regions of Latin America. It is the type of Spanish that is commonly taught in schools in the United States. There might be variations in accents and some distinctive vocabulary may exist but this is the general type of Spanish spoken in Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Mexico. This is the Spanish that was brought to the Americas and spoken in 16th- and 17th- century Spain. The very strongly pronounced “r” sounds is the main characteristic of the Latin American Spanish.

Castilian Spanish

The type of Spanish that was not exported abroad is the Castilian, which is the dominant Spanish language spoken in the northern part of Spain and in Madrid, thus it developed its own characteristics such as the pronunciation of ce and ci like the English th. Thus when you hear Madrileños say thank you, you are likely to hear the Spanish equivalent gracias pronounced as gra-theas instead of gras-See-as that you were taught, and what is commonly used in Latin American countries. As a comparison, it is like the difference between the sounds of American and British English.

One other difference is the use of vosotros, the Castilian word for “you guys” or “you all,” which in standard Latin American Spanish is ustedes.

Trade Winds Spanish

In the Caribbean, parts of southern Spain, and in some Latin American coastal areas, the common type of Spanish spoken is termed “trade winds Spanish.” This is characterized by the dropping of the words’ last “s.”

This characteristic happened during the 17th and 18th centuries in Southern Spain, particularly around Cádiz, Seville and other Andalusian cities. The unusual manner of speaking was brought by the Southern Spain traders and settlers with them when they went to the Caribbean. It enabled them to speak faster, and they opted for informality rather than follow the normal conventions of the language. Sometimes “trade winds Spanish” is referred to as “Lowland Spanish.”

Italian-influenced Spanish

This style of Spanish is common in Buenos Aires as well as in selected areas of Uruguay. One of its main characteristics is the combination of outdated grammar as well as pronunciation and grammar that is strongly influenced by the 19th and 20th century Italian settlers in these regions.

Usually in Spanish the singular pronoun “you” translates to tú. In Buenos Aires though, the translation is vos and is usually accompanied by a modified verb form of Old Spanish, that could be compared to the archaic thou and thee. Likewise, while most Spanish speakers pronounce the double-l (ll) as the letter “y” in English, in Buenos Aires, they pronounce it as zh. Novelists in Buenos Aires have preserved this form of Spanish as a literary style that is very common in “Gaucho poetry.”

The Italian influence in the region is quite strong as this also led to the development of Lunfardo, a unique language that is a combination of Italian and Spanish. Efforts were made to preserve tha language with the publication of books and dictionaries in Lunfardo.


While Spanish has exerted a major influence and showed its usefulness in professional and personal communication today, it was not like that several centuries ago. Like all other major dialects today, it started as just a native dialect. Its spread in many parts of the globe is attributed to the many Spanish conquests and explorations and the forced conversion in religion and mode of communication.

Rooted in Latin

The parent language family of Spanish is Indo-European, which developed in the region around the Black Sea some 5,000 years ago. The Indo-European language was carried by soil tillers in search of farm lands across Europe. Their sedentary lifestyles ensured that the language developed further in the areas where they eventually settled, in Central Asia as well as parts of Europe. As the speakers of the language migrated and eventually lost contact with another, the language branched into many distinct languages, one of them being Latin, which became one of the most outstanding. It became the language of the Romans and their rise in power in 4th century BC ensured the spread of Latin in the Italian and Mediterranean areas. The varying developments that occurred in the areas where Latin was spoken influenced the development of the different Romance languages, wherein Spanish became a member.

In the Spanish peninsula, Latin was widely used about the 3rd century BC. Although the local were not forced to use the language, they learned it on their own, for prestige and convenience. Hence, bilingualism also occurred and the influence of the local dialects shaped the manner in which Latin developed.

Development of Castilian Spanish

By the time that the 4th century AD ended, the influence of the Romans in peninsular Spain was waning. By the beginning of the 5th century, the Visigoths were the recognized ruler of the peninsula, which brought with them their German language, although the language did not have a major impact since Latin still stayed as the dominant language. It took a major turn when the Islamic invasion of Spain began in 711 AD, because their language greatly influenced the development of another form of Spanish, the Castilian.

At the time that the Islamic Moors shored up on Spain’s southern coast, they also brought their language and their culture to this particular Spanish shore. The locals although retaining their Hispanic Latin language borrowed heavily from Arabic to increase their lexicon and their semantics, changing the Hispanic Latin spoken in the area considerably. However, it failed to come out of the region, thereby developing internally especially in the region of Castile.

Castile developed enough power in 11th century AD to turn itself into a separate kingdom and start the Christian Reconquest. By 1085 when Castile captured Toledo, their language and culture had already been prestigious. They spread across the peninsula, eventually easing off the Arabic and Islamic presence in the area. As they continued their conquest of the remaining areas of the peninsula, the Castilian language preceded then, getting established before they have fully conquered a territory.

Their conquest was exhaustive and towards the end of the 15th century, traces of Islamic influence were only evident in Granada. Castilian became the language of choice in the territory encompassing the areas between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Birth of Standard Spanish

King Alfonso X, monarch of Castile, is credited for the creation of the early form of standard Spanish in the 13th century. During that time, even the Castilian was mixed with several dialects therefore it cannot be considered a standard. While there existed a spelling system, the writers’ dialects showed in the written words. King Alfonso then required that every administrative, literary, historical and scientific writings be written in standard Castilian, bringing forth the birth of the standard Spanish.

Some useful Spanish phrases

Here are some useful phrases in Spanish to get you started if you are planning to visit a country where Spanish is spoken. A traveler’s phrasebook will usually help when you are traveling.

Here are some useful phrases in Spanish to get you started if you are planning to visit a country where Spanish is spoken. A traveler’s phrasebook will usually help when you are traveling.

Bernadine Racoma

Bernadine is a writer, researcher, professional and multi-awarded blogger and new media consultant. She brings with her a rich set of experience in the corporate world, as well as in the field of research and writing. Having taken early retirement after working as an international civil servant and traveling the world for 22 years, she has aggressively pursued her main interest in writing and research. You can also find Bernadine Racoma at .

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