Spanish is one of the Romance languages, like French, Italian, and others, that have developed from Latin. Although there are differences in vocabulary and pronunciation of Spanish as it is spoken in Spain, Latin America, and other parts of the world, what we call Spanish is essentially derived from Castilian, the dialect of historic Spanish region of Castile. As a result, many Spanish speakers refer to the Spanish language as el castellano.
When the Romans invaded the Iberian Peninsula in the second and first centuries B.C., they encountered different peoples with different languages. When these peoples learned Latin form the Roman soldiers, they pronounced the words a little differently, because they continued to use the familiar sounds of their own languages. They retained other important elements of their original languages, especially vocabulary. Other peoples, like those in northern Italy and Gaul (now France), did the same thing.
This continued until the “Latin” of different countries evolved into different, though related, languages. Now, while you can guess at words and even forms and rules in a Romance language, based on your knowledge of one of them, a speaker of Spanish cannot be understood by a speaker of French, and vice versa. As in English, Latin words were added to Spanish in the 16th century to form a “learned” language.
After the time of the Romans, the Visigoths and other Germanic tribes entered the Peninsula. They were followed by the Arabic-speaking Moors, who invaded Spain in 711 and inhabited most of it until the Reconquest of Spain was complete in 1492, when the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella (Fernando e Isabel de Castilla) reclaimed the land. In the same year, Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spanish soil, and Columbus arrived in what would become the Americas. The Moors left a lasting influence on many aspects of Spanish culture, including its architecture, music, and dance; the influence of Arabic on the Spanish language can be seen in words such as algebra, alfombra, and ojalá.
The sound system of Spanish continued to evolve in significant ways. Italianisms were introduced during the Renaissance, as they were throughout much of Europe. Spain was strongly influenced by the French monarchy in the 18th century, resulting in overly refined speech that mimicked French. As the Industrial Revolution took hold in the 19th century, Spanish vocabulary adapted to accommodate the changing world.
All languages change, and the trend is toward less inflection. Distinctions that seem to be too hard or unnecessary die out. Over the centuries, different languages have eliminated different linguistic elements. For example, in Latin and older languages, every noun had gender, number, and case (which indicated its function in a sentence). In fact, modern German still uses all three grammatical distinctions.
In English, we pay little attention to grammatical gender, but nouns still have number (singular and plural) and an additional case (the possessive), while pronouns also have an objective case; the functions of other cases are expressed by word order and prepositions. Spanish has no cases for nouns referring to things, but when referring to persons, the subject is distinguished from the object not only by word order but also by the preposition a, which normally precedes the object noun. Spanish has grammatical gender and number for all nouns. You will notice other instances in which Spanish and English differ. Comparing languages is interesting, because it points out the important elements of each language, but we will leave that chapter for another day.
* Taken from the book Side by Side Spanish & English Grammar by Edith & Frederick Farrell.
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