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How Many Spanish Languages Are There?

According to the number of native speakers, the Spanish language is the second most spoken language in the world, just after Mandarin Chinese. However, this is just the beginning of questioning how much we actually know about it. Most people believe that Spanish is a unique, wholesome language, which is spoken in Spain, and it got spread from Spain to the American continent during the Colonial Period.

This knowledge is, of course, correct, but poor. The Spanish language is not a wholesome language with some variations across The Atlantic only, but its diversity already starts in the land of origin.

This is probably going to cause cognitive dissonance to many people who haven’t dived deeper into the Spanish language and culture. What they only know is that there is a beautiful climate in Spain, some Mediterranean spirit, olives and wine, Ibiza and Barcelona, passionate flamenco dancers, melodious language and music and a few words and sentences acquired from soup operas. Although this isn’t a bad start, the Spanish culture and language is much more.

There are various Spanish dialects, both in Spain and in America. In other words, there is European Spanish or Peninsular Spanish and The Spanish of the Americas. In Latin America, Spanish is spoken in Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia, Peru, Chile, Bolivia, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay in the south. In Central America, it is the official language in Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Belize, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama on the coastal line. However, there are nearby islands and countries set on those islands like Cuba, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, where the population speaks Spanish, among other languages. On the African continent, only Equatorial Guinea is the country with Spanish as the official language.

In general, the Spanish language out of Spain, in Central and South America is grouped in: Mexican, Central American, Caribbean (CubaVenezuelaPuerto RicoDominican RepublicPanama, Caribbean Colombia and Caribbean Mexico and Gulf Coast Mexico), Andean-Pacific (ColombiaPeruEcuador, West Bolivian, and Andean Venezuela), (ArgentinaUruguay, East Bolivian  and  Paraguay) and Chilean (ChileCuyo). Each of these varieties has their own sub-varieties characteristic for the specific region.

In Spain, which is also referred as the Old World, there are a few dialects divided into four major groups. The first one and, at the same time, the major group is so called Northern Peninsular (Asturias, Castilla y León, Cantabria, Basque country, Navarre, Aragón, Rioja, Provinces of Guadalajara and Cuenca). The second group is Central-Southern Peninsular (Madrid, Toledo, La Mancha), while the third and the fourth consist of Southern Peninsular (Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia) and Canarian (Canary Islands). In this division, not all dialects belong to Spanish. There are such like Basque which is spoken in the north of the country. This is a separate language which does not belong to Indo-European branch.

However, the dialects mostly spoken in Spain are Asturian, Galician, Aragonese, Catalan or Valencian, and Castilian. So, when people think of Spanish, they unconsciously have Castilian in mind, which is the official and predominant dialect in the whole country. Not only in Spain, but in other countries as well, the question arises if the inhabitants speaking the predominant dialect are the only ones considered as true parts of the nation. So, are Spaniards only those speaking Castilian or the speakers of minor dialects as well? Such examples are present in most countries with bigger territories and international influence.

United States as an example

As already known, the United States of America are often referred to as America. People can be heard everywhere and everyday saying “America” while talking about the USA. This common reference leaves an impression of other countries and nations being excluded from the concept of the American continent. Therefore, like in Spain, if speakers of dialects other than Castilian might be considered less Spanish, so the population outside the United States of America can be seen as less Americans!

China as another example

In a country as large as China, the population cannot be so homogeneous and, therefore the languages spoken there adhere to the roots of the speakers. Whereas Mandarin is the official dialect widely spoken, not all people use it as their native. Those born in other provinces will first learn the domestic language of their ancestors and later start learning Mandarin at school. For example, other than Mandarin, there are several varieties like he varieties are WuMinXiangGanHakka and Yue. Are these speakers considered less Chinese?

Going back to Spanish

As seen in the previous examples, it doesn’t really matter if a person is the native speaker of the major dialect, which is often the official dialect as well. Speaking a local language of the region or the province they were born in, does not make then less valuable members of their nation. In other words, the speakers of Galician, Austrian and other dialects are as much Spanish as they can be. On the other hand, speaking a certain language as your native one, does not prove you automatically belong to that nation! It means Mexicans are being Mexicans, Argentinians are being Argentinians and Cubans are being Cubans. Sharing the same language with its variations is only telling the story about history and the European roots of some part of the population.

Castilian Spanish

The term Castilian Spanish is used to denote the specific varieties of Spanish spoken in north and central Spain. Not only that, when compared both the Spanish language in the Old World, or Europe, and the language in the New World, which is Latin America, this term can be applied. Anyway, several different varieties of Spanish, which should not be confused with the other official and unofficial languages in Spain, are known. Even the most prominent variant of them all, has its sub-divisions like Northern and Southern forms. What is in English called Northern and Central Spanish, in Spanish words it would be castellano septentrional or Northern Castilian. Regions like ExtremaduraMurciaMadridLa Mancha are sometimes considered as Southern Castilian speaking areas, while at other times and according to different linguists, are referred to as transitional area between Northern Castilian and Southern Castilian. One thing is sure-the province of Andalusia belongs to the Southern Castilian speaking area, with some differences in the north and the south of the province, and the influence it suffered from the long Moorish invasion and occupation.

Interesting Fact: More People Speak Spanish Than English!

Although the impression that there are more native speakers of English around the world is false thanks to the fact that the English language is widely used. Believe it or not, there are more native speakers of Spanish in the world than the native speakers of English. Spanish is the second most widely spoken language in the world, second to Mandarin Chinese. This language has the status of the official language in 21 countries including Africa, Europe, and South, Central, and North America. It is rich with 400 million native speakers of Spanish, in different dialects and variants. Aside from the natives, more and more people learn Spanish at language schools and universities. Others study it at the departments of the faculties of philology. Probably the most popular as the first foreign language is the Spanish language learnt in the schools and universities across the United States. Or, it is being acquired through the cinematography, especially known from Spain and Spanish directors like Pedro Almodovar, Alejandro Amenabar, Alex de la Iglesia and others. The music from Spanish speaking countries has always been considered lively, romantic and inspiring. Or, perhaps, the popular industry of telenovelas or so called soap operas is the reason people can easily start speaking Spanish at a certain level without any additional linguistic help.

The Popularity of Spanish Translation

Being the second spoken language in the world, the place Spanish holds in the translation business is insured. As much as the languages like Japanese, Arabic and Mandarin are on the rise, the Spanish language will not lose its deserved position nor fame. As the language with the largest speaking population among Romance languages, it shares the Latin language roots with Portuguese, French, Italian and Roman. If the translation demand was among these language pairs only, it would be enough to keep the business steady. Furthermore, there is widely spoken English and the necessity for translations between English and Spanish is also large. And, above all, the rising languages of Japanese, Arabic and Mandarin Chinese, may only bring the increase in demand for translations between Spanish speaking world and theirs. Plus, the global interaction of people, their languages, cultures and businesses can lead to the interest in learning this language particularly. No one knows what can be the trigger of a person’s affiliation to a language. To some, falling in love with a handsome or guapo actor in the telenovela they are currently watching is just enough!


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