Have you ever wondered where Spanish originated? And how much has Spanish changed over time? How is today’s Spanish different from the language of the past? The Spanish we know and love today results from thousands of years of language development and cultural influences.

Spain in globe

The Roots of Spanish

Time period: 3400 – 200 BCE

Linguists believe that until around 3,400 BCE, a common mother language known as Proto-Indo-European was spoken. As the name implies, this language was spoken across a large geographical area stretching from India to Europe.

We don’t know much about this ancient language because it was never written or recorded, though linguists have recreated some words and sounds based on theoretically informed guesses.

But we do know that Indo-European spread far and wide from its humble beginnings near the Black Sea as groups of people fanned out across Europe and Asia. Anatolian, Indo-Iranian, Greek, Italic, Celtic, Germanic, Armenian, Tocharian, Balto-Slavic, and Albanian languages evolved and branched out over time.

Spanish emerges from Vulgar Latin

Time period: 200 BCE – 710 AD

As the Romans spread across Europe, they settled in the Iberian Peninsula, bringing with them their Latin language. The locals had to find a way to communicate with the Roman newcomers during the hundreds of years of occupation.

Thus was born a language: Spanish, which originated on the Iberian Peninsula and evolved from Vulgar Latin, the spoken form of Latin.

Arabic strongly influences Spanish

Time period: 710 – 1450 AD

Something historic occurred just as the Spanish became more at ease on the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans were driven out, and Muslim Moors from the south conquered Spain. In fact, they ruled the peninsula for over 800 years.

Not only did the Moors construct incredible structures in Spain, such as the Alhambra, but they also incorporated a vast array of Arabic words into Spanish. In fact, over 4,000 modern Spanish words derived from Arabic!

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The Castilian Spanish dialect emerges

Time period: 1200s

As the languages of the region merged, dialects began to emerge within the spoken language. The Castilian dialect emerged in northern Spain near the end of the 11th century. This is the first time we can hear the origins of modern Spanish.

When the kingdoms of Castile, Leon, and Aragon united to form the beginnings of Spain in the late 15th century, Castilian spread and gained a foothold, and in 1492, Castilian became the region’s official language.

With this newly widespread use, literature from the area began to emerge. People began to write down the stories that had previously been passed down orally, further evolving and refining the language.

Other works of literature were also translated into Castilian. A surge in written language often indicates a societal high point, and Spain was no exception. According to Charles E. Chapman’s “A History of Spain,” there was a significant intellectual surge leading up to the end of the 15th century. Castilian Spanish is still the country’s official language, though other varieties of Spanish are also spoken.

Spanish is introduced in the America

Time period: 1490s – 1830s

You might wonder how the Spanish got so far away from the Iberian Peninsula in Latin and South America. Exploration and colonialism are the reasons. The language’s journey across the Atlantic is largely due to an Italian (or perhaps Portuguese) explorer named Christopher Columbus.

Beginning with his voyage in 1492, Columbus traveled to the Americas four times on behalf of Spain (speaking Castilian Spanish). He and his crews spread the language throughout the Bahamas, Trinidad, the South American mainland, Panama, present-day Haiti, and the Dominican Republic.

And he wasn’t the only Spanish explorer to visit the Americas: Juan Ponce de León of Spain made several trips to Florida beginning in 1513. In fact, Spanish and English have coexisted as the primary languages in North America for over 400 years. All of the Spanish explorations resulted in the establishment of several Spanish-speaking colonies in modern-day Florida and California.

Latin American Spanish develops

Time period: 1500s – present

Languages do not evolve in isolation, and Spanish continued to evolve long after the Spanish explorers had left the Americas.

Castilian Spanish may have arrived in the Americas in its pure, original form, but it did not stay that way: dialects emerged, and Latin American Spanish evolved. Unique dialects of Spanish are spoken in Peru, Chile, Argentina, and Mexico. In fact, there are 12 dialects of Spanish spoken in South America alone.

Now, we will move towards the Spanish language that is known to us today, having different Spanish dialects that vary from region to region.

The Spanish language today

Spanish is now the most widely spoken Romance language on the planet. In fact, nearly 490 million people in 20 countries speak it as their first language. When those who speak it as a second language are included, the total number of speakers rises to nearly 600 million.

Spanish is also widely spoken in countries where it is not the official language. The United States is a prime example of a country where Spanish is widely spoken despite not being one of the official languages. Spanish is the native language of nearly 45 million Americans.

Spain peace hand

Castilian Spanish (Castellano in Spanish) is widely spoken in Spain. Though Castilian and other Spanish varieties are mutually intelligible, there are some pronunciation and vocabulary differences.

In Spain, a pronunciation feature known as the seseo means that the <c/s> sound found in words like el centro (the city center) or Barcelona sounds more like a <th> sound.  In Spain, you drive a coche, whereas, in South America, you ride in a carro.

In Spain, the usted (you, formal) form is reserved for officials and elders, while in Argentina, almost everyone you know is usted (you, formal), and the tú (you, informal) is hardly ever used.

In order to become fluent in Spanish, you must look at different techniques that allow you to understand the contextual use of such words and those similar to them. Typically, the words in every language are derived from the other one with a little difference. You must explore these differences to sound like natives.

The Royal Spanish Academy  

The Real Academia Espaola (Royal Spanish Academy), which was founded in 1713 to preserve and protect the Spanish language, is still in operation today, recording and guiding the language when new words are required.

Although there are linguistic differences among Spanish-speaking countries and territories, one of the Academy’s primary goals is to maintain a certain standard and level of uniformity among the various language varieties.

The Academy engages in academic activity and publishes an updated dictionary every few years, but this does not imply that the Academy is resistant to all change. They understand that Spanish is the result of linguistic evolution and that it will continue to evolve as time passes, new words are coined, and new regional accents emerge.

This is all about the roots and origin of the Spanish language. If you want to take professional Spanish lessons, trying out italki can prove to be the best decision of your life.

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Frequently Asked Questions

When did Spanish first become popular?

Spanish, which came down from the Italic branch of Indo-European, was first spoken in the northern Iberian Peninsula. The earliest textual evidence of Spanish comes from documents written in the 9th century and discovered in and around Toledo, Spain, but the language was probably spoken hundreds of years before that. Linguists generally agree that the language had been standardized by the 13th century.

What was the origin of the Spanish Language?

Spanish evolved from a mix of Indo-European languages brought to the Iberian Peninsula by migrants from the Black Sea region, as well as the introduction of Vulgar Latin, the spoken language of the colonizing Romans in modern-day Spain.

What language was spoken in Spain before Spanish?

Prior to Roman occupation, people in Spain spoke a wide range of languages, the majority of which descended from Indo-European languages from the Black Sea region. The indigenous Iberians’ main language was Iberian, which has little in common with modern Spanish. Some people spoke other languages, such as Basque.


If you want to learn Spanish easily, develop your interest by exploring the origin and history of this amazingly beautiful language. Doing so will help you get along with the language better.

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