Languages of Spain

In Spain we are known for our diversity and our joy for life, however, it is not a well known factor that we like to enjoy life in many different ways. This is reflective of customs like the running of the bulls (one week of the year in the northern central town of Pamplona), and bull fighting (mostly celebrated in Southern Spain). This also has a lot to do with the way we express ourselves; thus we have several languages, all of them official, which demonstrate our diversity and our rich heritage; (in case that you were not aware of this, Spanish's real name is Castillian, and therefore, when referring to the other languages you will read about Castillian). We have developed this page to introduce them to you:

See a map of the Spanish regions


El Euskera, or the Basque language, is spoken in the northern central area of Spain (where the Pyrennes meet the Cantabrian Sea) and it is nowadays written with Latin alphabet. There are about 600,000 speakers in the north of Spain, the entire province of Guipúzcoa, in addition to the provinces of Vizcaya and Navarra and some areas in Alava. However, Basque is not only spoken in Spain, you will also find Basque people in the French Atlantic Pyrenees (approx. 100,000 speakers).

The origin of the Basque is not really traceable and there have been a number of hypotheses. It has been suggested that the ancestors of the Basques' language was introduced into this part of Europe by immigrants from Asia Minor at the beginning of the Bronze Age (circa 2000 BC). Basque and Castillian entered History together, since the first text preserved in Castillian, the Código Emilianense, c.977, is also written in Basque.

Since 1982, Euskera is the official language of the Basque provinces together with Castillian. The orographic features of the region have contributed to maintaining its linguistic diversity, which cause some linguists, based on the intercommunicative difficulties, to claim the existence of seven different Basque languages. To overcome this fragmentation the Royal Academy of the Basque Language was created in 1919, and in 1968, a standardized Basque grammar called batúa was adopted for official purposes.


Known around the world as Spanish, it is the official language of the country as it is stipulated in the Article 3 of the Spanish Constitution. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it.

Castillian is also spoken in many countries around the globe which where former colonies of Spain, most of them in Central and South America (except Brazil and the Guyanas), but not exclusively, and that is a fact that many people are not aware of. Equatorial Guinea, the former Spanish territory of Sahara, and parts of the Philippines still speak in Spanish.

Spanish, or Castillian, is then the official and cultural language of some 350 million people. Of these, nearly 300 million speak it as their mother tongue. These figures make the official language of the Spanish State, the most widely spoken Romance language, an expressive instrument of a community which embraces around the world and which is spoken by people of many different ethnic backgrounds.

The name of Castillian, and later on Spanish, really emerges from the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors by the Christians and it became the bridge of communication between the different peoples of the peninsula. It was used in the castles from which it received its name. Castillian was declared the official language of Spain by Philip V in 1714. Spanish became the name frequently used by the linguists and authors of the 16th and 17th centuries.

The Spanish Royal Academy preferred to use Castillian until the 1925 edition of its Dictionary, when it adopted the name of Spanish. The Real Academia Española (The Royal Spanish Academy) located in Madrid, is entrusted with "purifying, clarifying and giving splendor" to the language, in close contact with other Latin American academies, and mitigating the problems arising from the use of a language spoken in such a large geographic expanse. Its members are recruited from among the most prestigious literary creators and erudites.


Catalan is abother of the Romance languages spoken in Spain, with its earliest literary text, the Homilies d'Organya, dating back to about the middle of 12th century. In the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries, Catalan literature flourished, first under the influence of Provençal literature and later as the producer of its own thematic and formal resources. From the 16th to the 18th centuries it underwent a period of decline, in which the Spanish royalty and other political upheavals imposed different restrictions. Until it emerged in the 19th century with the movement known as the Renaixença, Renaissance.

Its modern linguistic normalization was brought about with the creation in 1907 by Prat de la Riba of the Institut d'Estudis Catalans, whose principal pursuit was higher scientific research of all the elements of the Catalan culture. And it is at this famed Institut where Pompeu Fabra effected the regulation and grammatical systematization of the Catalan; thus unifying norms for its spelling (1913).

Both Castillian and Catalan (since 1979) are the official languages of Catalunya and the Balearic Islands (since 1983). Catalan is also spoken in some areas of Aragon and Murcia and, outside Spain, in the French Roussillon region, the Principality of Andorra and in the Italian city of Alguer (Sardinia). It is the mother tongue of some 5 to 6 million persons. Furthermore many Castillian or Spanish speaking people who live in any of the aforementioned areas speak and understand it.


Another Romance language is Galician-Portuguese which originated in Galicia at the beginning of the Middle Ages, and was carried by the Christian conquerors outwards, to present day Portugal. Its first literary and notary text date from the 12th century. In the second half of the 14th century, after producing a splendid literature, the language split into Galician and Portuguese, for historical and political reasons.

It was the War of Independence against Napoleon, and even more the ensuing struggles between absolutists and liberals, that encouraged a certain literary renaissance of Galician, especially of a political nature, with pieces in verse and dialogues or prose speeches, which are of interest today from the standpoint of the history of the language and society of the region. However, the true renaissance did not come till half-way through the 19th century, especially via poetry. It became the co-official language of Galicia in 1981 but it is also spoken in areas of Asturias and Castilla-León.

Today nearly two million people speak Galician, although due to its similarity to Castillian and the multiple interferences derived from a practically universal bilingualism; therefore it is very difficult to make an exact calculation. To this figure we must add the Galician communities living in Latin American countries that use it. (A note to this: In many Latin American countries the Gallego-a person from Galicia-is an interchangeable synonym to Spanish no matter what region they may come from).The Real Academia Galega, founded in Havana (Cuba) in 1905, dictated its official standardization although the differences in dialect are not too profound.

Other Spanish languages

We would not forget about other stipulations of our constitution, for in the Article 3.3 of the Spanish Constitution reads:

The wealth of the different language variations of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be the object of special respect and protection

It is not until the Middle Ages that Spanish literature, in its many facets springs out for recognition. A very important factor had to deal with the growing holdings of the Christians due to their victories over the Ummayad Moors. It would take centuries later, for romanticism to awake Spanish regional literature once again. Franco's dictatorship initially prohibited and then hindered the use of the Spanish languages other than the Castillian, which found themselves confined to use in the home and encountered serious difficulties for their development as a cultural vehicle.

This was only overcome thanks to the tenacity of private institutions which preserved their study and fostered their use. Officially speaking, there are also some Statutes of the Autonomous Communities that give protection to a certain number of languages:

So whether it is to sit at the table with us or to enjoy a good tertulia (a good discussion with friends), we are Spain are ready to dazzle you with our richness of heart, our enjoyment for life, and over all our myriad expressions for friendship.

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