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THE LANGUAGES OF SPAIN

In Spain we are known for our diversity and our joyful outlook on life, although it is not so well-known that we like to enjoy life in many different ways. This is reflected in such customs as the running of the bulls (one week of the year in the northern central town of Pamplona), and bullfighting (mostly celebrated in southern Spain).

This also has a lot to do with the way we express ourselves. As a result 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 Castilian, and therefore, when referring to the other languages you will read about Castilian).

Castilian

Known around the world as "Spanish", this 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.

Castilian is also spoken in many countries around the globe which were 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 the Sahara, and parts of the Philippines still speak in Spanish.

This Makes Spanish/Castilian the official and cultural language of some 350 million people. These figures make the official language of the Spanish State, which is also the most widely spoken Romance language, an expressive instrument for a community that embraces the globe, spoken by people from many different ethnic backgrounds. The name of Castilian, and later on Spanish, really emerges from the re-conquest of Spain from the Moors by the Christians and it became the bridge of communication between the different peoples of the Iberian peninsula.

It was used in the castles from which it received its name.

The Spanish Royal Academy preferred to use "Castilian" (castellano) until the 1925 edition of its Dictionary, when it adopted the name of "Spanish" (español). The Real Academia Española, located in Madrid, is entrusted with "purifying, clarifying and giving splendour" 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 academics.

Euskera

Euskera, or the Basque language, is spoken in the northern central area of Spain (where the Pyrenees meet the Bay of Biscay) and it is nowadays written with the Latin alphabet. There are about 600,000 speakers in the north of Spain, throughout the province of Guipúzcoa, in Biscay and Navarra and in some parts of Álava. 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 Basque is not really traceable and there have been a number of hypotheses. It has been suggested that the forerunner of the Basque language was introduced into this part of Europe by immigrants from Asia Minor at the beginning of the Bronze Age (c. 2000 BC). Basque and Castilian entered history together, since the first text preserved in Castilian, the Código emilianense (c. 977), is also written in Basque.

Since 1982, Euskera has been the official language of the Basque provinces together with Castilian. The mountainous landscape of the region has contributed towards maintaining linguistic diversity, leading some linguists, based on the intercommunicative difficulties found, 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.

Galician

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 texts date from the 12th century. In the second half of the 14th century, after producing a splendid body of 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 Castile-Leon.

Today nearly two million people speak Galician, although due to its similarity to Castilian 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. (In many Latin American countries the word gallego-a person from Galicia-is a synonym for "Spaniard" 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.

Catalan

Catalan is another of the Romance languages spoken in Spain, with its earliest literary text, the Homilies d'Organya, dating back to around the middle of the 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 systematisation of the Catalan; thus unifying norms for its spelling (1913).

Both Castilian and Catalan (since 1979) are the official languages of Catalonia and the Balearic Islands (since 1983).

Other Spanish Languages

We should not forget certain other stipulations set out in our constitution, for Article 3.3 of the Spanish Constitution reads: "The wealth of the different language variations in Spain is a cultural heritage that shall be the object of special respect and protection." Franco's dictatorship initially prohibited and then hindered the use of all Spanish languages except Castilian, and the other languages were forced "underground"-used only in the home or among close friends-they 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 Regions that give protection to a certain number of languages:

    . The Statute of the Principality of Asturias, set up as an Autonomous Community in 1981, reads: "Bable shall be protected. Its use will be promoted by the media and the teaching institutions, respecting in any case all local differences and voluntary learning".

    . The Statute of the Autonomous Community of Aragon, passed in 1982, read: "The several linguistic variations of Aragon shall be protected, being considered as elements of its cultural and historic heritage".

    . Article 7.1 of the Statute of the Valencia Region, which includes the provinces of Alicante, Castellón and Valencia, reads: "The two official languages are Valencian and Castilian. Everyone has the right to know and use them."


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 people. Many Castilian/Spanish speaking people who live in any of these aforementioned areas speak and understand it.


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