Spain's linguistic variety

November 10, 2023

What is Spain’s official language?

When we think of Spain, we all think of Spanish.

According to the Instituto Cervantes (the official Spanish Language and Cultural centre) in 2015, there were around 559 million Spanish speakers around the world. This includes native speakers, limited proficiency speakers and students of Spanish as a foreign language.

But that isn’t to say that Spanish is the only language spoken across the country. Spain is home to other languages and dialects.

What other languages are spoken in Spain?

While Spanish (Castilian) is Spain’s official language and is spoken as the everyday language by the majority of people in the country, there are other co-official languages:

  • Catalan / Valencian / Balearic
  • Galician
  • Basque
  • Aranese

“Co-official” means that these languages are considered official in their respective self-governing regions and are represented as cultural heritage.

Where did they come from?

The history of these languages is fascinating. Basque (Euskera) is the only language spoken in Spain that doesn’t belong to an Indo-European family. In fact, no one even knows its origin or has been able to prove its relationship to any extinct or modern language. What a mystery!

Catalan was forbidden during the Spanish Civil War and the Franco era, only to recover its official status in 1979.

Galician is closely related to Portuguese and is not only spoken in the province of Galicia but also in parts of Castile and León too. It even has a wide community of speakers in Latin America!

Other languages and dialects spoken in Spain

Well, there are also lots of non-official languages in Spain.

Two of these are Aragonese and Asturleonese. But apart from that, different ethnic communities speak various languages too. One of these is Caló, the Romani language spoken in southern Spain, and another is the Rifeño language spoken in the Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla.

This isn’t forgetting the multiple dialects: Andalusian, Canarian, Murcian or Extremaduran…to name but a few!

Seems like a lot, eh? Well to add to it, there are lots of languages spoken in Spain which are the product of the immigration boom that started there in the ‘90s.

Here’s a short list for you:

  • Moroccan Arabic in the south of Spain
  • Romanian spoken mainly in Alicante
  • Wu a variety of Chinese spoken by immigrants from China
  • Quechuan languages spoken by Andean communities
  • English in Malaga and Alicante
  • German in the Balearic and Canary Islands

So as you can see, the evolution of Spanish and the languages spoken in Spain has been drawn from its people and their social, cultural and political circumstances.

We only have to have a look at the current linguistic landscape to realise that we can sum up Spain’s history and languages in two words: diversity and multiculturalism.

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