Regional Spanish Language Differences


Spanish-regionsThe diversity of cultures within Spain is one of Spain’s greatest assets and also what makes Spain so interesting historically and culturally. It is impossible to make one sweeping statement about who and what the people of Spain are. They are Basques, Andalucians, Castilian, Catalan, Galician and so many more.

The diversity from region to region in Spain is tremendous…the food, dance, landscape, traditions and, of course, the different regional languages. Though each region falls under the umbrella of Spain, each individual takes pride in his and her own unique heritage.

People in Spain are easily offended if referred to incorrectly (Andaluican vs. Catalan, Basque vs. Galician, etc). These differences may seem minor, but have actually fuelled many regional and political arguments (some of which are ongoing).

In some parts of Spain, mainly where people speak Galician, Basque and Catalan, the language is what helps to define the differences between the cultures. People consider it offensive if you call their language español, as that is the term that was chosen by Francisco Franco during whose dictatorship the use of regional languages was forbidden and because it insinuates that Basque, Catalan and Galician are not languages of Spain.

Centuries of ever-changing monarchies and occupations have contributed to the diversity in culture and language. The general understanding by most of the world is that Spain is strictly a Spanish speaking country. Though this is true to some degree, it is in fact much more complex than that. Castilian (also called Spanish, Castellano and Español) is the official language of the State (Spain), of all provinces in Spain.

However, there are other (official) languages of Spain that make up the rich linguistic patrimony in Spain. Spain’s official languages are Castilian, Andaluz, Catalan (and Valencian), Galician (Gallego), Basque (Euskera) and Asturian. There are also quite a few unofficial languages that are still spoken in certain geographic areas of Spain. Additionally, there are dialectical varieties for each language that vary considerably as well.

A dialect is defined in linguistic terms as a language variety that is spoken in a specific territory. In the Spanish peninsula, for example, there are different dialects of Castilian. However, it is important not to mix up the different dialects in Spain with the different languages spoken. The development of dialects is a natural evolution of language and geography.

Unfortunately, dialects are often socially valued differently. For example, Andalucian is perceived as less educated than Castilian, however, linguistically speaking all dialects are equally valid. In fact, it is true that everyone speaks a dialect of some sort, and therefore dialects are not incorrect or less valid versions of a language.

The differences between dialects are usually intonation, pronunciation and isolated words and expressions. Each province may have its own language and dialects of that language but it may also use the different language of a neighbouring region to a lesser degree as well.

The Spanish Constitution recognizes the right of the Autonomous Communities (*) to use their own languages. It reads:

-Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it.
-The other Spanish languages shall also be official in the respective Autonomous Communities in accordance with their Statutes.
-The wealth of the different language variations of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be the object of special respect and protection.

*Spain’s fifty provinces are grouped into seventeen autonomous communities, in addition to two African autonomous cities (ciudades autónomas) (Ceuta and Melilla). These areas each have their own parliaments and regional governments.

Castilian (also called Castellano, Español and Spanish) comes from the land where castles cover the Spanish landscape, the home of the official language of Spain. In 1714 Philip V declared Castilian to be the official language of Spain; this declaration was again proclaimed in the Spanish Constitution.

The region in which Castilian is predominately spoken is in the regions of Castilla Leon, Castilla la Mancha, Madrid, La Rioja and Cantabria. The Spanish spoken in Andalucia and Extremadura called Andalucian is most similar Castilian, yet it has enough distinct differences that it is considered a separate language within Spain.

The origin of Castilian have their roots in Vulgar Latin but the emergence of modern Castilian more or less coincided with the reconquest of Moorish Spain by Isabella of Castile & Ferdinand of Aragón during the middles ages.

After many centuries of Moorish domination the Castilian language has thus been infused with Mozarabic and has many words with Arabic roots. Castilians are a community of inhabitants with common Culture and History but come from a mixture of European, Celtiberian, Roman, Visigoth, Berber, Arab and Jewish origins.

Castilian was later brought to the Western Hemisphere and other parts of the world in the last five centuries by Spanish explorers and now there are more than 300 million people who speak it around the world.

To many visitors, Andalusia is the gem of Spain. This diverse and dramatic southern region claims provinces such as Malaga, Cordoba, Seville and Cadiz. This region represents the heart and soul of everything typically Spanish – bullfighting, flamenco music, gypsies, romance and passion, rustic beaches, white villages and friendly Spaniards. The people in Andalusia speak Andaluz (Andalucian) which is a genuine reflection of the lifestyle and attitude of the Andalusians….it is direct and colourful.

Extremadura, Murcia, La Mancha and the Canary Islands use Castilian as their primary language but these areas have picked up many of the Andalusian phrases, pronunciation and words and is the primary reason these neighbouring provinces can easily understand each other. Within Spain one can roughly distinguish between the standard Castilian and the Andalusian dialects of Castilian Spanish. Centuries of Moorish influence have led to many Arabic words and phrases becoming a part of the language in Andalucia.

Thus, many words and phrases of Arabic origin are virtually unknown in Castilian. Andaluz has developed into a very poetic and rich language. Gitanos (Spanish Gypsies) have also influenced the evolution of the language, contributing additional words and phrasing to Andaluz through the lyrics of Flamenco music. Within one province, there may also be large differences in speech between rural and urban areas. Andalucians are famous for cutting words in half -“Buena Dias” becomes “Buenas” and dropping the letter “s”, “Adios” becomes “Adio” and “Escucha” becomes “ecucha”.

While its use is generalized across the classes of the Andalusian society, in the rest of Spain it lacks the prestige of the Castilian accent. Often, Andalusians who want to succeed in Spanish media learn to speak in the Castilian accent.

Basque (Euskera) has been the official language (in addition to Castilian) since 1982. It is spoken in the northern central area of Spain. Basque country contains the two regions of Basque and Navarra and adjoins the region of South-Western France.

The origin of the Basque is very interesting and mysterious. To this day, there is no real concrete evidence as to the origin of the language. The most widely recognised hypothesis is that immigrants from Asia Minor arrived into the area now known as the Basque country around 2000 BC. It is likely that the Basque language in its original form was already present in Western Europe before the arrival of the Indo-European languages, which means that in a sense the Basque culture can claim one of the longest unbroken traditions on the continent.

It has always been and continues to be a language isolate, having no relationship to the neighbouring languages variations of Indo- European. However, it has borrowed some words from Latin, Spanish, French and Gascon. Basque is written using the Latin alphabet.

Even though there are about 600,000 Basque speakers in the Basque country, this is concentrated to a very small area of the region. Most of the Basque population speaks Castilian and many fear that Basque may become a forgotten language if it is not promoted and taught on a wider level. There are many distinct Basque dialects throughout the region: Western, Central, Navarrese, Navarrese-Labourdin and Souletin.

If you are a fluent Castilian speaker, this will not help you at all as the spoken language a completely different, a separate language altogether with few similarities to Castilian. Catalan is spoken in Catalonia (Catalunya), the Balearic Islands and parts of Valencia. Catalonia is home to Barcelona, Girona, Lerida and Tarragona. Catalan is spoken or understood by as many as 12 million people and is also spoken in some areas of Aragon and Murcia. Catalan is the predominant language of the region. So much so that fluency in Catalan is a requirement for many jobs in Catalonia.

Catalan appears historically as one of the romance language as early as the 12th century. When comparing the modern descendants of Vulgar Latin, Catalan is often thought of as a transitory language between the Iberian Romance languages (such as Castilian) and Gallo-Romance languages (such as French), though this characterization is not strictly accurate.

There are a few dialectical divisions within the language of Catalan: Eastern Catalan, Western Catalan, Standard Catalan and Valenician. The issue of whether Catalan and Valencian constitute different languages or merely dialects has been the subject of political agitation. Autonomous Community of Valencia considers “Valencian” to be a separate language that is not considered a dialect of Catalan. Yet, the two languages are virtually identical apart from “dialectical” differences and linguistic nuances.

Asturian (Asturianu or Bable) is spoken in the Northern province of Asturias and has travelled to parts of Cantabria where it is called Cantabrian and montañés and then all the way down through Castilla Leon where it is called Leonese and Llionés , and Extremadura where it is called Extramduran and Extemeñu. Despite all the different regional names for the language, it is, in fact Asturian that is being spoken.

It is a Romance language of the West Iberian group. The language was once considered an informal dialect of Spanish, but, in 1906 it was the discovered to be of Latin evolution and nowadays it is considered a separate language and the official language of the region. In Asturias it is protected under the Autonomous Statute legislation, and is an optional language at schools, Castilian being the primary language. Much effort has been made since 1974 to protect and promote Asturian. The number of young people learning and using it has substantially increased in recent years.

Galician (Galego) is the official language of Galicia, a region that is often described as green Spain. It is located in the north western corner of Spain that shares its southern border with Portugal and Asturias, to the east. It has a culture descended from the Celts that is warm and welcoming to all visitors. You will even find Galicians wearing kilts in the area. Approximately two million people speak Galician. It became the official language of Galicia in 1981 but it is also spoken in areas of Asturias and Castilla-León.

The history and definition of Galician language is quite complex and controversial. Historically, Galician originated in Galicia and Northern Portugal. Academics do not regard Galician as a variety of Portuguese, but rather as a separate language. It has a close relationship with Portuguese, but enough differences to substantiate terming it its own language. Galician has no relation to Castilian whatsoever.

From the 8th century, Galician was the only language in spoken use in Galica, while Latin was used as a written language. Today there are still differences in regards to the spelling forms of the language, the two main parties in Galicia use different spelling forms. Galician also has multiple dialects, some of which have picked up words from Spanish and Spanish syntax.

Other Spanish languages

The languages addressed so far constitute languages in Spain that are considered official languages of the country (in the Spanish Constitution or within the Autonomous Community statues of each region). However, there are additional languages of Spain that are still spoken and have a long history. But due to political events or simply from lack of use, they have become less prominent languages within Spain.

Franco’s dictatorship initially prohibited and then hindered the use of the Spanish languages other than the Castilian. The use of languages other than Castilian was confined to use in the home and particularly the more marginal Spanish languages encountered serious difficulties in their development and continued existence. This was only overcome thanks to the dedication of private institutions that preserved written documements and fostered their use.

For example, Aragonese, Aranese, Occitan and Ladino (Djudeo-espanyol, sefardí) are among the many surviving languages still spoken in Spain among Spaniards. Each is important historically and has also contributed to the linguistic development and differences of Spanish language. These other languages, though not considered official languages of Spain are addressed in the Spanish Constitution, “The wealth of the different language variations of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be the object of special respect and protection.”


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