Anyone who has been to Spain might know what we are talking about when we say there are 4 official languages of Spain. Well almost. Spanish is the only official language, but 3 other regions share a co-official status with Castellano. A simple look at a carton of milk shows there are 4 translations on the packaging. If you didn’t know better, you would wonder why there is so much writing. Like many European countries Spain has a composite of dialects and even some closely related or even distinct languages within their modern day borders.
Apart from Basque a language which no-one can trace it’s origin, the other dialects that exist in Spain trace back to Vulgar Latin. When the Moors successfully conquered the whole of the Iberian Peninsula they supposedly pushed the Latin dialect of the day into a tiny unconquered corner in the northern state of Cantabria. It’s only contact with the outside world was the Gascon-Occitan dialect from Spain and Basque which had a huge effect on the Spanish language.
While the outer edges of the Iberian Peninsula were being freed from Moorish rule (Portugal and Catalonia), they were left to their own devices to developed into fully fledged languages. Portuguese became it’s own country, but in the corner between Spain and Portugal, Galician became a hybrid between the 2 languages, somewhat more Portuguese in written content than Spanish.
The augment the strength of the Catholic kingdoms within Spain, and finish off the Reconquest of Spain, the 2 most powerful states of the time Castilla (Spanish) and Aragon (Catalan) intermarried. The capital of the newly united kingdom was Madrid and Aragon gave up more than just it’s language in the process. This began the demise of Catalan and the rise of Spanish.
The many dialects and languages of Spain continued in use in their regions until the dictator Franco in 1950’s outlawed the use of other languages in favour of Spanish. While peninsular Spanish known as Castellano is the only mutually intelligible language or lingua franca of the country, others states, are making a revival of their languages as it used to be.
The 4 official languages are
1. Castellano as stated is the standard language that anyone from the Basque Land communicates with a Catalan, Andalucian, Galician or a foreign Spanish speakers. Within Spain it has 3 dialects. Asturian, Extramaduran, and the easy speaking Andalusian that inspired many foreign speaking Latin countries like Cuba, Argentina and Chile.
2. Catalan is the next most prominent language. It is not a dialect of Spanish. The closest language to this is the extinct French dialect of Occitan. Catalan has the prestige as being the only one of the 3 other languages as an official language of the EU, thanks to it’s status of official language of the small country of Andorrra. You will see it written all over Catalonia where a street is called Carrer instead of calle. It has 3 main gropus of dialects:- Catalonia, Valencian and Balearic Catalan Because of the strong nationalistic pride within Catalonia, their is a resentment in Castilla, and many products from Catalonia are not sold or not bought even if they are available. I believe the famous Catalan champagne, Freixenet, is not available in Castilla.
3. Basque– a language of no known origin, the language was quite varied, and there was no mutual understanding between neighbouring villages until the reached a standardised language was created in the mid 1800’s. Towns like San Sebastian in the Basque land, were even stated to have favoured the Latin based Gason-Occitan dialect due to the history of their traders living there for long periods of it’s history. Many signs in the Basque Land_Euskal Herria are written in both Basque and Spanish. A personal favourite is a Zirbutzugunea- which is a service station. There are even Basque televison stations, televison and radio shows.
4. Galician– Galician has the luck of being a dialect of Portuguese. But because it is stuck within Spanish borders, 99% also speak Castillian. Many have migrated to other Spanish speaking countries like Argentina, where they in the end gave up their language for Spanish. The lucky ones went to Brazil and there changed only their dialect.
Wherever you are in Spain, you’ll find people with a strong sense of identity of where they are from. But none more so than the 3 regions of different language. They are still happy to meet you and have a story to tell, which is usually interesting to hear. Although it is not practical to learn every language, it is polite to at least greet in the local lingo, which is often met with a smile. After all we are there to meet happy people right?
- The People of Spain (trifter.com)
- Who Owns Gibraltar? Spain Takes a Step Onto the Rock (time.com)