Languages in Spain

Category: History of Spain

For much of Spain´s history, people in each region of the country spoke their own language. Then, in 1939, General Francisco Franco, a dictator who ruled Spain until 1975, outlawed all languages except Castilian, the language of central Spain. Today, many people in Spain speak Castilian, along with their regional language. These languages include Catalan, Euskera, and Gallego.


Spain´s official language is Castilian. Castilians live mainly in the two central regions of Spain called Castilla-León and Castilla-La Mancha, Their language, which many people simply call Spanish, is also spoken by almost 300 million people around the world. Castilian developed from Latin, the language spoken by the ancient Romans, but it has also been influenced by Arabic, the language of the Moors. Castilian words that come from Arabic are easy to spot because they usually begin with “al”. For example, the Castilian word for lunch is almuerzo and the Castilian word for cotton is algodón. Some english words come from Castilian, such as mosquito from mosquito, potato from patata, tomato from tomate, and tornado from tornado.


More than six million people living in Catalonia, in the northeast of Spain, speak Catalan. People also speak Catalan in the area around Valencia and on the Balearic Islands. There are different versions of Catalan, depending on the region. For example, Valencians speak a version of Catalan that is mixed with Castilian, while people on the Balearic Islands speak a version that is mixed with French.


The Basques speak a language called Euskera. Euskera is not like any other language spoken in the world today, although some people think it is related to the languages of ancient India. The meanings of certain Euskeran words suggest that the language dates from prehistoric times. For example, the word for ceiling means “roof of cave”, and the word for knife means “stone that cuts”.


About 70 percent of the three million people who live in Galicia speak Gallego, or Galician. Gallego is similar to Portuguese, which also originated in northwestern Spain. Many public signs in the region, such as signs with street names, appear only in gallego.