When does a language stop being a set of dialects and become a language?
The question is: When does a language stop being a set of dialects and become a language? This is not an easy question to answer, and a perfect case in point is the Spanish language.
Many people from non-Spanish speaking cultures would probably be unaware of this, but historically, this Romance language has been plagued by antagonisms and infighting which started on the Iberian Peninsula and eventually found its way into the former Spanish colonies; and it’s here where the presence of other indigenous languages added to the linguistic confusion.
Just consider the juxtaposition of the terms Castilian and Spanish – for some they’re markedly different, while for others they’re synonyms
When speaking from an historical perspective, the rise of Castile following unification at the end of the 15th century as both the socially and politically dominant part of Spain, had an enormous effect on the Spanish language. The Castilian dialect became the national standard, while other dialects such as Andalusian were scorned and ridiculed, certainly within the Peninsula.
The attempts to Castilianize the speech of colonists and Peninsulas alike met with mixed results. In the Americas, regions which were under immediate control of Spanish authorities were thoroughly instilled with the Castilian dialect, whereas regions where the colonial yoke remained loose maintained traits from other non-Castilian dialects. And, to complicate matters further in the Americas, the presence and use of indigenous languages by large portions of the population diluted the ‘real’ Spanish language being overseen by the Castilian overlords.
Even to this very day, both within and outside Spain, any reference to Castilian as a synonym for Spanish can create heated arguments.
In the Americas during the 19th century, nation builders struggled to choose one over the other, arguing over which language gave them greater distance from what was a perceived negativity of association with their former colonial masters.
The renowned Mexican writer Octavio Paz stated that he considered himself a citizen of the Spanish language, and that’s why he was bothered to hear speak of the Castilian language. He said: ‘I am not one of them; I am a Mexican and as such I speak Spanish, not Castilian.’
Experienced translators of the Spanish language will obviously be aware of the difference between Castilian and Spanish. Another good reason why clients should always choose a human translator over a machine translation!