The Origins of Spanish

The Origins of Spanish  | One Hour Translation

You can still see the Latin origins of Spanish in the modern use of the language.

More than half a billion people speak Spanish fluently in the world today, representing most areas of the world to some extent. What’s amazing about language (said the translation worker) is how it so clearly shows the through-line of history: You can literally trace the development of the world by going back to the oldest languages we know about and tracing their development into new languages and the spread of those languages around the world.

With Spanish, for example, you can easily see the development from occupied territory, to emerging nation, to world empire, to global culture. Once you start thinking about it that, you begin to see history in every language. The whole story of humanity is told right there in the development, spread, and evolution of its languages.


Spanish, of course, is a Romance Language – it began existence as Latin. Soldiers, families, and officials from the Roman Empire arrived in what is now known as Spain and remained there for centuries, and as the most powerful political, economic, military, and cultural force in the area, Latin came to dominate. But of course back in those days communication between Rome and its colonies was very slow and disjointed, and so, slowly, the locals developed their own version of Latin. A dialect, at first, still clearly Latin but also clearly different. As the Roman Empire declined and slowly lost control of the area, this process increased until the dialect became a distinct language all its own.

Spanish discarded several things from Latin, including a whole verb class and many other grammatical tics, while importing many words from surrounding cultures and languages. By the 11th Century, when the Western Roman Empire had been gone for 500 years, Spanish was a distinct language that shows up in writing for the first time – suitably, its first written appearance is as a ‘gloss’ or explanatory lines written in-between the lines of an older text in Latin. Spanish had become so distinct from its parent that it could be used to translate.

The Same Rules

What’s fascinating about Spanish is how similar a lot of its form and usage is to Latin. You can glean much of how Latin was used and spoken by listening to Spanish, as it has a direct link back to many of those old linguistic features. In many ways Spanish is actually closer to old Latin than even Italian, which you might think, being located in Italy, would be the superior link. But Spanish, despite the influence of so many other languages and cultures, is probably the most directly descended.

In that way, you can think of the Roman Empire as never having truly fallen – because it’s descendants, Spain and France and Portugal – have spread their languages all over the world, and with it some kernel of the culture that was originally Roman and Latin. The story of a language is, ultimately, the story of history itself.

Image courtesy