In our new series this year, Language of the Month, we are looking at twelve of the world’s nearly 6000 fascinating languages, one each month. Join us on this trip around the globe and discover facts, trivia and insider information about some awesome languages!
Language family: Romance (part of the Indo-European family)
Number of speakers: 480 million native speakers
Writing system: Latin
Official language in: 20 countries
HISTORY OF THE LANGUAGE
If you’ve been reading the First Edition blog this year, you probably know that many of Europe’s main languages developed from the ancient language of Vulgar Latin. Well, Spanish, similarly to Italian and French, can also list Latin among its noble ancestry. Ancient Greek (via Latin), Basque, Arabic, and even Germanic tongues had a say in shaping it.
Between the 15th and 19th centuries the Spanish Empire ruled over large territories in the Americas, Africa and in Asia and various dialects of the language are still spoken today in many of these places. Considering its vast coverage throughout history, it’s not surprising that it is the third most commonly spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and English. The largest number of Spanish native speakers live in Mexico, and it’s the official language in several other countries on the American continent, such as Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Chile, just to name a few. According to a recent census, Spanish is also spoken at home by more than 38 million people in the US. It’s also an official language in Equatorial Guinea in Africa and up until 1973, it was the main language of the Philippines.
My name is… Me llamo…
Please Por favor
Thank you Gracias
WHAT OUR LINGUISTS SAY…
When I ask Adriana, one of our Spanish translators from Argentina, to describe how Spanish sounds, she says it’s difficult to do as there is so much variation within the language. “This would depend almost entirely on the country, or even the region the speaker comes from: from the musicality and purity of Colombian or Peruvian Spanish to the harshness of that spoken in Madrid. One thing is common to all: we speak fast, especially when excited!”
Linda, one of our Spanish to English translators, agrees with Adriana about the pace of the language: “I would say it’s rhythmical and fast-spoken.”
Kerryann, who also translates into English, is of the same opinion: “Spanish seems to be spoken much faster than English.” She finds the language “exotic, romantic and beautiful”. (No wonder that her favourite Spanish word is “corazón”, which means heart in English!)
She thinks that the most striking difference between Spanish and English lies in their different syntax: “In Spanish, many sentences don’t require the subject to be stated (it is implied by the conjugated verb) whereas this is usually necessary in English.”
Linda focuses on pronunciation when asked about differences between the two languages: “Regarding the written language, as Spanish is phonetic, it’s much easier than English to pronounce. However, there are sounds that are similar to English but with a few surprises, like the rolling ‘r’s!”
Mercedes, one of our translators from Spain, also mentions musicality and great diversity within the language: “I think Spanish is quite musical,” she says. “As many foreigners say, sometimes a bit too loud and everybody says is a lively language, very rich. There are many differences among people who speak Spanish: North and South, East and West. In Latin America it is very soft and slow and the way it is spoken in Spain is faster and louder, I think. There are also many differences among the countries in Latin America.”
Adriana talks about the dissimilarities between her own Argentine dialect and European Spanish, stating that there are both grammatical and phonemic differences between the two. She brings us the example of personal pronouns. Just like in many other languages, in Spanish there is a distinction between the word used for the second person (you) in formal and informal situations: “In all Spanish-speaking countries the formal second person singular is ‘usted’, its plural form being ‘ustedes’, while in most of them the informal version is ‘tú’ and ‘vosotros’, in its singular and plural form respectively. In Argentina, the informal second person singular is ‘vos’, an archaic form preserved here and dropped almost everywhere else, which is used instead of ‘tú’. It is rather surprising then that rather than sticking to the logical ‘vosotros’ for the informal second person plural, we have adopted the formal form ‘ustedes’ to use in all situations, whether formal or informal.”
“There are very important differences in vocabulary, especially when dealing with everyday things,” continues Adriana. “For example, a ‘melocotòn’ (peach) in Spain becomes a ‘durazno’ in Argentina, a ‘piscina’ (swimming-pool) a ‘pileta’, a ‘falda’ (skirt) a ‘pollera’. We have also introduced some very useful words: a kettle is a ‘pava’ in Argentina, but in Spain it is a ‘tetera’, a term that means both a kettle and a teapot.”
As these discrepancies between vocabulary may lead to misunderstandings, it’s always important to specify your target audience when requesting a translation into Spanish, so that we can get the right translator for you and your readership!
Just like between British and US English, besides differences in vocabulary, there is also a difference in accent. “It’s widely accepted that we speak Spanish in Buenos Aires with an Italian intonation (because of the massive Italian immigration during the first half of the 20th century),” says Adriana. “This is why we do not tend to have a Spanish accent when we speak other languages. There are also differences in the pronunciation of certain consonants: we do not make much difference between S, C and Z, which all sound like an S, whereas in Spain they do. Also, LL sounds like an English Y (as in year), while for us it sounds like an English SH (as in show).”
And this is just Argentina. Unlike British and US English, it is difficult to pin down a “Latin American Spanish” ̶ each country has its own a particular flavour of the language ̶ so knowledge of your target audience is particularly important.
As mentioned above, Spanish was also influenced by Arabic, as Spain was occupied by the Moors from the 8th to the 15th century. Adriana’s favourite word is one of those with Arabic origin: “There is a word in Spanish that I have always liked: ‘abedul’. It means silver birch, and it conjures an image of these silver-barked trees swaying in the gentle breeze.”
Isn’t that a lovely picture?
Speaking of lovely… Linda has had some fun encounters with Spanish speakers because of her name: “There is a phrase that used to amuse me when I introduced myself to Spanish people when I lived in Spain as a student or visited Spain on holiday: the response I received more than once was ‘¡Linda, qué linda eres!’ which means Linda, how pretty/lovely you are! (Which is just the Spanish being nice!).”
Do you have any fun stories about Spanish to share? Any favourite expressions? Let us know in the comments below!
If you have any questions about Spanish or translations in general, or have a translation request, don’t hesitate to get in touch by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone on 01223 356 733.