Whether you are Spanish or currently learning the language, you will no doubt be aware that it is a language spoken in many countries in the Western Hemisphere, more specifically in Spain and many Latin American countries. However, I am sure that not all Spanish speakers, of whom there are 580 million, will be aware of the figures that we are going to share with you in the following article:
- To whet your appetite: curious facts
- Is Spanish a single language?
- The very Spanish letter ñ
- Interesting words with letter ñ
To whet your appetite: curious facts
- Spanish is the dominant language in the Western Hemisphere.
With 329 million natives who speak it as their first language, this Latin language is the third most spoken language in the world after Chinese (1,200 million) and English (328 million). Its use is increasing rapidly compared to other languages. By 2050, around 600 million people will speak Spanish.
- Spanish is spoken in at least 44 countries
Spanish is spoken by a minimum of 3 million first-language speakers in 44 countries, making it the fourth most spoken language geographically behind English (112 countries), French (60) and Arabic (57).
- Spanish is part of the Indo-European language family
Spanish is part of the Indo-European language family, which is spoken by more than a third of the world’s population. Other members of this language family include French, English, German, the Slavic languages, the Scandinavian languages and various Indian languages. Spanish is also part of the Romance languages subcategory, a small group of languages that includes Portuguese, French, Catalan, Italian and Romanian.
- Spanish dates back to the thirteenth century
Experts have not been able to determine the exact century in which the Castilian Latin of the north-central region of Spain turned into Spanish. However, there is agreement that laws passed by King Alfonso in the thirteenth century to establish Spanish as an official language to be used in government helped shape the language. When Columbus sailed to the Americas in 1492, his version of Spanish had evolved to the point where Spanish speakers today could easily understand it.
- Mexico is the largest Spanish-speaking country
With a population of more than 121 million people who speak Spanish, Mexico is geographically the largest Spanish-speaking country. With almost 53 million people, the United States is home to the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, followed by Colombia, Spain and Argentina.
Is Spanish a single language?
As we all know, there is no single Spanish language. Most of these millions of Spanish speakers communicate in their own version of Spanish. While there are some common spelling, syntax and grammar rules, each version is different thanks to having its own rich vocabulary and its own way of pronouncing certain letters and spellings.
For example, in addition to pronouncing the “c” as if it were an “s” (something that people also do in the south of Spain and in the Canary Islands), Latin American Spanish is fairly different from the version we can hear in, for example, a coffee shop in Salamanca. Some unusual characteristics include:
– They prefer the diminutive “ito” or “ita” to the Spanish “ín”. So, for example, for something that is really small (pequeño) they use pequeñito instead of pequeñín.
– They use the “you” personal pronoun “vos” instead of “tú”. Example: “¿Vos estás jugando conmigo?” (Do you want to play with me?)
– They use the formal you plural “ustedes” all the time, when in Spain they use the more informal you plural “vosotros” for younger people. Example: “¿Quiénes de ustedes prefieren chocolate para merendar?” (Which of you prefer to snack on chocolate?) This way of addressing people is also used in some Spanish regions such as the Canary Islands. It is helpful to be aware of these little differences, but bear in mind that they speak different versions of Spanish in Mexico and Guatemala. In Europe we just talk about Latin America, but we should never forget that each country is different and has its own customs and version of Spanish.
In terms of vocabulary, it is interesting to note that there are words that have a different definition to that normally used in Spain:
– Coger: one of the most popular examples. Be careful about using this word in Mexico as there it is used as a way of referring to having sexual relations.
– Chiva: this word that means a female goat in Spanish is used to refer to second hand clothing in Venezuela.
– Boludo: in Argentina and Uruguay this word is used to refer to someone who is an idiot or a fool, but watch out! If you go to Mexico, boludo means “lumpy”.
– Perra: what in Spain is the word for a female dog or a child’s tantrum, in other countries like Ecuador refers to the typical hangover.
– Foco: what in Spain is a word for a type of lamp, in Colombia is a synonym for drowsiness.
The beloved letter ñ
If there is one feature that distinguishes Spanish from other languages it is undoubtedly the presence of the endearing and beloved letter “ñ”. However, in reality it is not only found in Spanish. Doing a bit of research into this seemingly very Spanish letter we have found out that it is also a feature of other languages such as Guaraní, Quechua and Tagalog. Of course, the influence of the Spanish conquerors must have played its role in this.
Leaving aside these exceptions, it is clear that the letter “ñ” is an intrinsic part not only of the name of Spain (España) but also of a large number of words that without it would sound strange and could even lead to confusion (for example, “Me rompí una”- “Me rompí una uña” can be translated as the very different phrases “I broke a one” – “I broke a nail”).
According to some scholars, the letter “ñ” has its origin in medieval monasteries. As you know, one of the most important jobs the monks had was copying books, which is a very tedious and sometimes endless task. To save time, when they had to write the sequence of letters “nn” (for example in “annus” or “Hispannia”) the busy monks abbreviated it and wrote a little letter “n” just above the first “n”, This miniature “n” led, over time, to the famous trait that the Spanish all know and miss so much when they use computer keyboards in other countries.
Interesting words with the letter ñ
To end this article, we wanted to share some interesting words that are written with ñ.
|Añacal:||Wooden board on which bread is baked after kneading.|
|Pipitaña:||Flute made of barley cane.|
|Cañameñas:||Made with hemp yarn.|
|Piñuelo:||Grain or seed found in grapes and some other fruits|
|Esmuñir:||Tidying up tree branches.|
|Entuñar:||This can be used in relation to trees or vines and means to fill with fruit.|