Spanish (or Castilian) is a Romance language, originating in ancient Cantabria, which was adopted by the kingdom of Castile and later extended to be used in the whole of Spain and Spanish-speaking Latin America. It is also spoken in Africa (Equatorial Guinea, Ceuta and Melilla, parts of Morocco), the Far East (the Philippines) and in the Balkans and Israel (by Sephardic Jewish communities, the descendants of those expelled from Spain in 1492), as well as occupying the status of a rapidly expanding minority language in the US. It is an official language of twenty-three countries and should reach 400 million speakers at the beginning of the twenty-first century. Of all the Romance languages spoken in Spain, Castilian is the one which has most radically innovated from its Latin base, for instance in the reduction to five vowels, the loss of the initial f (Latin filiu (hijo [son])), and the palatalization of initial pl, cl, and fl (Latin clave (llave [key])). Castilian already had a rich literary tradition by the end of the thirteenth century, which reached its peak in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The thirteenth-century king Alfonso X of Castile promoted Castilian, using it exclusively for affairs of state, and elaborating its function by developing its grammar and vastly increasing its vocabulary (externally, through borrowing from Latin and Arabic, and internally, through word formation). Thus it became the medium for scientific, legal, administrative and other writings. This period of development was captured in Nebrija's Grammar of the Castilian Language of 1492. Temporary stability was subsequently followed by a period of rapid expansion and change in the Spanish language over the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The next major reform of Spanish took place in the eighteenth century with the creation, in the service of the crown and hence the state, of the Royal Academy (Real Academia Española—RAE) whose role was to purify and preserve the Spanish language (see also Royal Academies). Thus, the RAE was to reform its spelling, provide a grammar and produce and periodically update a dictionary (see also dictionaries and encyclopedias).
   Despite a strong prescriptive tradition aimed at unifying the language, there are differences between varieties of Spanish spoken in different parts of Spain. Nevertheless, the twentieth century has seen considerable dialect levelling, due in large measure to the flight from the land, widening access to education and the presence of the audiovisual media.
   There are two principal subvarieties of Castilian, the more conservative northern dialect on which the Spanish prestige standard has been based (the prestige norm being located either in Burgos/Valladolid or Madrid) and the more progressive southern one (where the prestige norm is located in Seville), more closely related to the Spanish spoken in the Canaries and in Latin America. Phonetically, the primary characteristics which differentiate the southern from the northern variety are the elimination of aspiration of the /s/ in certain contexts (una casa—doh casah) and a lack of distinction between ? and s (caza [hunt] and casa [house] are pronounced alike). The subvarieties which make up southern Spanish are Extremenian, Murcian, Andalusian and Canary Islands Spanish.
   Further reading
   - Entwhistle, W. (1936) The Spanish Language, London: Faber & Faber (somewhat antiquated, but still very reliable on the history of the language).
   - García Mouton, P. (1994) Lenguas y dialectos de España, Madrid: Arco Libros.

Encyclopedia of contemporary Spanish culture. 2013.

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