Languages in Spain: Peculiarities and Distinctions


Until the year of 1975, all regional dialects and languages in Spain had been suppressed by the regime of Francisco Franco. But following the processes of Spain’s democratization, other dialects and languages in Spain received support for their use and further development. So if you think you know Spanish and it happened to you to come to Catalonia accidentally, don’t be surprised if you barely understand anything.

Indeed, Spanish, known also as Castilian, is spoken by the absolute majority of the Spanish population (99%), who recognize it as a first or second language. Basically, only the Spanish language has the status of the official language in the country. Yet, there are certain languages that are officially recognized at the regional level, namely: Catalan, Basque, Galician, Arogonese, Asturian, and Occitan.

Catalan is somewhat similar to the Valencian dialect, but there are, indeed, some distinctions. However, linguists point out that the Valencian and Catalan languages are spoken by 17% of the Spanish population. The Galician language, which represents a mix of Portuguese (due to the region’s location on the border with Portugal) and Spanish, is spoken by 7% of the population in the region Galicia and in the contiguous areas of Castilla and León and Asturias regions.

The Basque language, spoken by 2% of the Spanish population, appears to be a conundrum for all linguists who research the issue of languages in Spain. It has the semi-official status in the Basque Country with a capital in Bilbao and the region of Navarre. Up to the present time, linguists have so far failed to find an answer of how this non-Romance language originated in what is presently known as Spain. There are only assumptions and theories, but no clear evidence regarding this issue.

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Languages in Spain

A map of Spanish languages and dialects

Also, there are minority languages that are recognized in certain regions, namely Leonese in Castille and León, Asturian in Asturias, and Aragonese in Aragon. All of these languages are considered to be minority languages, which are being endangered nowadays, so they lack proper protection from the state.

Considering that Spain is a very diverse country in terms of ethnicity and linguistics, it should not come as a surprise that there are dialects, among others, that are hard to affiliate with a specific group of languages/dialects. Linguists point out 5 such dialects, all of which are very localized. Benasquese is a dialect, which was affiliated with the Catalan and Aragonese groups of dialects in the past, but now, as linguists assume, it appears to be a transitional language.

Fala is another such dialect, which is regarded as a dialect from the Galician-Portuguese group of languages and dialects, though it is believed to be almost extinct nowadays. Eonavian dialect is believed to be something in between Galician and Asturian, though closer to the first one. Extremaduran and Cantabrian dialects, both of which belong to the Astur-Leonese group, are usually perceived as Spanish dialects.

The south of Spain does not feature any particular languages, but there are distinct dialects of the Spanish language, such as Canarian or Andalucian – those dialects have a lot of similarities with the Spanish language in Latin America. African and Asiatic languages (like Arabic) can be found spoken in Spanish autonomous cities on the north coast of Africa, such as Melilla and Ceuta.


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