Is Spanish a Latin language? Well.. Yes and no!

I’ve come upon this question on the internet about the Spanish language. “Is Spanish Latin” was the phrase. While I can quite easily say that Spanish and Latin most definitely is not the same thing, it’s clear that Spanish has Latin origins.

Latin, or rather Vulgar Latin was the everyday language of the Roman Empire, and it’s the ancestor of Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, French, Romanian and a number of smaller, regional languages in the word.

I long time has passed since the fall of the Roman Empire, however, and today Spanish is quite a different language.

Let’s look at a comparison between Spanish and Latin:

First, let’s look at the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in Latin:

Omnes homines liberi aequique dignitate atque juribus nascuntur. Ratione conscientiaque praediti sunt et alii erga alios cum fraternitate se gerere debent.

And now in Spanish:

Todos los seres humanos nacen libres e iguales en dignidad y derechos y, dotados como están de razón y conciencia, deben comportarse fraternalmente los unos con los otros.

As you can see, there are clear differences. Both in terms of vocabulary, but also word order and grammar. Latin uses 21 words to say something that needs 28 words in Spanish.

One reason for this might be that Latin used 6 cases, whereas Spanish has lost its original cases. This means that while Latin relies more on declensions, Spanish needs more words to say the same thing.

In other words: Modern Spanish has moved away from Latin grammar and vocabulary quite significantly.

How Spanish became Spanish

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Iberian Peninsula was dominated mostly by North African Muslim invaders who spoke a dialect of Arabic as well as “Mozarabic“, the Romance language spoken by the remaining Christians in the region.

In the North of Iberia, several languages were developing side by side, all with traces back to Vulgar Latin. The most important of these were Catalan, Castillian and Galician.

Upon the “reconquista” where the Iberian people gradually reconquered the Iberian peninsula, Castillian became the most influential language. It’s the Castillian language that since developed into modern Spanish, except in the west, where Galician became the dominant language that evolved into Portuguese.

Castillian didn’t move into an unoccupied territory, though, and the Arabic language has left its traces on modern day Spanish. It’s also quite possible that the Mozarabic language has influenced modern Spanish a great deal.

If you dig into Spanish vocabulary, you’ll find a ton of words with an Arabic origin. And these aren’t just scientific terms and formal words like “Alcohol” “Álgabra” and “Algoritmo”, but also everyday words as “Aceite”, meaning oil (for cooking), Hasta, meaning “until” and “Ojalá” which actually comes from a popular Muslim expression, “In cha allah”, if god wills, (or simply, “hopefully”).

So Spanish is a Latin language but..

So there’s no doubt that Spanish is a Latin language. It’s got clear Latin roots, and the majority of the vocabulary and the grammar draws clear parallels to its linguistic ancestor. But a lot of time has passed since Latin was the Lingua Franca of the world, and the “Vulgar Latin” dialect that became Castillan since went in its own direction.

So yes – Spanish is a Latin language, but it’s definitely not Latin, but distinctly Spanish.

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