The first language that springs to mind when one thinks of Spain is – not surprisingly – Castilian Spanish, the country’s official language. However, there are actually a number of other languages and dialects spoken there, a few of which have attainted co-official status in certain regions: Catalan/Valencian, Basque, Galician, and Aranese.
Here’s a brief snapshot of some of the languages spoken in Spain.
Castilian Spanish – so named for its roots in the region of Castile – emerged from Spain’s many regional languages and dialects to become the primary language of the nation. Castilian Spanish was later brought to the New World through the colonization efforts of the Spanish, where the language enjoyed widespread adoption throughout the Americas.
Catalan, a Romance language spoken in Catalonia, Valencia and the Balearic Islands, currently boasts some 12 million speakers. Catalan has achieved broad usage as an everyday language in these areas. The language has become the medium of instruction in a number of schools, and it’s utilized to a large extent in government administration and the media. The version of the language spoken in the Community of Valencia is known as Valencian. Though some Valencians contest that their language is separate from Catalan, the majority of linguists consider it a dialect.
Spoken by approximately three million people in the northwest corner of Spain, Galician shares many linguistic features with Portuguese. The two languages are more or less mutually intelligible, but Galician relies on Spanish orthographic conventions. In fact, scholars have been debating for some time as to whether Galician and Portuguese are actually two distinct languages or just dialects of the same language.
Linguists consider the Basque language, spoken in the north of Spain in Basque Country, a language isolate (i.e. a language with no known linguistic relationship to another language). As such, Basque shares virtually zero mutual intelligibility with Castilian Spanish and the other languages of Spain, which all belong to the Romance language family.
Aranese – a language spoken in the Aran Valley of Catalonia in northeastern Spain – shares co-official status with Catalan in that region. Approximately 90% of those living in the Aran Valley can understand Aranese, and some 65% of inhabitants can speak the language.