Languages and Dialects of Spain

Categories: Language
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With a population of approximately 45 million Spaniards and 3. 5 million immigrants, Spain is a country of contrasts where the richness of its culture blends it up with the variety of languages and dialects used. Being one of the largest economies worldwide, and the second largest country in Europe, Spain is a very appealing destination for tourists as well as for immigrants from around the globe.

Almost all Spaniards are used to speaking at least two different languages, but protecting and preserving that right has not been easy for them; Spaniards have had to struggle with war, ignorance, criticism and the governments, in order to preserve and defend what identifies them, and deal with the consequences (some of which are good and some of which are bad) of dealing with this multilingual society they have.

Spanish-Town-Guides, 2002-2011) In Spain there are 17th autonomous regions, the official language spoken in each region is Spanish or Castilian, however, there are three other recognized regional languages used throughout the country (Wikipedia contributors, 2011); Catalan (spoken in Catalonia, Valencian Community, and Balearic Islands), Basque (spoken in Basque Country and Navarre), and Galician, (spoken in Galicia) (Wikipedia contributors, 2011).

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Distributed throughout Spain there are a variety of smaller groups or regions with their own dialects, most of them Latin derivatives (as well as the main languages); Aragonese (spoken in Aragon, Huesca and Zaragoza), Asturian (spoken in Asturias),Calo (known as the language of the gypsies), Valencian and Mallorquin (Both dialects from Catalan and spoken in Valencia and Mallorca), Extremaduran (spoken in Extremadura), Occitan (also considered as a dialect of Catalan) and Gascon (that is considered a dialect of Occitan) (About.

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com, 2011). Each region? government has put all the efforts to create laws to ensure that people in all regions speak and practice their own language (Council of Europe, 2011); such is the case of Catalonia which is the region where there have been more efforts to preserve language.

In Catalonia, there are no places where natives do not know Catalan or any of the dialects from it, and even foreigners living there must deal with this “handicap” since, in order to find a job, they need to learn to speak Catalan; otherwise, it will be very difficult to get hired, and social life can be limited as well since veryone around uses Catalan to communicate (Abanco, 1998). Spaniards, especially in Catalonia, Basque Country and Galicia have become very protective of their own languages and dialects, since they outright their extinction during Francoist period, which make them fight to ensure their languages remain being an important part, if not the most important part, of their life and their societies (Wikipedia contributors, 2011).

Each region, with a language different than Castilian, is an avid defendant of their language; article 3 of the Spanish Constitution (About the Castilian and the other Spaniard languages) states: “1. Castilian is the official Spanish language of the State. All Spaniards have the duty to know it and the right to use it. ”. “2. The other Spanish languages shall also be official in the respective Self-governing Regions in accordance with their Statutes. ” and “3. The wealth of the different linguistic modalities of Spain is a cultural heritage which shall be specially respected and protected” (Cortes Generales de Espana, 1978).

This decree has helped to repair the damage caused during Francoist period (in which Spain was under the authoritarian dictatorship of Francisco Franco) from 1936 to 1975, when many of the regional languages were almost lost since they were forbidden; an ironic fact since general Franco was born in A Coruna, one of Galicia? s main cities, where Galician is more used than Castilian to communicate (Eric Solsten and Sandra W. Meditz, 1988).

When the civil war ended, in 1975, and, in response to the oppression suffered for many years, some regions (especially Catalonia) began their efforts to preserve and enhance their languages. Thanks to those efforts Catalans can be proud to acknowledge that their languages and dialects are the most well-kept, normalized and preserved in the country, their continuous fight since the very end of war and their pride about using their language has giving them the courage to embrace and protect both, their language and their identity in such way that, in Catalonia, Castilian is limited to those who are foreigners and Catalan to natives.

Unfortunately, a very different thing has happened in Galicia and Basque Country; since, by the end of war, the governments of both regions were more concerned about political affairs than preserving languages. In Basque Country, the reason for these lack of protectionism towards language was the persecution Basques suffer during the Civil War, they were accused of terrorism whenever they spoke in their own language; they were hunted and killed for this reason, and all of these actions made them a little afraid of protecting language even years after the end of war.

Something similar happened in Galicia, where there were no efforts to maintain language after the war. It was years later that governments started to make efforts to preserve and rescue the language and to normalize it and make it mandatory in each school around the region, but the accurate and pure versions of them got lost with time and what new generations speak today is a mixture of old and new words adapted from the original language, but still it is quite far from the original, unaltered version of each language.

The dialects in Spain share, in most of the cases, the same origin (most of the times Vulgar Latin), and the same language (for example Valencian is a dialect of Catalan); it can be thought, then, that communication in a language different than Spanish or Castilian is not that hard, and this is true but not entirely; even though these dialects come from the same sources, they differ greatly from each other; for example, in Catalonia, they use Catalan as well as in Val d?

Aran; if an Occitan and a Catalan talk to each other, they will understand most of it but some words are very different, and it will take a bit of an effort to fully understand the language from one region to another. Each one of the circumstances explained above, the civil war, the immigration, the language protectionism and the normalization, are reasons to understand why Spaniards have become tolerant with languages and dialects; they have gone a long way in defending their ideals and their identity; all of the Spaniards and immigrants must pay tolerance in return to the rest of the population and accept everybody else? languages.

However, not all Spaniards are sympathetic with this language protectionism, Castilian or Spanish speaking regions, such as Madrid are very less tolerant; they do not understand why one country must be separated more for languages than for borders, and this might be a valid premise, but each region has the right to protect what belongs to it.

Languages, in one way, have caused separation among regions because, people consider themselves as Catalans, or Valencians, or Basques, or native of any other regions, more than they consider themselves Spaniards, and many regions are currently fighting for their independence (with no positive results so far) since they aim to be free to use their languages and dialects without being criticized and, also, be able to manage their own resources.

There are many implications of having one, two or many anguages or dialects spoken in a same country or region, some of them are negative, such as this search for independence that has caused Spaniards to feel divided, not all of them feel part of the same country and many whish they were not part of the same country at all. Another implication is that communication is limited; even when all Spaniards speak Spanish, it is interesting to realize that they have both languages so acquired that they switch from one to the other in just seconds; this happens particularly with old people.

As a woman married to a Catalan and having traveled to Catalonia a couple of times, I had the experience of facing this personally, people are so set in “Catalan-mode” that one minute they are speaking in Spanish, and the next they are speaking in Catalan without even realizing they change back and, in my particular case, I found myself reminding everyone to talk to me in Spanish; it is an awkward situation because you can also feel like an intruder and is tiring to constantly remind everyone to speak in Spanish, and when they did speak in Castilian, it was hard for me to understand them, since it is quite different from the Spanish or Castilian we speak in Costa Rica.

Another negative implication is for immigrants; my cousin moved to Barcelona eleven years ago; she got a scholarship to finish her studies in laws at “Universitat de Barcelona. The first problem she had to face was the fact that all her lessons were taught in Catalan; and being a native Spanish speaker she felt very frustrated and worried, and it took many years for her to be able to understand Catalan (only understand it because she does not speak it); she is now living there and after she finished college it was very hard for her to find a job, once again the problem was the lack of Catalan; it is very challenging for a foreigner to move there since Catalans are so protective of their language that in order to find a job, people must speak Catalan.

The last negative implication, from my point of view, is immigration within the country; my mother in-law was born in Galicia; she learned to speak Galician (the very limited kind of Galician that was spoken during the war) when she was little; and, at the age of nine, with almost her entire primary education finished, her family decided to move to Barcelona searching for a better life, where she had to deal with Catalan (even though during war it was forbidden to use it on the streets).

The same problem happens with, for example, people with military positions, they move from one place to another during the entire military service, and they drag their families along with them; children are forced to change from one school to another and from one language to another, and this can cause confusion and frustration reflected on the students’ behavior and performance in school. Even when there are so many negative implications or consequences related to all the languages in a society, there are reasons to believe that there are also positive implications and if there are societies with this kind of structure, it is because it works somehow, no matter the problems involved.

In contrast to the negative implications mentioned above, there are many other positive implications of being part of a multilingual society, to mention a few, it can be said that, in the particular case of Spain, their citizens have developed the ability to learn new languages very easily; they not only speak their official language (Castilian), they also speak they regional language (both native like) and this has helped them to develop more their listening skills and aptitude towards new languages; children are born and live in environments filled with language stimuli and learn to communicate effectively in more than one language, making things easier for them to acquire another language.

Another example of a positive implication is tolerance, the cross-cultural situation Spaniards live has helped them to be more conscious about their differences and to accept everyone? s believes and culture. The continuous use of languages or dialects to interact with each other is another positive implication, since it has made them to be able to switch languages in a conversation without thinking about it; it comes natural to them since being multilingual is not an issue; it is just their reality.

Spain is a multilingual society which has faced several obstacles in the way of preserving and keeping their languages and dialects, this protectionism has led to positive, but also negative consequences and implications for its citizens which, day after day deal with it and adjust to this conditions in order to be a part of the society. As challenging as it can be, Spaniards adjust to each situation in order to fit in; but of course there are also rewards involved, they are capable to appreciate and understand (at least most of them) what a long way each region has come to preserve their identity and they can embrace, and be empathetic with the reasons each region has for such protectionism.

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Languages and Dialects of Spain. (2017, Jan 22). Retrieved from

Languages and Dialects of Spain

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