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50 Fascinating Facts About the Spanish Language [Infographic]

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Calling all linguaphiles, trivia buffs, students, teachers, and world travelers — you probably already know that a country’s language carries many clues about its history, culture, and values. Understanding the intricacies can often make it easier to learn a language, also, since you’ll likely recognize patterns, or how certain language relate to each other.

The Spanish language in particular is really cool to learn about, as you’ll see in this post! We got help from our tutors to compile a list of a whopping 50 interesting facts about the language of Spain, as a way to test your own knowledge.

But first, a few FAQs you should definitely know…

Where is Spanish used?

When you think about Spanish speakers, you likely think about Spain and Mexico. But actually, Spanish is the offical language for more than 20 countries — including Cuba, Argentina, Chile, and Nicaragua.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not the ONLY language spoken in Spain. Other official languages of Spain are Galician, Basque, and Catalan.

Who else speaks Spanish?

It’s no wonder that many students, business professionals, and travelers choose to learn Spanish — it’s estimated that almost 400 million people worldwide speak the language! Moreover, being bilingual has tons of benefits.

Not only that, but it’s becoming one of the most widely-spoken second languages in the world.

Ok, now test your knowledge!

The infographic below showcases the most interesting facts we found. See how many of them you already know, and then scroll down to learn even more about the Spanish language!

Interesting Facts About the Language of Spain - infographic


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Interesting Facts - Spanish Grammar and Syntax

Spanish Grammar & Syntax

  1. If taken literally, the word la persona (person) is feminine, even though it may refer to a man or a woman.[1]
  2. Nouns that end in -a are usually feminine, but if they start with an a, they take the masculine article el to avoid the combination of the two same vowels (i.e. Spanish speakers say el alma instead of la alma). Still, the word remains being feminine.[2]
  3. Many words have completely different meanings depending on what syllable is stressed. For example, la ma (stressed on the second syllable: the mother), la mama (stressed on the first syllable: the breast).
  4. Spanish has two different verbs that mean “to be” in English: ser and estar. The first one is for permanent states (such as personality features of a person; Yo soy alto [I am tall]) and the second one is for temporary states (such as the location of something; Yo estoy en casa [I am at home]).
  5. Even though nouns ending in -o are usually masculine, la mano is a feminine word.
  6. Many nouns are spelled the same but change meanings if they’re used with a different grammatical gender. For example, el cometa (the comet) and la cometa (the kite); el cura (the Catholic priest) and la cura (the cure); el pendiente (the earring) and la pendiente (the slope).[3]
  7. Different from English, Spanish has a relatively free word order, and variations of the Subject-Verb-Object order occur much more often than in English. For example, the sentence “Juan wrote a book” can be said like “Juan escribió el libro,” “El libro escribió Juan,” “Escribió Juan el libro,” and even “Juan el libro escribió,” or “El libro, Juan escribió” for some literary effect.[4]
  8. In most parts of the Spanish-speaking world, there’s a familiar-informal 2nd person singular pronoun (usually ) and a formal 2nd person singular pronoun for unknown, older, or important people (usted).
  9. In the Rioplatense variety, the pronoun is never used; vos is used instead as the informal-familiar 2nd person singular. In some other countries, such as Ecuador, both and vos coexist, but the second one has a social connotation and is considered a highly uneducated (and even lowly) way of addressing others.[5]
  10. Exclamations and questions in Spanish need to begin with an “opening” exclamation mark (¡) or question mark (¿). These punctuation marks do not exist in other languages, except some minority languages in Spain.
  11. Considering the three moods (Indicative, Subjunctive, and Imperative), there are 17 tenses in Spanish.[6]
  12. Spanish has two different versions of the imperfect subjunctive that coexist in modern Spanish (Pretérito Imperfecto del subjuntivo), one with -ra endings and one with -se. Most native speakers use either form interchangeably. For instance, the words amara or amase ([if I] loved).

Interesting Facts - Spanish Pronunciation

Spanish Pronunciation

  1. Spanish is a very phonetic language. If you know how a word is spelled, you can surely know how it’s pronounced.
  2. If you know how a word is pronounced, you cannot be sure of how it’s spelled.
  3. Letters b and v sound the same in Standard Modern Spanish (this simplification took place between the 15th and 17th century). Between vowel sounds, they’re pronounced like a soft b, in which the lips don’t touch. This last sound doesn’t exist in English.[7]
  4. Until the early 18th century, the letter x was used to represent the x sound, like the Scottish word “loch.” After that, it was replaced with the letter j to represent the same sound. For example, the word caja (box) used to be spelled like caxa.[8]
  5. The letter c, when it appears before the letters e and i, is pronounced differently by speakers in Latin America and Spain. The former pronounce it like an s, whereas the latter pronounce it like th in “the.”
  6. There are plenty of homophones (words that sound the same but are spelled differently) in Spanish that cause native speakers difficulties in learning how to write. Popular examples are hacia (towards) and Asia (Asia), and hola (hello) and ola (wave).
  7. Even though the letters y and ll sound slightly different in most parts of Spain and Latin America, in Rioplatense Spanish, the variety spoken in the most populated areas of Argentina and Uruguay sound like “sh” in English. For example, baya (berry) and valla (fence) sound like bah-shah.
  8. Despite being one of the most common words in the language, the word yo (I) can be pronounced in at least four different ways depending on the location of the speaker.
  9. The letter y can behave as a consonant at the beginning of syllables (onset), or as a vowel at the ending of syllables (nucleus). For example, yo (y is a consonant), hoy (y has a vowel sound).[9]

Interesting Facts - Spanish Vocabulary

Spanish Vocabulary

  1. There are words in Spanish that cannot be translated in one word in English. An example is empalagarse (to feel sick because of too much sweetness in food, but also figuratively, as in romantic situations).[10]
  2. Another word that cannot be translated in one word is sobremesa (after-dinner conversation).[11]
  3. Around 8% of Spanish vocabulary is of Arabic origin.[12] Within numerous expressions of casual Spanish conversation, there often exists a strong likeness to Arabic expression. Probably most well-known is the interjection ¡Ojalá!, which is derived from the phrase law šá lláh, meaning “if Allah wills [it].”[13]
  4. There are 30,500 words that contain all of the vowels (a, e, i, o, u).[14]
  5. New verbs can be easily created by adding the suffix -ear at the end of the words. This is how modern technology-related words have been invented from English words; for example, escanear (to scan)[15] and tuitear (to send tweets).[16]
  6. A very common phrase in Spanish that’s literally translated into “holding someone’s hair” (tomarle el pelo a alguien) means to mock someone with false compliments or promises.[17]
  7. In Argentina, there’s a group of slang words called vesre. They come from the Spanish word for “reverse” (revés) after moving around a few letters. Just as the word vesre, other words are made by switching around letters. These words are now so common in Argentina that they may be used more than the “real” word. For example, garpar (Standard Spanish: pagar, English: to pay) or toga (Standard Spanish: gato, English: cat).[18]
  8. Many English words have been adapted to Spanish in the 20th century and have become everyday vocabulary. For instance, fútbol (football), suéter (sweater), pulover (pullover), and overol (overall).[19]
  9. There are two phrases in Spanish that can be translated to “I love you”: Te amo and te quiero. The first one is said between lovers or closely-related family members. The second one is mostly friendly and typically not romantic.
  10. There isn’t a verb in Spanish that can be literally translated to “like.” Me gusta la pizza can be literally translated to the approximation: “The pizza is pleasing to me.”
  11. English and Spanish share plenty of similarly-written words that don’t mean the same. They’re called “false friends” and learners of Spanish should be aware of them to avoid difficulties. For example, embarazada means “pregnant” in English and not “embarrassed.”

Interesting Facts - Spanish Culture and History

The Language of Spain – Culture and History

  1. Spanish is the 2nd most-spoken language as mother tongue. The number of speakers of Spanish as a first language is almost 399 million.[20] The language with the highest number of native speakers is Chinese with 1.2 billion people.[21]
  2. Spanish is the 3rd most-used language on the Internet, with 256.8 million users.[22]
  3. The use of Spanish on the Internet has grown 1,312.4% from 2000 to 2015.[23]
  4. Spanish is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.[24]
  5. Spanish is the official language in 22 countries: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Equatorial Guinea, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, México, Nicaragua, Panamá, Paraguay, Perú, Puerto Rico, Spain, Uruguay, and Venezuela.[25]
  6. Spanish is expected to be the first language of 50% of the population of the United States within 50 years.[26]
  7. There’s a Spanish-based creole language spoken in the Philippines called Chabacano (poor taste, vulgar). It’s the sole and most extensive Spanish-based creole language that still exists in Asia or Oceania.[27]
  8. Based on estimates from Census data, the Hispanic population in the US will grow to 132.8 million in 2050.
  9. People who speak Spanish may call it español (meaning: it comes from Spain), or castellano (meaning: it comes from Castilla, Spain), and many people use both words interchangeably.[29]
  10. In 1492, the same year when Columbus arrived in America, the first grammar of Spanish was published by Elio Antonio de Nebrija.[30]
  11. Spanish was the major diplomatic language until the 18th century.[31]
  12. In 1713, the Real Academia Española was founded. It established authoritative criteria for the sanctioning of neologisms (newly coined words) and the incorporation of international words. Spanish grammar was formalized during this period.[32]
  13. In present-day Spanish, September may be spelled septiembre or setiembre. However, the latter is considered a vulgar or informal version of the earlier one because of the dropping of sounds. Contrary to popular belief, the word setiembre is the “originally Spanish” word, since until the 17th century there was no agreement in spelling and the “p” was not pronounced.[33]
  14. Some words that begin with “f” in other Romance languages, begin with “h” in Spanish. This makes such difference a unique development for the Spanish language. For example, ferrum (Latin: iron) and hierro (Spanish: iron); falar (Portuguese: to speak) and hablar (Spanish: to speak); figlio and fumo (Italian: son and smoke) and hijo and humo (Spanish: son and smoke).[34]
  15. The letter ñ is the only Spanish letter of Spanish origins.[35]
  16. Beginning in about the 12th century, Spanish scribes (whose job it was to copy documents by hand) used the tilde placed over letters to indicate that a letter was doubled. This resulted in the Latin word annus to be spelled año in Spanish.[36]
  17. The first written records in Spanish are the Glosas Emilianenses and they date back to 964 A.C.[37]
  18. The first Literary piece that was fully written in Spanish was “El Cantar de Mio Cid,” which dates back to the 13th century and whose author is unknown.[38]

Sources

[1] http://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=persona
[2] http://www.spanishgrammargenius.com/why_do_i_use_masculine_article_with_feminine_word.htm
[3] http://spanish.about.com/od/nouns/a/double_gendered.htm
[4] http://spanish.about.com/od/sentencestructure/a/word-order-in-spanish.htm
[5] http://deepblue.lib.umich.edu/bitstream/handle/2027.42/86107/Ennis.pdf
[6] http://www.rae.es/diccionario-panhispanico-de-dudas/apendices/modelos-de-conjugacion-verbal
[7] Lapesa, R. (1981). Historia de la lengua española (9th ed.). Madrid: Gredos. pp. 422.
[8] Lapesa, R. (1981). Historia de la lengua española (9th ed.). Madrid: Gredos. pp. 423.
[9] http://clas.mq.edu.au/speech/phonetics/phonology/syllable/syll_structure.html
[10] http://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=empalagar
[11] http://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=sobremesa
[12] http://people.math.sc.edu/rorabaug/docs/ArabicInfluence.pdf
[13] http://people.math.sc.edu/rorabaug/docs/ArabicInfluence.pdf
[14] http://www.solosequenosenada.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/palabras_con_todas_las_vocales_sin_qu_ni_gu.txt
[15] http://dle.rae.es/?id=G9JTupB
[16] http://dle.rae.es/?id=asr6h3K
[17] http://lema.rae.es/drae/srv/search?id=9sxZRrtuiDXX2EHANeeY
[18] http://www.speakinglatino.com/argentine-slang-in-reverse-vesre/
[19] Lapesa, R. (1981). Historia de la lengua española (9th ed.). Madrid: Gredos. pp. 458.
[20] http://www.ethnologue.com/language/spa
[21] http://www.ethnologue.com/language/zho
[22] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm
[23] http://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm
[24] http://www.un.org/en/sections/about-un/official-languages/
[25] http://www.nationsonline.org/oneworld/countries_by_languages.htm
[26] http://artsandscience.usask.ca/languages/languages/spanish/
[27] https://www.academia.edu/5922616/Chabacano_The_Case_of_Philippine_Creole_Spanish_in_Cavite
[28] http://www.census.gov/data/tables/2013/demo/2009-2013-lang-tables.html
[29] http://www.wordreference.com/es/en/translation.asp?spen=castellano
[30] http://www.optimnem.co.uk/learning/spanish/language-history.php
[31] http://www.optimnem.co.uk/learning/spanish/language-history.php
[32] http://www.optimnem.co.uk/learning/spanish/language-history.php
[33] Lapesa, R. (1981). Historia de la lengua española (9th ed.). Madrid: Gredos. pp. 390.
[34] http://www.lancaster.ac.uk/staff/letchfoa/comparison/comparison2
[35] http://spanish.about.com/cs/historyofspanish/f/tilde_origins.htm
[36] http://spanish.about.com/cs/historyofspanish/f/tilde_origins.htm
[37] http://www.mecd.gob.es/dctm/ministerio/educacion/actividad-internacional/consejerias/reino-unido/tecla/2005/mayo/20-05-05b.pdf?documentId=0901e72b80b7eb9c
[38] http://www.cervantesvirtual.com/portales/cantar_de_mio_cid/

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