The History of the Spanish Language:

A Timeline 

Alexandra Draughan

SPN 411

Dr. Linker

May 2, 2006






Proto-Indo European

Iberian Tribes










Indigenous Americans

Spain--A Nation



Modern Spanish


Spanish Today



            The History of the

            Spanish Language  





Proto-Indo European

1000 b.c. -- c.400 b.c.

Iberians Tribes

c. 1000 b.c. 


c.900 b.c.


900 b.c. -- 600 b.c.


c. 700 b.c.

c. 600 b.c. Basques
c. 500 b.c. Carthaginians
*218 b.c. Romans
*416 a.d. -- 711 a.d. Visigoths
*711 a.d. Arabs
*1492 a.d. Indigenous Americans and Spain--A Nation
c. 1500 a.d. -- c. 1700 a.d. Old Spanish and the Italian influence
late 1700s a.d. -- 1800s a.d. Old Spanish and the French influence
*1800s a.d. Modern Spanish Forming
1800s a.d. -- 1900s a.d. Modern English influence
2000s a.d. Spanish Today











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It is believed that the root of all human language can be traced to the African continent. From this point on language continues to change and evolve with the movement of people around the globe. This is why many call language an "organic being" because it is alive and constantly changing.

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Proto-Indo European
The languages that are spoken around the world today are believed to be derivations from a Proto-Indo-European language, considered to be only one branch of the many human languages that developed from the root.

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Iberian Tribes 1000 - c.400 b.c.

The earliest inhabitants of the country we now call Spain are known as the iberians (los iberos).
The peninsula is named after these ancient peoples (Iberian Peninsula or Península Ibérica).
A prominent river in Spain, the Río Ebro, is also named after the Iberians.
They contributed many terms to the Spanish language that are still used today…
WAR: defense, armor
GEOGRAPHIC TERMS: nacas de tolosa, navarra, orollo, balsa, carpio, vega
ANIMALES AND PLANTS: perro, sapo, urraca, conejo,   cesco
FAMILY NAMES: Sanchez, Garciaz, Nuñez, Muñoz

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Basques c. 600 b.c.

The Basques are an ancient people of the peninsula as well. They lived and continue to live in the northern part of modern day Spain.
Although the people living the Basque region of Spain have their own language that is completely different from Spanish, the ancient people group contributed to the Spanish language as it was developing many years ago.
The use of the letters Z and X, typical of the Basque language, had an impact on Spanish.
(ex. izquierda)
NAMES: Indigo, Garcia, Javier/Xavier


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Ligurians c. 900 b.c.

The Ligurians came to the northeastern part of Spain from Italy.
PLACE NAMES: Rango, Verganza, Toledo, Alava
SUFFIXES: --azco, --ozco, --uzco
SUFFIXES: --az, --ez, --oz
(nouns and adjs.)

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Celts 900-600 b.c.

The Celts settled in the northwestern part of Spain.
The Celts were the first people to bring the concept of underwear (bragas) to the peninsula.
WARLIKE/COMMON ITEMS: huelga, paramo, lanza, hunt, fish, farm, herd, coimbra, fortaleza, camisa, carro, vasallo
AFFIXES: sego, iego (Segovia, Andariego, mugeriego)

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Phoenicians c. 1000 b.c.

The Phoenicians were excellent seafarers. They came to Spain to trade on the peninsula and established the city of Cádiz.
Other places named by the Phoenicians are Málaga and the Balearic Island Ibiza.
This people group is credited with using the root <<Span>> to name the peninsula.

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Carthaginians c. 500 b.c.

The Carthaginians came from across the Mediterranean Sea.
The Carthaginians established Cartagena, which means “the city of the Carthaginians.”
Words like mata/matarral come from the Carthaginians.

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The Greeks came to the peninsula, possibly drawn to the abundant fish as well as tin, copper, and salt reserves. They brought with them terms that reflected their cultural values toward intelligence, artistic trade, and the spiritual world.
Until the Greeks came, the people on the peninsula were very war-like people. The Greeks were a civilizing influence on

the culture of the people they came into contact with.

Most Spanish words relating the to human intellect and spirit came from the Greeks

                        Biblía (the book)

                        Bilioteca (the place of books)

                        Historia (history)

                        Iglésia (church)

Suffixes:            --ía       (geografía, manía)

                        --ema   (tema, escema)

                        --ama   (programa)

These suffixes are still used when new words are formed due to technology such as the word telegrama.

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Romans 218 b.c.

The Romans saw the Iberian Peninsula, a land rich in metal and ore deposits, as the farthest outreach for their conquests. In the year 218 b.c. the Romans conquered the Carthaginians and invaded the eastern part of the peninsula, this side being more civilized than the rest due to the influence of the Greeks. The Romans established a legal system of individual rights, paternal families, individual pr

operty rights, and social classes (free, semi-free, and slave). They organized the area into "provincias" and "municipalidades." They made Latin the official language and spread this language through the intermixing and intermarriages of the Roman soldiers with the peoples of the peninsula, spreading their influence along the systems of roads they  created there. The Vulgar Latin spoken by the soldiers, a degenerative form of Latin used by the common people, greatly influenced the Spanish language so much that this vulgar Latin is only a “short hop” away from the most early Spanish as Latin broke into the romance languages extant today.

Four Latin Verb conjugations > 3 in Spanish (-ar, -er, -ir)

Latin demonstratives > Spanish definite articles (ille > el: ille seniores > los senores)

Latin pl, cl, ct, ll combinations > ll, j, ch (planus > llano; clamare > llamar; oculus > oc’lu >ojo; nocten > noche; bellus > bello)

Syntax/word order (adjectives and nouns)

Nouns > verbs:

carrus (“cart”) > carricare (“haul with a cart”) > car’car > cargar (carry, bear)

Weak vowels collapsing to dipthongs: porta > puerta; costa > cuesta

Contiguous vowels > dipthlongs > yod (palatalized) > new sounds:

muliere > mul’yer > mujer; oculum > ocl’um > ojo

One-part Latin future and conditional tenses > 2-part in Old Spanish

> one part in modern Spanish (cantabo > cantáre habeo > cantaré)

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The Visigoths came to the northeast and plain of the peninsula in the year 416 a.d. The Visigoths established a system of laws, Fuerzo Juzgo (654 a.d.), in order to unify the diverse peoples living there. They established Toledo as their capital and established the concept of monarchy.


Many Germanic words influenced Spanish as they were assimilated into the Latin used on the continent and then into the language known as Spanish.


Military terms: guerra, guardia, robar, yelmo, espuela, estribo, espía, botín

Clothing: falda, huesa (tipo de bota)

Comercio/agricultura: jabón, ganar

Música: arpa

Leyes: bando, bandido (ban, “prohibición”)

Sentimientos: orgullo, escarnecer, desmayar

Lugares: Valladolid, Andalucía (tierra de Vandalos), Burgos, Cataluña (tierra de godos)

Nombres personales: Álvaro, Fernando, Rodrigo, Elvira, Gonzalo, Alfonso, Ramiro (not Biblical names)

Other words: rico, blanco

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The Arabs came to the peninsula in the year 711 a.d., passing the Straits of Gibraltar, rapidly conquering territory and spreading the influence of their own culture. While the Romans were famous for Roman baths, bathing as a form of hygiene was not a concept on the peninsula before the Arabs came. They brought with them wonderful new spices and citrus fruits, which revolutionized health in terms of the immune system’s ability to fight off diseases with the help of vitamin C in these fruits.  In addition the Arabs brought with them advanced mathematics, science, and astronomy. They used irrigation techniques that changed the peninsula’s agriculture. The Arabs not only brought with them their religion of Islam, they contributed to the rich architectural and scholarly wonders for which Spain is known. As forms of recreation and expression the Arabs brought with them the game of chess as well as the guitar, now a prominent symbol of Spain inseparable from its culture and identity.


Many Spanish words that begin with the phonemes “a” or “al” (“al” meaning “the”) are of Arabic origin:

 Alcázar (castle), alcalde (mayor), almacén (store house, department store), alfombra (carpet, rug), aceite (oil), aceituna (olive), algodón (cotton), azúcar (sugar).


Agricultural Terms:

Arroz (rice), naranja, limón, azahar, jazmín, alberca (reservoir),


Scientific processes:

Alcohol, alquimia, bórax, cero, cenit, nadir


Words of everyday use:

Ahorrar (to save), escarlata (scarlet), mono (monkey), matar (to kill—from the Persian root “mat” found in “checkmate”)

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Indigenous Americas

When Christopher Columbus discovered the New World he encountered new people, cultures, languages and products. The Spanish words that have come from the New World are the result of the explorers approximations of the words in the native languages of the indigenous communities encountered in the New World. Coupled with the rich oriental foods in Spain brought by the Arabs, the new foods from the Americas brought the possibility for hybrid cooking, such as new soups and stews, in the Old World.



Tomate, patata, banana, chocolate, cacahuete, maíz, cacao


Functional Items:

Canoa, Comote

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Spain--A Nation

The year 1492 marks not only the discovery of the New World; it also marks the expulsion of the Arabs and Jews from the peninsula, and the establishment of the Spanish Nation under the monarchy of Ferdinand and Isabel. This had an extreme impact on the Spanish language.


The Political Unification of Spain makes Castilian the official dialect of the realm requiring all official documents to be written with the language. 

Gramática de la lengua castelllana

The first grammar book in Europe is written by Antonio de Nebrija


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  Old Spanish and the Italian Influence

This period is marked by a return to classical tradition throughout all of Europe, and therefore the country looks to the influence of classic Greek and Roman styles and techniques regarding language.

Many stylistic literary techniques and words stem from this trend toward Italianate/early Greek and Roman techniques:

Hyperbatón, símil, metáfora, antíthesis

1499: Proemio by el Marques de Santialla

First literary criticism published

1611: Tesoro de la lengua castellana by Sebastian de Cobarubias

This is a primative etymological work showing the language consciousness of the period.

“Theta” is used to distinguish homophones: casar (to marry), cazar (to hunt)

Vuestra Merced and Vuestras Mercedes begin to tire, eventually to form Usted and Ustedes.

There is some confusion between the verbs haber/tener and the use of object pronouns (Voy a lo ver—object pronouns are not permitted at the beginning of sentences or breath phrases in this period)


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  Old Spanish and the French Influence

This period of influence and change is marked by the French occupation of Spain by Napoleon. Publications flooded the country in an effort to establish language norms regarding spelling and usage. During this period the language academies were founded, the first of which being “La Real Academia de la Lengua.”

i and y are clarified (y is the acceptable presentation of the word “and”)

Object pronouns are regularized and occur after the infinitive and before sentences.

Flood of French words regarding the culinary arts, customs of dress, and culture:

Detalles, jalea, chaqueta, conserge, galán, intriga,

modista, coqueta, chófer

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Modern Spanish Forming

By the 1800s/19th century one can recognize what is now know as modern Spanish. Accents are regulated to indicate stress in the pronunciation of words or to differentiate between identical forms (si/sí and se/sé).

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  Modern English Influence

While pop music and the invention of satellite television have flooded the language with terms, science, medicine and sports and technology have had a profound influence of Spanish. As Spain entered the European Union after the Franco dictatorship they were very open to change. This is evident in the influence of the English language on Spanish in modern times.



Escáner/escanear, salvapantallas, ciencia ficción, video juego,

Prefixes: eco, neo, bio, super (super bien), mega

Suffixation causes new verbs:





Guionizar, escandalizar, esponsorizar

Piratear, faxear, tipear, tonificar

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Spanish Today 

Today Spanish is still changing and evolving. The end of the Franco dictatorship in Spain (1980’s) marks an explosion in the usage of acronyms (OTAN—which is NATO in English). Many Spanish speakers are using abbreviations (profe/profesor, boli/bolígrafo, uni/universidad) and borrowing pop culture words from English such as “smash hit.” They are showing a preference for adverbial phrases over adjectives (nutricionalment, militarmente, futbolísticamente) and using more and more compound words (limpiahornos, apoyabrazos, todoterreno). However, there remain geological variances such as the word for bus—guagua, camión/eta, autobús, colectivo. This is a mere glimpse of the evolution of Spanish and the immerging trends that will no doubt continue to change the language as it evolves throughout time. 


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