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Spanish language

Spanish (español) is a Romance language originally from the northern area of Spain. It is the official language of Spain, most Latin American countries and Equatorial Guinea. In total, twenty nations and several territories use Spanish as their primary language.
Spanish originated as a Latin dialect in the provinces of Northern Spain. From there, its use gradually spread inside the Kingdom of Castile, where it evolved and eventually became the principal language of the government and trade. It was later brought to the Americas and other parts of the world in the last five centuries by Spanish explorers and colonists.

The language was spoken by roughly 364 million people worldwide in the year 2000, making Spanish the most popular Romance language. It is estimated that the combined total of native and non-native Spanish speakers is 400–480 million.

Spanish is also one of six official working languages of the United Nations and one of the most used global languages. It is spoken most extensively in the Americas, Spain and to a small extent in Africa and Asia Pacific. It is also the second most widely spoken language in the United States and arguably the most popular foreign language for study in US schools and Universities.

Spanish people tend to call this language Español, and also call it castellano, i.e. Castilian, the language of the Castile region, when contrasting it with other languages of Spain (such as Galician, Basque, and Catalan). In this manner, the Spanish Constitution of 1978 uses the term castellano to define the official language of the whole State.

Spanish and Italian share a very similar phonological system and do not differ very much in grammar, vocabulary and morphology. Speakers of both languages can communicate relatively well: at present, the lexical similarity with Italian is estimated at 82%. As a result, Spanish and Italian are mutually intelligible to various degrees. Spanish is mutually intelligible with French and with Romanian to a lesser degree (lexical similarity is respectively 75% and 71%). The writing systems of the four languages allow for a greater amount of interlingual reading comprehension than oral communication would.

The Spanish language developed from Vulgar Latin, with influence from Celtiberian, Basque and Arabic.
From the 16th century onwards, the language was brought to the Americas, Federated States of Micronesia, Guam, Marianas, Palau, and the Philippines by Spanish colonization. Also in this epoch, Spanish became the main language of Politics and Art across the major part of Europe. In the 18th century, French took its place.
In the 20th century, Spanish was introduced in Equatorial Guinea and Western Sahara and parts of the United States, such as Spanish Harlem in New York City, that had not been part of the Spanish Empire.

Geographic distribution
Spanish is one of the official languages of the Organization of American States, the United Nations, the South American Community of Nations, and the European Union.
With approximately 106 million speakers, Mexico boasts the largest population of Spanish-speakers in the world. The three next largest Spanish-speaking populations reside in Colombia, Spain and Argentina.
Spanish is the official language in 21 countries.
The vast majority of its speakers are located in Spain and the Western Hemisphere.

There are important variations among the regions of Spain and throughout Spanish-speaking America. In Spain the Castilian dialect pronunciation is commonly taken as the national standard. For most people, nearly for everyone in Spain, “standard Spanish” means “pronouncing everything exactly as it is written”, which of course doesn’t correspond to any real dialect, though it’s closer to northern dialects. In practice, the standard way of speaking Spanish in the media is “written Spanish” for formal speech, “Madrilenian dialect” for informal speech.

Writing system
Spanish is written using the Latin alphabet, with the addition of the character “ñ” (eñe) and is regarded as a letter of its own.
The traditional Spanish alphabet had 28 letters, 29 if one counts “w” which is only used in foreign names.

Excluding a very small number of regional terms such as México, pronunciation can be entirely determined from spelling. A typical Spanish word is stressed on the syllable before the last if it ends with a vowel (not including “y”) or with a vowel followed by “n” or “s”, and stressed on the last syllable otherwise. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by placing an acute accent on the stressed vowel.
Interrogative and exclamatory clauses are introduced with inverted question ( ¿ ) and exclamation marks ( ¡)

Lexical stress
Spanish has a phonemic stress system — stress is not fixed, and different stress patterns can result in separate meanings for one and the same word. Spanish makes abundant use of this feature, especially in distinguishing verb conjugation forms.

For example, the word camino (with penultimate stress) means “road” or “I walk” whereas caminó(with final stress) means “you (formal)/he/she/it walked”.

Another example is the word práctico (first-syllable stress) “practical”, which is different frompractico (second-syllable stress) “I practice,” and practicó (last-syllable stress) “you (formal)/he/she/it practiced.” Also, since Spanish syllables are all pronounced at a more or less constant tempo, the language is said to be syllable-timed.

As mentioned above, stress can always be predicted from the written form of a word. An amusing example of the significance of stress and intonation in Spanish is the riddle como como como como como como, to be punctuated and accented so that it makes sense. The answer is ¿Cómo, cómo como? ¡Como como como! (“What (do you mean) / how / (do) I eat? / I eat / the way / I eat!”).

Spanish is a relatively inflected language, with a two-gender system and about fifty conjugated forms per verb, but small noun declension and limited pronominal declension.
Spanish syntax is generally Subject-Verb-Object, though variations are common. Spanish is right-branching, uses prepositions, and usually places adjectives after nouns.
Spanish is also pro-drop (allows the deletion of pronouns when pragmatically unnecessary) and verb-framed.

Source: Wikipedia. (This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Metasyntactic variable”)