What Languages are Spoken in Spain? Official Languages & More
In this article you will find information on the languages spoken in Spain. It includes the official language of Spain, and also the other languages in Spain and where they are spoken.
Languages in Spain
The kingdom of Spain is a country in Southwestern Europe that occupied the majority of the Iberian Peninsula. Spain includes seventeen autonomous regions and 46.94 million of population. The nation is famous for its rich culture, unique architectures, dreamy woodlands, and beaches.
There are many languages spoken in Spain. Below we will go through the languages and where they are spoken.
Official Languages of Spain
Spain has five official languages:
- Castilian Spanish
The most prominent language is Castilian Spanish. It is currently spoken by 94% of the total population as a first or second language.
It is followed by Catalan (16%), Galician (5.64%), and Basque (1.26%).
The Spanish language in Spain is commonly referring to Castellano or Castilian. The word Castilian comes from the Castile province in central Spain, which is where the language originated.
Castilian is a Romance language that began as a dialect of Cantabria in North central Spain. The language contains approximately 3,000 to 4,000 Arabic words. After merging the Kingdom of Castile, León, it became the state’s official language during the middle ages.
Castilian Spanish is the most dominant and the only language shared by all Spain regions. All public signage, official business, and education are in Castilian Spanish.
Next time when you hear Castilian, it is generally referring to the Iberian Peninsula Spanish speaker.
Catalan is a Romance language with its name from Catalonia, located in the Northeast of Spain and South of France. Catalan is one of three co-official languages in Catalonia, along with Castilian Spanish and Occitan.
The history of Catalan began in the 8th century and started to spread south after the 12th century. Between the period of 1939 and 1975, Catalan was banned during the military dictatorship under Franco. In 1979 and 1983, Catalan was accepted as an individual language and became the official language in Catalonia.
Catalan also stretches across Valencia, the Balearic Islands (Majorca, Minorca, Ibiza and Formentera), the east of Aragon, Pyrénées-Orientales (Southern France), and Alghero on the Italian island of Sardinia.
Although Catalan is widely spread across Catalonia, Barcelona, with the highest population density, has the lowest Catalan speaker population; Catalan is more dominate in rural towns.
Currently, almost every school in Catalonia is teaching Catalan, including some of the local international schools. Today, around 16% of Spain’s population speaks Catalan, and 8.45% as their native language.
Galician is a Romance language and is spoken mainly in the community of Galicia, Spain’s northwest region. The language is currently used by nearly 5.6% or 2.6 million, of the total Spanish population.
Galician has many similarities to the Portuguese language; both languages share the same origin. The vocabulary and grammar patterns are closely related, but the pronunciation has developed differently. However, Galician is also similar to Castilian Spanish. Most local people would agree learning Galician is the most straightforward regional language to acquire if you are already speaking Castilian Spanish.
Basque is a language spoken in an area traditionally known as the Basque Country, a region located around northern Spain and southwestern France. The Basque language is spoken by 28% (753,000) of Basques, where 93% (700,000) are the residents in the Spanish area, and the remaining 7% (53,000) are in the French region.
Linguistically, Basque is an isolated language that has no connection to any other language in Europe or any living language. Apart from standard Basque, the language is only spoken by 1.26% of the total Spanish populations, and only 0.9% considers it a mother tongue.
Occitan is a Romance language spoken primarily in the Val d’Aran region in Spain, Southern France, Monaco, and the Occitan Valleys in Italy.
Occitan is closely related to Catalan, sharing many linguistic features and a common origin. The language was considered a dialect in Spain until the Parliament of Catalonia declared it the third official language in Catalonia in 2010.
Less than 3,000 people in Spain and 1.5 million across Europe currently speak Occitan.
Minority languages in Spain
In Spain, some minority languages in certain territories are considered an unofficial language or dialect. Some of its local citizens still regarded them as their mother tongue today.
Aragonese is a Romance language that originated in the middle ages; it was one of the dialects spoken in the Pyrenees. Approximately 30,000 to 50,000 people are currently speaking the language both in native and passive.
Asturian is a Romance language spoken in the Principality of Asturias. The number of native and second-language speakers is estimated at 100,000 and 450,000. All schools in Asturias are teaching the Asturian language from age 6-19.
Benasquese is a Romance dialect often called patués by its native speakers in the province of Huesca in Spain. Benasquese is an extreme Northwestern Catalan dialect that is in fast decline.
Cantabrian is a group of dialects that belongs to Astur-Leonese, an autonomous community of Cantabria in Northern Spain; Estimate 3,000 speakers. In 2009, UNESCO’s Red Book of the World’s Languages in Danger had classified Cantabrian as a definitely endangered language.
Eonavian is a dialect used in the Principality of Asturias Spain, which belongs to the Galician-Portuguese community, currently counts for 45,000 speakers.
Extremaduram is a dialect mainly spoken in the autonomous community of Extremadura in western Spain, between Salamanca province and Portugal. The estimated number of speakers in the region is 6,000 people. Extremaduram was developed under the influence of Galician, Portuguese, and Castilian Spanish. They all shared similar systems of pronunciation and grammar rules.
Fala is a Romance language spoken by around 10,000 people in Jalama Valley, the northeast of Extremadura in Spain. Fala is closely related to Galician and Portuguese. Fala has no official status in Spain.
Leonese is a Romance dialect currently spoken in the province of León in Spain. The current number of speakers is around 20,000 to 50,000, and it is considered “seriously endangered” by the UN. Leonese is currently recognized as a non-official language in Castile and Leon.
Murcian is a regional dialect of Spanish in the Comunidad Autónoma de Murcia of southeastern Spain, where it has 450,000 residents. Some Murcian native speakers considered it as a separate language.
Silbo Gomero is a whistled language based on the nonverbal expression. The language was initially developed to communicate across the long distance. After the Spanish colonized the Canary Islands during the 1400s, Silbo Gomero started to adapt to Castilian Spanish. UNESCO declared Silbo Gomero a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible World Heritage in 2009.
Foreign Languages Spoken in Spain
According to the United Nations, there are nearly 6 million immigrants in Spain by early 2018, making up to 13% of Spain’s total population.
Barcelona alone has 1.6 million people, with approximately 175 nationalities, 20% foreign-born residents, and 300 languages circulating.
Being a multilingual nation like Spain, language acquisition is inevitable so there are many foreign languages spoken in Spain.
The most popular foreign languages in Spain are English, French, and Romanian. 11.7% of the population in Spain either speaks English as a mother tongue or foreign language.
Morocco and Romania rank as the top and second immigrants, with around 760,000 and 670,000 of population. According to the data that most Romanian and Arabic speakers still treat their language as the mother tongue after moving to Spain.
Although Chinese immigrants ranked as one of the top 10 foreign populations in Spain, the Chinese language is spoken by less than 0.1% of Spain’s population.
Languages in Spain
So now you have a better understanding of the languages spoken in Spain, check out our article on Which Countries Speak Spanish around the world.
You will be surprised at how many countries have Spanish as their official language.
Author: Hsin is a third-culture kid from Taiwan. Her husband was raised in a mixed Brazilian-Catalan family, they have 2 daughters. Hsin writes at Nanani World.