The Four Co-official Languages of Spain

By Cory Long


The four co-official languages of Spain include Catalan, Basque, Castilian and Galician. Each of the official languages is associated and spoken in specific autonomous regions of Spain. However, Castilian is considered the National Language of Spain and is therefore comprehensible and spoken fluenty in all four regions. Castilian, synonymous with Spanish, is recognized as an international language.


All four of the co-official languages stem from Latin. Each language however has distinct roots that are unique. Catalan stems from Vulgar Latinas well as speech types from Northern Italy. Basque comes from the ancestral Basque people. Basque is said to be the last Indo-European languages in Western Europe and is therefore considered a language isolate. Little is known about the origins of the ancient language due its complexity, however some hypothesize that there strong are roots connecting it the ancient language Iberian. Galician has strong ties to Portuguese dating back to medieval times. The two languages were once considered one, which many refer to Galician-Portuguese, Medieval Galician, or Old Portuguese. Castilian, otherwise known as Spanish, began its stronghold over the current Spanish speaking world with the Kingdom of Castile in the 9th century. It evolved into the predominant language of the government, and eventually, in 1492 was brought to the Americas. Spain's monopoly over the next three centuries paved way for the Seville-Cadiz Monopoly. This lead to the development of the Spanish language throughout the Americas.

Franco's Dictatorship and the Spanish Language


Francisco Francowas a military general and dictator of Spain from 1936 until his death in 1975. Under his heavy regime, many language variances occurred in result of strict language laws. During this time, Catalan was discouraged in public settings by propaganda campaigns, and the use of it in government or public institutions was banned. During the time of the Spanish Civil War, Galician and Basque were also banned. Shortly after the death of Franco, Spain amended the Spanish Constitution of 1978. The amendment of the constitution acted as the gateway to democracy in Spain, allowing the various regions to have more control within their borders. The co-official languages post-Franco became settled in their autonomous regions. Eventually, new language laws were enacted, making each of the four languages co-official. Today, each of the languages are spoken in schools, universities, by health care providers, in social services and throughout the culture.

Socio-Political Status


With each of the four co-official languages there is a socio-political status that is associated with its speakers. Castilian is generally known as the prestige language of the country and is spoken in all four regions. Madrid, where they speak Castilian, is the prestige center of Spain, thus many important political figures speak this language and it is therefore seen as an intelligent, respectable language and dialect. Galician is used and taught in secondary school in Galicia. However, in European Parliament it is accepted as Portuguese. In other regions of Spain, Galician is often looked at as a more rural, less sophisticated language. Basque and Catalan are taught throughout the schools and universities in their respected regions, however Castilian is still understood and spoken by these speakers. Though the use of Basque drifts into southern parts of France, it is by law banned from being spoken in Courts of French law. Spaniards whom use Catalan hold a stong sense of Catalan nationalism. Catalan speakers, like Basque and Galician speakers. use the language as a badge of identity that helps separates them socially and politically from the rest of the regions. Though each of the regions often use their language to convey a sense of pride, when political events that involve representatives from each region are being held, it is most socially and politically acceptable to speak Castilian.

Linguistic Features


Castilian of North Central Spain uses many distinct features. Its use of ceceo (in North Central Spain only) and lleismo set it apart from many other dialects of Spanish. Castilian is a highland dialect of Spanish. Thus, speakers of the language tend to stress consonants and elite vowels. The grammar of the language follows Subject Verb Object form, and typically, but not always spoken with adjectives after nouns.


Catalan's features, that set it apart from the other languages, include strong plosives, elision or weakening of many vowels and phonetic diphthongs when the word begins or ends with [j] or [w]. The grammar of Catalan tends to abide with the general grammar of Western Romance Languages. Major lexical differences create a strong distinction between Catalan and it's related languages.


Many consider Basque to be the have lexical and phonetic variance in comparison with the traditional Spanish language (Castilian), this is mostly in result of the ancient Basque people and close neighbors, such as the French, having lexical and syntactical influence on the language. Modern Basque verbs conjugate about fifteen different ways, where as Castilian (Castellano) can have up to fifty. Many words have been adopted from Spanish, Gascon and Latin as well. Phonetic features of Basque include the use of postalveolar sibilants [ʃ], written x, and [tʃ], written tx, sounding like English sh and ch. The use of vowels is generally similar to most Spanish speakers.


Galician varies from standard Spanish in that it, like Portuguese, it allows pronominal clitics to be attached to indicative and subjunctive forms. Galician is a lowland dialect in which speakers stress vowels and use yeismo. Galician has strong ties to Portuguese both lexically, syntactically and morphologically.