Spanish is the most widely spoken of the Romance languages, both in terms of number of speakers and the number of countries in which it is the dominant language. Besides being spoken in Spain, it is the official language of all the South American republics except Brazil and Guyana, of the six republics of Central America, as well as of Mexico, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico. Additionally it is spoken in the Balearic and Canary islands, in parts of Morocco and the west coast of Africa, and also in Equatorial Guinea. In the United States it is widely spoken in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California (in New Mexico it is co-official with English), in New York City by the large Puerto Rican population, and more recently in southern Florida by people who have arrived from Cuba. A variety of Spanish known as Lad mo is spoken in Turkey and Israel by descendants of Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492. All told there are about 350 million speakers of Spanish.
Pronunciation and usage of Spanish naturally vary between countries, but regional differences are not so great as to make the language unintelligible to speakers from different areas. The purest form of Spanish is known as Castilian, originally one of the dialects that developed from Latin after the Roman conquest of Hispania in the 3rd century A.D). After the disintegration of the Roman Empire, Spain was overrun by the Visigoths, and in the 8th century the Arabic-speaking Moors conquered all but the northernmost part of the peninsula. In the Christian reconquest, Castile, an independent kingdom, took the initiative and by the time of the unification of Spain in the 15th century, Castilian had become the dominant dialect. In the years that followed, Castiliannow Spanishbecame the language of a vast empire in the New World.
Spanish vocabulary is basically of Latin origin, though many of the words differ markedly from their counterparts in French and Italian. Many words beginning with f in the other Romance languages begin with h in Spanish (e.g., Ilijoson, hilothread). The Moorish influence is seen in the many words beginning with al- (algodóncotton, alfombrarug, ahitohadapillow, alfilerpin) . As in British and American English, there are differences in vocabulary on the two sides of the ocean-patata (potato) is papa in Latin America, while melocotón (peach) is durazno.
Spanish spelling is based on generally consistent phonetic principles, and reflects better than most languages the way a word is pronounced. The consonants b and v are pronounced alike, the sound falling somewhere between the two sounds in English (bocamouth, vozvoice). The letter z, and the letter c before e and i, are pronounced as a voiceless th in Castilian, but more like s in southern Spain and Latin America (zapatoshoe, ciudadcity). The letter j, and the letter g before e and i, are pronounced like the English h (jardingarden, generalgeneral), though in Spain it is more guttural than in Latin America. The hard g sound is represented by g before a, o, and u (gatocat), but gu before e and i (seguirto follow). The combination ch is pronounced as in English (muchachoboy), but is considered a separate letter of the Spanish alphabet, occurring after c. Similarly ll, pronounced as in the English 'million" in Spain but as y in America (callestreet), comes after 1 in the alphabet; ñ , pronounced ny (pequeñosmall), comes after n; and rr, a rolled r (correrto run), comes after r. The h is always silent (hombre man).
The stress in Spanish likewise follows a consistent pattern, falling on the next to last syllable in words ending in a vowel, n, or s, and on the final syllable in words ending in other consonants. Exceptions to this rule are indicated by an acute accent (árboltree, corazónheart).
English words of Spanish origin include cargo, siesta, sombrero, mesa, hacienda, patio, armada, guerrilla, junta, plaza, canyon, rodeo, pueblo, adobe, vaizilia, armadillo, tornado, embargo, and bonanza.