Ah Spanish, my second language and the language of my mother’s family. My experience of Spanish is of one of it’s Latin American dialects, Peruvian Spanish.
Is Spanish the closest language to Latin? Has it diverged much from Vulgar Latin? Perhaps it could be argued as the closest to Classical Latin or even Old Latin!
The Roman Conquest of Spain began during the Second Punic War, starting in 210 BC. Making it one of the first provinces of the Roman Republic which later became the Roman Empire. The East of Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula) was heavily settled, particularly by Roman Veterans who would have brought the Latin language with them. At the height of the Rome’s power under Emperor Trajan and Hadrian (both themselves from Spain), the Latin spoken throughout the Roman Empire was no longer like the Classical Latin we all have studied, but the language of the masses, vulgar latin, with the native languages in each roman province, Celtiberian for example in Spain, influencing the development of latin into each varyingly different version of vulgar latin.
Vulgar Latin spoken in Hispania later came under Arabic influence under the Al-Andalus caliphate until 1492 when the reconquering of Spain or the ‘Reconquista’ had been completed. By then a few hundred words of Arabic origin were added to the Spanish language. Also spoken was an arabized form of vulgar latin or romance called Mozarabic (which went extinct). These languages grew into Old Spanish/Old Castilian, which eventually evolved into Modern Spanish.
So how close is Modern Spanish to Latin?
In brief, quite close. The verbal conjugations in Spanish as very similar to Latin in some ways. But however in Spanish there are three conjugations whereas Latin has 4. Latin seems to resemble Spanish a lot in the first person plural of most verbs.
When thinking about this question however, you have to think of what we mean by Latin. Whether we mean Classical Latin, Vulgar Latin and older or younger versions of each of these varieties.
Spanish has preserved some older forms of Latin vocabulary that have been lost in other Romance Languages. For example French and Italian have more words derived from Late Latin whereas Spanish has words from older Latin.
For example in Italian and french have fromaggio/fromage derived from the late Latin formaticus vs queso in Spanish derived from the older caseus. Also from this we get the English “cheese”. Spanish also uses some archaic verbs that are not used in Italian such as, “comer” and “ir” = “comedere/edere” and “ii”.
Perhaps because Spain was a colony the language of the colonists was spread and adapted more stationary following this while in Italy, Latin continued to develop and evolve and develop new vocabulary. Perhaps the primitiveness of the Iberian People prior to conquest in comparison with the Gauls made romanisation there much easier.
Then of course we have the Our Father (Pater Noster). Even if Spanish isn’t the closest language to Latin you can certainly see the similarities.
Pater noster, qui est in coelis, sanctificetur nomen tuum. Adveniat regnum tuum, fiat voluntas tua sicut in coelo et in terra. Panem nostrum cottidianum da nobis hodie et dimitte nobis dedita nostra, sicut nos dimittimus debitoribus nostris. Et ne nos inducas in temptationem, sed libera nos a malo. Amen.
Padre nuestro que estás en los cielos, santificado sea tu nombre. Venga tu Reino. Hágase tu voluntad, así en la tierra como en el cielo. El pan nuestro de cada día, danosle hoy y perdónanos nuestras deudas, así como nosotros perdonamos a nuestros deudores. Y no nos dejes caer en la tentación, más líbranos de mal. Amen.
You could perhaps argue that Spanish is more like Old Latin which was spoken until around 75 BC. It is true that Spanish resembles Old Latin in some areas of vocabulary.
Archaic latin: Manios med fhe fhaked Numasioi
Classical Latin: Manius me fecit Numerio
Spanish: Manio(s) me hizo por Numerio
Archaic latin: quoi honc… sakros esed
Classical latin: qui hunc… sacer erit
Spanish: esto…sera santificado/sagrado
Many say that Spanish is closest to Latin in Syntax and Grammar. Here is a sentence example, with Italian for comparison:
Ella siempre cierra la puerta antes que vengan. (Spanish)
Ea semper portam claudit antequam vēneant. (Latin)
Lei chiude sempre la porta prima di venire. (Italian)
If we want to look at this scientifically there was a study conducted in 1949 by Italian by the linguist Mario Pei who analysed the lexical difference between Latin and it’s daughter languages by comparing areas such as phonology, inflection, syntax, vocabulary, and intonation with Spanish coming out at 20% distant to Latin (only Sardinian and Italian less distant than it).
Spanish was similar to the other Romance Languages in that definite articles were a step away from the cases of Classical Latin to Vulgar Latin and evolved from demonstrative pronouns or adjectives, the Latin demonstrative ille, illa, illud evolved in to el and la in Spanish. In Spanish like in many Romance Languages the neuter nouns became Masculine Nouns. Spanish has also undergone sounds changes from Latin so words starting with f, begin with h in Spanish and words that begin with T in latin, begin with D in Spanish. Other sound changes are the internal e in Latin which often becomes ie; and the o may become ue. (tierra, bien,tienes; bueno, muerte)
Some examples of Spanish Irregular verbs turn out to be archaic remenants of old Latin conjugation; Spanish verbs with the infinitive in either-ir or -er, the participle regularly ends in -ido: vivir vivido “to live,” and responder respondido “to respond.” Against this pattern, escribir escrito (not escribido) “to write” and poner puesto (not ponido) “to put, place” indeed look irregular, but however both are in fact faithful to their Latin ancestors, scribere scriptus and ponere positus.
Spanish is of course a beautiful language and very close to it’s parent language Latin. In some ways yes it has stayed very close to Latin definitely in terms of Syntax and Grammar. In some ways it has remained close to Classical Latin where other languages have drifted further away. So in these aspects it could be argued to be one of the closest languages to Latin. Of course Old Spanish would have been closer but that is no longer spoken….unless….you take a look at Judeo-Spanish/Ladino. Although it has a large Hebrew and Aramaic influence, Ladino is seen as a living relic and an example of Old Spanish spoken in the present day. Sorry I’m being side tracked, that is a blog post for another day. But yeah, Spanish is definitely one of the closest languages to Latin. Hearing spoken Latin and knowing some Spanish, I can definitely pick up a good bit of what is being said. I am sure if an Ancient Roman landed in Spain, although being freaked out by how different the world, they would at least be comforted in finding Spanish somewhat familiar.