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Spain

Background

Spain’s powerful world empire of the 16th and 17th centuries ultimately yielded command of the seas to England. Subsequent failure to embrace the mercantile and industrial revolutions caused the country to fall behind Britain, France, and Germany in economic and political power. Spain remained neutral in World Wars I and II but suffered through a devastating civil war (1936-39). A peaceful transition to democracy following the death of dictator Francisco FRANCO in 1975, and rapid economic modernization (Spain joined the EU in 1986) gave Spain a dynamic and rapidly growing economy and made it a global champion of freedom and human rights. The government continues to battle the Basque Fatherland and Liberty (ETA) terrorist organization, but its major focus for the immediate future will be on measures to reverse the severe economic recession that started in mid-2008.

Location

Southwestern Europe, bordering the Bay of Biscay, Mediterranean Sea, North Atlantic Ocean, and Pyrenees Mountains, southwest of France.

Climate

temperate; clear, hot summers in interior, more moderate and cloudy along coast; cloudy, cold winters in interior, partly cloudy and cool along coast.

Languages

Castilian Spanish (official) 74%, Catalan 17%, Galician 7%, Basque 2%, are official regionally.

Countries which have Spanish as its official language are Spain, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and all the South American republics except Brazil and Guyana.

Origin

Romance language (roots in Latin) Influence from the Moors who invaded. In the 15th Century, Castilian became the most common dialect.

Present day Spanish

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. It is the mother tongue of some 320 million people scattered throughout the world – in the Iberian Peninsula, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands, in parts of Morocco and the west coast of Africa.

It is the official language of all the South American republics, with the exception of Brazil and Guyana. Naturally the Spanish spoken in all these places appears in many varieties. In fact the differences between Castilian Spanish and Latin American Spanish are equivalent to those between British English and American English.

The Spanish vocabulary is of Latin origin, though many of the words differ markedly from their counterparts in French and Italian. Prolonged contact with Germanic and later Arabic affected its evolution but did not risk the decrease in Romance speaking. Germanic and Arabic have left their mark on the Spanish language as words like ‘guerra’ – war and ‘algebra’ – maths can both be traced back to their respective Germanic and Arabic origins.

  • Approximately another 100 million people speak Spanish as a second language.
  • Spanish is expected to be the first language of 50% of the population of the United States within 50 years.

Interesting facts about Spain

  • Spain produces 44% of all the earth’s olive oil.
  • Spain “owns” two cities in Africa: the cities of Ceuta and Melilla in Melilla.
  • Spain is the closest country in Europe to Africa.