1902 Encyclopedia > Spain > Languages of the Iberian Peninsula - Introduction

Spain
(Part 35)




LANGUAGES OF THE IBERIAN PENINSULA

Introduction


The Iberian Peninsula is not a linguistic unity. Not to speak of the Basque, which still forms an island of some importance in the north-west, three Eomance languages share this extensive territory:—(1) Portuguese-Galician, spoken in Portugal, Galicia, and a small portion of the province of Leon ; (2) Castilian, covering about two-thirds of the Peninsula in the north, centre, and south; (3) Catalan, occupying a long strip of territory to the east and south-east.

These three varieties of the Romania Rustica are marked off from one another much more distinctly than is the case with, say, the Romance dialects of Italy; they do not interpenetrate one another, but where the one ends the other begins. It has only been possible to establish at the points of junction of two linguistic regions the existence of certain mixed jargons in which certain forms of each language are intermingled; but these jargons, called into existence for the necessities of social relations by bilinguists, have an essentially individualistic and artificial character. The special development of the vulgar Latin tongue in Spain, and the formation of the three linguistic types just enumerated, were promoted by the peculiar political circumstances. From the 9th century onwards Spain was slowly recaptured from the Mohammedans, and the Latin spoken by the Christians who had taken refuge on the slopes of the Pyrenees was slowly carried back to the centre and ultimately to the south of the Peninsula, whence it had been driven by the Arab invasion. Mediaeval Spain divides itself into three conquistas—that of Castile (much the most considerable), that of Portugal, and that of Aragón; and to these three political conquests correspond an equal number of linguistic varieties. If a given province now speaks Catalan rather than Castilian, the explanation is to be sought simply and solely in the fact that it was conquered by a king of Aragón and peopled by his Catalan subjects.






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