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Like most of western Europe, from 206 B.C. to the mid fifth century A.D., Spain was part of the Roman Empire. Spanish, like French and Italian, is a Romance language. This simply means that the Vulgar Latin of the Roman legions that conquered, settled and ruled Spain is the base from which the various dialects of the region developed. In the early 400's the western Emperor Honorius appointed Ataulphus, a Visigothic leader married to the Emperor's sister, Governor of the Spanish provinces.
This began a Visigothic rule of the area that lasted until the Moorish invasions of the eighth century. Though a Germanic tribe, the Visigoths (like the Ostrogoths who overran and ended the western Roman Empire in 476) had become Romanized, adopting much of the Latin culture, and to some degree, language. Unlike the Germanic Saxon invasions in Egland, which displaced the native culture, the Rome-appointed rule of the Goths in Spain did not lead to mass migrations of Goths into Iberia.
When the western Roman Empire fell, Spain maintained ties with the surviving Byzantine government, thus remaining, at least nominally part of the Empire. Because the ruling Goths remained a minority, (300,000 out of a population over 4 million) and were something of a military elite who, most likely, were at least conversant in Latin, and because much of the administration of the civil government wa managed by the native people, Latin remained the language of government and commerce in Spain.
In the eighth century, Spain was invaded by the North African Berbers, an Islamic people allied with the Arabs. These peoples, whose descendants are known as the Moors, succeeded in establishing an Islamic state in Spain that would not be totally expelled until 1492. The Moors were so influential that for a time the Spanish language was written in Arabic characters, and in some places Christian religious services were held in Arabic. The Catholic Spanish zeal to rid the Iberian peninsula of the Moorish infidel was so intense, and emphasis on Spanish purity so rigid, that the Arabic language was expelled with the Arabic people.
The Spanish dialect of Castile, the kingdom most credited with the Moorish expulsion, became the most prominent of the dialects, and is the direct predecessor of modern Spanish. Castilian Spanish today still retains a number of Arabic borrowings, which can be discerned by the presence of the Arabic prefixed article al: alcachofa 'artichoke,' alfalfa 'alfalfa,' aldea 'village.' The Arabic influence in Spain can also be seen in place names, such as Cordova, Alhambra and Granada.
Other influences on the Spanish language are the influx of French words via French clerics who traveled to Santiago de Compostela in northwestern Spain, and Italian during the Renaissance period, partly due to the involvement of the Spanish Aragonese in Italian politics and the popularity in Spain of Italian poetry. The Spanish language also adopted certain Native American words through its exploration and partial conquest of the Americas, such as iguana, maize, and tobaco.
Today Spanish, and its dialects, is spoken not only in Spain, but in large portions of Latin America and South America, as well as in the Philippines, areas of the African coast, and in growing areas of the southern portion of North America.