Category Archives: Spanish language history

Spanish Names, American Cities

Spanish Names, American Cities

If you drive through California you will quickly notice places with Spanish sounding names such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Sacramento and many many more. A first-time visitor would be forgiven for thinking California is an officially Spanish speaking state. However, such as in many areas throughout the United States, California has numerous places with Spanish language names, but that are actually not primarily inhabited by Spanish speakers.

California’s official name, California, even has a Spanish origin, and it was named after a fictional island in a 16th century Spanish novel. California is one of five states with Spanish language translations. The other five states are, Montana; Nevada, meaning “snow-covered”, for the Sierra Nevada (which translates to snow-covered Mountains in English); Arizona and Colorado, meaning “reddish”, named for the appearance of the Colorado River. Additionally, the Spanish speaking territory of Puerto Rico comes from the Spanish language translation of “rich port”.

Many cities, towns, counties, and neighborhoods also have Spanish names. El Paso, Texas, translates to “the passage”. It is named such because the city lies in a passage between the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra de Juarez. Fresno, California, means “ash tree” in English and is named after the plentiful ash trees in that city.  Las Cruces, New Mexico, comes from the Spanish word for “crosses”.

Many famous natural sites also have Spanish names. For example, the Sacramento Mountains in New Mexico are named for the Catholic “sacrament”. El Capitan translating to “the captain” is the name of a peak in Texas and a rock formation in California. The famous island prison Alcatraz translates in Spanish to “pelican” because the island was once solely inhabited by pelicans.

Why do so many places in the United States have Spanish language names? As we will discuss in this article, Spanish place names came to be under a variety of circumstances:

  • Spanish Place Names with Spanish Colonial History
  • Spanish Place Names with a Post-Colonial Spanish History
  • Spanish Sounding Place Names Falsely Attributed to the Spanish Language

Spanish Place Names with Spanish Colonial History

 Spanish conquistadors first settled areas that are now the United States, along with much of South and Central America, in the 1500s. Most areas with Spanish names received them from Spanish speaking settlers who colonized the areas hundreds of years ago. You can still see these settlements today in towns such as St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continually settled town in the United States; Ysleta, Texas, the oldest European settlement in Texas; or Santa Fe, New Mexico, which translates to “holy faith”.

Many areas of the modern day United States were owned by Spain before being transferred or annexed by the United States. The state of Florida was sold to the USA by Spain in 1819. You can still see the Spanish colonial history in cities with Spanish names such as Boca Raton, meaning Thieves Village, Cape Canaveral, translating to Cape of Canes, and Miramar meaning Sea View.

Texas was also once colonized by Spain and became part of Mexico in the Mexican War of Independence. Shortly after, Texas fought their own war to become an independent country, the República de Texas (Texas Republic) and later joined the United States.

We can still see the colonial history in names of cities such as San Antonio, named for the feast of St Anthony of Padua (San Antonio in Spanish) which fell on the day settlers camped near the San Antonio River, and later gave its name to the city. Another feast was responsible for the naming of the town Corpus Christi. The town Amarillo gets its name, meaning “yellow”, from the yellow wildflowers and yellow soil in the area.

In the Mexican-American war, a large part of the Mexican territory was annexed by the United States. This included parts of modern day Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Utah. As we mentioned earlier, some of these states have names with Spanish origins. They are also home to many cities and towns with Spanish names. Los Alamos, New Mexico is named for the poplar trees that grow in the area. La Paz County, Arizona, meaning “the peace” and La Plata County in Colorado meaning “silver”, to mention just a few.

Spanish Place Names with a Post-Colonial Spanish History

Many cities, landmarks and other places have been named in post-colonial times due to the influx and influence of Spanish speaking immigrants. Lake Buena Vista, Florida was named in 1969 after a place in California. A neighborhood in Queens, New York is called Corona, meaning it is the “crown” of Queens County. Cesar Chavez Park in Berkeley, California is named after Hispanic-American activist Cesar Chavez. The community of Estrella, Arizona meaning “star”, and it’s neighboring community Montecito, meaning “little mountain” show the continued influence of the Spanish language on developments throughout the United States.

 Spanish Sounding Place Names Falsely Attributed to the Spanish Language

Some place names simply sound Spanish, but have no Spanish origin. Eldorado, Illinois, for example would translate to “The Golden” but the town name actually came from two English surnames Elder and Read being put together to form “Elder-Reado” and eventually “Eldorado”.

Some cities were given Spanish language names simply because the inhabitants wanted to translate the words into Spanish. Using direct translation Sierra Vista, Arizona means “mountain view”, but this is not proper form in Spanish. A better translation, if done by a professional, would be Miramonte or Mirasierra. The Texan town San Angelo was named after the town founder’s wife, Caroline Angela and originally called Santa Angela then later San Angela, an ungrammatical construction in the Spanish language. The town name eventually changed to the grammatically correct, but masculine, San Angelo.

As you can see, even official names can have errors in translation. This only emphasizes the need to leave translation projects up to the Spanish language experts. Professional translation services such as Spanish with Style guarantee the accuracy of translations, avoiding possible embarrassment or confusion due to miss-translated messages. Without a professional Spanish language translator it can be incredibly easy to make a mistake, particularly by attempting to translate a phrase directly, ignoring the nuanced differences between the languages and arriving at a result that does not make sense to a native speaker.

Spanish and French- ¡Parlez-vous Español?

Spanish and French

Both Spanish and French are part of what we call the Romance language family, meaning that they are siblings in the larger Indo-European language family, having both evolved from Latin. Because of this, Spanish and French share significant similarities, specifically when comparing vocabulary root-words.

During the spread of the Roman Empire which spanned 500 years, the Latin language spread all throughout Europe, as well as parts of North Africa and Asia. During this time Latin was adopted as the lingua franca of the Roman Empire. Of course most of the newly Roman-conquered land did not previously speak Latin, but rather Gaelic, Aramaic, and Germanic languages- among many others. All of these local languages would go on to leave their geographically specific mark on the Latin language that was being enforced.

It is important to note that the style of Latin spoken by the often under-educated soldiers was not formal Latin, but rather a form of Latin commonly referred to as ‘Vulgar Latin’. This more informal Latin, which was more causal in nature, was particularly conducive to influence from other languages, especially when so many of its speakers at this time were new Latin speakers.

So, for languages that share such an intimate history and whose main populations of speakers still live side by side to this day, just what are the differences between Spanish and French?

In this article we will outline the following topics:

  • When Spanish and French became Distinct Languages
  • The Similarities Between The Spanish and French Language
  • The Differences between The Spanish and French Language

When Spanish and French Became Distinct Languages

Prior to the Roman invasion of modern-day France and modern-day Spain, there were several languages spoken in the region. Spain was home to speakers of ancient Iberian and ancient Basque, while France had more Celtic influence from the Gauls and Belgae. The effects of these different linguistic roots on the Latin that was introduced can be seen in modern-day French and modern-day Spanish today.

As much influence as the Latin language obviously had at the time, Latin also took many borrowed words, particularly from the Celtic languages spoken in France. In the third and fourth centuries, encroaching Germanic tribes from the East of modern-day France had a strong influence on the Latin being spoken in that region. Because of these strong influences, some argue that Old French was the first Romance language to distinguish itself as it’s own language distinct from Latin.

Spain did not experience the same agents of change influence that France did. In fact, many of the pre-Roman languages of the area were completely overtaken by Latin, and have been forgotten. Spain had the added benefit of being geographically isolated due to its extensive coastline and the Pyrenees Mountains on the French-Spanish border. Due to the slightly more isolated nature of Spain, we can see today that Spanish has more Classical (official) Latin influence, while French has more Vulgar Latin influence.

It is because of these geographical, cultural and linguistic differences that Spanish and French were able to evolve independently from Latin, becoming their own distinct languages.

We can see how some of these differences have impacted modern-day Spanish and French. A good example of this is the verb ‘to do’ which is facere in Classical Latin, and fare in Vulgar Latin. The Spanish translation is hacer, which is more similar to Classical Latin, while the French faire is closer to Vulgar Latin.

The Similarities between The Spanish and French Language

Spanish and French are still both Romance languages with Latin origins, and as such share substantial similarities. For example, there is significant overlap of Latin-based root words. In fact, the lexical similarity between the two languages is 75%, which is quite high. Lexical similarity measures the mutual intelligibility of languages, the higher the score, the more chance of it being understood by speakers of either language.

  • Vocabulary: There are hundreds upon hundreds of examples of similar Latin root words, one of which is the word for sleeping. This translates are dormir in both French and Spanish, and are pronounced nearly identically. This comes from the Latin word dormientes.
  • Sentence Structure: Word order is the same for both French and Spanish. They both employ a Subject-Object-Verb word order, whereas English uses a Subject-Verb-Object order. An example of this is in English we say Bob drank water, rather than Bob water drank.
  • Verbs: There are extended similarities in the way verb conjugation functions in both French and Spanish, for example both use a standard structure of yo/je (I), tú/tu (you), el/il & ella/elle (him & her), vosotros/vous (formal or plural you) and ellos/ils ellas/elles (plural him & her)
  • Gender: Both French and Spanish employ the use of gender to classify all nouns, whereas English does not do this. For both Spanish and French, the gender of a noun may alter the structure sentence around it.

The Differences between the Spanish and French Language

Despite their significant similarities, French and Spanish are still languages unique unto themselves, although many of these differences are subtle and difficult to navigate for those who are not native or near native speakers of both French and Spanish.

  • Vocabulary: While the Latin root words may share similarities, there are a few major differences, specifically in the more commonly used words. For example, “To be” can be translated to either ser or estar in Spanish, while French only has one word for to be, être. “To have” is similar, which could be haber or tener in Spanish, but only avoir in French.
  • Sentence Structure: While both languages employ a Subject-Verb-Object word order, in Spanish you don’t need to explicitly state the subject in certain contexts. For example, ‘I eat apples’ would simply be como manzanas (eat apples) in Spanish, whereas the verb conjugations for ‘to eat’ implies the subject, ‘I’ in this case. In French this is grammatically incorrect, je mange des pommes where it is important to include both the subject ‘I’ (je) and the pronoun des (the).
  • Verbs: Despite a similar basic structure, certain tenses are more heavily used in Spanish, such as preterite and subjunctive imperfect.
  • Gender: While both Spanish and French employ the use of gendered nouns, many words which are considered feminine in one, are considered masculine in the other. For example, the word for color which is masculine (el color) in Spanish and feminine (la couleur) in French.

As you can see, for every similarity French and Spanish share, there are multiple differences. Even more confusing, many of these differences are very subtle in nature, and it is easy for French speakers to make mistakes when speaking Spanish and vice versa.

It is for reasons such as these that it is important to hire professional language experts when deciding to expand your message, brand or business internationally. Profesional Spanish language translation and copy editing services such as Spanish with Style guarantee your message is being conveyed in a clear, concise and accurate manner. There are many pitfalls of translation, and our professionals at Spanish with Style can help you navigate those pitfalls with ease.



The Language of Love – The Shared History of Romance Languages

The language of love

The Romance languages: Italian, French, Spanish – to name a few, are often considered to be the languages of love, from the Spanish ‘Latin Lover’ stereotype, to famous French love poems and romantic Italian dinner music. However, it may surprise some to know that these languages are not called ‘Romance’ languages after their perceived cultural predisposition to all things romantic, but rather because of their origins- the Roman Empire. Although spoken by some 800 million people today, the Romance languages were originally derived from Latin, which was spoken by the Romans across Europe at the height of their power.

In this article, we will look at Romance languages today, and where they came from:

  • The Foundation of Romance Languages the Latin origin of Romance languages can still be seen today.
  • What Are the Romance Languages? Even though Latin is not still spoken, it lives on through several modern day Latin based languages.
  • The Romance Languages in Today’s World Romance languages are spoken on every continent, and play an integral role in global culture and economy.

The Foundation of Romance Languages

Over the course of nearly 500 hundred years; Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia and the Middle East were conquered and ruled by the Roman Empire. As the Romans began spreading out from Rome in 31 BCE and occupying more and more land, they brought with them their language, Latin. Latin is technically considered a dead language as there are no longer any native speakers, however it is not a forgotten language and is still used in certain Academic contexts.

What remains from Latin today are the languages that were derived from Latin over the sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth centuries, after the fall of the Roman Empire loosened the grip the Latin language had on people’s daily lives.

These languages, known today as the Romance languages, evolved from Latin, but more specifically they evolved from what is generally referred to as ‘Vulgar Latin’. While the word ‘vulgar’ has certain connotations in English, what ‘Vulgar Latin’ really means is non-standard, or common speech Latin, as opposed to classical Latin, which was the official language of the elite and educated class. Because the Romans conquered such a vast amount of land in a relatively short time, the Roman army consisted of slaves, thieves, or people whose homeland had been conquered and who had been conscripted, all with limited levels of formal education, or for whom Latin was not their first language.

Because the Roman territory consisted of such a large, linguistically diverse area of land, new speakers of Latin would often infuse their spoken Latin with words from their own languages. Although the Romans attempted to enforce linguistic unity, there were still pushback from communities who wished to continue speaking their languages. We can see evidence of this in the languages that evolved from Latin, the Romance languages, which eventually splintered off in very different directions thanks in part to the influence of pre-existing local dialects.

What Are the Romance Languages?

There are 23 Romance Languages as we know them today. However, the most common ones are Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian and Romanian. More than 800 million people speak these languages now around the world. Here is how the most commonly spoken Romance languages break down by the numbers:

  • Spanish – 400 million native speakers with many more as a second language
  • Portuguese – 216 million native speakers basically only in Brazil and Portugal
  • French- 80 million native speakers, mostly in France but also among their many colonies
  • Italian – 60 million native speakers mostly in Italy
  • Romanian – 25 million native speakers generally in Romania and Moldova

These languages represent the official way of communicating of one out of every seven people on earth, and continue to grow exponentially.

The Spanish language in particular is one of the most widely spoken Romance languages, and it is the official language in 21 countries. It is estimated that by the year 2050, there will be 900 million native Spanish speakers globally, meaning that the Spanish language could easily represent 10% of the world’s total population. Notably, it is also estimated that the United States will be home to the largest population of Spanish speakers by this time.

Portuguese began to appear as a language distinct from Latin by the 13th century, and has been strongly influenced by the Galician language spoken in the area prior to the Roman invasion. Having spread to the new world in the 15th century, specifically Brazil, as well as parts of Africa, today there are 202 million native Portuguese speakers across 9 countries.

The French language is now the fourth most spoken language in the world, counting over 80 million native speakers. French is also one of the more commonly spoken second languages, and counts 220 million people worldwide who can speak varying degrees of the language. The French language has spread all over the world; from Europe, to Africa, to small Caribbean islands, to large parts of Canada and even the United States.

The Italian language is actually the closest to Latin of all the Romance languages, which is not surprising as Rome was the center of the whole of the Roman Empire. Italian is spoken throughout several countries in Europe, and there are large communities of Italian expatriates in the Americas and Australia. There are approximately 85 million Italian speakers in the world today.

The Romanian language is spoken by more than 25 million people, and counts another 4 million second language speakers. It is also spoken in by many expatriate communities in countries such as Canada, the United States, Greece, Turkey, Russia, Australia and many more around the world.

Romance Languages in Today’s World

The Romance Languages that evolved from the fall of the Roman Empire in the sixth century to the ninth century when they emerged as languages distinct from their Latin parents, are today spoken by a significant percentage of the world’s population. On every continent you will find a community of Romance language speakers, whether it be Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian or Romanian.

It is clear to see that in a world where Romance languages are ubiquitous, many businesses and individuals alike are turning to professional translation and copy editing services such as Spanish with Style to get their message across to multiple audiences. It is important to choose a translation service that specialized in the target Romance language, as there are more differences than similarities among them. Our Spanish language translation and copy editing professionals are Spanish language experts, and guarantee that your text will be translated into perfect Spanish so it can be smoothly communicated to the 400 million native Spanish speakers on earth today.