After a short drive uphill from the small village of San Millán de la Cogolla, I found myself standing before the Suso monastery. Founded by the 6th-Century hermit monk St Millán, the monastery feels as if it belongs to another time and place.
More than 1,000 years ago in Spain’s La Rioja region, monks made notes in the margins of Latin texts. These are believed to be the Spanish language’s first steps onto the page.
The official language in 20 countries and the mother tongue of 480 million people around the world, Spanish is the second most widely spoken native language on the planet after Mandarin Chinese, according to the Spanish language institute, the Instituto Cervantes.
Professor Jairo Javier García Sánchez, of the department of philology, communication and documentation at the University of Alcalá on the north-eastern outskirts of Madrid, traces the origins of Spanish back to vulgar Latin – ‘vulgar’ referring to the common, colloquial language rather than the “written, literary, classical Latin,” he explained.
Latin came to the Iberian Peninsula with the Romans during the Second Punic War in the 3rd Century BC, when the formation of Ibero-Romance, a sub-group of the Romance languages that developed on the Iberian Peninsula, began. This evolutionary process took place as the native inhabitants adopted Latin and incorporated it into their local language, phonetics, vocalic system and lexicon.