Eighth through tenth centuries
The Moorish invasion of 711 and the virtual conquest of the Iberian Peninsula by the year 718 left the Hispano-Visigothic kingdom in disarray. Many of the conquered Visigoths were absorbed into Islamic culture (they became known as mozarabes), while others retreated into the protective mountain ranges of the northern Cantabrian coastline. From the latter came the Reconquest, a seven-century-long effort to recapture the Peninsula. Isolated pockets of resistance to Moorish domination grew into kingdoms with competing priorities and interests involving territory, preeminence of power, and collection of taxes as well as the cultural variables, such as language and literature, that made each of them distinct. Intriguingly, Galicia, Castile, León, Navarre, Aragon, and Catalonia all developed separate linguistic traditions, but only Galicia, Castile, and Catalonia produced literatures that have survived. While much medieval knowledge was hoarded and hidden to benefit a specific interest, language and literature were much more democratic; every bard, juglar or jongleur, needed to keep his material fresh, and the subsequent give-and-take of poetic style and vocabulary crossed from one language to another and from one culture to another. Medieval Spanish poetry is the product of these many influences.
The development of the Spanish language followed a path distinct from that of other languages of the Iberian Peninsula. With a tendency toward simplification of sounds and forms, Castilian standardized its grammar and vocabulary very early, making possible, for example, the reading of eleventh and twelfth century documents by an untrained twentieth century eye. (By comparison, the fourteenth century English of Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales [1387-1400] is resistant to the untrained modern reader.) The early formation of Spanish clearly had an effect on Spanish literature, as did the pioneer environment of its origin. Artificial attempts have been made to differentiate Castilian from Spanish. In the purest of senses, Castilian can be distinguished as a dialect with its marked peculiarities, but it exerted its dominion over an entire peninsula and subsequently, the New World, thereby becoming the language of Spain.