The King Never Had A Lisp

5 min readJan 20, 2022


There is a weird story that goes around in the U.S. that Spainards speak Spanish the way they do because there once was a king who had a lisp.

Ask anyone from Spain about this story and I’m betting the majority of people there have no idea what you’re talking about. So I’m here to clear the air so that you don’t have those embarrassing conversations.

And honestly, are you ever able to single out who that darn king was? That’s because there wasn’t a king with a lisp who changed the accent. It’s just how Spanish formed, well Castilian Spanish.

Breakdown of Spanish languages in Spain. Yellow-Green is Castilian Spanish, Orange is Catalan, Gray is Basque, Blue is Galician, Red is Aranese. Blue-Green and yellow are recognized but not co-official languages. By FogueraC, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons.

There are FIVE languages in Spain: Aranese, Basque, Catalan, Galician and Castilian Spanish.

Spanish as we think of it in the states and elsewhere is Castilian Spanish. It’s a language that developed from vulgar latin (i.e. neoclassical, people’s latin [1]) much like other “romance” languages (which by the way means origins from Rome, and has much much less to do with love).

Spanish is a very vocal language. The spoken aspect came first, and the written aspect followed.

Part of that development included at some point deciding when to deviate the c and z sound from the s sound. In addition to a plethora of other changes from Latin that make Castilian Spanish, Spain had to decide what to do with whether as a country they should vocalize the c and z as it was voiced in many parts of Andalucía where Arabic influence thrived, compared to the north where Basque influence, (that then spread to central Spain did not voice the c and z) [2].

In the 11th century, there began a strengthening reconquering of Spain by the Castilian reign. It concluded with the surrender of the last threshold, and Arabic stronghold, the city of Granada in 1492. This same year, the Spanish Monarchy, fueled by wins in the Reconquisition decided to fund Christopher Colombus’ voyage (after being turned down by other countries) in search of a new passage east. Surprisingly, he and his crew survived, and landed in the Bahamas, funding additional trips to the American continents. In addition to disease, massive disruption, war, slavery, and Catholicism, this new connection also brought with it, Castilian Spanish.

Some of the larger language family groups in South America. By Brdaro — Davius, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Regionalized accents in different parts of Spanish-Speaking Latin America came from the Castilian Spanish that the new Spanish settlers brought. The painful and often lethal merging process between Spain and Latin America was heavily influenced by the many native languages like Taíno (Puerto Rico), Nauhtal and Mayan languages (Mexico). Words like cacao (Nahutal, English: cocoa), llama (Nahutal), and tiburón (Arawak, English: shark) come from indigenous languages[3]. The map above shows indigenous family groups in South America, obviously many more existed (and continue to exist) from North and Central America as well.

In Castilian Spanish, words like cacao (Nahutal, English: cocoa), llama (Nahutal), and tiburón (Arawak, English: shark) come from indigenous languages, largely wiped out by the invasion by Europe in the 15th century [3].

Left [3], Middle description: breakdown of Seseo, Ceceo and distinction in Southern Spain[4]. Right description: breakdown of Seseo, Ceceo and distinction in all of Spain[5]

One thing that came from Spain that was not so common in Spain, but fluorished throughout Spanish-Speaking Latin America was the seseo.

Sesear means when to pronounce (when appropriate) the sounds c and z in Spanish, like s.

The map above left shows where seseo happens around the world: the Canary Islands, all of Spanish-speaking Latin America, and a very small region in the northern part of Andalucía, the southernmost region in the Iberian peninsula. The main cities that would have seen immigration at the time that also sesean include Seville, Cádiz and Córdoba. You may also find people who sesea in parts of Granada, Málaga, Almería, and Jaén. See the second map (which is a partial map of Spain) to understand the regions of southern Spain that sesean. This sound factors in depending on letter placement and where it falls in relation to the syllables.

There are also places in Spain that cecean. Meaning they pronounce their s sound as a Spanish c or z (the th sound for English speakers). Then there’s the majority of Spanish individuals who distinguish between the s sound and the sound for c and z. See the final map, right above for these distinctions in Spain.

So now you know, there was never a king with a lisp who changed the accent.

This post was a good map post — data visualization has a lot of origins in cartography. When you know you can capture a global concept in a single image, you’re on to something good.


  1. Encyclopædia Britannica, inc. (n.d.). Vulgar latin. Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from
  2. Indigenous words in the Spanish language. SpanishDict. (n.d.). Retrieved January 14, 2022, from
  3. UCSD. (n.d.). Sibilant handout Linguistics 150. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from
  4. Left Map: By Fobos92, CC BY-SA 4.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons
  5. Middle Map By De Lanoyta — Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0,
  6. Right Map By De Fobos92 — Trabajo propio, CC BY-SA 4.0,
  7., & Lesson Nine. (n.d.). How is Spanish in Spain different from Spanish in Latin America? Babbel Magazine. Retrieved January 14, 2022, from




Psychology | Data Science & Viz | Social Justice | Spanish