Defined in principle as an autonomous field of study that connects knowledge about language with practical decision-making in the real world, applied linguistics constitutes a fairly recent discipline compared to the study of language from philological or theoretical perspectives. In the specific case of the applied linguistics of Spanish, its significant recent development could be motivated by a combination of demographic, socioeconomic, cultural and academic factors. In the first place, in recent decades there has been a substantial growth in the Spanish-speaking population in the world, with a number close to five hundred million today. Spanish is the second language with the largest number of native speakers after Mandarin, but it maintains a high degree of linguistic homogeneity, a solid cultural and literary tradition, and official language status in 21 countries.
Research and professional work of applied linguistics has not been limited to monolingual speakers of Spanish, but has shown great interest in analyzing and responding to the needs of multilingual or multicultural individuals and communities that use Spanish in various contexts. The demographic weight of the Spanish language has meant a greater importance of the so-called “language industries”, that is, economic activities directly linked to the use of Spanish, such as, for example, translation and interpretation services, new communication technologies or information, editorial and advertising work and, above all, the teaching of Spanish as a second or foreign language. The demand for qualified personnel in these or other work areas has in turn led to a notable offer of university-level programs or courses with teachers who have not only a solid theoretical background in linguistics, but also practical knowledge of various professional areas related to the Spanish language. Finally, the field of general linguistics itself has in recent years attached greater importance to the study of “real” linguistic facts, partly because of the discipline’s own internal evolution marked by a phase of growth towards abstraction and conceptualization followed by a phase of greater attention to natural phenomena.