Identification. Castilians are the people of Castile, the Interior lands of the Meseta, the central plateau of Spain, traditionally a region of rural smallholdings and the historic seat of what eventually became the Spanish kingdom. The name "Castile" derives from the great many frontier castles to be found in the region.
Location. There are two officially recognized regional units that bear the name "Castile" (Castile-and-Leon, and Castile-La Mancha), but historically and ethnographically, "Castile" refers to the tablelands (Meseta) of interior Spain, divided by the Sierra de Guadarrama, which runs east-west across the center of the region. Annual rainfall is scanty, averaging 70 centimeters, and most of it falls in the spring and winter. In late spring and early summer, thundershowers are common, but they bear inadequate moisture and often bring hail, which damages local crops. At one time, all of Spain was heavily forested in pine. Of the much-reduced forest lands of today, most are to be found in Castile. Other than these woodlands, the Castilian terrain is either scrub-covered or under cultivation. Soils are poor to mediocre, and the principal water courses (running east-west) are the Duero and Tagus rivers.
Demography. Reliable population figures specific to Castile are not readily ascertainable, but one may roughly estimate that of the 1986 total population of Spain (38,700,000), three-fourths live in the Castilian region. This number is misleading, however, for Castile is a predominantly rural smallholding region, where average population densities are low but are offset by the fact that the region also contains massive urban concentrations in cities such as Madrid, Toledo, and Valladolid. Throughout the region, the demographic trend has been toward the depopulation of the rural sector as its residents migrate toward urban centers or abroad.
Linguistic Affiliation. Of the six recognized Spanish dialects (Andalucian, Aragonese, Asturian, Castilian, Leonese, and Valencian) Castilian is the official one. Indeed, the linguistic designation "Spanish" refers specifically to the Castilian dialect—much to the discontent of many other Spanish (but non-Castilian) speakers. More than 28,000,000 speakers of the language are estimated in Spain alone, although not all of these speakers reside in the historic region of Castile. Castilian, along with the other five Spanish dialects, is a member of the North Central Ibero-Romance Family, and it displays strong lexical similarities (greater than 80 percent) with Portuguese, Catalan, and Italian. Less closely related, but still quite similar (greater than 70 percent lexical similarity) are French, Rheto-Romance, Sardinian, and Romanian.