Spanish Influence on American English: Past and Present
FAST-US-1 Introduction to American English (Hopkins)
Department of Translation Studies, University of Tampere
Spanish Historical Influence, Early Loan Words & Historical/Regional
- Pre-colonial Spanish exploration of current U.S. Southwest,
California, and Mexico
- Juan Poncé de Leon discovers Florida in 1513; Spanish colony
built in St. Augustine in 1565; Florida becomes part of U.S. in 1821
- Hernán de Cortés explores Mexico in 1519; Francisco
Vázquez de Coronado and his Conquistadores explore Arizona, Texas,
Colorado and New Mexico in 1540-41; San Juan Pueblo (Chamita, NM;
near Espanola & Santa Fe) established as oldest continuous Spanish
settlement in the Southwest
- Father Junípero Serra founds 21 missions between 1769-1823
along present El Camino Real from San Diego to San Francisco,
California. Mexico cedes territory to U.S. via the Treaty of Guadelupe
Hidalgo in 1848. Spanish speakers the majority population until the 1849
California Gold Rush
- The Spanish language predated English in Florida, Louisiana (together
with French), Texas, California, New Mexico and Arizona
- Puerto Rico, conversely, has been a U.S. territory since 1898 as a
result of the Spanish-American War; Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens by
virtue of the Jones Act in 1917. Many Puerto Ricans have immigrated to New
York City (cf.
West Side Story [Trailer, YouTube], etc.)
- (Especially on the West Coast, immigration from the Philippines also
has increased the use of Spanish)
- Many loan words from the early Spanish exploration, and also the
proximity to Mexico, have been adapted into English (some directly, others
'anglicized' forms) for plants and animals, geographical features, place
names, constructions, foods, 'Western' lore, etc.
- armadillo, bronco, burro, coyote, chihuahua (dog), iguana, etc.
- arroyo, canyon, mesa, sierra, butte, etc.
- Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Rio Grande, San Diego, San Jose, San
Francisco, Los Angeles, etc.
- New Mexico, California, Colorado, Florida
- adobe, pueblo, plaza, patio, hacienda, etc.
- vaquero, ranch, corral, larriat/lasso, rodeo, chaps, sombrero
- amigo, bandido, siesta, senor/senorita, 'vamoose', loco
- chile con carne, enchiladas, tamales, tacos (cf. Taco Bell), refritos, oregano,
cilantro (cf. 'coriander'), fiesta
- These original Spanish loan words are mostly region-specific to the
American Southwest, though there are also terms specific to Florida
(including the state's name), such as the place names Key Largo, Key West,
and San Augustine, as well as wildlife like the alligator.
- With the exception of some of the food terms, these loan words are
mostly marked as rural, outdoors, and 'historical' (as the Southwest
itself has been), but as such are not marked as 'positive' or
Current Status of 'Hispanic'/'Latino' Population and Spanish
- The U.S. is the 2nd-largest Latin or Spanish-speaking country in the
world, after Mexico. The number and influence of Latinos in the U.S. is
rapidly increasing (cf. Pew Hispanic Center's population maps
- As the number and influence of U.S. Latinos increases, so does the
public 'status' perception of Latinos and the language forms they use (cf.
Walt Wolfram in 'American Tongues' on how the status of a dialect is
related to the current status of those who are identified with that
- According to the Pew Hispanic
Center, by 2020 the second-generation Latino labor force will have a
growth rate of 209% (by 5.4 million workers), compared with a growth rate
of 9% (11.5 million workers) for the entire non-Hispanic work force.
Nearly one-fourth of the U.S. labor force growth between now and
2020 is expected to be from the children of Latino immigrants
- Likewise, the Pew Center reports that ca. 1 in 7 new students
enrolling in U.S. schools between now and 2020 will be second-generation
(G-2) Latino. The number of G-2 Latinos aged 5 to 19 is expected to
double, growing from ca 4.4 to 9.0 million by 2020
- Los Angeles may be thought of as the 3rd-largest 'Mexican' city, and
California the 2nd-largest 'Mexican' state
- Spanish has "official status" in California and in the State of New Mexico, (although
it is not an 'official language' in either state).
- 10% (28.1 million people) of U.S. population is Spanish-speaking
(2000 Census, via MLA Language Maps
compared with 82% English speakers (215.4 million) and 18% (46.9 million)
for all languages other than English combined.
- Strong regional identity, esp. in Southwest, resembling early
historical settlement, see maps. Otherwise
marked as hard-working (cf. 'historical' stereotype), family-oriented, and
religious (Roman Catholic).
- Economic, social and language distinctions between former Cubans in
Florida, Mexicans in Southwest, Puerto Ricans & Dominicans in New York.
U.S. 'Spanish' also has many variants, including Cuban (mainly Florida),
Puerto Rican (mainly New York City), Mexican (Texas, California),
Dominican, and other Central and South American.
Some of the variants, such as the Mexican Chicano English,
themselves have local 'dialects,' such as Tex-Mex, Tejano, etc., and even
separate dictionaries (cf. Chicano
Spanish-English vs. Mexican
- U.S. 'Hispanics' are now the largest
minority group, although 'Hispanic' is not a coherent identity. The number of U.S. Hispanics
is expected to surge rapidly during the 21st
- The growing Hispanic influence is already challenging certain popular language references, as is the Hispanic expansion into other U.S. regions from their
traditional places of residence (cf.
'Americano Gothic' by the
cartoonist Lalo Alcaraz)
- With the recent rapid growth of Hispanic influence, there has been
occasional social and political tension, as when a local Spanish-speaking
population wished to change the official language
of their city to Spanish, or when a Spanish
version of the Star-Spangled Banner circulated in Spring 2006,
or simply as the new Latino immigration is felt by the indigenous
population as being 'overwhelming' (see for example Nuevo South in
the American Radioworks series on How
Latino Immigration is Changing America).
- In response, voters in many states have approved 'English Only'
initiatives for the conduct of official business within their state (see
the U.S. English website as well
as the Wikipedia
While these may not be favored by linguists (see for example 'Only English . . .
The Yiddish Version), they represent a gut reaction by the 'man on the
street' who feels threatened.
Changes in the Images & Status of Hispanics in Recent
- Change in the 'status desirability' of the Latino community in U.S.
popular culture can easily be seen in recent years cf. Walt
Wolfram in American Tongues: "It's easy to figure out which
dialects are more desirable and which dialects are less desirable, just
look at which groups are more desirable and which groups are less
- Former Latino stereotypical images,
especially those of Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, are rapidly changing
into new images of success and prosperity.
- With new confidence, Latinos are humorously looking at other ways in
which they have been stereotypically portrayed (in Hollywood movies, as in this cartoon by
- The usage of past 'Spanish' references in American English is also
being scrutinized, for example in the linguistic anthropologist Jane
Hill's 1995 paper on
Spanish', which examines what phrases like 'El Cheapo,' 'El Jerko' and
hasta la vista, baby! may reflect
- The growing social and economic significance of Hispanic Americans
has resulted in an increase in Spanish-language TV
programming (see also the Wikipedia entry on
'Univision' and the
Univision portal), as Univision becomes the 5th-largest U.S. TV
network (following Fox, ABC, NBC & CBS) and the rival Telemundo also expands
(see Telemundo 51 in
Miami, Telemundo 47 in
New York, and Telemundo 33 in
San Diego/Tijuana, among other local affiliates).
Programming on these channels is primarily in Spanish, originating
domestically from the U.S., or from Mexico and South America.
- While the use of Spanish in the early 21st century is approaching a
neutralized, 'mainstream' status, continuing publicity over illegal
immigration from Mexico raises both protectionist and xenophobic concerns
for many non-Latino Americans, especially in the Southwest. The 'border
issue' may color the status of any Spanish-speaker in the eyes of some.
'Spanglish' as an Aspect of Hispanic Bicultural Identity?
- The term 'Spanglish' originated
in the late 1960s: it refers mainly to Spanish which employs loan words
from English, especially as substitutes for Spanish words, though in a
broader sense it is a form of code-switching. Essentially, 'Spanglish'
represents a form of "acculturation" of the new Spanish-speaking community
within the larger English-speaking American population, rather than
"assimilation" into the host culture.
- Within the Latino community in the early 21st century, Spanglish is
generally positively regarded as a 'bicultural' means of communication
that reflects the bicultural identity of Latino-Americans.
- However, there is ambivalence about the 'identity' of Spanglish
(cf. cartoon and Viva Spanglish! vs. A Spanish-English Hybrid is Spoken With No
- Spanglish is distinct from notions of Black English being
intentionally incomprehensible by other [white] Americans, even if
non-Latinos may need help in deciphering it (cf. 'Official Spanglish Dictionary').
Conversely, it may be similar to Jewish Americans who employ Yiddish terms
and phrases as markers of their ethnic history and identity.
- The ambivalent identity of 'Spanglish' results in its often being
the focus of articles in the popular press (cf. Is
This Our Creole? and Spanglish
Helps Bridge Cultural and Generational Gaps and
Spanglish and Code Switching . . . )
- Spanglish is also studied by scholars (cf. In Simple Pronouns, Clues to Shifting Latino
Identity) and taught in universities, in the U.S. (cf. Spanglish: An Example of
- There have also been translations into 'Spanglish', such as this
one of Don
Quixote de La Mancha by Amherst College (Massachusetts) professor Ilan
Stavans. What might this suggest?
Examples of U.S. Latino/Hispanic Literature and Background
US-1 Reference Files Index
US-1 Class Schedule
Last Updated 21 April 2013