EVOLUTION AND INFLUENCE OF THE SPANISH LANGUAGE IN US ENGLISH (by Mary Rubin D'Ambrosio of Union I. & University in Cincinnati/USA)
The research is about the evolution of the Spanish language, in Europe and North America, and the related influence on the English of the United States. The purpose of the research is to show that the interaction between different people and their languages creates the enrichment of our language, with consequent benefits.
So, in order to facilitate the integration between the American English-speaking community and the growing Spanish-speaking minority in the United States, this research wants to explain how and why a foreign language like Spanish is constructive for the American-English language development.
The research even wants to create awareness that the Spanish Language is influencing positively our American society. The research aims to give a reaffirming confirmation that a language (like the U.S. .English) is a living organism receiving “loanwords” (from Spanish, for example) to enhance continuously itself. Indeed, the American society can be reassured that the “melting pot” which has created the unique characteristics of our Nation is working effectively even in function of the foreign languages (like Spanish).
This is why the research asserts that the necessity of better understanding the usefulness of Foreign Languages in our American Society and School System. After a brief study of the evolution of the Spanish Language from the Latin, the research explains in detail how and why the Spanish language has influenced the American English development. Furthermore, the research emphasizes the importance of the Spanish in the differentiation process of our language from the English language since Columbus and the colonial times.
The content of the research can be summarized briefly in this outline: First, a brief review of the Spanish Language development in Medieval Spain. Second, a study of the Spanish Language in colonial America. Then, the core of the research: the “loanwords” from Spanish in the American English. Finally, how and why the Spanish Language is constructive for the development of the US English and its differentiation from the British English.
Some experts agree that a successful language like our needs continuously new words (called “loanwords”) to adapt to a changing society, its time and its challenges. The more words from other languages are assimilated, the more expressive and useful our English can become (Duran, 1981).
This is precisely what has characterized the growing success of the American English worldwide: with Spanish “loanwords”, for example, our language can be more easily accepted and understood in Latin America, as well as in the Iberian Peninsula and the Philippines (Crystal, 1990).
Another feature related to the usefulness of the influence of the Spanish language in our language is the intrinsic facilitation of the integration process for the millions of Latino immigrants living in the United States. The more English speaking Americans accept to use some Spanish in conversations, the friendlier they will be to deal with the Latino minority and the consequent problems.
We have to avoid the possible creation in our country of a “language barrier” like those that existed in Europe last century, which were partially responsible for the nationalistic and xenophobic first and second world wars. Our famous “melting pot” of people and their languages is the best antidote to this dangerous problem (Ferguson & Shirley, 1982).
This is exactly why the Spanish influence in the US English (with more than ten thousand “loanwords”) is a very positive and useful contribution to our society.
Scholars pinpoint that the English language is “a Germanic skeleton with Latin flesh”, because the English lexicon is mainly Latin after many centuries of assimilation from Rome and from neo-Latin countries, like France and Italy (Marckwardt, 1980). So, the acceptance of the influence in our American English, of another neo-Latin language, Spanish, can only bring us a better future.
Indeed, strange mixed creations like the “Spanglish” or “Chicano” dialect can (at least in theory) aggravate the xenophobia of some Americans, like the influential White Anglo Saxon Protestants (WASP) who are against those not accepting the “English only” politics (Hendrickson, 1986): the natural evolution of a language and the slow - century after century - assimilation of “loanwords” from other languages must be accepted and helped, but strange “mixtures” should be rejected (as History in Europe teaches us).
First Section: The Evolution of the Spanish Language
The evolution of the Spanish Language from the Fall of the Roman Empire
From the linguistic point of view the Spanish Language was created from the Latin after the Fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century A.D. In the middle of the Iberian Peninsula (called “Hispania” in Latin) there is a region named “Castilla”, or land of the Castles, where the Roman Legions had their main “castra” (or castle in Latin).
From there in the Middle Ages the Reconquista (or “reconquest” from the Arabs) spread the Castellano language to all of Spain. In the Renaissance years of Cervantes, Calderon de la Barca and Lope de Vega the Castellano became the official language of the Kingdom of Spain. That is why the Castellano language is synonymous of Spanish language (Duran, 1981).
The full romanization of the Iberian peninsula in the fifth century was clearly seen in the widespread use of the Latin in all the “Hispania” society, not only in the upper class as in Roman Britain. This is the main reason why in the middle ages a neo-Latin language developed in Spain, while in Britain the use of the Latin disappeared (even if many words remained in the new Anglo-Saxon language of the British isles).
Indeed, some lexicology researchers (Patterson and Urrutibeheity) pinpoint that 81 % of the Spanish language originated directly from the Latin, with another 11 % indirectly through other neo-Latin languages (French, Italian and Portuguese).
Arabic contributed more than 4000 terms to Spanish. Some of them have passed to our English (like “alcohol”, “algebra”, “lemon”) trough a process called “loanwording” (or to borrow words from a dominant language to another).
There is even a small amount of German words (nearly one thousand) in the Spanish language, as a consequence of the few centuries of Visigoth rule of Spain. Finally, some dozen words in Spanish are originated from the old Greek and the Celtic.
The Linguist experts agree that Spanish is fully a neo-Latin language in phonology, morphology and syntax (Fernandez Flores, 1965).
As a final point, in the lexical analysis of Spanish, the 8 % of terms not originated from the Latin are borrowed from other languages in different periods of time in the last two thousand years.
The historical periods that saw the most rapid enlargement in the Spanish lexicon correspond to times in which Spain was experiencing important cultural development.
According to Patterson and Urrutibeheity, the lexicon of the Spanish language is made of words 24 % “inherited” from the Vulgar Latin, 35 % “created” by different kinds of affixation, compounding and agglutination, and finally 45 % “borrowed” (or “loanworded”) from other languages.
They even emphasize that borrowings were especially numerous during the fifteenth century (35 %), and the thirteenth (21 %), sixteenth (12 %) and seventeenth centuries(11 %). Thus, the fifteenth, sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which correspond to the Renaissance and the transitional period immediately preceding it, contributed the majority (58%) of the loanwords.
This explains the strong influence of the Italian Renaissance language in Spanish artistic and literary words (Achard & Kemmer, 2004).
Indeed, a smaller percentage (21 %) were borrowed in the thirteenth century during the time of Alfonso el Sabio, a period of intense literary and intellectual activity in the Spain of the “Reconquista” against the Arabs.
It was also during these same eras that the Spanish lexicon was increased by the largest number of “created” words: in the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries an astonishing 48% of the total. The remarkable similarity of the figures for both borrowing and creating of Spanish words is an example of cultural expansion resulting in lexical growth (Patterson & Urrutibeheity, 1975).
During the Renaissance years there were the first interactions between the Spanish and the English languages, but were confined practically to a few literary and artistic words, often related to the Italian language (like “piano”). The strengths of the Spanish lexicon lie in its expressive power, richness of color and easy of understanding. Like English, and unlike French, Spanish possesses a great wealth of synonyms which provide means for subtlety and variety of expression.
Often in the Spanish vocabulary coexist two terms with the same referent, one from Latin and another borrowed from another language (even neo-Latin), offering different shades of meaning and greater or lesser degrees of formality.
This characteristic is similar in the English vocabulary, where practically every word can be expressed with two terms, one from German and another from Latin (e.g.: heaven and paradise, big and great, wealth and affluence, travel and voyage, etc.).
Other lexicon nuances are derived from the flexibility in altering Spanish words through affixation, functional shift and compounding, processes which often serve to express attitudinal factors (Duran, 1981).
In Spanish, as in German, words formed by composition are usually transparent in their meaning since the semantic values of their constituent parts are well known, thus facilitating the understanding of complex neologisms. English, in contrast, is more opaque in its non-Germanic words because they have been borrowed as wholes and the meanings of their components have become obscure.(Crystal, 1990).
As a result of composition and inflection, Spanish words tend to be longer than
their English equivalent and thus, as any translator knows, a page in English is likely to be four-fifths of a page in its Spanish version (Shores, 1972).
Thus, an English person when writing a sentence or paragraph is very brief and precise, but a Spanish person will use plenty of redundancy and long phrases. For example, in an English article we can read “…...this is an easy - going behavior…..”, but in the language of Cervantes a Spanish writer will never translate the term “easy-going” in “…facil - andante….” (he will instead use a long group of words, like “……muy facil y con bastante movimiento…..”).
Finally, some linguists indicate that this Spanish redundancy creates problems when dealing with mathematical, scientific and technical phrases, while the synthesis capacity of the English is considered by them as one of the main reasons of the worldwide growth of the Shakespeare language in the current “high-tech” century (Duran, 1981).
The evolution of the Spanish Language after the Discovery of America
After Columbus in 1492 discovered America for the Kings of Spain, the Spanish language was brought to the new discovered continent. Spain colonized most of the land between the actual British Columbia in Canada and the tip of South America in Chile and Argentina. The “Conquistadores” defeated big local empires (Inca, Maya, Aztec) and imposed their Spanish language to the indigenous Indian population (Washburn, 1975).
The same was done by the British in North America, even if in smaller scale initially, because the French and the Portuguese in the century after the Columbus Discovery were more organized and powerful in their colonial expansion. Only at the end of the eighteenth century the English started to dominate North America (Fernandez Flores, 1965).
Indeed, since the end of the fifteenth century, some languages from Western Europe were present in the New World. The English, French, Dutch, and Portuguese languages started to expand –together with the Spanish – inside America from the coastal areas.
With the first European colonists came the new linguistic development of their languages. A mother country in all likelihood had several dialects, but speakers of these dialects in the new country erased differences which hinder easy understanding, in a process called “linguistic levelling” (Finegan, 1980).
The result was often similar to the “standard” dialect of the time in the homeland, or in the most important areas from where came the initial colonization. But there were differences in the process, mainly in the Spanish empire.
New World Spanish: Castilian or Andalusian
In the case of Spain, historians agree that in the sixteenth century the dialect from Castilla was the dominant in Spanish America, but after the seventeenth century the dominance passed to the Andalusian dialect of southern Spain (Menendez, 2003).
This has created the celebrated “Great Polemic” among Hispanic linguists as to the origins of the Latin American Spanish: is it a Castilian or an Andalusian dialect? The resolution of this question has been vastly complicated by the fact that either conclusion can be objectively supported by data available to modern linguists.
Scholars who believe that the Spanish of the New World has developed from the Andalusian emphasize the phonological resemblance between many varieties of the Latin American speech and that of southern Spain (like the “seseo” or special pronunciation of the “s”).
They even cite the historical evidence that the poor south of Spain (Andalusia and Murcia) gave 49 % of the male emigration to colonial Latin America, and 68 % of the female. Indeed the relatively rich regions of north and central Spain sent only most of the upper class members of the burocracy to rule the American colonies.
These convincing arguments are rebutted on equally good grounds by linguists who believe that the Latin American varieties of Spanish are of multiple rather than singular origin: They note that by the time of the conquest of Mexico and Peru, the Castilian had become officially recognized as the prestige dialect of Spain.
They pinpoint that it was impossible for a form of speech like the Andalusian, viewed as regional rather than national, to have become dominant in all the Spanish colonies (Fernandez Flores, 1965)
While the “anti-Andalucistas” admit that many varieties of Latin American Spanish are similar to the Andalusian dialect in pronunciation, they empathize that the phonology of the Mexican and Andean highlands shows great similarity to that of the Castilian.
Accordingly, for this group of linguists there are two major categories of Latin American dialects:
1) those resembling Castilian and centered in the highlands of Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.
2) those similar to the Andalusian, and spoken by the populations living in the remaining coastal areas of the Spanish colonies (from the Caribbean to Argentina and Chile).
This distribution of the New World Spanish into “highland” and “lowland” varieties is attributed by these linguists mainly to the following historical reasons:
1) when the Spaniards first undertook the conquest of America, they were attracted to lands such as Mexico and Peru that had riches and civilized (hence exploitable) populations to offer.
2) while in Europe, as a result of the Mediterranean trade, the great civilizations were coastal, in America the most advanced cultures (Aztec, Maya, Inca) had developed on the cool plateaus of the interior. Here it was that the sixteenth century “Conquistadores” (mainly from Castilla and surrounding areas) established the Spanish rule, and with it, their “lengua nacional”, the Castilian.
3) Hence the Castilian, as the official dialect of the government, was the language of the two great centers of the Hispanic colonial power, Mexico and Peru.
4) Toward the end of the sixteenth century, this situation was to change as domination over the American colonies began to pass into the hands of the Andalusians, when the Spanish Kings granted to the “Casa de Contratacion” in Seville (Andalusia) the privilege of administering the trade with the New World. 5) Under these circumstances, the Caribbean, daily visited by galleons from southern ports, soon became an Andalusian “lake”. South American coastal and lowland areas, hithero nelected by explorers and colonists, underwent vigorous development by the “Casa de Contratacion” throughout the seventeenth century.
6) In these areas, economically and culturally dominated by the Andalusians, the Andalusian dialect was implanted and prospered (Jones, 1979).
Historians believe that nearly one million Spaniards moved to the Spanish American Colonies between the Columbus Discovery and the nineteenth century, mainly as farmers (developing the typical “Hacienda/Rancho” Latin American economy) and approximately 65 % of them were from Andalusia and the surrounding poor southern regions of Spain (Extremadura and Murcia).
That is the main reason of the huge spread of the Andalusian dialect in the Spanish New World, which changed - in the distant areas of Argentina - even some basic Spanish grammar rules (e.g., the Spanish “tu” (you) is said “vos”, like in Latin).
To tell the truth, in contemporary Florida it is possible to perceive the difficulty of Latin American immigrants in understanding well each other, when an immigrant from Mexico (with Castilian dialect) talks to an immigrant from Cuba or Puerto Rico (with Andalusian dialect).
Transplanted Language Traits
Since the end of the fifteenth century, several European languages have been “transplanted” to overseas colonies in America, where they either supplanted the languages of the native population or have continued to coexist with them until the present.
These transplanted languages shared a number of traits similar in their evolution, like the cited leveling process. English spoken in colonial North America, for example, was similar to that of London, and the English colonists from the Yorkshire quickly stopped to use their own northern dialect in the New World (Finegan, 1980).
The same happened in the Spanish colonies. In fact, Spanish speakers of the sixteenth century Latin America were not an homogeneus group but represented many social classes and many geographical areas in a mixture similar to that of Spain. Thus the prestige dialect continued to exercise the same pressure abroad as at home, while differences due to influence of local dialects such as Leonese or Aragonese tended to be quickly eliminated.
In the seventeenth century, when the Andalusians became dominant in the New World, leveling continued, but on the basis of southern Spanish (the Andalusian dialect) rather than Castillian, producing a second manner of speaking.
Another trait shared by transplanted languages is their proclivity to retain traditional forms abandoned in their land of origin (Finegan, 1980). In American English, for example, pronunciations such as “heist” (hoist) and “pizen” (poison), once acceptable in English, are widespread in rustic usage. Similar to these are “chaw” (chew), “critter” (creature), and “tetched” (touched).
Morphological maintenance can be seen in “holp” (help) and “hit” (it).
Similarly, Latin American Spanish exhibits some archaic features (Duran, 1981).
Phonologically, it has been seen to resemble sixteenth and seventeenth century usage more closely than it does that of contemporary Spain.
Morphologically, the single most important archaism, used instead of “tu” (you) mainly in
Argentina, is “vos”, the intermediate level of formality in the Renaissance. In Argentina and Uruguay, alongside “vos” are its accompanying verb forms such as “tenes, decis, sos” and the imperatives “anda’, pone’, veni’”, used instead of “tienes, dices, eres” and “ve, pon, ven”.
Another trait is the common use in popular speech all around Latin America of an “s” added to the second person singular of the preterite: “vistes” (viste), “dijistes” (dijiste), “hicistes” (hiciste).
Lexically, the New World Spanish has an abundance of terms and meanings from earlier centuries, no longer used in contemporary Spain with their original senses. Some are “lindo”
(bonito), “liviano” (lijero) and “fierro” (hierro).
A peculiar trait of transplanted languages is their adaptation to the new environments.
Colonists find themselves confronted with the need to talk about new fauna and flora, new artifacts, and new social and economic situations (Finegan, 1980).
Perhaps the most usual solution to this problem is the adoption of the concept together with its name in its culture of origin. For example, English settlers in North America were thus enabled to speak of strange animals such as “raccoons”, weapons such as “tomahawks” and shoes such as “moccasins” (Hendrickson, 1986).
Likewise, Latin American Spanish has borrowed from many indigenous languages words for plants and animals such as “maiz”, “patata” and “opossum”, and even words like “cacique” (Indian chief).
A final trait that Spanish shares with other colonial languages is the inevitable change
due to isolation from the original source (Washburn, 1975).
An analogy can be drawn from the break-up of the Latin into a number of Romance dialects after the unifying force of the Roman Empire had disappeared. Every language is subject to drift, and when a group of speakers is cut off from a linguistic mainland, this tendency is increased. For example, a Briton can immediately identify a speaker of English from the United States by his accent, and so can do a Spaniard with a Mexican (Reed, 1977).
Lexicon also develops in new directions according to local cultural demands. So, a Briton had little need to refer to raccoons and to a Spaniard the size of a horse is irrelevant, but to an Argentine gaucho depending upon his horse for his livelihood and social prestige, the characteristics of his mount are extremely important. That is why in Argentine Spanish more than 500 terms have developed to describe the horse in the minutest detail.
Furthering the differentiation in lexicon was the slow pace of communication between Europe and its colonies before the twentieth century. The time to travel across the Atlantic between Europe and North America was nearly two months in the sixteenth century, one month during Napoleon times, ten days at the beginning of the twentieth century and only a few hours in our jet era. There is some evidence that modern technology may not only arrest but perhaps even reverse this type of linguistic diversification, based on time and distance.
The Spanish of Southwestern United States
From the Columbus times to the nineteenth century the Spanish was the official language of most of the actual South and West of the United States.
The Empire of Spain in North America stretched from British Columbia in Canada to the Mississippi river and Florida. In 1763 Spain received the Louisiana Territory from France, but after a few years Spain gave Florida to the USA.
As a consequence Florida, where the Spaniards built in 1565 the first town of North America, St. Augustine, was totally assimilated in the English speaking mainstream and the Andalusian dialect spoken there was completely lost during the nineteenth century (Jones, 1979).
On the other side of the Mississipi the Castilian dialect of the “highlands” of Mexico has survived –for historical reasons- and is spoken continuously to our days in the Mexico bordering areas of the Soutwestern USA (Ferguson & Shirley, 1982).
The Spanish speaking population north of the Rio Grande is made mostly of mestizo descendants from the Spanish colonial times. That is the main reason of the huge amount of Amerindian words in their Castilian dialect (Washburn, 1975).
It has been calculated that only thirty thousand Spaniards emigrated from Spain to settle in California, and the areas north of the Rio Grande, during the centuries of the Spanish Empire.
They were able to create a political entity that survived only under the leadership of Spain and later of Mexico, but that was unable to remain independent from the pressure of the growing English speaking United States (Fernandez Flores, 1965). Spanish has been spoken in the region which is now the southwestern United States since the sixteenth century.
The first Spaniards here were Cabeza de Vaca and his men in 1536, who explored the area to find the famous “El Dorado”. There were no permanent settlers, however, until 1598 when Juan de Onate conquered the territory of actual Texas and claimed it for Spain. Santa Fe (New Mexico) was founded twelve years later and in 1630 had a population of 250 Spaniards, 50 mestizos and 700 indians.
Texas was organized as a Spanish political entity only in 1718 and California in 1767. In 1845 Texas was admitted to the United States, provoking Mexico and leading to the Mexican American war. This conflict ended with the annexation to the USA in 1948 of the entire Southwest north of the Rio Grande.
American settlers, welcome for the most part, flocked by the thousands to the newly won lands, that quickly were Americanized in culture and language. Improved economic opportunities in the Southwest drew immigrants from Mexico in the following years, and with the Mexican Revolution (1910-1920) more immigrants arrived, refugees from the ranks of armies defeated in recent battles (Stavans, 2003).
Most of these Mexican immigrants were poor and uneducated mestizo farmers from ranches and small towns of northern Mexico. A smaller group, however, consisted of highly educated professionals such as physicians, lawyers and journalists who escaped from political persecution (Fernandez Flores, 1965).
Many of the larger and less privileged group, hoping for better economic opportunities, assimilated the English culture and language, losing their Spanish by the third generation. But most of the second group, more educated, maintained at home their Spanish culture and
language to our days, speaking English only at work (Menendez, 2003).
The quality of the Spanish used by Mexican Americans has varied considerably during the twentieth century. Many immigrants were naturally Spanish-dominant, but the speech of their following generations has become increasingly anglicized before WWII.
This trend was reinforced by laws in several states forbidding the use of anything but English in the American Public Schools, but after 1950 the subordinate status of Spanish in the Southwest started to change (Finegan, 1980).
In the 1950s the “Chicano” movement started to demand equal status for Spanish speaking minorities in the USA. The young Mexican people of this organization were aware of their social and political situation and of their potential for power. With this perception of their identity came a rebirth of pride in the Spanish language, more interest in Standard Spanish and its use as a medium for writing, both literary and political, in support of the Mexican people in the Southwest (Varo, 1971).
As a result, the quality of Mexican American Spanish is today considerably higher than it was at its low ebb in the 1940s.
The kind of Spanish spoken in the Southwest is in general homogeneous and like rustic Spanish elsewhere in Latin America. As all the Castilian speaking areas of “highland” Spanish, it is characterized by “seseo” (use of the “s”) and “yeismo” (use of “y” instead of the Spanish “ll”).
Also general is the use of methatesis (or change of letters in a word): for example “probe” for “pobre” (poor) or “suidad” for “ciudad” (city). Particular to New Mexico is the methatesis “pader” for pared (wall).
Finally, there is even a small difference in pronunciation in the Spanish of Colorado (fully “loanworded” with English words) from the one in the bordering Mexico areas.
Second Section: The influence of the Spanish language in the US English
The influence of the Spanish language in the U.S. English is based on the historical fact that there has been a continuous interaction between the two languages in North America since the Columbus times. This influence is so pervasive that even States like Colorado (“Coloured”) and Metropolis like Los Angeles (“The Angels”) have Spanish names.
Indeed, two little areas of the American Southwest never stopped to have Spanish speaking communities. In north New Mexico and south Colorado there is a mountainous area where is spoken (by more than 200000 people) an archaic and rustic Castilian dialect more similar to the Spanish of Guatemala than to the one of Mexico. And in the delta of the Mississippi a dialect originated in the Canary islands is still spoken by more than 5000 people (St. Bernard county, Louisiana).
Even in our Florida some historians (Mormino & Pozzetta, 1987) pinpoint that in the Tampa area there has been a Spanish speaking community which has survived the retreat of the Spanish Empire from Florida after 1819.
Ybor City, the city near Tampa founded in 1885 by Cubans in order to develop the “Cigar” industry in the USA, was initially populated with one thousand descendants of the Spanish mestizo fishermen living in the area when the USA bought Florida.
Small numbers of Spanish speaking fishermen, farmers and miners (similarly surviving the “Anglicization” of the nineteenth century United States) are reported by scholars to be present continually in that century in the bordering States of California (S. Diego), Arizona (S.Ignacio de Tubac) and Texas (El Paso, S.Antonio). But they did not form communities, until the arrival of the first Mexican immigrants during the late 1800s.
It is interesting an historical report done by the “Arizona Town Hall Research Committee” in 2002 about the relations between the Anglo and the Spanish speaking population of Arizona after the American takeover of 1848:
“…..Few of the newcomers to Arizona before 1880 were Anglos…in Tucson, where by 1860 Anglos numbered 168 in a town population of 925, interethnic marriages and relations with the original Hispanic population grew….the small Anglo population did not threaten Mexicans’ traditional way of life….what most bound both groups together was the Apache……nowhere in the Southwest Anglos and Mexicans got along as well as in southern Arizona before 1880…but the advent of the Southern Pacific Railroad in 1880 signaled the end of an era in Arizona in many ways. Its impact on the Tucson based Mexican elite was disastrous…….and in the early 1890s a growing tide of anti-Mexican sentiment was sparked by an economic depression between the rising Anglo population…”.
This report is very indicative of the situation of the Hispanics in the nineteenth century American Southwest (Jones, 1979).
Anyway, even if most of the Spanish speaking population in the Southwest and Southeast have been fully assimilated in the last two centuries by the English speaking United States, they and their descendants have exercised a profound influence on the culture that has enveloped them (Fernandez Flores, 1965).
Undeniably the commerce, industry, agriculture, trades, architecture, customs and even laws in the States bordering Mexico have continued to show the imprint of the Hispanic civilization long after their political integration into the Union (Menendez, 2003). Even the typical gastronomy of the Southwest is crammed with Mexican Spanish influences, like the poetry and the music.
This influence has been growing after WWII with the influx of millions of Mexican and Latin American immigrants in our country, and it has partially reversed the process of full “anglicization” of the nineteenth century (Finegan, 1980).
Indeed, according to the last Census of 2004, there are 40 million Latino American residents in the United States, surpassing for the first time in history the Blacks as the first American minority. Mexicans are 67% of them (Puerto Ricans 9 % and Cubans 4 %).
The highest proportion of the State total population that is Hispanic is in New Mexico (43 %), followed by California (36 %) and Texas (35 %).
New Mexico is the only State of the Union that is officially bilingual English–Spanish. More than one third of New Mexicans claim Hispanic origins, the vast majority of whom descends from the original Spanish colonists in the northern portion of the State. Most of the considerable less numerous Mexican immigration resides in the southern part of New Mexico.
At least 35 % of New Mexicans are also fluent with a unique dialect of Spanish, the “New Mexican Spanish”, full of vocabulary often unknown to other Spanish speakers. This dialect, because of the historical isolation of the area, preserves some late medieval Castilian vocabulary considered archaic elsewhere, adopts many Indian words for local features and is full of English words for modern concepts (Washburn, 1975).
Actually the United States is considered to have the fourth largest Spanish population in the world, after Mexico, Colombia and Spain (Menendez, 2003). Finally, according to statistical projections, 25 % of the US population in the year 2050 will be Spanish speaking, with probable political and socioeconomic consequences.
The huge amount of Spanish loanwords in our American English is the biggest evidence of the influence of the Spanish language in our country.
Some scholars believe that there are ten thousand Spanish loanwords in our US English, and their number is increasing with the millions of Latino Americans entering - legally or illegally - to live in the USA (Newman, 1974).
These loanwords are most evident in southern and western toponimy: Nevada, Arizona, Florida, Colorado, Los Angeles, El Paso, Rio Grande, Rio Amarillo are some of the many Spanish names we consider “All-American”.
But we have Spanish loanwords even in the terminology relating to the cattle industry, mining and farming, like “rancho” (ranch), and in the designations of American flora and fauna or of southwestern gastronomy.
English has gone through many historical periods in which large numbers of words from a particular language were borrowed. These periods coincide with times of major cultural contact between English speakers and those speaking other languages.
For example, the French language influenced profoundly the English after the Norman conquest of England by the French speaking William the Conqueror: even the English word “renaissance” is loan worded from the French of those years (Marckwardt, 1980).
Indeed, it is part of the cultural history of English speakers that they have adopted loanwords from the languages of whatever cultures they have come in contact with. There have been few periods when borrowings became unfashionable, and there has never been a national academy in Britain or in the USA to attempt to restrict new foreign loanwords, as there has been in many European countries (Germany, Italy, France, etc..)
U.S. English words borrowed (“loanworded”) from the Spanish language
The following are the most important words of Spanish origin present in our American language, with a simple explanation of their meaning and/or derivation:
Adios (good bye)
Alcove (from Spanish “alcoba”, originally from the Arab word “al-qubba”)
Alligator (from Spanish “el lagarto”)
Armadillo (from Spanish meaning little “armadura”)
Anchovy (from Spanish “anchoa”)
Avocado (Spanish word originally from the Aztec “ahuacatl”)
Barbecue (Spanish word originally from the Caribbean “barbacoa”)
Bizarre (Spanish word originally from the Italian “bizzarro”)
Booby (from Spanish “bobo”)
Canary (from Spanish “canario”)
Cannibal (Spanish word originally from the Caribbean “canibal”)
Canoe (from Spanish “canoa”)
Canyon (from Spanish “canon”)
Cargo (from Spanish “cargar”)
Chihuahua (dog breed named after Mexican city and State)
Chocolate (Spanish world originally fron the Aztec “xocolatl”)
Cigar,Cigarette (from Spanish “cigarro”)
Cocaine (Spanish word originally from the Inca “koka”)
Coco (Spanish word originally from the Caribbean “Ikakuo”)
Comrade (from Spanish “camarada”)
Coyote (Spanish word from the Aztec “coyotl”)
Creole (from Spanish “criollo”)
Dago (offensive term from the Spanish name “Diego”)
Filibuster (from Spanish “filibustero”)
Hammock (from Spanish “jamaca”)
Hurricane (Spanish word originally from the Caribbean “huracan”)
Jaguar (jaguar, originally from the Maya)
Key (from Spanish word “cayo”)
Llama (llama, originally from the Inca)
Marihuana (from Spanish “marijuana”)
Mestize (from Spanish “mestizo”, mixed race white-indian)
Mulatto (Spanish word “mulato”, originally from Italian “mulatto”)
Picaresque (from Spanish “picaresco”)
Plaintain (from Spanish “platano”)
Potato (from Spanish “patata”, originally from Inca “papa”)
Ranch (from Spanish “rancho”)
Renegade (from Spanish “renegade”)
Savanna (from Spanish “savana”)
Savvy (from Spanish “sabio”)
Stampede (from Spanish “estampida”)
Tobacco (from Spanish “tabaco”, originally from the Maya)
Tomato (tomato, originally from the Aztec “tomatl”)
Tuna (from Spanish “atun”)
Vanilla (from Spanish “vainilla”)
Geographical and place names in U.S. English can mainly be found in the Southwest and in Florida. About a fifth of those in California are somehow connected wit Saints’ names (San Francisco, San Diego, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, etc.) and with Angels (Los Angeles).
There are even many cases in which the original Spanish names have been translated
- either partially or totally - into English, like “Rio de los Reyes” into Kings River or Playa Hermosa into Hermosa Beach (Reed, 1977).
Furthermore, the following State names are clearly from Spanish: Arizona, California, Texas, Colorado, Florida and Nevada. Some experts believe that even Montana, Georgia, Virginia and Carolina are Spanish (Menendez, 2003).
The Bahamas name comes from the Spanish “Baja mar” (shallow sea), because these islands were part of Florida until the eighteenth century.
Finally, some big American rivers (like Rio Grande, Rio Colorado, etc.) and even mountainous areas (like the many “Mesa”) have Spanish names.
South of the continental United States there is the island of Puerto Rico, that since 1898 was entered into the English speaking world and that until our days has stubbornly refused to become a US State (Navarro, 1966).
Puerto Ricans speak an Andalusian Spanish heavily influenced by US loanwords, and they consider themselves only Spanish speaking (even if the majority of them are bilingual Spanish-English). Besides, the 2 millions of Puerto Ricans living in our country (mainly in the New York area) have given some famous Spanish words to our music (like “salsa”).
As a final point, something similar is happening with the millions of Mexicans living in our country. Many of them speak a variety of Spanish that is heavily influenced by the English. So, in the last decades in California has sprouted the so called “Chicano” or “Tex-Mex” dialect (a hybrid Spanish-English, or “Spanglish”, characterized by Spanish morphology and syntax with English-derived vocabulary full of loanwords).
Some linguists even believe that the “Spanglish” can be considered as a growing new language, and this is creating huge problems with the Americans defending the English-only policy toward immigrants (Stavans, 2003).
The influence of the Spanish in the US English: BENEFITS
The benefits of the Spanish influence in our language are mainly two:
1) A growing and healthy language needs continuous new words to adapt to the changing
history and to the socioeconomic challenges. For example, some philologists find that the societes without technological terms usually remain stacked at primitive agricultural levels. Indeed, the benefits of Spanish loanwords, received from the rancho/hacienda society of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, have proved to be helpful to the development of the English speaking society in the young United States colonizing the “Far West”.
2) The millions of Spanish speaking immigrants constitute a serious problem of integration for our Nation. Many political organizations in our country complain about this “invasion” and promote the forced assimilation of these immigrants trough the English-only policy in every
area of the American society. This is creating divergences with the political organizations defending the right of the immigrants to maintain their languages, using the bilingualism in
our society. In my opinion the solution to this integration problem can be centered on an
English language that can be fully loanworded with Spanish words and easily understandable
by the growing Hispanic community.
This is the main benefit the Spanish language can give to the USA: a “pacification” of the integration problem between the “Anglo” and the “Latino” communities. Actually some famous scholars even predict that after 2050 nearly 2/3 (or 66 %) of the American English words will possibly came from the Latin, mainly through the Spanish Language (Trifone, 2003).
This is going to be an astonishing fact, with deep repercussions in our society when considered together with the possibility of a Catholic and “Latino” majority in the future US population (Newman, 1974).
It is believed that the Catholic and “Latino” will only be the biggest groups (but not the majority) in the USA , so it is imperative for our society to be prepared to this likelihood, in order to reduce the foreseeable problems.
That is why must be supported the acceptance of an American English language that can be fully influenced by Spanish “loanwords”. In the long run it will prove to be a mitigatory factor that will facilitate the integration between the “Anglo” and the “Latino” parts of the US society (Achard & Kemmer, 2004).
Indeed, the “Spanglish” mixture (of English and Spanish) can only exacerbate the zealots of “English only” political positions. Even the bilingual solution (waiting for the minority assimilation) has proved to be a temporary solution in Europe.
Experts agree that the third generation of immigrants usually forgets the original language of their grandparents, as has happened with the immigrants from Europe, Asia and Africa (Ferguson & Shirley, 1982).
But in the case of the “Latino” immigrants, who are mostly from Mexico, this is not going to happen for many reasons (mainly cultural, historical, geographical and social), due to proximity of the Rio Grande frontier (Finegan, 1980). However, they can identify themselves in an American English gradually differentiated from the original British English and full of Spanish “loanwords”. In the long run they can substitute their original Spanish/Mexican for this “familiar” American English, helping in this way their integration process in the American “melting pot”.
This is the percentage of Hispanics in some States of the Union, according to the 2004 and 2000 census:
State ...................2004........ 2000.......... Status of Spanish
New Mexico....... 46.9 %..... 42.1 %........ Officially Bilingual
California............ 36.3 %..... 32.4 %........ Bilingualism proposed
Texas.................. 35.9 %..... 32.0 %........ Bilingualism proposed
Arizona............... 29.8 %..... 25.3 %........ Bilingualism proposed
Nevada............... 23.4 %..... 19.7 %
Colorado............. 18.9 %..... 17.1 %
Florida................ 18.8 %..... 16.8 %
New York........... 16.8 %..... 15.1 %
New Jersey........ 14.9 %..... 13.3 %
Illinois................. 13.7 %..... 12.3 %
Utah.................... 10.6 %...... 9.6 %
Connecticut........ 10.5 %...... 9.4 %
We have to consider that there are more than seven millions of Latino Americans living in our country illegally, so these percentages should be increased accordingly. Consequently, the Hispanic population is booming in the United States and nothing seems to indicate a reduction of this demographic process. Only the use of radical solutions, as some political extremists promote, can reverse this process. Other political representatives, more moderate, want more emphasis on the English-only policy, at least in the public schools of the States with more Hispanic presence (Hornby, 1977).
The zealots of the influential WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) pinpoint that the linguistic assimilation process that has happened with other communities (like German, Italian
or Russian, where in two/three generations the “Anglicization” of the American melting pot has worked perfectly), in the case of the Latino Americans is not successful. The reasons, mainly
for the Mexicans: the proximity to their motherland Mexico and the historical remembrance
of the centuries of the Spanish Empire in the American “Far West” (Jones, 1979).
Furthermore, these critics of the Hispanic “invasion” always remember what has happened between France and Germany (and other European countries) when a big linguistic minority lives in a bordering region belonging to a country speaking a different language.
World War I (and WWII) started in Alsace, a French region with a huge German speaking community bordering Germany. These zealots fear that the Rio Grande can have a history
of war similar to the Rhine (Newman, 1974). Of course, this scenario cannot ever happen, because the American and European mentalities are different. Anyway, the melting pot can happen even linguistically with the “Latinization” of the actual American English full of Hispanic loanwords.
In order to sustain this hope there it is a very interesting research made in 2003 by the Italian Professor of Lexicology M. Trifone, Director of the Linguistic Center at the Siena University.
He studied how many times the English words “heaven” and “paradise” appeared in the “New York Times” newspaper of the year 1902 and 2002. Both words have the same meaning, but the first comes from the German and the second from the Latin (through the Italian Language).
He discovered that in 1902 “heaven” was used 70 % of the times and “paradise” only 30 %, but in 2002 the German “heaven” was used only 36 % and the Latin “paradise” an astonishing 64 % of the times. He then researched many other words (like “hell” and “inferno”, “end” and “finish”, “big” and great”, etc.) and found the same similar results. In one century there had been a complete reversal, showing the increasing influence of “loanwords” from the Latin in the American English.
Trifone explained this fact with the massive immigration in our country from Italy in the first decades of the 1900s, and with the recent arrival in the USA of millions of Latino Americans (in the example, the Spanish “paraiso” is similar to the Italian “paradiso”). He emphasized that these two big communities with their neo-Latin languages influenced and are influencing the “Latinization” of the American English in the last century.
This and other remarkable researches explain why professor Trifone, considered the main Italian Scholar in Linguistic, believes that in the second half of our century the American English may have 2/3 of its words originated from the Latin Language. As a result, he even believes that only the grammar and syntax (fully German) will disallow the classification of the American English as a neo-Latin language, similar to the French Language (which has nearly 3/4 of its words from Latin).
In conclusion, if our American English will experience a “Latinization” so huge, thanks mainly to the influence of the Spanish spoken by millions of Latino Americans, our language will be easily understandable by them. This will facilitate their integration in our linguistic melting pot as has happened with other big communities (like Germans or Italians), and so the Hispanics will reject hybrid solutions like the Spanglish or the Chicano dialect.
This fact in turn will reduce (and may be even finish) the tensions between the “Anglo” and the “Latino” in our country (Stavans, 2003) . Too good to be true? “Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza” (the future will tell), as the Italian poet Dante said.
Anyway, the main benefit our language (and society) is receiving from the Spanish language is the facilitation of the integration process of the growing “Latino” and the shrinking “Anglo” communities in the USA, thanks to the acceptance of an American English fully loaded with Spanish loanwords.
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