Background and Research
The Spanish Language of the United States
First of all, dear reader, let us focus on the title of this essay:
The Spanish Language
the United States” instead of
The Spanish Language
the United States.” The difference
between these two prepositions is an essential one: it implies
that we have begun to speak of a United States Spanish with
its own characteristics, as one more of the multiple variants of
the Spanish language spoken around the world.
Spanish Speakers in the United States
It is estimated that there are some 45 million Spanish-speaking
people in the United States, which translates into 15 percent
of the nation’s population, and it is expected that this figure
will rise to more than 150 million Spanish speakers by 2050.
In other words, it is highly probable that the United States
will become the country with the largest number of Spanish-
speaking inhabitants on our planet. More than half of the
million Spanish speakers were born in this country, and
they make up a younger-than-average portion of the overall
population: 48 percent of Hispanics are younger than 25
years of age. Whether or not a minority language replaces the
language spoken by the majority depends, above all, on the new
generations; thus, the relative youth of the Hispanic population
will undoubtedly influence the future of the Spanish language
in the United States.
Spanish Variants
When we speak of the Spanish language of the United States,
it is important to point out that we are not referring to a
monolithic, uniform language, but to one that encompasses
a number of variants. In this regard, we can divide the country
into several linguistic areas, each with its own distinct
characteristics. In the West and Southwest, where 60 percent
of Hispanics reside, a
variant of Spanish is spoken;
in Florida, and especially in Miami, a Cuban variant of Spanish
is heard. In the Northeast, including New York, New Jersey,
and Connecticut, a Caribbean form of Spanish is spoken.
Furthermore, one can hear
Spanish in Louisiana and a
distinctive form of Spanish spoken in the region of the Sabine
River (Louisiana and Texas).
English Influences
The massive influence of English has imparted a unique
imprint on the Spanish language of the United States, which
contrasts with that of other Spanish-speaking countries.
Gerardo Piña-Rosales
The North American Academy of the Spanish Language
This particular influence is manifested in new vocabulary, much
of it based on “borrowed” words, which have contributed to
the incorporation of
into the Spanish spoken in
those countries.
English Influence at Work
Hispanic immigrants try to learn and speak English at their
workplace and in their associations with Americans. This effort
to communicate tends to facilitate the use of
In time, if they have a certain level of education, they learn both
languages well and become bilingual. There is a desire
to acquire a better knowledge not only of English but also
of the Spanish of their heritage.
A distinctive characteristic of the Spanish language of the
United States is the so-called “code-switching,” which consists
of a speaker’s use of both languages during a conversation.
Since this means of communication has not been methodically
studied until recently, a certain notion exists
both among the
general public and among certain educators
that it is a random
mixture of languages, i.e.,
In fact it is a process
with its own structural conventions, one that also plays a
unique role among bilingual Spanish speakers, precisely as
an alternative to communicating in a single language.
The economic importance of the Spanish language of the
United States is greater than that of any other Spanish-
speaking country. The Spanish language would survive if only
for the United States.
Amastae, Jon and Lucía Elías-Olivares.
Spanish in the United
States: Sociolinguistic Aspects.
Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1982.
Elías-Olivares, Lucía, ed.
Spanish in the U.S. Setting: Beyond
the Southwest
Rosslyn, VA: National Clearinghouse for
Bilingual Education, 1983.
Lipski, John M.
Varieties of Spanish in the United States
Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 2008.
López-Morales, Humberto, ed.
Enciclopedia del español en
los Estados Unidos.
Madrid: Instituto Cervantes/Santillana,