Spanish in the United States

From Academic Kids

Spanish is the second most common language in the United States, after English, being spoken natively by about 30 million people 5 years and over(or 12% of the population) in 2005 excluding 4.0 million native speakers in Puerto Rico. Today Spanish is so widely spoken in the United States that it is generally considered to be either the third or the fourth largest Spanish-speaking country in the world (after Mexico, Colombia and possibly Spain) ([1] (, [2] (

Spanish has a status of official language (along with English) in the state of New Mexico and in Puerto Rico, which is a self-governing unincorporated territory of the United States. Although Spanish is not the most spoken language in any state, it is the second most spoken language in 43 states and the District of Columbia.



The Spanish language has been in North America since the 16th century. In 1513, Ponce de León was the first Spaniard known to have visited North America (specifically Florida). In 1565, the Spaniards founded St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest continuously occupied European city in the territory of the United States. The first reading grammar text was written in Spanish in Georgia in 1658.

Spanish has been spoken in the country (singularly, in St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana) since 1803, when Louisiana was sold to the United States and Spanish settlers in that region, descendants of Canary Islanders, turned into citizens of a new country.

After the Mexican-American War (1846–48), nearly half of Mexico was lost to the United States, including parts of the modern-day states of Texas, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming, and the whole of California, Nevada, and Utah. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) made no explicit reference to language rights. California's first constitution approved an important recognition of Spanish language rights: "All laws, decrees, regulations, and provisions emanating from any of the three supreme powers of this State, which from their nature require publication, shall be published in English and Spanish."

By 1870, Anglo-Americans had become a majority in California. In 1879, California promulgated a new constitution under which all official proceedings were to be conducted in English; this clause remained in effect until 1966. In 1986, California voters by referendum added a new constitutional clause stating that "English is the official language of the State of California." However, today, Spanish is spoken widely throughout the state, and many government forms, documents, and services are available in both Spanish and English.

Both English and Spanish are official languages in New Mexico. Spanish has been spoken around northern New Mexico, southern Colorado and the Mexican border since the 17th century.

In Texas, English is conventionally used, but the state has no official language. Texas inherited a large Tejano population from the Mexican American War, in addition to a steady of influx of Mexican, Latino, and other Spanish-speaking immigrants.

Some small influence of Spanish was felt in the U.S. during and following the Spanish-American War (also known as the Cuban Insurrection) which brought the first group of Cubans to the United States as visitors. These would travel between the two countries for decades until the Cuban Revolution in 1959 made the exile permanent. With the downfall of Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship by Fidel Castro's Marxist-Socialist regime, almost one million Cubans left the island nation, most to settle in lower and central Florida.

Puerto Ricans hold U.S. citizenship and Spanish is the first language of Puerto Rico. Many Puerto Ricans have migrated to New York City, New York, adding to the Spanish-speaking population there.

More recently, the large scale influx of Hispanic immigrants to the United States has elevated the numbers of Spanish-speakers throughout the country, making them majorities or large minorites in many districts.

Having once possessed a small number of educated Spanish-speakers in the Philippines as a result of their colonial history, some of the Filipinos who spoke Spanish may have also brought the language when they emigrated to the United States during the American colonial period up to the era of Ferdinand Marcos's regime.

Some critics have referred to the survival of the Spanish language in the USA, especially in the southern areas bordering Mexico, as the "Amexica" effect. This term blends "America" and "Mexico". Similarly, on the East Coast, they speak of "Nuyorican", blending "New York" and "Puerto Rican".

Spanish Place Names

As a consequence of the Spanish and Mexican expeditions and their control in some territories, there are many places in the country, especially in the southwest, with Spanish names:


  • Cuban (1959-): Florida South.
  • Isleño (18th century-): St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana.
  • Mexican or Chicano (20th century): The border area from southern California to Texas.
  • New Mexican (1598-)
    • Tradicional (1598-): Center and North center of New Mexico and the South center of Colorado.
    • Renovador (20th century): The border regions of Arizona, Texas, and New Mexico, as well as Southeastern Colorado.
  • Puerto Rican (1898-): New York and other big northeastern cities.

The influence of English on these varities of American Spanish is very important. Spanglish is the name for the combination of using Spanish and English together to effectively communicate something. The Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (North American Academy of the Spanish Language) watches the developments of US Spanish and the influence of English.

On the other hand, some words have entered standard American English from Spanish. For a detailed list of borrowed words, see American English.

Future of Spanish in the United States

Generally, US Hispanics (13.4% of the population in 2002) are bilingual to some degree. A study by Simmons Market Research found that 19% of the Hispanic population speak only Spanish while 9% speak only English, 55% have limited English proficiency and 17% are fully English-Spanish bilingual.

Intergenerational transmission of Spanish is a better indicator of the future of Spanish in the United States than crude numbers of native Spanish-speaking immigrants in a given moment of time. Although Latin American immigrants have various levels of English proficiency, Hispanics who are second-generation American in the United States almost all speak English, but about 50 percent speak Spanish at home. Two-thirds of third-generation Mexican Americans speak English exclusively at home.

There are more Spanish speakers in the United States than there are speakers of French (another language inherited from European colonization), Hawaiian, and the various Native American languages taken all together. Living an exclusively Spanish-speaking life is viable in some areas due to the constant influx of immigrants and the prevalence of Spanish-language mass media, such as Univisión, Telemundo USA, and Azteca America. Also, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, it is now common for many American manufacturers to use trilingual product labeling in which the same text is repeated in English, French, and Spanish. Apart from the businesses that have always catered to Spanish-speaking immigrants, a small but rapidly increasing number of mainstream American retailers are beginning to provide dual-language advertising and in-store signage in both English and Spanish.

Spanish is the most widely taught non-English language in U.S. secondary schools and institutions of higher education ([3] (, indicating its importance among non-Hispanic Americans.

Perhaps these factors can guarantee the survival of the Spanish in the United States, but it is necessary to remember that historically the original languages of immigrants tend to disappear or become greatly reduced through assimilation and generational change. On the other side, the Spanish language has disappeared in several countries and territories during the 20th century, notably in the Pacific Island nations of Guam, Micronesia, Palau, Northern Marianas, and Marshall Islands. In the Philippines, it has now virtually died out (2,658 speakers, 1990 Census). In addition, the English-Only movement seeks to establish English as the only official language of the United States.

However, there are many factors which indicate that the status of Spanish is in a healthy state. The State of the Union Addresses and other U.S. Presidential speeches have been translated into Spanish following the precedent set by the Clinton Administration. Official Spanish translations are available at ( In addition to this, some non-Hispanic politicians who are fluent in the Spanish language have often delivered speeches in Spanish to Hispanic majority constituencies.

American literature in Spanish

Southwest Colonial literature

In 1610, Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá published his Historia de Nuevo México (History of New Mexico).

Nineteenth Century

In 1880, José Martí moved to New York City.

Eusebio Chacón published El hijo de la tempestad in 1892.

Twentieth century

Federico García Lorca wrote in America his collection of poems, Poeta en Nueva York, and the two plays Así que pasen cinco años and El público. José Vasconcelos and Juan Ramón Jiménez exiled to the U.S.A.

Chicano period

See also

External links


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