Varieties of Spanish in the United States
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Varieties of Spanish in the United States

John M. Lipski

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eBook - ePub

Varieties of Spanish in the United States

John M. Lipski

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About This Book

Thirty-three million people in the United States speak some variety of Spanish, making it the second most used language in the country. Some of these people are recent immigrants from many different countries who have brought with them the linguistic traits of their homelands, while others come from families who have lived in this country for hundreds of years. John M. Lipski traces the importance of the Spanish language in the United States and presents an overview of the major varieties of Spanish that are spoken there.

Varieties of Spanish in the United States provides—in a single volume—useful descriptions of the distinguishing characteristics of the major varieties, from Cuban and Puerto Rican, through Mexican and various Central American strains, to the traditional varieties dating back to the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries found in New Mexico and Louisiana. Each profile includes a concise sketch of the historical background of each Spanish-speaking group; current demographic information; its sociolinguistic configurations; and information about the phonetics, morphology, syntax, lexicon, and each group's interactions with English and other varieties of Spanish. Lipski also outlines the scholarship that documents the variation and richness of these varieties, and he probes the phenomenon popularly known as "Spanglish."

The distillation of an entire academic career spent investigating and promoting the Spanish language in the United States, this valuable reference for teachers, scholars, students, and interested bystanders serves as a testimony to the vitality and legitimacy of the Spanish language in the United States. It is recommended for courses on Spanish in the United States, Spanish dialectology and sociolinguistics, and teaching Spanish to heritage speakers.

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The Importance of Spanish in the United States


Spanish in the United States

After English, Spanish is the most commonly used language in the United States, and its speakers represent the fastest-growing language minority in the country. On a worldwide scale, the United States is home to the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population and is well on its way to fourth place—a position it may already hold if uncounted and undocumented Spanish speakers are added into the mix. This ranking occurs despite the fact that Spanish is not the official language of the country, or of any state, and that Spanish is the principal language in only a few exceptional areas such as Miami and some towns along the U.S.-Mexican border. Moreover, the aforementioned facts refer only to those individuals who declare Spanish as their native language; there are untold millions of proficient and not-so-proficient Spanish speakers who have learned this language, not as part of their birthright, but through formal instruction, residence in Spanish-speaking regions, work, travel, and other means of acquiring a second language.
At one time regarded as merely an ethnographic curiosity, the subject of word lists, and the butt of jokes, U.S. Spanish is now the focus of a major research and teaching paradigm. The first variety to be studied in any depth was also the one that enjoys historical precedence, namely Spanish of Mexican origin. Within this category we can further distinguish the traditional dialects of New Mexico and southern Colorado, and also some isolated varieties in Arizona and possibly California and Texas. Some of these early Spanish-language isolates have remained relatively untouched by later developments affecting Mexican Spanish, and they embody some—though not all—of the linguistic features that were present in colonial Latin American Spanish of the eighteenth century. The early work of Espinosa (1909, 1925, 1946) and Hills (1906) on the Spanish of New Mexico and Colorado, and of Rael (1939) on the Spanish of New Mexico and Arizona are exemplars of the early work on U.S. Spanish.
What might more legitimately be called Mexican American Spanish came about in several different ways, each of which has left its own mark on the corresponding varieties of the language. After the Texas war of independence (1836) and the Mexican-American War (1848), many Spanish-speaking Mexicans changed countries without ever moving an inch; as the popular saying has it, “they didn’t cross the border; the border crossed them.” This fact accounts for the smooth dialectal continuity between northern Mexican Spanish and the Spanish used in the southern areas of California, Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Mexican Revolution brought thousands of Mexicans to the United States in the first decades of the twentieth century, not all of whom settled along the border. Moreover, the sociodemographic profile of twentieth-century refugees did not always parallel that of earlier Mexicans; many were middle-class and educated, as opposed to the rural groups with little formal education that had constituted much of the earlier Mexican immigration to the United States.
Shortly thereafter, labor shortages in the United States prompted the recruitment of thousands of Mexican laborers in Mexico’s poorest states—in the southern region of Mexico—during the bracero program. This migration continues to the present, and it accounts for the fact that many migrant farmworkers in the midwestern and northern states trace their families to the southernmost zones of Mexico. Other Mexicans followed the economic opportunities offered by railroad expansion, ending up in Chicago, Milwaukee, and other northern industrial areas. Finally, Mexican immigration, both temporary and permanent, continues along the U.S.-Mexican border, all of which places contemporary Mexican American Spanish in the linguistic spotlight throughout the United States. To date, this is the variety of Spanish that has received the greatest amount of scholarly attention in terms of research monographs, theses and dissertations, major data-collection projects, and interfacing with the public schools and governmental sectors.
The next Spanish in terms of quantity of research is that of Puerto Rican origin, particularly as spoken in the New York City area and in other northeastern cities. The first large groups of Puerto Ricans came to the U.S. mainland just before World War II, and they settled in urban industrial areas in search of greater economic opportunities. In subsequent decades, immigration to and from Puerto Rico has moved in cycles, depending upon the relative economic conditions in Puerto Rico and the northeastern United States. Until recently, Puerto Rican Spanish was the major variety throughout the New York City area, and Spanish in the northern industrial cities east of Detroit was synonymous with Puerto Rican Spanish. Today this situation has changed somewhat, because the Dominican Spanish-speaking population is beginning to outnumber, and in some areas of New York City already does outnumber, the Puerto Rican Spanish-speaking population.
The third largest Spanish-speaking group, both in terms of numbers and with regard to linguistic studies, is the Cuban community. Cuban colonies in the United States were in existence even before the Spanish-American War of 1898, but it was not until after the Cuban Revolution of 1959 that Cubans flocked to the United States in large numbers. Until the Mariel boatlift of 1980, most Cuban Americans represented educated middle-class sectors of Cuban society; as a result, the linguistic study of Cuban Spanish has taken different sociolinguistic perspectives from the study of the largely rural varieties exemplified in the Mexican American communities, and from the study of the working-class Spanish of Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. It is also the variety most closely associated with a single geographical region (Dade County, Florida), even though large Cuban American communities are also found in the metropolitan New York area and in other large American cities.
Beginning in the 1980s, political turmoil in Central America caused hundreds of thousands of Central Americans to migrate to the United States, and many formed stable colonies there. The civil war in El Salvador resulted in the largest Central American refugee population (Speed 1992), most of whom entered the United States illegally because of the U.S. government’s refusal to recognize them as political refugees. Salvadoran communities sprang up in Houston, Chicago, and Los Angeles, with smaller groups in Washington, D.C. (Jones 1994), Miami, and New York City.
Salvadorans were at first an invisible minority within a minority in the Southwest, because most blended in with the Mexican American population. For many Salvadorans, this was a conscious decision, because law enforcement and immigration officials were less likely to challenge Mexican Americans for proof of legal residence, whereas police targeted Salvadorans as illegal aliens, and landlords and utility companies exacted huge deposits. Although the current political situation in El Salvador is more promising—though far from resolved—the large Salvadoran communities in the United States have become integrated into the overall Spanish-speaking population of the country. In many cities, Salvadoran businesses are prominently visible, and Salvadoran Spanish has come to the attention of educators, advertisers, and journalists.
In 1979, the Nicaraguan people rose up against the forty-year dictatorship of the Somoza family. The Sandinista National Liberation Front, named after national hero Augusto CĂ©sar Sandino, who had fought the U.S. Marines during their occupation of Nicaragua earlier in the century, viewed the Nicaraguan revolution in terms of the earlier Cuban revolution. A socialist economy was the operative plan, and Cuban advisors arrived to help put the Sandinistas’ vision into tangible form. The Nicaraguan bourgeoisie, aided by the sympathetic anticommunist government of the United States, began an armed counterinsurgency. Those who carried it out were known in Spanish as contrarrevolucionarios (counterrevolutionaries), or just Contras; the latter name was the one used in the United States.
The initial fear of a communist takeover following the Sandinista revolution had prompted thousands of Nicaraguans to flee to the United States, and the renewal of the armed struggle between Sandinistas and Contras spurred even more outward immigration. By far the largest Nicaraguan community was formed on the western edge of Miami, with another large colony in Los Angeles. Smaller groups of Nicaraguans are found in Houston, Atlanta, New Orleans, and other southern and southwestern cities. It is in Miami, however, where the Nicaraguan linguistic and cultural presence is most strongly felt. Although overshadowed by the dominant Cuban culture citywide, Nicaraguan Spanish and culture predominate in the Nicaraguan neighborhoods, and few Cubans in Miami are unaware of the speech and cultural patterns of Nicaraguans.
Smaller communities of Spanish speakers, some ethnically homogeneous, many more diverse, are found throughout major cities and agricultural areas of the United States. New York City and Miami have large Colombian communities; the Ecuadoran community in New York City is also sizable. Guatemalans are found in large numbers in rural southern Florida and in greater Los Angeles. New Orleans is home to a long-standing Honduran community; a more recent Honduran community is found in Yonkers, New York. Port Arthur, Texas, contains a group of Miskito fishermen from the Caribbean coast of Nicaragua; creole English-speaking Nicaraguans from the same area live in Opa Loka, Florida, just to the north of Miami. The country is also dotted with tiny pockets of isolated or vestigial Spanish-speaking communities, carryovers of once more-extensive settlements that have been washed over by Anglo American settlements during the past 150 years and which have been left as tide pools to be discovered by fieldworkers, who use them to fit in the pieces of the puzzle represented by the historical dialectology of Spanish in the United States.

Demographics of U.S. Spanish

Studying the demographics of Spanish speakers in the United States is confusing and torturous, because the population is ever changing, return migration to countries of origin is a frequent occurrence, underrepresentation in census counts is the rule rather than the exception, and undocumented members of the Spanish-speaking population may elude any attempts to study them. Moreover, the data, both official and unofficial, embody apparent paradoxes. On one hand, the total number of Spanish speakers in the United States is steadily growing, particularly in urban areas of the Southwest, in New York City, and in southern Florida. On the other hand, in many communities the retention of Spanish by U.S.-born speakers is at an all-time low, and the shift from Spanish to English is often complete after only two generations.
Thus the issue of the “future of Spanish” in the United States requires a two-pronged approach. First, barring some totally cataclysmic circumstance, Spanish speakers will continue to migrate to the United States, and the preeminence of Spanish as the second language of the United States (and as the first language in some areas) is guaranteed for the foreseeable future. At the same time, there is evidence that the pace of ethnic and linguistic assimilation to Anglo American culture is increasing in many parts of the country, both through pulls, such as the perception that upward socioeconomic mobility is associated with English, and by pushes, such as xenophobic “English only” movements (Bills 1997b; Bills, Hernández-Chávez, and Hudson 1995; Hernández-Chávez, Bills, and Hudson 1996; Hudson, Hernandez-Chávez, and Bills 1992, 1995).
The staying power of Spanish in a given U.S. community is dependent on political and economic events outside the borders of the United States, as well as on changing currents of thought and demographic trends within the country, and assessments should keep this in mind. Census data and other inquiries provide only a rough approximation to the total perspective, because self-reporting is notoriously inaccurate regarding matters linguistic and cultural, and many members of the Spanish-speaking population of the United States do not appear on census rolls. Confusion of Hispanic heritage with linguistic abilities in Spanish also clouds the picture, as does the failure to distinguish domains of usage of Spanish, English, and other languages. The following chapters will provide current data on the linguistic characteristics of the largest Spanish-speaking groups in the United States, together with brief historical and demographic profiles. Of necessity, the latter data are somewhat outdated, tentative, and in constant need of refinement. The linguistic traits of the groups involved tend to be more stable across time, and the data on individual dialects should provide a useful—if simplified—introduction to these communities.
Among comprehensive studies of the demographics of Spanish-speaking groups in the United States, Veltman (1988) offers a good point of departure. This study is based on U.S. Census Bureau studies carried out between 1975 and 1980, and therefore it does not accurately reflect the consequences of later events (for instance, the 1980 Cuban boatlift from Mariel and the continued arrival of Cuban balseros [raft people], the immigration of large numbers of Salvadorans and Nicaraguans that occurred during the 1980s, and the increasingly large Dominican and Colombian presence in New York City). Still, the figures are telling, and extrapolation to current levels is not entirely out of the question.
In figures provided by the U.S. Census Bureau in 1975, there were some 7.4 million “persons of Spanish language origin” over four years of age in the United States, and another 2.9 million English speakers lived in households where Spanish was also used. An estimated 2.2 million individuals (some 21.5% of the total Spanish language origin group) were presumed to speak little or no Spanish. Of the total Spanish language origin group, some 1.2 million were Spanish monolingual, 2.9 million were Spanish bilingual, and 4.2 million were English (dominant) bilingual, making for a total of at least 8.3 million Spanish speakers.
The 1980 census reported some 11.7 million individuals in the United States who spoke Spanish at least some of the time. Of this group, nearly 4.9 million were born outside of the United States. Some 43% of the foreign-born Spanish speakers were from Mexico, 19% from Puerto Rico, 8.4% from South America, 6.2% from Central America, 12% from Cuba, and 10.8% from other countries. If immigration is taken across time periods, from before 1950 until 1980, the Mexican total oscillates from a low of 32% in 1960–64 to a high of 53% in 1975–80. Puerto Rican immigration peaked in 1950–59, representing 45% of foreign-born Spanish-speaking immigrants, whereas the lowest period was 1970–74, when Puerto Ricans represented only 10.6% of the total. Similarly, Cuban immigration, which was only 3.5% of the total before 1950, shot up to 27% of the total in 1960–64 and 24% of the total in 1965–69, before dropping to 3.4% of the total in 1975–80 (just before the Mariel boatlift).
Among the approximately 5.7 million American-born Spanish speakers documented in 1979, about 52% had both parents born in the United States, 15% had both parents born in Mexico (12% had one parent born in Mexico), 7.6% had both parents born in Puerto Rico (1.4% had one parent born in Puerto Rico), and only 1.9% had both parents born in Cuba (0.6% had one parent born in Cuba).
In terms of geographical location, in 1976, of the roughly 11 million–strong Spanish-language origin group in the United States, 28.6% were found in California; 23.5% in Texas; 18.4 in the Northeast; 6.5% in Florida; 3.7% each in Illinois, Indiana, and New Mexico; 3.2% in Arizona; and 2.1% in Colorado. The remaining 10.3% were distributed among the other states. The mother tongue of these groups also varied widely: in California, 64% claimed Spanish as a mother tongue; in Texas the figure was 71%, in the northeast and in Florida 80%, in Illinois 73%, in New Mexico 63%, in Arizona 57.5%, and in Colorado 45%. The average claiming Spanish as a mother tongue in the remaining states was 56%. Taken as a nationwide average, nearly 69% of the group claimed Spanish as a mother tongue, and 30% claimed English.
The figures reported above do not correlate precisely with ethnicity because of the cross-generational shift from Spanish to English that has occurred in nearly all Hispanic communities within the United States. Veltman (1988) reports the well-documented trend for immigrants arriving young to adopt English as their primary language. Rates of English monolingualism rise sharply among immigrants who arrived in the United States before the age of 15. Spanish monolingualism rises most sharply in correlation with age in California, Texas, the Northeast, and Illinois, for the period 1950–76. In Florida and the remaining states, the switch to bilingualism was more pronounced even among immigrants who arrived at an older age. Among native-born Hispanics, the shift to English monolingualism or English-dominant bilingualism was most pronounced in Colorado, Illinois, the Northeast, and California. In New Mexico, Arizona, and Texas, this trend was not as striking.
The percentage of (identified and usually legally immigrated) Hispanic residents of the United States was about 6% in the 1980 census. New Mexico had the highest relative proportion (37%), followed by Texas (21%), California (19%), Arizona (16%), Colorado (12%), Florida and New York (9% each), and Illinois (6%). The Hispanic population averaged out across the remaining states was about 2% in 1980. In 1980, there were an estimated 11.6 million Spanish home speakers in the United States, some 5.3% of the total population. Of these, 28.3% lived in California (representing 14.5% of the population of the state). Texas had 22.5% of the Spanish speakers (19.2% of the state population); New York had 12.6% of the Spanish speakers (8.6% of the total state population); Florida had 7% of the Spanish speakers (8.6% of the state population); Illinois had 4.5% of the Spanish speakers (4.8% of the state population); New Jersey had 3.7% of the Spanish speakers (6.1% of the total state population); New Mexico had 3.1% of the Spanish speakers (29.4% of the total state population); Arizona had 3% of the Spanish speakers (13.3% of the total state population); and Colorado had 1.6% of the Spanish speakers (6.7% of the total state population).
Data from the 1990 census document the increasing number of Hispanic residents, and of Spanish-speaking residents, in the United States. This census reported a total of some 21.9 million individuals of Hispanic origin, of whom 14.1 million were born in the United States. Individuals of Mexican origin constitute the largest single group: 13.9 million (8.9 million U.S.-born). Some 2.65 million Puerto Ricans live in the United States, as do some 1.05 million Cubans, of whom 298,000 are U.S.-born. Salvadorans form the next largest (self-reported) group: 565,000 Salvadorans appear in the 1990 census, of which 106,000 were born in the United States. The census reported 520,000 Dominicans (153,000 U.S.-born), 379,000 Colombians (98,000 U.S.-born), 269,000 Guatemalans (53,000 U.S.-born), 203,000 Nicaraguans (38,000 U.S.-born), 191,000 Ecuadorans (50,000 U.S.-born), 131,000 Hondurans (30,000 U.S.-born), 92,000 Panamanians (30,000 U.S.-born), 57,000 Costa Ricans (18,000 U.S.-born), and 48,000 Venezuelans (13,000 U.S.-born). Populations from other Spanish-speaking countries were considerably smaller.
The data from the 2000 census show a dramatic increase in the Hispanic presence in the United States—and probably also an improvement in counting techniques—showing a total of some 32.8 million Hispanics (not including Puerto Rico), or 12% of the national population. The chart and map in the appendix to this chapter, from the U.S. Census Bureau, illustrate some of the most important tendencies. Within the Hispanic population, the breakdown by national origin is as follows:
Particularly noteworthy is the jump of the Dominican population to the nation’s fourth largest Hispanic community, substantially concentrated in the New York City area (and extending into other urban centers of New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) and in south Florida. The large Colombian and Ecuadoran populations are also striking, especially considering that these Hispanic groups do not form coherent neighborhood-based speech communities as do the more populous groups (as well as Hondurans and Nicaraguans in some cities). Moreover, Colombians and ...

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