New Mexican Spanish

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New Mexican Spanish
español neomexicano, novomexicano
Early forms
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Nuevo México español por condados.png
Spanish language distribution in New Mexico by county

New Mexican Spanish (Spanish: español neomexicano, novomexicano) is a variety of Spanish spoken in the United States, primarily in Northern New Mexico and the southern part of the state of Colorado by the Hispanos of New Mexico. Despite a continual influence from the Spanish spoken in Mexico to the south by contact with Mexican migrants who fled to the US from the Mexican Revolution, New Mexico's unique political history and relative geographical and political isolation from the time of the annexation to the US have caused New Mexican Spanish to differ notably from the Spanish spoken in other parts of Hispanic America, with the exception of certain rural areas of southern Colorado, Northern Mexico, and Texas.[1]

Many speakers of traditional New Mexican Spanish are descendants of Spanish colonists who arrived in New Mexico in the 16th to the 18th centuries. During that time, contact with the rest of Spanish America was limited because of the Comancheria, and New Mexican Spanish developed closer trading links to the Comanche than to the rest of New Spain. In the meantime, some Spanish colonists co-existed with and intermarried with Puebloan peoples and Navajos, also enemies of the Comanche.[2]

After the Mexican–American War, New Mexico and all its inhabitants came under the governance of the English-speaking United States, and for the next 100 years, English-speakers increased in number.

Those reasons caused these main differences between New Mexican Spanish and other forms of Hispanic American Spanish: the preservation of forms and vocabulary from colonial-era Spanish (such as, in some places, haiga instead of haya or Yo seigo, instead of Yo soy), the borrowing of words from Rio Grande Indian languages for indigenous vocabulary (in addition to the Nahuatl additions that the colonists had brought), a tendency to "recoin" Spanish words for ones that had fallen into disuse (for example, ojo, whose literal meaning is "eye," was repurposed to mean "hot spring" as well), and a large proportion of English loanwords, particularly for technology (such as bos, troca, and telefón). Pronunciation also carries influences from colonial, Native American, and English sources.

In recent years, speakers have developed a modern New Mexican Spanish, called Renovador, which contains more modern vocabulary because of the increasing popularity of Spanish-language broadcast media in the US and intermarriage between New Mexicans and Mexican settlers. The modernized dialect contains Mexican Spanish slang (mexicanismos).[1]


Spanish first arrived in New Mexico with Juan de Oñate's colonization, bringing 600-700 settlers. Almost half of the early settlers were from Spain, many from New Spain, the rest from "various parts of Latin America, the Canary Islands, Portugal, and so forth." Following the Pueblo Revolt, New Mexico was resettled again, primarily by refugees from the Pueblo Revolt and others born in northern New Spain. The Spanish-speaking areas with which New Mexico had the greatest contact were Chihuahua and Sonora.[3]

The late-19th-century development of a culture of print media allowed New Mexican Spanish to resist assimilation toward either American English or Mexican Spanish for many decades.[4] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, for instance, noted, "About one-tenth of the Spanish-American and Indian population [of New Mexico] habitually use the English language."[5] After 1917, Spanish usage in the public sphere began to decline and it was banned in schools.[6] From then on, Spanish became a language of home and community. The advance of English-language broadcast media accelerated the decline.

New Mexican Spanish has been undergoing language shift over the course of the 20th century, with Hispanos gradually shifting towards English.[7] In addition, New Mexican Spanish faces pressure from Standard and Mexican Spanish. Younger generations tend to use more Anglicisms and Mexican and standard Spanish forms. This is in part due to language attrition. The decline in Spanish exposure in the home creates a vacuum, into which "English and Mexican Spanish flow easily."[8]


The main grammatical differences between New Mexican Spanish and Standard Spanish, according to Cobos.[1]

Besides a great deal of phonological variation, there are various morphological differences throughout New Mexican Spanish, usually in the verb conjugations or endings:

  • Change from a bilabial nasal /m/ to an alveolar nasal /n/ in the first-person plural (nosotros) ending of the imperfect: nos bañábamos /nos baˈɲabamos/ is realized as nos bañábanos /nos baˈɲabanos/ under the influence of the clitic nos. This also occurs in the present subjunctive, with a shift of stress, as in nos báñemos.[1][9]
  • The second person preterite endings can be -astes, -istes or -ates, -ites instead of the standard -aste, -iste.[1]
  • Regularization of the following irregular verb conjugations:
    • Regularization of irregular first-person singular (yo) present indicative: epenthetic /g/ is missing, thus salo rather than salgo, veno instead of vengo.
    • Subjunctive present of haber is haiga, instead of haya.[1]
    • Preservation of /a/ in forms of haber as an auxiliary verb: "nosotros hamos comido," instead of "nosotros hemos comido," "yo ha comido" instead of "yo he comido."[1]


  • New Mexican Spanish has seseo (orthographic ⟨c⟩ before /e/ and /i/ as well as ⟨z⟩ represent a single phoneme, /s/, normally pronounced [s]). That is, casa ("house") and caza ("hunt") are homophones. Seseo is prevalent in nearly all of Spanish America, in the Canary Islands, and some of southern Spain, where the linguistic feature originates.

There are many variations of New Mexican Spanish (they can be manifest in small or large groups of speakers, but there are exceptions to nearly all of the following tendencies):

Feature Example Phonemic Standard N.M. Spanish
Phrase-final epenthetical
[e] or [i][10][11]
voy a cantar /ˈboi a kanˈtaɾ/ [ˈboi̯.a.kanˈtar] [ˈboi̯.a.kanˈta.ɾe]
dame el papel /ˈdame el paˈpel/ [ˈda.mel.paˈpel] [ˈda.mel.paˈ]
Uvularization of /x/[12] mujeres /muˈxeɾes/ [muˈxe.ɾes] [muˈχe.ɾes]
Conditional elision of intervocalic /ʝ/.[13][14] [11] ella /ˈeʝa/ [ˈe.λa], e.a]
estrellita /estɾeˈʝita/ [es.tɾeˈλi.ta] [es.tɾeˈi.ta]
Realization of /ɾ/ or /r/
as an alveolar approximant [ɹ][11][15]
Rodrigo /roˈdɾiɡo/ [roðˈɾi.ɣo] [ɹoðˈɹi.ɣo]
"Softening" (deaffrication) of /t͡ʃ/ to /ʃ/ [16][11][15] muchachos /muˈt͡ʃat͡ʃos/ [muˈt͡ʃa.t͡ʃos] [muˈʃa.ʃos]
Insertion of nasal consonant /
nasalisation of vowel preceding
postalveolar affricate/fricative
muchos /ˈmut͡ʃos/ [ˈmu.t͡ʃos] [ˈmun.ʃos]
Elision of intervocalic
/d/, especially in
ocupado /okuˈpado/ [o.ku.ˈpa.ðo] [o.kuˈpa.u]
todo /ˈtodo/ [ˈto.ðo] [ˈto.o]
Aspiration or elision (rare) of /f/[12][18][19] me fui /me ˈfui/ [me ˈfwi] [meˈhwi]
No /s/-voicing[dubious ] estas mismas casas /ˈestas ˈmismas ˈkasas/ [ˈes.tazˈmiz.masˈ] [ˈes.tasˈmis.masˈ]
Velarization of prevelar consonant
voiced bilabial approximant
abuelo /aˈbuelo/ [a.ˈβ̞we.lo] [aˈɣʷwe.lo]
Syllable-initial, syllable-final, or
total aspiration or elision of /s/[11][19]
somos así /ˈsomos aˈsi/ [ˈso.mos.aˈsi] ho.mos.aˈhi]
Word-initial h aspiration in some words, as [h], [x], or [χ][12][19] humo /umo/ [umo] [humo]

Language contact[edit]

New Mexican Spanish has been in contact with several indigenous American languages, most prominently those of the Pueblo and Navajo peoples with whom the Spaniards and Mexicans coexisted in colonial times.[citation needed] For an example of loanword phonological borrowing in Taos, see Taos loanword phonology. New Mexican Spanish has also been in substantial contact with American English. The contact with American English began before the Mexican–American War, when New Mexico did trade with the US,[20] and increased after New Mexico's annexation by the US. One effect of this is semantic extension, using Spanish words with the meaning of their English cognates, such as using realizar to mean "to realize."[21]

Legal status[edit]

New Mexico law grants Spanish a special status. For instance, constitutional amendments must be approved by referendum and must be printed on the ballot in both English and Spanish.[22] Certain legal notices must be published in English and Spanish, and the state maintains a list of newspapers for Spanish publication.[23] Spanish was not used officially in the legislature after 1935.[24]

Though the New Mexico Constitution (1912) provided that laws would be published in both languages for 20 years and that practice was renewed several times, it ceased in 1949.[24][25] Accordingly, some describe New Mexico as officially bilingual,[26][27][28] but others disagree.[24][29]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Cobos, Rubén (2003) "Introduction," A Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish (2nd ed.); Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press; ISBN 0-89013-452-9
  2. ^ Hämäläinen, Pekka (2008). The Comanche Empire. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-12654-9.
  3. ^ Lipski, John M. (2008). Varieties of Spanish in the United States. Georgetown University Press. pp. 193–200. ISBN 9781589016514.
  4. ^ Great Cotton, Eleanor and John M. Sharp. Spanish in the Americas. Georgetown University Press, p. 278.
  5. ^ Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "New Mexico" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 19 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  6. ^ Gubitosi, Patricia (2010). "El español de Nuevo México y su uso como lengua pública: 1850-1950" (PDF). Camino Real. Estudios de las Hispanidades Norteamericanas. (in Spanish): 52.
  7. ^ Bills, Vigil (2008). The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado : A Linguistic Atlas. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 241–260. ISBN 9780826345516.
  8. ^ Bills, Vigil (2008). The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado : A Linguistic Atlas. University of New Mexico Press. pp. 258–260, 343. ISBN 9780826345516.
  9. ^ Bills, Garland D.; Vigil, Neddy A. (2008). The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas. UNM Press. ISBN 978-0-8263-4549-3. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  10. ^ Mackenzie, Ian. "Spanish in the USA". The Linguistics of Spanish. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  11. ^ a b c d e f Lipski, John M. (2008). Varieties of Spanish in the United States. Georgetown University Press. pp. 204–206. ISBN 9781589016514. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  12. ^ a b c Vigil, Donny (2018). "WORD-INITIAL H ASPIRATION AND THE PRESENCE OF THE POST-VELAR FRICATIVE [χ] IN NEW MEXICO SPANISH" (PDF). Estudios de Fonética Experimental.
  13. ^ Occurs between /i/ and another vowel, or after /e/ and before another vowel. /ʝ/ in general is very weak in Traditional New Mexican Spanish, pronounced as a semivocalic [j] at most.
  14. ^ Ross, L. Ronald (1980). "La Supresion de /y/ en el Español Chicano". Hispania (in Spanish). 63: 552–554. doi:10.2307/341016.
  15. ^ a b Bills, Garland D. (1997). "New Mexican Spanish: Demise of the Earliest European Variety in the United States". American Speech. 72: 168. doi:10.2307/455787. Retrieved 4 April 2021.
  16. ^ This is also a feature of the Spanish spoken in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora, other northwestern states of Mexico, and western Andalusia.
  17. ^ This is a feature of many Spanish dialects, both in the Americas and in northern and southern Spain.
  18. ^ This is related to the change of Latin /f/- to Spanish /h/-, in which /f/ was pronounced as a labiodental [f], bilabial [ɸ], or glottal fricative [h], which was later deleted from pronunciation.
  19. ^ a b c Zepeda Torres, Miguel Ángel (2018). Debuccalization of /s/ and Historic /f/ Variation in Traditional New Mexican Spanish: an Optimality Theory Approach (Doctor of Philosophy in Hispanic Linguistics thesis). University of California, Davis.
  20. ^ Gubitosi, Patricia (2010). "El español de Nuevo México y su uso como lengua pública: 1850-1950" (PDF). Camino real: estudios de las hispanidades norteamericanas (in Spanish): 51.
  21. ^ Gubitosi, Patricia (2010). "El español de Nuevo México y su uso como lengua pública: 1850-1950" (PDF). Camino real: estudios de las hispanidades norteamericanas (in Spanish): 63.
  22. ^ New Mexico Code 1-16-7 (1981).
  23. ^ New Mexico Code 14-11-13 (2011).
  24. ^ a b c Cobarrubias, Juan; Fishman, Joshua A. (1983). Progress in Language Planning: International Perspectives. Walter de Gruyter. p. 195. ISBN 90-279-3358-8. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  25. ^ Garcia, Ofelia (2011). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. John Wiley & Sons. p. 167. ISBN 978-1-4443-5978-7. Retrieved 2011-12-27.
  26. ^ The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "Language Rights and New Mexico Statehood" (PDF). New Mexico Public Education Department. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  27. ^ "NMTCE New Mexico Teachers of English". New Mexico Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  28. ^ "All About New Mexico". Sheppard Software. Retrieved July 12, 2011.
  29. ^ Bills, Garland D.; Vigil, Neddy A. (2008). The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas. UNM Press. p. 17. ISBN 978-0-8263-4549-3. Retrieved 2011-12-27.


  • Rubén Cobos. A Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.
  • Garland D. Bills. "New Mexican Spanish: Demise of the Earliest European Variety in the United States". American Speech (1997, 72.2): 154–171.
  • Rosaura Sánchez. "Our linguistic and social context", Spanish in the United States: Sociolinguistic Aspects. Ed. Jon Amastae & Lucía Elías-Olivares. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. 9–46.
  • Carmen Silva-Corvalán. "Lengua, variación y dialectos". Sociolingüística y Pragmática del Español 2001: 26–63.
  • L. Ronald Ross. "La supresión de la /y/ en el español chicano". Hispania (1980): 552–554.