Spanish in the United States

Ilan Stavans

in Latino Studies

ISBN: 9780199913701
Published online March 2013 | | DOI:
Spanish in the United States

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  • History of the Americas
  • US Cultural History


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The Spanish language has been a fixture of the United States for centuries. Florida and the southwestern states were first colonized by Iberian soldiers and missionaries, who brought the Spanish language with them from the Iberian Peninsula. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, signed in 1848, came as a result of the Mexican-American War, establishing the geographical boundaries that (for the most part) still prevail, and resulting in English being the dominant language throughout the country. This means that the Spanish language has gone through historical epochs in which it was a daily language (colonial period in Florida and the Southwest), to transitioning into a background role in the second half of the 19th century and first half of the 20th, only to return to a significant position after World War II. In the first decades of the 21st century, varieties of Spanish are spoken in different parts of the country. Spanish Loanwords have been absorbed into English; its constant contact with the dominant English has made Spanish a porous language, giving rise to Spanglish, which in the opinion of some represents the emergence of an alternative way of communication. Nowhere in the US Constitution is English ratified as the official language, although some states have indeed moved to consolidate such status. Nevertheless, as a result of immigration and the demographic growth of the Latino minority, the presence of Spanish remains strong to the extent that it is considered the country’s unofficial second code of communication, with other minority tongues also frequently used (Mandarin, Creole, Korean, Portuguese, Arabic, Russian, etc.). Spanish in the United States exists in multiple realms: the domestic sphere; the classroom; in literature; in political forums; in churches; as well as on radio, TV, and in printed media. Studies on bilingualism and Code Switching have opened new academic paths (see also the Oxford Bibliographies article on Child Language Acquisition). Studies of the vicissitudes of Spanish in the United States address various dimensions: the historical, by focusing on its development over time in specific regions or populations; the aesthetic, in exploring its use in poetry, novels, theater, and music; and the national, distinguishing among the different forms used by people from individual countries of origin (Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Colombia, etc.). Within these dimensions, there are generational differences in Spanish-language speakers, which become apparent as one considers the distance from the time of original arrival to the United States by the individual or the ancestry. And there are also syntactical differences defined by geographical location. These generational and syntactical characteristics are not given separate sections in this bibliography.

Article.  6829 words. 

Subjects: History of the Americas ; US Cultural History

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