Spanish is the second most spoken language in the United States of America. Forty-five million Hispanophones speak Spanish as their first, second or heritage language, and there are six million Spanish language students in the United States. This makes the United States the third-largest Hispanophone country in the world after Mexico and Colombia. About half of all American Spanish speakers also assessed themselves as speaking English "very well" in the 2000 U.S. Census.
There are more Spanish-speakers in the United States than speakers of French, German, Italian, Hawaiian, varieties of Chinese and Native American languages combined. According to the 2012 American Community Survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by 38.3 million people aged five or older, more than twice that of 1990.
The Spanish language has been present in what is now the United States since the 16th and 17th centuries, with the arrival of Spanish colonization in North America. Colonizers settled in areas that would later become the states of Florida, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, Utah, and California. The Spanish explorers explored areas of 42 future U.S. states leaving behind a varying range of Hispanic legacy in the North American continent. Western regions of the Louisiana Territory were also under Spanish rule between 1763 and 1800, after the French and Indian War, further extending the Spanish influence throughout the modern-day United States of America.
After the incorporation of these areas into the United States in the first half of the 19th century, the Spanish language was later reinforced in the country by the acquisition of Puerto Rico in 1898. Later waves of emigration from Mexico, Cuba, El Salvador and elsewhere in Hispanic America to the United States beginning in the second half of the 19th century to the present-day have strengthened the role of the Spanish language in the country. Today, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, thus increasing the use and importance of American Spanish in the United States.
Spanish was among the very first European languages spoken in North America, preceded only by Old Norse. Spanish arrived in the territory of the modern United States with Ponce de León in 1513. In 1565, the Spaniards founded St. Augustine, Florida, and as of the early 1800s, it became the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in what is now the United States. In 1898, San Juan, the capital of Puerto Rico, became the oldest city in all of the U.S. territory: Juan Ponce De León founded San Juan in 1508.
Historically, the Spanish-speaking population increased because of territorial annexation of lands claimed earlier by the Spanish Empire and by wars with Mexico and by land purchases, while modern factors continue increasing the size of this population.
In 1819 Florida was transferred by Spain to the United States via the Adams–Onís Treaty; many Spanish settlers, whose ancestors came from Cuba, Andalusia, and the Canary Islands, became U.S. citizens and continued to speak Spanish.
In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, land claimed by Spain encompassed a large part of the contemporary U.S. territory, including the French colony of Louisiana that was under Spanish occupation from 1769 to 1800, and then part of the United States since 1803. When Louisiana was sold to the United States, its Spanish and Cajun French inhabitants became U.S. citizens, and continued to speak Spanish or French. In 1813, George Ticknor started a program of Spanish Studies at Harvard University.
In 1821, after Mexico's War of Independence from Spain, Texas was part of the United Mexican States as the state of Coahuila y Tejas. A large influx of Americans soon followed, originally with the approval of Mexico's president. In 1836, the now largely "American" Texans fought a war of independence from the central government of Mexico and established the Republic of Texas. In 1846, the Republic dissolved when Texas entered the United States of America as a state. Per the 1850 U.S. census, fewer than 16,000 Texans were of Mexican descent, and nearly all were Spanish-speaking people (both Mexicans and non-Spanish European settlers who include German Texan) who were outnumbered (six-to-one) by English-speaking settlers (both Americans and other immigrant Europeans).
After the Mexican War of Independence from Spain, California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, western Colorado and southwestern Wyoming also became part of the Mexican territory of Alta California. Most of New Mexico, western Texas, southern Colorado, southwestern Kansas, and the Oklahoma panhandle were part of the territory of Santa Fe de Nuevo México. The geographical isolation and unique political history of this territory led to New Mexican Spanish differing notably from both Spanish spoken in other parts of the United States of America and Spanish spoken in the present-day United Mexican States.
Mexico lost almost half of the northern territory gained from Spain in 1821 to the United States in the Mexican–American War (1846–1848). This included parts of contemporary Texas, and Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Utah. Although the lost territory was sparsely populated, the thousands of Spanish-speaking Mexicans subsequently became U.S. citizens. The war-ending Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) does not explicitly address language. However, the English-speaking American settlers who entered the Southwest established their language, culture, and law as dominant, to the extent it fully displaced Spanish in the public sphere. In 1855, California declared that English would be the only medium of instruction in its schools; the newly admitted state of New Mexico followed suit in 1891 to mandate that all of its schools teach in English only.
The first California constitutional convention in 1849 had eight Californio participants; the resulting state constitution was produced in English and Spanish, and it contained a clause requiring all published laws and regulations to be published in both languages. One of the very first acts of the first California Legislature of 1850 was to authorize the appointment of a State Translator, who would be responsible for translating all state laws, decrees, documents, or orders into Spanish. But the state's second constitutional convention in 1872 had no Spanish-speaking participants; the convention's English-speaking participants felt that the state's remaining minority of Spanish-speakers should simply learn English; and the convention ultimately voted 46-39 to revise the earlier clause so that all official proceedings would henceforth be published only in English.
In 1898, consequent to the Spanish–American War, the United States took control of Cuba and Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam as American territories. In 1902, Cuba became independent from the United States, while Puerto Rico remained a U.S. territory. The American government required government services to be bilingual in Spanish and English, and attempted to introduce English-medium education to Puerto Rico, but the latter effort was unsuccessful.
In 1917, the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese was founded, and the academic study of Spanish literature was helped by negative attitudes towards German due to World War I. From 1942 to 1962, the Bracero program would provide for mass Mexican migration to the United States. Once Puerto Rico was granted autonomy in 1948, even mainlander officials who came to Puerto Rico were forced to learn Spanish. Only 20% of Puerto Rico's residents understand English, and although the island's government had a policy of official bilingualism, it was repealed in favor of a Spanish-only policy in 1991. This policy was reversed in 1993 when a pro-statehood party ousted a pro-independence party from the commonwealth government.
The relatively recent but large influx of Spanish-speakers to the United States has increased the overall total of Spanish-speakers in the country. They form majorities and large minorities in many political districts, especially in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the American states bordering Mexico, and also in South Florida.
Mexicans first moved to the United States as refugees in the turmoil of the Mexican Revolution from 1910–1917, but many more emigrated later for economic reasons. The large majority of Mexicans are in the former Mexican-controlled areas in the Southwest.
At over 5 million, Puerto Ricans are easily the second largest Hispanic group. Of all major Hispanic groups, Puerto Ricans are the least likely to be proficient in Spanish, but millions of Puerto Rican Americans living in the U.S. mainland nonetheless are fluent in Spanish. Puerto Ricans are natural-born U.S. citizens, and many Puerto Ricans have migrated to New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, and other areas of the Eastern United States, increasing the Spanish-speaking populations and in some areas being the majority of the Hispanophone population, especially in Central Florida. In Hawaii, where Puerto Rican farm laborers and Mexican ranchers have settled since the late 19th century, seven percent of the islands' people are either Hispanic or Hispanophone or both.
The Cuban Revolution of 1959 created a community of Cuban exiles who opposed the Communist revolution, many of whom left for the United States. In 1963, the Ford Foundation established the first bilingual education program in the United States for the children of Cuban exiles in Miami-Dade County, Florida. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 boosted immigration from Latin American countries, and in 1968, Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act. Most of these one million Cuban Americans settled in southern and central Florida, while other Cubans live in the Northeastern United States; most are fluent in Spanish. In the city of Miami today Spanish is the first language mostly due to Cuban immigration. Likewise, the Nicaraguan Revolution promoted a migration of Contras who were opposed to the socialist government in Nicaragua, to the United States in the late 1980s. Most of these Nicaraguans migrated to Florida, California and Texas.
The exodus of Salvadorans was a result of both economic and political problems. The largest immigration wave occurred as a result of the Salvadoran Civil War in the 1980s, in which 20 to 30 percent of El Salvador's population emigrated. About 50 percent, or up to 500,000 of those who escaped, headed to the United States, which was already home to over 10,000 Salvadorans, making Salvadoran Americans the fourth-largest Hispanic and Latino American group, after the Mexican-American majority, stateside Puerto Ricans, and Cubans.
As civil wars engulfed several Central American countries in the 1980s, hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans fled their country and came to the United States. Between 1980 and 1990, the Salvadoran immigrant population in the United States increased nearly fivefold from 94,000 to 465,000. The number of Salvadoran immigrants in the United States continued to grow in the 1990s and 2000s as a result of family reunification and new arrivals fleeing a series of natural disasters that hit El Salvador, including earthquakes and hurricanes. By 2008, there were about 1.1 million Salvadoran immigrants in the United States.
Until the 20th century, there was no clear record of the number of Venezuelans who emigrated to the United States. Between the 18th and early 19th centuries, there were many European immigrants who went to Venezuela, only to later migrate to the United States along with their children and grandchildren who were born and/or grew up in Venezuela speaking Spanish. From 1910 to 1930, it is estimated that over 4,000 South Americans each year emigrated to the United States; however, there are few specific figures indicating these statistics. Many Venezuelans settled in the United States with hopes of receiving a better education, only to remain there following graduation. They are frequently joined by relatives. However, since the early 1980s, the reasons for Venezuelan emigration have changed to include hopes of earning a higher salary and due to the economic fluctuations in Venezuela which also promoted an important migration of Venezuelan professionals to the US. In the 2000s, dissident Venezuelans migrated to South Florida, especially the suburbs of Doral and Weston. Other main states with Venezuelan American populations are, according to the 1990 census, New York, California, Texas (adding to their existing Hispanic populations), New Jersey, Massachusetts and Maryland.
Refugees from Spain also migrated to the U.S. due to the Spanish Civil War (1936 - 1939) and political instability under the regime of Francisco Franco that lasted until 1975. The majority of Spaniards settled in Florida, Texas, California, New Jersey, New York City, Chicago, and Puerto Rico.
The publication of data by the United States Census Bureau in 2003 revealed that Hispanics were the largest minority in the United States and caused a flurry of press speculation in Spain about the position of Spanish in the United States. That year, the Instituto Cervantes, an organization created by the Spanish government in 1991 to promote Spanish language around the globe, established a branch in New York.
|Year||Number of native Spanish-speakers||Percent of
In total, there were 36,995,602 people aged five or older in the United States who spoke Spanish at home (12.8% of the total U.S. population).
Although the United States has no de jure official language, English is the dominant language of business, education, government, religion, media, culture, civil society, and the public sphere. Virtually all state and federal government agencies and large corporations use English as their internal working language, especially at the management level. Some states, such as New Mexico, provide bilingual legislated notices and official documents, in Spanish and English, and other commonly used languages. English is the home language of most Americans, including a growing proportion of Hispanic Americans; between 2000 and 2015, the proportion of Hispanics who spoke Spanish at home decreased from 78 to 73 percent. As noted above, the only major exception is the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the official and most commonly used language.
Throughout the history of the Southwest United States, the controversial issue of language as part of cultural rights and bilingual state government representation has caused socio-cultural friction between Anglophones and Hispanophones. Currently, Spanish is the most widely taught second language in the United States.
California's first constitution recognized 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.— California Constitution, 1849, Art. 11 Sec. 21.
By 1870, English-speaking Americans were a majority in California; in 1879, the state promulgated a new constitution under which all official proceedings were to be conducted exclusively in English, a clause that remained in effect until 1966. In 1986, California voters added a new constitutional clause, by referendum, stating that:
English is the official language of the State of California.— California Constitution, Art. 3, Sec. 6
Spanish remains widely spoken throughout the state, and many government forms, documents, and services are bilingual, in English and Spanish. And although all official proceedings are to be conducted in English:
A person unable to understand English who is charged with a crime has a right to an interpreter throughout the proceedings.— California Constitution, Art. 1. Sec. 14
The state (like its southwestern neighbors) has had close linguistic and cultural ties with Mexico. The state outside the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 was part of the New Mexico Territory until 1863, when the western half was made into the Arizona Territory. The area of the former Gadsden Purchase contained a majority of Spanish-speakers until the 1940s, although the Tucson area had a higher ratio of anglophones (including Mexican Americans who were fluent in English); the continuous arrival of Mexican settlers increases the number of Spanish-speakers.
New Mexico is commonly thought to have Spanish as an official language alongside English because of its wide usage and legal promotion of Spanish in the state; however, the state has no official language. New Mexico's laws are promulgated bilingually in Spanish and English. Although English is the state government's paper working language, government business is often conducted in Spanish, particularly at the local level. Spanish has been spoken in the New Mexico-Colorado border and the contemporary U.S.–Mexico border since the 16th century.
Because of its relative isolation from other Spanish-speaking areas over most of its 400-year existence, New Mexico Spanish, and in particular the Spanish of northern New Mexico and Colorado has retained many elements of 16th- and 17th-century Spanish and has developed its own vocabulary. In addition, it contains many words from Nahuatl, the language currently spoken by the Nahua people in Mexico. New Mexican Spanish also contains loan words from the Pueblo languages of the upper Rio Grande Valley, Mexican-Spanish words (mexicanismos), and borrowings from English. Grammatical changes include the loss of the second person verb form, changes in verb endings, particularly in the preterite, and partial merging of the second and third conjugations.
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In Texas, English is the state's de facto official language (though it lacks de jure status) and is used in government. However, the continual influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants increased the import of Spanish in Texas. Although it is a part of the Southern United States, Texas's counties bordering Mexico are mostly Hispanic, and consequently, Spanish is commonly spoken in the region. The Government of Texas, through Section 2054.116 of the Government Code, mandates that state agencies provide information on their websites in Spanish to assist residents who have limited English proficiency.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recognizes Spanish and English as official languages; Spanish is the dominant first language.
Spanish is currently the most widely taught non-English language in American secondary schools and higher education. More than 790,000 university students were enrolled in Spanish courses in the autumn of 2013, with Spanish the most widely taught language in American colleges and universities. Some 50.6 percent of the total number of U.S. students enrolled in foreign-language courses take Spanish, followed by French (12.7%), American Sign Language (7%), German (5.5%), Italian (4.6%), Japanese (4.3%), and Chinese (3.9%), although the totals remain relatively small in relation to the total U.S. population.
The influence of English on American Spanish is very important. In many Latino (also called Hispanic) youth subcultures, it is fashionable to variously mix Spanish and English, thereby producing Spanglish. Spanglish is the name for the admixture of English words and phrases to Spanish for effective communication.
The Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (North American Academy of the Spanish Language) tracks the developments of the Spanish spoken in the United States, and the influences of English upon it.
Language experts distinguish the following varieties of the Spanish spoken in the United States:
Most post-first generations of Spanish-speakers tend to speak the language with American English accents of the region they grew up in.
Analogously, many Spanish words are now standard American English.
The usage of Spanish words in American bilinguals shows a convergence of semantics between English and Spanish cognates. For example, the Spanish words atender ("to pay attention to") and éxito ("success") acquire a similar semantic range in American Spanish to the English words "attend" and "exit". In some cases, loanwords from English give existing Spanish words a homonymic meaning: so while coche has come to acquire the additional meaning of "coach" in the United States, it retains its older meaning of "car".
Spanish-speaking Americans are the fastest growing linguistic group in the United States. Continual immigration and prevalent Spanish-language mass media (such as Univisión, Telemundo, and Azteca América) support the Spanish-speaking populations. Moreover, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, it is common for many American manufacturers to use multilingual product labeling using English, French and Spanish, three of the four official languages of the Organization of American States.
Besides the businesses that always have catered to Hispanophone immigrants, a small, but increasing, number of mainstream American retailers now advertise bilingually in Spanish-speaking areas and offer bilingual, English-Spanish customer services. One common indicator of such businesses is Se Habla Español which means "Spanish Is Spoken".
The State of the Union Addresses and other presidential speeches are translated into Spanish, following the precedent set by the Bill Clinton administration. Moreover, non-Hispanic American origin politicians fluent in Spanish speak in Spanish to Hispanic majority constituencies. There are 500 Spanish newspapers, 152 magazines, and 205 publishers in the United States; magazine and local television advertising expenditures for the Hispanic market have increased substantially from 1999 to 2003, with growth of 58 percent and 43 percent, respectively.
Historically, immigrants' languages tend to disappear or become reduced through generational assimilation. Spanish disappeared in several countries and U.S. territories during the 20th century, notably in the Philippines and in the Pacific Island countries of Guam, Micronesia, Palau, the Northern Marianas islands, and the Marshall Islands.
The English-only movement seeks to establish English as the sole official language of the United States. Generally, they exert political public pressure upon Hispanophone immigrants to learn English and speak it publicly; as universities, business, and the professions use English, there is much social pressure to learn English for upward socio-economic mobility.
Generally, Hispanic American origin US residents (13.4% of the 2002 population) are bilingual to a degree. A Simmons Market Research survey recorded that 19 percent of the Hispanic American origin population speak only Spanish, 9 percent speak only English, 55 percent have limited English proficiency, and 17 percent are fully English-Spanish bilingual.
Intergenerational transmission of Spanish is a more accurate indicator of Spanish's future in the United States than raw statistical numbers of Hispanophone immigrants. Although Hispanic American origin immigrants hold varying English proficiency levels, almost all second-generation Hispanic American origin U.S. residents speak English, yet about 50 percent speak Spanish at home. Two-thirds of third-generation Mexican Americans speak only English at home. Calvin Veltman undertook in 1988, for the National Center for Education Statistics and for the Hispanic Policy Development Project, the most complete study of English language adoption by Hispanophone immigrants. Veltman's language shift studies document abandonment of Spanish at rates of 40 percent for immigrants who arrived in the U.S. before the age of 14, and 70 percent for immigrants who arrived before the age of 10. The complete set of these studies' demographic projections postulates the near-complete assimilation of a given Hispanophone immigrant cohort within two generations. Although his study based itself upon a large 1976 sample from the Bureau of the Census (which has not been repeated), data from the 1990 Census tend to confirm the great Anglicization of the U.S. Hispanic American origin population.
In 1610, Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá published his Historia de Nuevo México (History of New Mexico).
In 1880, José Martí moved to New York City.
Eusebio Chacón published El hijo de la tempestad in 1892.
Federico García Lorca wrote his collection of poems, Poeta en Nueva York, and the two plays Así que pasen cinco años and El público while living in New York. Giannina Braschi wrote the Hispanic postmodern poetry classic El imperio de los sueños in Spanish in New York. José Vasconcelos and Juan Ramón Jiménez were both exiled to the United States.
In her autobiography When I was Puerto Rican (1993), Esmeralda Santiago recounts her childhood on the island during the 1950s and her family's subsequent move to New York City, when she was 13 years old. Originally written in English, the book is an example of New York Rican literature.