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Why Hispanos sound different

The Spanish spoken by descendants of the first Europeans to colonise the US diverges from that of Mexicans and Latinos

Picture: The New European

The English language first secured a permanent foothold in what is now the
USA in 1607, with the founding of the English Jamestown colony.

The first permanent French-speaking settlement in North America was Port-Royal, Nova Scotia. It was established by France in 1605, but was taken over by the English in 1613. The area is now mainly English speaking, though 1605 does mark the beginning of the permanent presence of French in
Canada.

But the first European language to achieve a permanent and continuing presence in mainland USA or Canada was not English or French but Spanish. St Augustine, now in Florida, was settled by Spanish speakers in 1565, though it did become British in 1763, and the vast majority of the population today are English speaking.

It is well known that Spanish is currently extremely widespread in the USA. It is the country’s second language in terms of numbers of speakers, with perhaps 15% of the population using it as their home language. The majority of these people, however, are – or are descended from – relatively recent
arrivals, Spanish speakers whose origins lie in Mexico or elsewhere in Latin America and who have been emigrating to the USA from the south since the 19th century.

But these people tend to form a group distinct from the very earliest Spanish-speaking arrivals, sometimes known as Hispanos, who were already
settled on the territory of what are now California, Texas and New Mexico when these areas were ceded to the US after the Mexican-American War.

One group of Hispanos in northern New Mexico and southern Colorado dates their settlement there to 1598 – nearly a decade before the arrival of
the English-speaking colonists in Virginia.

Their area of settlement focussed around Durango, Colorado, and Santa Fe, New Mexico, places with obviously non-English names. (Santa Fe is Spanish for ‘holy faith’, while Durango comes from a Spanish town whose name is probably Basque in origin.)

With the important and very obvious exception of the Native Americans, who have been in the Americas for very many thousands of years, Hispanos are the people who have resided in the USA the longest. Of European Spanish origin, they are descended in part from the very first European colonists from Spain and the Canary Islands.

They speak a dialect of Spanish which is noticeably different from the modern Spanish varieties of Mexico and the rest of Latin America, continuing to use a number of vocabulary items and grammatical forms dating from the colonial era of the 16th and 17th centuries.

These hispanophone settlers of northern New Mexico and southern Colorado came in time to be rather isolated from the rest of Spanish America; and their Spanish developed free of influence from linguistic
developments which were occurring elsewhere.

Their Spanish was, however, influenced by the local indigenous languages. In the first instance, these were Pueblo Indian languages such as Zuni, Taos, and Keresan. The Hispanos later also came into contact with, and indeed under the domination of, speakers of Comanche.

Their isolation from the Spanish-speaking mainstream was further reinforced in 1848 when New Mexico and Colorado were annexed by the USA after the Mexican-American War or, as the Mexicans call it, the Intervención estadounidense en México.

ESTADOUNIDENSE

In Britain we call people from the USA “Americans”. This is sometimes
objected to by citizens of places like Canada, Mexico and Panama, which are
also located on the American continent. The Spanish word estadounidense avoids this problem. “United-Statesian”, though, seems unlikely to make it into general English usage in the near future.

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