The Spanish language continues to gain ground in the United States

More than 60 million Latinos or Hispanics live in the United States, according to the most recent census; as of 2015, the vast majority of this group was born in the United States, marking a significant milestone in the lengthy history of Spanish presence in the American union.

The Spanish language continues to gain ground in the United States
The number of people who speak Spanish in the United States continues to rise. Photo by Alan Quirvan / Unsplash

The last census in the United States counted more than 60 million Latinos or Hispanics in its territory, with the particularity that, as of 2015, most of this population was born in that country, which represents a new stage in the long process of the presence of Spanish in the American union, said the academic of the University of Alcalá, Francisco Moreno Fernández.

It was the first language in the United States because Spanish speakers moved through that territory, discovered by the Western world at the beginning of the 16th century, although it was not a colonizing process, but a process of search and settlement. It is often overlooked that it was the first European language to be spoken and maintained for a long time.

Also participating in the eighth session of the Bicentennial Dialogues of the United States-Mexico diplomatic relations, Pedro Martin Butragueño, a specialist in Hispanic Linguistics, pointed out that even though there are clear links between the Spanish of Mexico and that spoken in the United States, there are interesting parallels in the way in which this language has expanded in Mexico.

An expert from the Mexican Academy of Language indicated that the linguistic history of Mexico could be summarized in the process of constant displacement that Spanish has exerted on the native languages, in such a way that they are two sides of the same coin: the process of displacement and the expansion of Spanish.

Moreno Fernández, who is also a full member of the North American Academy of the Spanish Language, said at the academic meeting put on by the Center for Research on North America (CISAN) and the UNAM-Chicago Extension School: Although there was not a large population of Spanish origin in that territory, there were multiple explorations that involved prominent people who are now part of the history of the United States.

That was the first stage in which Spanish was present in several places with diverse functions. For example, during the first three centuries in the United States, it became the lingua franca for the indigenous communities in the US.

From the 18th century onward, the presence of Spanish speakers from Mexico rather than from Spain intensified, which was an important factor because it is sometimes thought that the exploratory activity was carried out only by people coming from the European nation, but several of them arrived directly from Mexico. But on these expeditions, there were Spanish people from Mexico, who were called Mexican Spaniards. This led to the Spanish language with a lot of different words and phrases inside it.

After the United States-Mexican War in 1848, the current borders were established. The greatest important moment for the language and the populations were the migratory processes from Mexico to that country, which has given rise to the current situation where Spanish has an important presence within the United States.

Key to the 19th century, the Spanish language in the United States

Pedro Martín Butragueño recalled that, in 1770, when the Bourbon reforms in the last phase of the colony led to a reorganization of the municipalities and the disappearance of the Indian republics, there was an expansion of Spanish settlement mainly in urban areas that were not large.

For example, in the middle of the 17th century, there were practically two enclaves with more than five thousand inhabitants: Mexico City and Puebla. There were also the nuclei of certain haciendas, barracks, missions, and prisons.

"In the 19th century, Mexico was key to understanding the presence of the Spanish. At the beginning of that period, barely 15 percent of the population in the territory spoke Spanish, whether monolingual or bilingual; by the end of the century, we find that around 80 percent of the population speaks at least some degree of Spanish," Butragueño explained.

So, the role of Mexican Spanish was to colonize, both in the U.S. and in the Pacific islands, where the main language spoken until the independence of continental America was Mexican Spanish.

"All of this raises the question of what this Northern American Spanish is: is it simply the sum of Mexican Spanish plus that of the United States or is it the result of certain linguistic, historical, and other factors that allow us to see this great mass of Spanish speakers that, if we include Central America and other migratory flows, would be close to 40% of Spanish speakers," he concluded.