|Region||North American Spanish|
|129 million (2015)|
L2: 7,790,000 in Mexico (2015)
|Dialects||Norteña del Oeste (West Northern)|
Norteña del Este (Easter Northern)
Bajacalifoniano (Peninsular Northern)
Sureña Central (South Central)
Yucateco (Eastern Peninsular)
|Latin (Spanish alphabet)|
Official language in
|Mexico (de facto)|
|Regulated by||Academia Mexicana de la Lengua|
10 varieties of Mexican Spanish.
Norteño del (Nor-)este (eastern northern variant)
Norteño del (Nor-)oeste (western northern variant)
Bajacaliforniano (peninsular northern variant)
Western (western variant)
Bajío (lowlands variant)
Altiplano (central variant)
Sureño Central (central southern variant)
Costeño (coastal variant)
Yucateco (eastern peninsular variant)
Spanish was brought to Mexico in the 16th century. As in all other Spanish-speaking countries (including Spain), different accents and varieties of the language exist in different parts of the country, for both historical and sociological reasons. Among these, the varieties that are best known outside of the country are those of central Mexico—both educated and uneducated varieties—largely because the capital, Mexico City, hosts most of the mass communication media with international projection. For this reason, most of the film dubbing identified abroad with the label "Mexican Spanish" or "Latin American Spanish" actually corresponds to the central Mexican variety.
Mexico City was built on the site of Tenochtitlan, the capital of the Aztec Empire. Besides the Aztecs or Mexica, the region was home to many other Nahuatl-speaking cultures as well; consequently many speakers of Nahuatl continued to live there and in the surrounding region, outnumbering the Spanish-speakers, and the Spanish of central Mexico incorporated a significant number of Hispanicized Nahuatl words and cultural markers. At the same time, as a result of Mexico City's central role in the colonial administration of New Spain, the population of the city included a relatively large number of speakers from Spain, and the city and the neighboring State of Mexico tended historically to exercise a standardizing effect over the language of the entire central region of the country.
The territory of contemporary Mexico is not coextensive with what might be termed Mexican Spanish. The Spanish spoken in the southernmost state of Chiapas, bordering Guatemala, resembles the variety of Central American Spanish spoken in that country, where voseo is used. Meanwhile, to the north, many Mexicans stayed in Texas after its independence from Mexico, and their descendants continue to speak a variety of Spanish known as "Tex-Mex". And after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo many Mexicans remained in the territory ceded to the U.S., and their descendants have continued to speak Spanish within their communities in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. In addition, the waves of 19th- and 20th-century migration from Mexico to the United States (mostly to the formerly Mexican area of the Southwest) have contributed greatly to making Mexican Spanish the most widely spoken variety of Spanish in the United States. The Spanish spoken in the Gulf coastal areas of Veracruz and Tabasco and in the states of Yucatan and Quintana Roo exhibits more Caribbean phonetic traits than that spoken in the rest of Mexico. And the Spanish of the Yucatán Peninsula is distinct from all other forms in its intonation and in the incorporation of Mayan words.
The First Mexican Empire comprised what is present-day El Salvador, Nicaragua, Guatemala, Belize, and Honduras, aside from the mentioned present states of United States; thus dialects of Costa Rican, Guatemalan, Honduran, New Mexican, Nicaraguan, and Salvadoran Spanish were originally included in the dialects of Mexican Spanish.
Regarding the evolution of the Spanish spoken in Mexico, the Swedish linguist Bertil Malmberg points out that in Central Mexican Spanish—unlike most varieties in the other Spanish-speaking countries—the vowels lose strength, while consonants are fully pronounced. Malmberg attributes this to a Nahuatl substratum, as part of a broader cultural phenomenon that preserves aspects of indigenous culture through place names of Nahuatl origin, statues that commemorate Aztec rulers, etc. The Mexican linguist Juan M. Lope Blanch, however, finds similar weakening of vowels in regions of several other Spanish-speaking countries; he also finds no similarity between the vowel behavior of Nahuatl and that of Central Mexican Spanish; and thirdly, he finds Nahuatl syllable structure no more complex than that of Spanish. Furthermore, Nahuatl is not alone as a possible influence, as there are currently more than 90 native languages spoken in Mexico, and they all contribute to the diversity of accents found throughout the country. For example, the intonation of some varieties of Mexican Spanish is said to be influenced by that of indigenous languages, including some which are tone languages (e.g. Zapotec). The tonal patterns and overlengthening of the vowels in some forms of Mexican Spanish were particularly strong among mestizos who spoke one of the native Mexican languages as their first language and Spanish as a second language, and it continues so today.
Spanish language around the 13th century
b, v [b]
|c, qu [k]
g, gu [ɡ]
|cu [kʷ] |
gu, gü, hu [ɡʷ]
|Approximant||b, v [β]||d [ð]||i, hi, ll, y [j]||g, gu [ɣ]||u, hu [w]|
gu, gü, hu [ɣʷ]
ll, y [dʒ]
|ll, y [ɟʝ] ~ [ʝ]|
|Fricative||f [f]||c, s, z [s]
s, z [z]
|ch, x [ʃ]||j, g, x [x]||j, g, s, x [h]||ju [xʷ] ~ [hʷ]|
|Nasal||m, n [m]||n, m [n]||ñ, n [ɲ]||n [ŋ]|
|Trill||r, rr [r]|
Due to influence from indigenous languages, such as Nahuatl, the set of affricates in Mexican Spanish includes a voiceless alveolar affricate [t͡s] and a voiceless alveolar lateral affricate [t͡ɬ], represented by the respective digraphs ⟨tz⟩ and ⟨tl⟩, as in the words tlapalería [t͡ɬapaleˈɾia] ('hardware store') and coatzacoalquense [koat͡sakoalˈkense] ('from [the city of] Coatzacoalcos'). Even words of Greek and Latin origin with ⟨tl⟩, such as Atlántico and atleta, are pronounced with the affricate: [aˈt͡ɬãn̪t̪iko̞], [aˈt͡ɬe̞t̪a] (compare [aðˈlãn̪t̪iko̞], [aðˈle̞t̪a] in Spain and other dialects in Hispanic America).
In addition to the usual voiceless fricatives of other American Spanish dialects (/f/, /s/, /x/), Mexican Spanish also has the palatal sibilant /ʃ/, mostly in words from indigenous languages—especially place names. The /ʃ/, represented orthographically as ⟨x⟩, is commonly found in words of Nahuatl or Mayan origin, such as Xola [ˈʃola] (a station in the Mexico City Metro). The spelling ⟨x⟩ can additionally represent the phoneme /x/ (also mostly in place names), as in México itself (/ˈmexiko/); or /s/, as in the place name Xochimilco—as well as the /ks/ sequence (in words of Greco-Latin origin, such as anexar /anekˈsar/), which is common to all varieties of Spanish. In many Nahuatl words in which ⟨x⟩ originally represented [ʃ], the pronunciation has changed to [x] (or [h])—e.g. Jalapa/Xalapa [xaˈlapa].
Regarding the pronunciation of the phoneme /x/, the articulation in most of Mexico is velar [x], as in caja [ˈkaxa] ('box'). However, in some (but not all) dialects of southern Mexico, the normal articulation is glottal [h] (as it is in most dialects of the Caribbean, the Pacific Coast, the Canary Islands, and most of Andalusia and Extremadura in Spain). Thus, in these dialects, México, Jalapa, and caja are respectively pronounced [ˈmehiko], [haˈlapa], and [ˈkaha]. In dialects of Oaxaca, much of Chiapas and the southern Highland and interior regions, the pronunciation of /x/ is uvular [χ]. This is identical to the Mayan pronunciation of the dorsal fricative which, unlike the Spanish romanization ⟨x⟩, in Mayan languages is commonly represented orthographically by ⟨j⟩. (In Spanish spelling before the 16th century, the letter ⟨x⟩ represented /ʃ/; historical shifts have moved this articulation to the back of the mouth in all varieties of the language except Judaeo-Spanish.)
In Northern Western Mexican Spanish, Peninsular Oriental, Oaxaqueño and in eastern variants influenced by Mayan languages, [tʃ], represented by ⟨ch⟩, tends to be deaffricated to [ʃ], a phonetic feature typical of both Mayan languages and southwestern Andalusian Spanish dialects.
All varieties of Mexican Spanish are characterized by yeísmo: the letters ⟨ll⟩ and ⟨y⟩ correspond to the same phoneme, /j/. That phoneme, in most variants of Mexican Spanish, is pronounced as either a palatal fricative [ʝ] or an approximant [j] in most cases, although after a pause it is instead realized as an affricate [ɟʝ ~ dʒ].
Also present in most of the interior of Mexico is the preservation (absence of debuccalization) of syllable-final /s/; this, combined with frequent unstressed vowel reduction, gives the sibilant /s/ a special prominence. This situation contrasts with that in the coastal areas, on both the Pacific and the Gulf Coastal sides, where the weakening or debuccalization of syllable-final /s/ is a sociolinguistic marker, reflecting the tension between the Mexico City norm and the historical tendency towards consonantal weakening characteristic of coastal areas in Spanish America. Dialects of both the Pacific and the Gulf Coast have received more influences from Andalusian and Canarian Spanish dialects.
A striking feature of Mexican Spanish, particularly that of central Mexico, is the high rate of reduction and even elision of unstressed vowels, as in [ˈtɾasts] (trastes, 'cooking utensils'). This process is most frequent when a vowel is in contact with the phoneme /s/, so that /s/+ vowel + /s/ is the construction when the vowel is most frequently affected. It can be the case that the words pesos, pesas, and peces are pronounced the same [ˈpesəs]. The vowels are slightly less frequently reduced or eliminated in the constructions /t, p, k, d/ + vowel + /s/, so that the words pastas, pastes, and pastos may also be pronounced the same /ˈpasts/.
Mexican Spanish is a tuteante form of the language (i.e. using tú and its traditional verb forms for the familiar second person singular). The traditional familiar second person plural pronoun vosotros—in colloquial use only in Spain—is found in Mexico only in certain archaic texts and ceremonial language. However, since it is used in many Spanish-language Bibles throughout the country, most Mexicans are familiar with the form and understand it. An instance of it is found in the national anthem, which all Mexicans learn to sing: Mexicanos, al grito de guerra / el acero aprestad y el bridón.
Central Mexico is noted for the frequent use of diminutive suffixes with many nouns, adverbs, and adjectives, even where no semantic diminution of size or intensity is implied. Most frequent is the -ito/ita suffix, which replaces the final vowel on words that have one. Words ending with -n use the suffix -cito/cita. Use of the diminutive does not necessarily denote small size, but rather often implies an affectionate attitude; thus one may speak of "una casita grande" ('a nice, big house').
When the diminutive suffix is applied to an adjective, often a near-equivalent idea can be expressed in English by "nice and [adjective]". So, for example, a mattress (un colchón) described as blandito might be "nice and soft", while calling it blando might be heard to mean "too soft".
Frequent use of the diminutive is found across all socioeconomic classes, but its "excessive" use is commonly associated with lower-class speech.
In some regions of Mexico, the diminutive suffix -ito is also used to form affectives to express politeness or submission (cafecito, literally "little coffee"; cabecita, literally "little head"; chavito "little boy"), and is attached to names (Marquitos, from Marcos; Juanito, from Juan—cf. Eng. Johnny) denoting affection. In the northern parts of the country, the suffix -ito is often replaced in informal situations by -illo (cafecillo, cabecilla, morrillo, Juanillo).
The augmentative suffix -(z)ote is typically used in Mexico to make nouns larger, more powerful, etc. For example, the word camión, in Mexico, means bus; the suffixed form camionzote means "big or long bus". It can be repeated just as in the case of the suffixes -ito and -ísimo; therefore camionzotototote means "very, very, very big bus".
The suffix -uco or -ucho and its feminine counterparts -uca and -ucha respectively, are used as a disparaging form of a noun; for example, the word casa, meaning "house", can be modified with that suffix (casucha) to change the word's meaning to make it disparaging, and sometimes offensive; so the word casucha often refers to a shanty, hut or hovel. The word madera ("wood") can take the suffix -uca (maderuca) to mean "rotten, ugly wood".
Other suffixes include, but are not limited to: -azo as in carrazo, which refers to a very impressive car (carro) such as a Ferrari or Mercedes-Benz; -ón, for example narizón, meaning "big-nosed" (nariz = "nose"), or patona, a female with large feet (patas).
It is common to replace /s/ with /tʃ/ to form diminutives, e.g. Isabel → Chabela, José María → Chema, Cerveza ("beer") → Cheve, Concepción → Conchita, Sin Muelas ("without molars") → Chimuela ("toothless"). This is common in, but not exclusive to, Mexican Spanish.
Typical of Mexican Spanish is an ellipsis of the negative particle no in a main clause introduced by an adverbial clause with hasta que:
In this kind of construction, the main verb is implicitly understood as being negated.
Mexico shares with many other areas of Spanish America the use of interrogative qué in conjunction with the quantifier tan(to):
It has been suggested that there is influence of indigenous languages on the syntax of Mexican Spanish (as well as that of other areas in the Americas), manifested, for example, in the redundant use of verbal clitics, particularly lo.
Mexican Spanish, like that of many other parts of the Americas, prefers the preposition por in expressions of time spans, as in
A more or less recent phenomenon in the speech of central Mexico, having its apparent origin in the State of Mexico, is the use of negation in an unmarked yes/no question. Thus, in place of "¿Quieres...?" (Would you like...?), there is a tendency to ask "¿No quieres...?" (Wouldn't you like...?).
Mexican Spanish retains a number of words that are considered archaic in Spain.
Also, there are a number of words widely used in Mexico which have Nahuatl, Mayan or other native origins, in particular names for flora, fauna and toponyms. Some of these words are used in most, or all, Spanish-speaking countries, like chocolate and aguacate ("avocado"), and some are only used in Mexico. The latter include guajolote "turkey" < Nahuatl huaxōlōtl [waˈʃoːloːt͡ɬ] (although pavo is also used, as in other Spanish-speaking countries); papalote "kite" < Nahuatl pāpālōtl [paːˈpaːloːt͡ɬ] "butterfly"; and jitomate "tomato" < Nahuatl xītomatl [ʃiːˈtomat͡ɬ]. For a more complete list see List of Spanish words of Nahuatl origin.
Other expressions that are unique to colloquial Mexican Spanish include:
Most of the words above are considered informal (e.g. chavo(a), padre, güero, etc.), rude (güey, naco, ¿cómo (la) ves?, etc.) or vulgar (e.g. chingadera, pinche, pedo) and are limited to slang use among friends or in informal settings; foreigners need to exercise caution in their use. In 2009, at an audience for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Mexico and the Netherlands, the then Crown Prince of the Netherlands, Willem-Alexander, made a statement to the audience with a word which, in Mexican Spanish, is considered very vulgar. Evidently oblivious to the word's different connotations in different countries, the prince's Argentine interpreter used the word chingada as the ending to the familiar Mexican proverb "Camarón que se duerme se lo lleva la corriente" (A sleeping shrimp is carried away by the tide), without realizing the vulgarity associated with the word in Mexico. The prince, also unaware of the differences, proceeded to say the word, to the bemusement and offense of some of the attendees.
New Mexico Spanish has many similarities with an older version of Mexican Spanish. The small amount of Spanish spoken in the Philippines has traditionally been influenced by Mexican Spanish (as the territory was initially administered for the Spanish crown by Mexico City and later controlled by Acapulco). Chavacano, a Spanish-based creole language in the Philippines, is based on Mexican Spanish. To outsiders, the accents of nearby Spanish-speaking countries in northern Central America, such as El Salvador and Guatemala, might sound similar to those spoken in Mexico, especially in central and southern Mexico.
The Spanish of Mexico has had various indigenous languages as a linguistic substrate. Particularly significant has been the influence of Nahuatl, especially in the lexicon. However, while in the vocabulary its influence is undeniable, it is hardly felt in the grammar field. In the lexicon, in addition to the words that originated from Mexico with which the Spanish language has been enriched, such as tomate "tomato," hule "rubber," tiza "chalk," chocolate "chocolate," coyote "coyote," petaca "flask," etcetera; the Spanish of Mexico has many Nahuatlismos that confer a lexical personality of its own. It can happen that the Nahuatl word coexists with the Spanish word, as in the cases of cuate "buddy" and amigo "friend," guajolote "turkey" and pavo "turkey," chamaco "kid" and niño "boy," mecate "rope" and reata "rope," etc. On other occasions, the indigenous word differs slightly from the Spanish, as in the case of huarache, which is another type of sandal; tlapalería, hardware store, molcajete, a stone mortar, etc. Other times, the Nahuatl word has almost completely displaced the Spanish, tecolote "owl," atole "cornflour drink," popote "straw," milpa "cornfield," ejote "green bean," jacal "shack," papalote "kite," etc. There are many indigenismos "words of indigenous origin" who designate Mexican realities for which there is no Spanish word; mezquite "mesquite," zapote "sapota," jícama "jicama," ixtle "ixtle," cenzontle "mockingbird," tuza "husk," pozole, tamales, huacal "crate," comal "hotplate," huipil "embroidered blouse," metate "stone for grinding," etc. The strength of the Nahuatl substrate its influence is felt less each day, since there are no new contributions.
The influence of Nahuatl on phonology seems restricted to the monosyllabic pronunciation of diagraphs -tz- and -tl- (Mexico: [a.'t͡ɬan.ti.ko] / Spain : [ad.'lan.ti.ko]), and to the various pronunciations of the letter -x-, coming to represent the sounds [ks], [gz], [s], [x] and [ʃ]. In the grammar, one can cite as influence of Nahuatl the extesive use of diminutives: The most common Spanish diminutive suffix is -ito/-ita. English examples are –y in doggy or -let in booklet. It can also be cited as influence of Nahuatl the use of the suffix -Le to give an emphatic character to the imperative. For example: brinca "jump" -> bríncale "jump," come "eat" -> cómele "eat," pasa "go/proceed" -> pásale "go/proceed," etc. This suffix is considered to be a crossover of the Spanish indirect object pronoun -le with the Nahua excitable interjections, such as cuele "strain." However, this suffix is not a real pronoun of indirect object, since it is still used in non-verbal constructions, such as hijo "son" -> híjole "damn," ahora "now" -> órale "wow,""¿que hubo?" "what's up?" -> quihúbole "how's it going?," etc.
Although the suffix -le hypothesis as influence of Nahuatl has been widely questioned; Navarro Ibarraa (2009) finds another explanation about -le intensifying character. The author warns that it is a defective dative clitic; instead of working as an indirect object pronoun, it modifies the verb. An effect of the modification is the intransitive of the transitive verbs that appear with this -le defective (ex. moverle "to move" it is not mover algo para alguien "to move something for someone" but hacer la acción de mover "to make the action of moving"). This intensifier use is a particular grammatical feature of the Mexican Spanish variant. In any case, it should not be confused the use of -le as verbal modifier, with the different uses of the pronouns of indirect object (dative) in the classical Spanish, as these are thoroughly used to indicate in particular the case genitive and the ethical dative. In what is considered one of the founding documents of the Spanish language, the poem of Mio Cid written around the year 1200, you can already find various examples of dative possessive or ethical.
Mexico has a border of more than 2,500 kilometers with the United States. It receives every year a major influx of American and Canadian tourists. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans go to work temporarily or permanently in the neighboring country. A population of almost 57 million Latinos in the U.S., more than 63% is of Mexican origin, ie more than 36 million people. English is the most studied foreign language in Mexico and the third most spoken after Spanish and the native languages taken together. Indeed, the current of anglicisms, that is, English words incorporated into Spanish, is continuously increasing. There are a lot of English words that are used in both America and Spain: filmar "film," béisbol "baseball," club "club," cóctel "cocktail," líder "leader," cheque "check," sándwich "sandwich," etc. But in the Mexican Spanish other anglicisms are used that are not used in all Spanish-speaking countries. In this case, they are: bye, ok, nice, cool, checar "check," hobby, fólder "folder," overol "overalls," suéter "sweater," réferi "referee", refri "refrigerator," lonchera "lunch bag," clóset "closet," maple "maple syrup," baby shower, etc.
In the northern region of Mexico and the southern United States, especially in the border states, Spanish incorporates common English words: troca (truck), lonche (lunch), yonque (junkyard).
The center of Hispanic Linguistics of UNAM carried out a number of surveys in the project of coordinated study of the cultured linguistic norm of main cities of Ibero-America and of the Iberian Peninsula. The total number of anglicisms was about 4% in those made to Mexican speakers of urban norms. However, this figure includes anglicisms who permeated the general Spanish long ago and not particularize national speech, such as nailon "nylon", dólar "dollar," ron "rum," vagón "wagon" and others.
The results of this research are summarized in:
Some examples of syntactic anglicisms, which coexist with the common variants, are: