|Native to||United States|
|Region||North American Spanish|
|58,200,000 in total
|Latin (Spanish alphabet)|
|Regulated by||North American Academy of the Spanish Language|
The United States (Spanish: Estados Unidos) has 41 million people aged five or older who speak Spanish at home, making Spanish by far the second most spoken language of the United States. Spanish is the most studied language other than English in the United States, with about six million students. With over 50 million native speakers, heritage language speakers, and second-language speakers, the United States now has the second largest Spanish-speaking population in the world after Mexico although it is not an official language of the country. About half of all American Spanish speakers also assessed themselves as speaking English "very well" in the 2000 US Census. That increased to 57% in the 2013–2017 American Community Survey. The United States is among the Spanish-speaking countries that has its own Academy of the Spanish Language.
There are more Spanish-speakers in the United States than speakers of French, German, Italian, Portuguese, Hawaiian, varieties of Chinese, and Native American languages combined. According to the 2012 American Community Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau, Spanish is spoken at home by 38.3 million people aged five or older, more than twice as many as in 1990.
Spanish has been spoken in what is now the United States since the 15th century, with the arrival of Spanish colonization in North America. Colonizers settled in areas that would later become Florida, Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, and California as well as in the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. The Spanish explorers explored areas of 42 of the future US states leaving behind a varying range of Hispanic legacy in the North America. Western regions of the Louisiana Territory were also under Spanish rule between 1763 and 1800, after the French and Indian War, which further extended Spanish influences throughout what is now the United States.
After the incorporation of those areas into the United States in the first half of the 19th century, Spanish was later reinforced in the country by the acquisition of Puerto Rico in 1898. Later waves of immigration from Mexico, Cuba, Venezuela, El Salvador, and elsewhere in Hispanic America since beginning in the second half of the 19th century have strengthened the role of Spanish in the country. Today, Hispanics are one of the fastest growing ethnic groups in the United States, which increases the use and the importance of American Spanish.
The Spanish arrived in what would later become the United States in 1493, with the Spanish arrival to Puerto Rico. Ponce de León explored Florida in 1513. In 1565, the Spaniards founded St. Augustine, Florida. The Spanish later left but others moved in and it is the oldest continuously occupied European settlement in the continental United States. Juan Ponce de León founded San Juan, Puerto Rico, 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.
During 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 from 1769 to 1800. In order to further establish and defend Louisiana, Spanish Governor Bernardo de Gálvez recruited Canary Islanders to emigrate to North America. Between November 1778 and July 1779, around 1600 Isleños arrived in New Orleans, and another group of about 300 came in 1783. By 1780, the four Isleño communities were already founded. When Louisiana was sold to the United States, its Spanish, Creole and Cajun 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 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 Arizona, California, Florida, New Mexico, and Texas provide bilingual legislated notices and official documents in Spanish and English and in other commonly-used languages. English is the home language of most Americans, including a growing proportion of Hispanics. 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 Commonwealth of Puerto Rico in which Spanish is the official and the 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 sociocultural friction between Anglophones and Hispanophones. Spanish is now 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-speakers were a majority in California; in 1879, the state promulgated a new constitution with a clause under which all official proceedings were to be conducted exclusively in English, which remained in effect until 1966. In 1986, California voters added a new constitutional clause by referendum:
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. 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 neighbors in the Southwest, has had close linguistic and cultural ties with Mexico. The state, except for the 1853 Gadsden Purchase, was part of the New Mexico Territory until 1863, when the western half was made into Arizona Territory. The area of the former Gadsden Purchase spoke mostly Spanish 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.
Most of the residents of the Miami metropolitan area speak Spanish at home, and the influence of Spanish can even be seen in many features of the local dialect of English. Miami is considered the "capital of Latin US" for its many bilingual corporations, banks, and media outlets that cater to international business. In addition, there are several other major cities in Florida with a sizable percentage of the population able to speak Spanish, most notably Tampa (18%) and Orlando (16.6%). Ybor City, a historical neighborhood close to Downtown Tampa, was founded and is populated chiefly by Spanish and Cuban immigrants. Most Latinos in Florida are of Cuban (especially in Miami and Tampa) or Puerto Rican (Miami and Orlando) ancestry, followed by Mexican (Tampa and Fort Myers/Naples) and Colombian ancestry.
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 in both Spanish and English. English is the state government's paper working language, but 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 US–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, particularly 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 that is still spoken by the Nahua people in Mexico. New Mexican Spanish also contains loanwords 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 the partial merger of the second and third conjugations.
In Texas, English is the state's de facto official language although it lacks de jure status and is used in government. However, the continual influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants has 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 so Spanish is commonly spoken in the region. The Texas government, in Section 2054.116 of the Government Code, mandates providing by state agencies of information on their websites in Spanish to assist residents who have limited English proficiency.
Spanish has been spoken in the state of Kansas since at least the early 1900s, primarily because of several waves of immigration from Mexico. That began with refugees fleeing the Mexican Revolution (c. 1910–1920). There are now several towns in Kansas with significant Spanish-speaking populations: Liberal, Garden City, and Dodge City all have Latino populations over 40%. Recently, linguists working with the Kansas Speaks Project have shown how high numbers of Spanish-speaking residents have influenced the dialect of English spoken in areas like Liberal and in other parts of southwest Kansas. There are many Spanish-language radio stations throughout Kansas, like KYYS in the Kansas City area as well as various Spanish-language newspapers and television stations throughout the state. Several towns in Kansas boast Spanish-English dual language immersion schools in which students are instructed in both languages for varying amounts of time. Examples include Horace Mann Elementary in Wichita, named after the famous educational reformer, and Buffalo Jones Elementary in Garden City, named after Charles "Buffalo" Jones, a frontiersman, bison preservationist, and cofounder of Garden City.
The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recognizes Spanish and English as official languages, but Spanish is the dominant first language.
Spanish is currently the most widely taught language after English 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 foreign language in American colleges and universities. Some 78.6 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 US population.
Spanish language radio is the largest non-English broadcasting media. While foreign language broadcasting declined steadily, Spanish broadcasting grew steadily from the 1920s to the 1970s.
The 1930s were boom years. The early success depended on the concentrated geographical audience in Texas and the Southwest. American stations were close to Mexico, which enabled a steady circular flow of entertainers, executives and technicians and stimulated the creative initiatives of Hispanic radio executives, brokers, and advertisers. Ownership was increasingly concentrated in the 1960s and 1970s. The industry sponsored the now-defunct trade publication Sponsor from the late 1940s to 1968. Spanish-language radio has influenced American and Latino discourse on key current affairs issues such as citizenship and immigration.
There is a great diversity of accents of Spanish in the United States. The influence of English on American Spanish is very important. In many Latino (also called Hispanic) youth subcultures, it is common to mix Spanish and English to produce Spanglish, the name for the mixture 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.
Linguists distinguish the following varieties of the Spanish spoken in the United States:
Most Spanish-speakers, other than those of the first generation, tend to speak the language with the accents of American English of the region in which they grow up.
Many standard American English words are of Spanish etymology, or originate from third languages but entered English via Spanish.
The usage of Spanish words by 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") have acquired a similar semantic range in American Spanish to the English words "attend" and "exit." In some cases, loanwords from English turn existing Spanish words into homonyms: coche has come to acquire the additional meaning of "coach" in the United States, it retains its older meaning of "car."
Spanish-speakers are the fastest growing linguistic group in the United States. Continued immigration and the prevalent Spanish-language mass media (such as Univisión, Telemundo, and Azteca América) support Spanish-speakers. Moreover, the North American Free Trade Agreement makes many American manufacturers use multilingual product labeling in English, French, and Spanish, three of the four official languages of the Organization of American States (the other is Portuguese).
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 customer services. One common indicator of such businesses is Se Habla Español, which means "Spanish Is Spoken".
The annual State of the Union Address and other presidential speeches are translated into Spanish, following the precedent set by Bill Clinton's 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 to be reduced by generational assimilation. Spanish disappeared in several countries and US 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, Hispanics (13.4% of the 2002 US population) are bilingual to a degree. A Simmons Market Research survey recorded that 19 percent of Hispanics 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 Hispanics hold varying English proficiency levels, almost all second-generation Hispanics speak English, but 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 Anglicization by Hispanophone immigrants. Veltman's language shift studies document abandonment of Spanish at rates of 40 percent for immigrants who arrived in the US before the age of 14, and 70 percent for immigrants who arrived before the age of 10. The complete set of the 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 Hispanic population.
American literature in Spanish is almost as old as the Spanish language in the north of the Rio Grande. Nevertheless, in recent years due to the growing influence of Hispanic culture and the growing number of Spanish readers and the emergence of Hispanic writers, United States has confirmed its features.