Spanish speakers in North America are a mixed bunch. There are 52 million Spanish speakers in the United States and each one speaks their own brand of Spanish that reflects national origin and education.
The diversity of Spanish dialects and usages is great. When the Spaniards left the Iberian Peninsula to conquer the New World, different groups from different regions of Old Spain settled in different places in the New Spain. Each brought a unique variety of Spanish to each newly settled region. Linguists have identified core features of dialects that go back to the Spanish of the conquistadors.
Not only are there different dialects, but as a second language in the United States, Spanish is used in its own social context. When and where Spanish is spoken, and with whom it is used, is unique to this country. And evidence suggests that the North American experience is changing the language.
Linguist Danny Erker is currently developing the Spanish in Boston Research Project, a community-based study which examines how Spanish is spoken in the greater Boston area.
Erker found that English has a big impact on Spanish from his earlier work in New York City, where a rug is often called a carpeta, instead of an alfombra as it might be called anywhere else. “Spanish has the word carpeta,” Erker says, “but it means folder. What you find is that in varieties of Spanish that are under heavy contact with English, a word that already exists with one meaning takes on another, different meaning.”
Bilingual Spanish speakers are influenced by grammar, too. While pronouns are still optional in Spanish, bilingual speakers are more likely to use pronouns in their Spanish than those who speak Spanish only. And there is some evidence that the Spanish language tense system may be undergoing simplification in parts of California (Silva-Corvalán 1991).
But like all immigrant languages in the United States before Spanish, it too shall pass, as the immigrants and their children look to the prestige language of English to conduct their affairs. When Erker was working as a music teacher, he noticed that the kids preferred to speak Spanish with their parents, Spanish and English with one another, but only English with him, despite Erker’s fluency in the language. Erker just wasn’t the kind of guy to whom the kids wanted to speak Spanish.
It would be great to get some bilingual observations on this. Please comment!