Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in America after English. Though there have been other languages introduced such as Chinese and Italian, the development of Spanish as a second language has been the most successful. Spanish has established itself as an important language in America, with more than 54% students both in high school and colleges enrolling in Spanish language causes. The spread of Spanish has been helped along by some factors such as the Spanish America war, and the Mexican American revolution.
Development of the Spanish Language
The Spanish language was first introduced by the European settlers. The first Spanish speaking settler was Ponce de Leorn, who came to North America in 1513. Juan settled in Florida, having coming from the capital of Puerto Rico, where he had been the governor. He came to the United States seeking the fountain of youth and wealth. Spanish legends and history gave credence to this fountain that was thought to grant people eternal youth and great wealth in return for undying devotion. Many Spaniards in the following years followed Juan to America believing that he had found or was close to finding the legendary fountain of youth. By 1565, the Spaniards had settled in what was then called, St. Augustine land, currently this is the state Florida. Because their population was much higher than that of the natives in the state it was easy for their language to take root in America.
In the coming centuries more and more Spaniards settled in America, until the 17th century when the Spanish emperor decided to conquer the United States and establish Spanish colonies. Army generals, the soldiers and citizens of Spain settled even more in America. For some while the conquered colonies were required to communicate in Spanish only. The result was that the Spanish language began taking root in other states such as Texas, California and Arizona. The Spanish ventured even further purchasing more and more states. Spanish was established as the common language of trade in the colonies. More and more Americans were forced to acquire the dialect retaining their original Spanish language, (Mills and Taylor 1998, 79). Following the success in the establishment of colonies along the Atlantic, they moved on to the still unexplored areas in the current west and southwest America. This is where they left their greatest mark in form of language and culture that was easily adopted by the small populations of this region. The small populations in these areas were easily overwhelmed by the number of Spanish natives. The Spanish language easily became the common language spoken in these areas.
Factors Which Influenced the Spread of Spanish Language
The Mexican American War
The Mexican American war was fought beginning in 1846. The war was fought in the Texas territory when Mexico attacked United States soldiers on the claim that Texas belonged to the Mexicans. At the time of the war less than sixteen thousand settlers in the Texas region were of Spanish origin. The settlers were outnumbered 7 to 1 by native English settlers. However the Spanish settlers were involved in the entire major trades, and in order to make communication and trading easier the English settlers were forced to learn basic Spanish. The war ended with a Mexican defeat. Mexico lost many territories including Texas which they had gotten into war to win back in the first place, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico. The areas won in the war were not highly populated but the Spanish families that had settled there were integrated as American citizens. More and more Americans in these areas became interested in developing Spanish as a second language. Consequently the Spanish language began taking serious root in these places, (Gonzalez 1993, 84).
The Guadalupe Hidalgo treaty that ended the war mainly ensured the safety of the property owned by the Spanish settlers in the conquered areas. This meant that they could easily remain in the country taking care and settling in the land they had already acquired. Mills and Taylor (1998 91).There were about 90,000 Spanish speaking Mexicans who had settled in the conquered land (they made about 23% of the population. Their influence in language especially around California and New Mexico was great especially since most American citizens fount the language not only interesting but also romantic.
Spanish -American War
Mills and Taylor (1998, 85) In 1898 Spanish troupes sank a battleship (Maine) belonging to the united states in Havana harbor. This caused the united stated government to declare war on Spain. The influence of this war on the development of the Spanish came from the American interest in occupying Cuba a Spanish speaking nation. American investors had bought large tracts of land for sugar growing. More than fifty million dollars were invested in Cuba. Many of the companies employed American citizens who travelled between America and Cuba. The employees taught themselves the Spanish language to make communication easy. When they returned home, they often introduced family and friends to the new vocabulary they had been taught. More and more American citizens began acquiring Spanish as a second language. A treaty signed between the two countries termed as the Paris treaty ended the war, and established the occupation of Cuba by the American government. Cubans were integrated into the American citizenship making their immigration to the United States easier. Where they settled they continued to develop their native language which they spoke freely. Within no time at all, the Spanish speaking population began to grow much faster than had been anticipated. Schools began teaching Spanish to attract the new immigrants, (Gonzalez, 1993, 86).
The Immigration Position
Following the Spanish explorations and revolutions, American states such as Arizona and New Mexico have experienced an influx of Spanish speakers. The population has grown so much that some states have more Spanish speaking than English speaking natives. There have been some main factors that have influenced the immigration trends. The first was the 1965 political instability of Cuba. Many citizens of the country were forced to leave for fear of their lives. Following the ascension of the dictator Fidel Castro, the Cuban immigration rate increased greatly. Currently there are more than a million Cubans who have settled in the country. The Cubans have increased the population of Spanish speaking residents in America. To communicate effectively, a high percentage of the immigrants have learnt English but maintained their native language. Outside their homes, the immigrants often speak both in English and Spanish, but within their homes a high percentage prefer their native language (Kanellos, Lomeli and Fabregat 1993, 78)
Similarly, the majority of Spanish speaking Nicaraguans chose to settle in the United States following the 1979, Sandista revolution in the 1980's.throughout the decade, the revolution continued causing devastating social and economic states in the country. Many more Spanish speaking natives immigrated to America. Soon schools and other public institutions began applying Spanish in their daily routines. To make communication easier and attract the immigrants, executives, business persons and employees acquired Spanish as a second language. Learning Spanish gave one an edge over the competition, be it from other employees or businesses.
American citizens therefore began adopting Spanish not just because it was an interesting language but also because it was fast becoming a requirement and necessity in certain employment areas. Companies chose to employ people who had already developed the second language to deal with the immigrant's personnel over those who seemed more qualified but often experienced a language barrier when it came to dealing with Spanish immigrants. Entrepreneurs also learnt the language in order to market themselves and tap into the Spanish settlers market.
The Spanish language is continuing to develop extensively in America. The continued influx of immigrants to America and the use of Spanish in the media (Telemundo and Azteca amerce). The intergenerational influences where at least all immigrants speak English and more than 80% have also maintained their native Spanish language at home will continue to influence the Spanish development in America. The language has grown so much that state announcements and speeches are interpreted to Spanish. American literature and films are also being translated to Spanish to attract the native Spanish speaking population.
However it is important to note that in each history the native language of immigrants often disappears once they begin to adopt the host language. There have been calls to make English the only official language in the United States. The movement calls for the government to force the immigrants to learn English before they can earn citizenship. This together with the need to learn English for upward social mobility will hamper the spread Spanish language seriously in future American generations. However with more and more American developing Spanish as a second language, Spanish has better chances of surviving even such policies and changes.
- Gonzalez Anibal. Journalism and the development of Spanish American narrative. New York, Cambridge university press.1993.83, 84
- Kenelos Nicholas, Fabregat Claudio and Lomeli (1993). Handbook of Hispanic cultures in the united states, Volume 1-2. Texas, University of Houston press.1993.78
- Mills Kenneth and Taylor William. Colonial Spanish America: a documentary history. Rowman and Littlefield publishers. 1998 .79, 85, 91