Spanish is a widely spoken language in the United States; in fact it is the second most spoken language in the country. Spanish is the most commonly spoken language in 34million homes for people aged 5years or older. The United States is home to over 45million Spanish speaking Hispanics. Spanish has become such a common language in the United States that the country has overtaken Spain, Colombia and Argentina in populations that speak Spanish.
Development of Spanish
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.
In the 17th and 18th century, the expanding Spanish empire conquered and ruled the United States, concentrating mostly on the North American lands. The result was that the Spanish language began taking root in other states such as Texas, California and Arizona. The Spanish explorers exerted themselves in developing the Atlantic coast colonies. Under the leadership of Pedro Menendez, the Spanish ventured even further purchasing the great Louisiana territory from the French. When Louisiana was resold back to the United States through establishment of treaties, the Spanish residents became automatic United States citizens, 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.
Factors Influencing the Development 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. The war was led by general Parades from Mexico, the general clearly expected to win the war and reclaim the Mexican territory. 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. The United States government therefore felt the need to retaliate, and in doing so pushed the Mexican army back to their territory. 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. Consequently the Spanish language began taking serious root in these places, (Gonzalez 1993, 84).
The Mexican American war ended with a treaty signed between the two countries although the terms were largely favoring the United States. This treaty was known as the treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. The treaty 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. The treaty did not go as far as to elaborate the language rights, Spanish therefore began spreading freely.
Spanish America 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. By the time of the war, the United States had shown interest in acquiring the Spanish occupied Cuba. 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.
In June of 1898, United States troupes entered and captured Guantanamo bay. This was the beginning of the Spanish defeat in the war. A treaty signed between the two countries termed as the Paris treaty ended the war. Cubans then began moving to the United States to seek greater fortunes though the sugar companies. Where they settled they continued to develop their native language that had already been introduced. Within no time at all, the Spanish speaking population began to grow much faster than had been anticipated. The treaty also gave Puerto Ricans legal United States citizenship. The commute between the two countries for investors and employees developed a new generation of not only dual citizenship but also dual languages, (Gonzalez, 1993, 86).
The Current Migration Status
The states bordering the Mexico border 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. The immigration was greatly influenced by 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. Most have settled in Florida which has the highest number of Spanish speaking population, (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.
The greatest factor in influencing the development of Spanish as a language was the work that was chosen by the Spanish natives when they settled in the country. Many Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Nicaraguans chose to become domestic or farm workers. Their masters had to learn the Spanish language in order to communicate with their workers. As time progressed there developed a generation of fluent Spanish speaking Americans.
The desire of parents to influence their children into learning a second language enhanced the spread of Spanish. Schools introduced Spanish as a second language to attract the newly settled Spanish families. Today Spanish is the highest taught language in secondary schools. 53% of the students in colleges and universities are learning Spanish.
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. 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