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New Mexican Spanish

New Mexican Spanish
Español neoméxicano
Native speakers
(this article does not contain any information regarding the number of speakers)
Latin (Spanish alphabet)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
Spanish language distribution in the New Mexico by county

New Mexican Spanish (Spanish: español neomexicano) is a variant of Spanish spoken in the United States, primarily in the northern part of the state of New Mexico and the southern part of the state of Colorado. Despite a continual influence from the Spanish spoken in Mexico to the south by contact with Mexican migrants who fled to the U.S. from the Mexican Revolution, New Mexico's unique political history and relative geographical and political isolation from the time New Mexico was annexed by United States from Mexico has made New Mexican Spanish differ notably from Spanish spoken in other parts of Hispanic America, with the exception of certain rural areas of northern Mexico and Texas.

Speakers of New Mexican Spanish are mainly descendants of Spanish colonists who arrived in New Mexico in the sixteenth through the eighteenth centuries. During this time, contact with the rest of Spanish America was limited, and New Mexican Spanish developed on its own course. In the meantime, Spanish colonists coexisted with and intermarried with Puebloan peoples and Navajos. After the Mexican–American War, New Mexico and all its inhabitants came under the governance of the English-speaking United States, and for the next hundred years, English-speakers increased in number.

For these reasons, the main differences between New Mexican Spanish and other forms of Hispanic American Spanish are these: the preservation of forms and vocabulary from colonial-era Spanish (e.g., in some places haiga instead of haya or Yo seigo instead of Yo soy); the borrowing of words from Rio Grande Indian languages for indigenous vocabulary (in addition to the Nahuatl additions that the colonists had brought); a tendency to "re-coin" Spanish words for ones that had fallen into disuse (for example, ojo, whose literal meaning is "eye," was repurposed to mean "hot spring" as well); and a large proportion of English loan words, particularly for technological words (e.g. bos, troca, and telefón). Pronunciation also carries influences from colonial, Native American, and English sources. In recent years, speakers have developed a modern New Mexican Spanish, called Renovador, which contains more modern vocabulary because of the increasing popularity of Spanish-language broadcast media in the U.S. and intermarriage between New Mexicans and Mexican settlers; the modernized dialect contains Mexican Spanish slang (mexicanismos).


  • History 1
  • Morphological variation 2
  • Phonetic variation 3
  • Language contact 4
  • Legal status 5
  • See also 6
  • Notes 7
  • References 8


The development of a culture of print media in the late nineteenth century allowed New Mexican Spanish to resist assimilation toward either American English or Mexican Spanish for many decades.[1] The 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, for instance, noted that "About one-tenth of the Spanish-American and Indian population [of New Mexico] habitually use the English language." Until the 1930s or 1940s, many speakers never came to learn English, and even after that time, most of their descendants were bilingual with English until the 1960s or 1970s. The advance of English-language broadcast media accelerated this decline. The increasing popularity of Spanish-language broadcast media in the U.S. and intermarriage of Mexican settlers and descendants of colonial Spanish settlers has somehow increased the speakers of New Mexican Spanish.

Morphological variation

Besides a great deal of phonological variation, there are various morphological differences throughout New Mexican Spanish, usually in verb conjugations or endings:

  • Change from bilabial nasal /m/ to alveolar nasal /n/ in the first person plural (nosotros) ending of imperfect: nos bañábamos /nos baˈɲabamos/ is realized as [nos baˈɲa.β̞a.nos]
  • Regularization of the following irregular verb conjugations:
    • Radical stem changes: quiero becomes quero, this is clearly an archaism still kept. In fact, this feature still remains in some parts of the northwest of Spain such as Asturias and Galicia.
    • Regularization of irregular present indicative 1st person singular: salgo becomes salo, vengo becomes veno
    • Subjunctive present of haber becomes haiga (instead of haya).
    • Peculiar forms of haber as an auxiliary verb: "nosotros hamos comido" instead of "nosotros hemos comido", "yo ha comido" instead of "yo he comido".

Phonetic variation

  • New Mexican Spanish has seseo (orthographic before /e/ and /i/ and represent a single phoneme /s/, normally pronounced [s]). That is, casa ("house") and caza ("hunt") are homophones. Seseo is prevalent in all of Hispanic America, the Canary Islands, and some areas of southern Spain.

Phonetic variations of New Mexican Spanish (these can be manifest in small or large groups of speakers, but very rarely manifest in all speakers):

Feature Example Phonemic Standard N.M. Spanish
Phrase-final epenthetical
[e] or [i]
voy a cantar /ˈboi a kanˈtaɾ/ [ˈboi̯.a.kanˈtar] [ˈboi̯.a.kanˈta.ɾe]
dame el papel /ˈdame el paˈpel/ [ˈda.mel.paˈpel] [ˈda.mel.paˈ]
Uvularization of /x/ mujeres /muˈxeɾes/ [muˈxe.ɾes] [muˈχe.ɾes]
Conditional elision of intervocalic /ʝ/ ella /ˈeʝa/ [ˈe.ʝa] e.a]
estrellita /estɾeˈʝita/ [es.tɾeˈʝi.ta] [es.tɾeˈi.ta]
Realization of /ɾ/ and/or /r/
as an alveolar approximant [ɹ]
Rodrigo /roˈdɾiɡo/ [roðˈɾi.ɣo] [ɹoðˈɹi.ɣo]
"Softening" (deaffrication) of /t͡ʃ/ to [ʃ] [2] muchachos /muˈt͡ʃat͡ʃos/ [muˈt͡ʃa.t͡ʃos] [muˈʃa.ʃos]
Insertion of nasal consonant /
nasalisation of vowel preceding
postalveolar affricate/fricative
muchos /ˈmut͡ʃos/ [ˈmu.t͡ʃos] [ˈmun.ʃos]
Elision of word-final intervocalic
consonants, esp. in -ado[3]
ocupado /okuˈpado/ [o.ku.ˈpa.ðo] [o.kuˈpa.u]
todo /ˈtodo/ [ˈto.ðo] [ˈto.o]
Aspiration or elision (rare) of /f/[4] me fui /me ˈfui/ [me ˈfwi] [meˈhwi]
Completely devoiced /s/[5] estas mismas casas /ˈestas ˈmismas ˈkasas/ [ˈes.tazˈmiz.masˈ] [ˈes.tasˈmis.masˈ]
Velarization of pre-velar-consonant
voiced bilabial approximant
abuelo /aˈbuelo/ [a.ˈβ̞we.lo] [aˈɣʷwe.lo]
Syllable-initial, syllable-final, or
total aspiration or elision of /s/
somos así /ˈsomos aˈsi/ [ˈso.mos.aˈsi] ho.mos.aˈhi]

Language contact

New Mexican Spanish has been in contact with several indigenous American languages, most prominently those of the Pueblo and Navajo peoples the Spaniards and Mexicans coexisted with during colonial times. For an example of loanword phonological borrowing in Taos, see Taos loanword phonology.

Legal status

New Mexico law grants Spanish a special status. For instance, constitutional amendments must be approved by referendum and must be printed on the ballot in both English and Spanish.[6] Certain legal notices must be published in English and Spanish, and the state maintains a list of newspapers for Spanish publication.[7] Spanish was not used officially in the legislature after 1935.[8] Though the New Mexico Constitution (1912) provided that laws would be published in both languages for twenty years and this practice was renewed several times, it ceased in 1949.[8][9] Accordingly, some describe New Mexico as officially bilingual,[10][11][12] while others disagree.[8][13]

See also


  1. ^ Great Cotton, Eleanor and John M. Sharp. Spanish in the Americas' Georgetown University Press p. 278'
  2. ^ This is also a feature of the Spanish spoken in the northern Mexican states of Chihuahua and Sonora, other northwest states of Mexico, and west Andalusia.
  3. ^ This is a feature of all Hispanic American Spanish dialects, as well as Canarian and Andalusian dialects.
  4. ^ This is related to the change of Latin /f/- to Spanish /h/-, wherein /f/ was pronounced labiodental [f], bilabial [ɸ], or glottal fricative [h] that later deleted from pronunciation.
  5. ^ This is a free variation before voiced consonants in all other Spanish dialects with non-aspiration of [s], meaning /s/ can be [s] or [z] before voiced consonants.
  6. ^ New Mexico Code 1-16-7 (1981).
  7. ^ New Mexico Code 14-11-13 (2011).
  8. ^ a b c Cobarrubias, Juan;  
  9. ^ Garcia, Ofelia (2011). Bilingual Education in the 21st Century: A Global Perspective. John Wiley & Sons. p. 167.  
  10. ^ The U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. "Language Rights and New Mexico Statehood" (PDF). New Mexico Public Education Department. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  11. ^ "NMTCE New Mexico Teachers of English". New Mexico Council of Teachers of English. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  12. ^ "All About New Mexico". Sheppard Software. Retrieved July 12, 2011. 
  13. ^ Bills, Garland D.; Vigil, Neddy A. (2008). The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas. UNM Press. p. 17.  


  • Rubén Cobos. A Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish. Santa Fe: Museum of New Mexico Press, 2003.
  • Garland D. Bills. "New Mexican Spanish: Demise of the Earliest European Variety in the United States". American Speech (1997, 72.2): 154–171.
  • Rosaura Sánchez. "Our linguistic and social context", Spanish in the United States: Sociolinguistic Aspects. Ed. Jon Amastae & Lucía Elías-Olivares. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982. 9–46.
  • Carmen Silva-Corvalán. "Lengua, variación y dialectos". Sociolingüística y Pragmática del Español 2001: 26–63.
  • L. Ronald Ross. "La supresión de la /y/ en el español chicano". Hispania (1980): 552–554.
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