How did Spanish influence on American English?

/*-   Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:23 am GMT
Hello everybody,

I was reading some articles about History of the English Language and I found one very interesting about Spanish influence on American English. Some times Americans pronunce different from English people like:

Mark: US: /ma:rk/ UK: ma:k/

Spanish Or Latinamericans usually pronunce like Amercans, even they don't know English. So do you think sometimes Amercican pronunce words different from British due to Spanish influence?

What do you think about this article: (I copy the arcticle because sometimes the websites can not be opened)

Spanish Roots: Why American English Is American.
by Victor Greeson

In an earlier article about the Native American roots of American English, we asked the question: Why is American English so different from British English? One reason was the influence of Native American languages. This week we look at another cause: interaction between American English and Spanish. Spanish, like English, went through many changes as it developed in the New World. Like English, it was influenced by native languages and ways of speaking - it also acted as a pathway by which many native words eventually made their way into American English. This week's Talk the Talk will take a look at some American vocabulary that derives - directly or indirectly - from various New World dialects of Spanish. Later columns will look at contributions from other languages.

It is well-known that South and Central America were colonized by the Spanish and Portuguese (among other groups). But it seems that people often forget that much of the Southwestern United States was once ruled by the Spanish, as part of Mexico. Only much later, after a long and tragic history, was this vast region made a part of the U.S. Although Native American groups in this area often adopted the Spanish language, some elements of native languages and cultures survive, sometimes in combination with elements of Spanish colonial culture, notably Catholicism. All of this stands behind the ongoing exchange of words between American English and various New World flavors of Spanish, notably Mexican Spanish. Remember that these "borrowings" may be changed dramaticaly from their original form - Talk the Talk is here to show you how to speak "Spanish in English", which has very little connection with speaking Spanish itself!

Place names in this region are often Spanish in origin, and you can get a rough idea of the area that was formerly subject to Spain by looking for these place names. For example: California (Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, Sacramento, Santa Cruz, Mendocino, the Sierra Nevada mountains, or "Sierras"); Arizona; Nevada (Reno, Las Vegas); Colorado (which means "colorful" in Spanish); New Mexico (Albuquerque, Santa Fe); Florida (Boca Raton); Puerto Rico; and Texas (Amarillo, San Antonio, El Paso, and the Alamo, a famous landmark).

One area where new words were needed, and so were borrowed from Spanish, is geography. The vast deserts and plains of the western U.S., with their many distinctive features, were unheard-of in England. And so, in order to speak about the land around them, English-speaking Americans enriched their language with borrowings like these:

*arroyo - The course of a stream or other small waterway, which runs
through a dry area, and which may itself be dry.
*canyon - (was ca駉n in Spanish) A narrow valley, usually with steep
*mesa - A raised area of land, usually with steep sides leading up to a
large, flat area. This resembles a table, and in fact mesa literally
means "table."
*playa - This can mean "beach" in Spanish, but in English more often
refers to a peculiar kind of large, flat, desert area, possibly a dry
lake bed.

Similarly, distinctive forms of regional weather have their own names, like the southeastern tornado - a very powerful storm, built around a whirlwind. Think of the movie Twister, but throw in a lot of tropical rain. New arrivals to Southern California will meet a wind named the Santa Ana. This is a forceful, very dry, usually hot, wind that blows west from the inland deserts.

Many of the peculiar words that we associate with the cowboys of the Old West are derived from Spanish. For example, Spanish vaca - cow - gives us Spanish vaccaro - someone who works with cows, or, in other words, a cowboy - which became, in frontier English, buckaroo, a word which English-speaking cowboys used to address each other. Spanish vamos ("let's go") became, in cowboy usage, vamoose, meaning, roughly, "let's go", or just "go." Spanish salon (meaning, roughly, a respectable gathering place) became American English saloon, meaning a bar - and perhaps not the most respectable kind of bar! Desperado is an interesting and vivid word; it means someone desperate, and probably dangerous - a criminal or drifter, but one being chased by a hostile fate. It probably did not come directly from Spanish, but the form of the word shows a very clear Spanish influence. A caballero is a horseman - you can see the similarity to English words with related meanings, like cavalier, cavalry, and chivalry, which was the moral code of medieval European knights, who were military horsemen. And of course, what's a cowboy without a rodeo to go to? These frontier sporting contests - featuring calf-roping, horse-riding, and bull-riding contests (among others) - are still popular with today's cowfolk.

Spanish has given us a number of useful words concerning politics:

*Armada - A fleet. For historical reasons, this word is also well-known in
British English.
*"Si, se puede!" - You may have heard this saying used in recent political
campaigns. It means "Yes you can!", and was a slogan
used by C閟ar Chavez, leader of the United Farm
Workers. Another UFW slogan which is still seen is
*Basta!, which means "Enough!" (as in, "We've had enough; this must
*Junta - A corrupt, elite group which has seized political power. A
political "machine."
*Guerillas - From Spanish guero, war. Armies or militias who fight in a
particular style, known as guerilla warfare. What's distinctive
here is adaptability, use of the environment, rapid movement,]
and brilliance on a tight budget. The American Revolution was
won with an early form of these tactics, and the Cuban
Revolution was won a with more modern form. This is still the
favorite style of rebels, peasants, and other underfunded
*Embargo - A governmental ban on trade, often directed at a rival
*Campesino - A rural peasant.
*La Lucha - "The struggle."
*La Migra - The INS. Not a complimentary term.

Many forms of music, usually with an associated dance, each unique, have Spanish names. These include the tango, salsa, merengue, and many others. A conga can be a dance, the musical style associated with the dance, or a type of drum. The word is probably derived from the African Congo. The bongo is another type of drum. Some popular styles from M閤ico are norte駉, and banda music.

In some parts of the country, you may find it easier to remember addresses if you know that all of the following words refer to various types of streets: via ("way"), avenida, camino, caminito, and calle. Why so many? We could ask the same thing about the many English words for street - like way, avenue, road, boulevard, et cetera.

Here are a few more Spanish and Spanish-derived words that you may run into:

*Plants and Animals: An armadillo is a smallish, armored animal,
something like a pangolin; a saguaro is a very tall variety of cactus;
a burro is a type of donkey, commonly used as a pack animal;
marijuana is a tall resinous weed used to make rope, and
sometimes smoked for pleasure (though this is illegal, and often
frowned upon); the agave, or "Century Plant" is called this because
of the belief that it blooms only once in a hundred years - though
this is not true, it is true that if you drink enough tequila and
mescal, you won't make it to 100 years yourself. What's the
connection? Certain sorts of agave are used in preparing these
liquors. Mescal, by the way, is a word of Nahuatl (Aztec) origin,
while maguey, a name for the agave it is made from, is a Taino
(West Indian) word.

*Pleasantries: Hola means "Hi." Gracias means "thank you" - a possible
reply is de nada, meaning "it's nothing, really"; the
saying "Mi casa es su casa" is a saying meaning "My house is
your house" - meaning that a guest in your home should
feel welcome and comfortable; adios means "goodbye," as
do the various expressions that begin with hasta -
literally "until" - such as hasta ma馻na ("until tomorrow") and
hasta la vista ("until we see each other again").

*Other Words: A poncho can either be a sort of blanket with a
hole to put your head through, or a similar garment -
usually waterproof - with a hood. A machete is a large-
bladed knife used in cutting through plants. Cargo is
goods transported by ship or plane. Machismo is a style of
super-masculinity; if you have machismo, you are macho.
An open area attached to a house is a patio. An open public
place (like a square) is a plaza. The traditional clay-and-
straw building material used by some Native American
groups is called adobe.

When using Spanish-derived words in English, most consonants can be pronounced as in English. There are a few exceptions: 'j' is pronounced as a very soft 'h'; 'g' is pronounced as in English 'gas' if it is at the start of a word, but otherwise is pronounced as a harder 'h', with more air exhaled; similarly, 'x' is also pronounced like a hard 'h', unless it begins a word or precedes a consonant, in which case it is pronounced as 's'; 'd' is pronounced softly, like English 'th' in 'this'; '? is pronounced like 'ny' in 'canyon' (which is ca駉n in Spanish); and 's' is never pronounced as 'z' - for that matter, neither is 'z': they are both pronounced like the 's' in 'see'.

The vowels may generally be pronouced as follows: 'a' as in 'father'; 'e' as in 'they'; 'i' as 'ee' in 'queen'; 'o' as in 'hope'; 'u' as 'oo' in 'goofy'. Unlike English, 'e' is never silent, not even at the end of a word.

Some groups of letters have their own pronounciations: 'ui' is pronounced like 'ee'; 'gue' is pronounced something like it is in English 'guess'; 'qu' is pronounced as 'k'; and 'll' is pronounced as 'y'.

So: Don Quixote is pronounced 'dohn key-hoe-tay', and La Jolla is pronounced 'lah hoy-ya'. A special case worth mentioning, which shows a native influence, is the popular travel destination Oaxaca, which is usually pronounced (by English speakers) as 'wah-hah-kah'. Also keep in mind that in Spanish-derived words, the second-to-last syllable is usually stressed (so desperado is des-pe-RA-do, not des-PE-ra-do; campesino is cahm-pe-SI-no, not cahm-PE-si-no, etc.), unless indicated by an accent mark (as in M閤ico - MEH-hee-koh).

Often, Spanish words are pronounced a little flatly by English speakers who do not know Spanish. This sometimes follows a consistent pattern, and there is a sort of unofficial, "correct" system of "incorrect" pronounciation. You could think of this as a "cowboy accent." For example, Los Angeles should be pronounced 'lohss ahn-heh-layss' but is often pronounced 'lawss ann-jell-us' by people who lack Spanish, and similarly, Albuquerque, which should be pronounced 'ahl-boo-kayr-kay', is usually said 'al-buh-kirr-key'. English speakers also often mispronounce 'll' as an English 'l'.

(Remember: These guidelines are only for American English pronunciation of Spanish-derived words, and do not necessarily apply to "real" Spanish pronunciation.)


Thank you very much for your comments in advance.
Guest   Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:49 am GMT
The article is correct that many place names in former Spanish colonial territory are of Spanish origin and that there are some words that English borrowed from Spanish, but it does not say that pronunciation was influenced by Spanish, and I would agree with this omission because Spanish has had no influence on the pronunciation of American English.
Wintereis   Fri Dec 18, 2009 5:56 am GMT
<<Spanish Or Latin-Americans usually pronounce like Americans, even they don't know English. So do you think sometimes Americans pronounce words different from British due to Spanish influence?>>

/*- : Interesting article. Yes, there are many Spanish or, as the author indicates, New World Spanish words in American English. The first thing I thought of when I saw the post were the various geographical words which the article mentions.

<<Mark: US: /ma:rk/ UK: ma:k/>>

As far as pronunciation, no, the rhotic vs. non-rhotic (US: /ma:rk/ UK: ma:k/) pronunciation in General American English is derived from English dialects and not from Spanish. Also, not all American English dialects are rhotic.

Here is an article on rhotic and non-rhotic dialects with maps from Wikipedia:
Steak 'n' chips   Fri Dec 18, 2009 9:28 pm GMT
My guess is that the rhotic nature of most american accents is more influenced by rhotic British and Irish accent than by Spanish immigrant accents.

My thought are based on the observation that the pronounced R in the US is not rolled as it is in Spain, but soft, similar to speakers in the UK south west and in Ireland, and some speakers in the Scottish lowlands.

Actually, I suspect the Irish accent is a strongler influence on American accents, since it generally sounds to me more nasal than UK accents, in the same way US accents sound nasal to my ears. As an example, my mother never knew that Aamon Andrews was Irish and not American until she was well into her 40s.

I've always thought there's probably a link between the geography of rhotic accents in the UK and the rhotic nature of most US accents.

The Wikipedia article noted above shows that rhotic accents in England prevail in the south west and north west. Not on those maps shown is that Irish and Scottish accents are also almost uniformly rhotic.

As a result, the majority of the large ports on the west coast of the UK and in Ireland are in rhotic-accent areas; notably Bristol, Glasgow, Belfast, Dublin and Cork. Assuming that in the early days of emigration from the UK to the US drew more people living close to the Atlantic ports than those futher away, and since the Irish almost all have rhotic accents, is seems plausible that the emigrant population was dominated by those with rhotic accents.

Possibly a bigger influence that this was large emigrations to the US associated with the Scottish Highland clearances and the Irish potato famine, both dominated by people with rhotic accents.

I have to admit that this is all really just guesswork; I've not researched how many emigrants left from which ports, and I haven't verified that rhotic accents haven't shifted in the UK and Ireland since emigrations to the US began. I'd be interested in any sources that gave some more properly researched background on the subject.
Uriel   Sat Dec 19, 2009 6:59 pm GMT
Yeah, while I would agree that there is a lot of influence from Spanish on American English in terms of vocabulary, the American R comes from older British influences. It is identical to the Irish R, as are many other features of American English. Spanish speakers actually are not very successful at reproducing the American R, as their R is tapped. True, most British people no longer have the heavy R that you find in North America, but they did back in the colonial period, and it was later that they lost it.