Spanish predated English in arriving in what is now the United States. For 400 years, the two languages have co-existed; today’s immigrants continue to bring variation.Phillip M. Carter explains how Spanish came to our shores and explores its many dialects.
A Brief History of the Spanish Language in the United StatesLed by Ponce de León, the Spanish first arrived in 1513 on the present-day United States on the Florida peninsula and returned in 1520 for further exploration. By 1565, they had established their first permanent colony in San Agustín, Florida, under the leadership of Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. Between 1520 and 1570, the Spanish vigorously explored the Atlantic coast, with specific explorations taking place in the Carolinas, Virginia, Georgia and along the New England coast. Much later, the Spanish attempted to exert further influence in the Southeast with the 1763 purchase of Greater Louisiana from the French, though this territory was later resold.
Spanish Language Variation in the United StatesAnother misconception commonly held by many native English-speaking Americans is that “Spanish in the United States” is a singular, monolithic entity. Sociolinguists and dialectologists have shown time and again that American English is a dialectally diverse language, but less often do we think of American Spanish as being equally diverse. As with American English, Spanish-language variation in the United States is due in part to diversity among Spanish speakers who settled during colonization. Although the Iberian Peninsula (home of Spain and Portugal) is relatively small, it has been home for centuries to rich linguistic diversity. When groups representing different regions of Spain settled in the New World, they brought unique varieties of Spanish, resulting in what linguists call the founder effect, which can trace linguistic features of contemporary dialects to dialect differences at the time of settlement.
The Coexistence of Spanish and English in the United States
Correcting the Myths about U.S. Spanish
MYTH #1: Spanish in the United States in purely a function of immigration in the 20th and 21st centuries .REALITY: Spanish has been spoken in the United States as long or longer than English.MYTH #2: Spanish in the United States is a monolithic entity and is not characterized by the same amount of variation as American English.REALITY: Spanish in the United States is highly diverse and exhibits a wide array of variation regionally, ethnically and socially. Variation in the Spanish of the United States is due to the results of a founder effect, later immigration from across the Spanish diaspora, and sociolinguistic variables such as ethnicity, socioeconomic status, age and gender.MYTH #3: Spanish language use in the United States presents a threat to the use of English.REALITY: The use of Spanish by Hispanics poses no threat to the dominance of English in the United States. Spanish and English have coexisted in this country for nearly 400 years.