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Spanish in the United States
Español en los EE. UU.
Pronunciation /espaˈɲol/
Spoken in  United States
Total speakers 34,547,077[1](United States only)
Ranking 2-4 (native speakers)[2][3][4][5]
Language family Indo-European
Writing system Latin (Spanish variant)
Language codes
ISO 639-1 es
ISO 639-2 spa
ISO 639-3 spa
Spanish USC2000 PHS.svg
Spanish language spread in the United States.
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The Spanish language is the second most-common language in the United States after English. There are more Spanish speakers in the U.S. than there are speakers of Chinese, French, Hawaiian, and the Native American languages combined. According to the 2007 American Community Survey conducted by the United States Census Bureau, Spanish is the primary language spoken at home by over 34 million people aged 5 or older.[1] There are also 45 million Hispanics who speak Spanish as a first and second language [6] and there are 6 million Spanish students [7], making it the world's second-largest Spanish-speaking community, only after Mexico and ahead of Spain, Colombia and Argentina.[8] Roughly half of all U.S. Spanish speakers also speak English "very well", based on the self-assessment Census question respondents.[9]



Spanish was the language spoken by the first permanent European settlers in North America.It was brought to the territory of what is the contemporary U.S. in 1513 by Ponce de León. In 1565, the Spaniards, by way of Juan Ponce de Leon, founded St. Augustine, Florida, the oldest, continuously occupied European settlement in the continental U.S. The oldest city in all of the U.S. territory is San Juan, capital of Puerto Rico, where Juan Ponce De León was its first governor and from where he left towards Florida seeking the fountain of youth, gold and slaves.

Historically, the Spanish-speaking population increased because of territorial annexation of lands conquered earlier by the Spanish empire and by wars with Mexico and by land purchases, while modern factors continue increasing the size of this population.


Louisiana Purchase

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, Spanish rule encompassed most of the contemporary U.S. territory, including the French colony of Louisiana that was under Spanish control from 1763 to 1800, and then part of the U.S. since 1803. When Louisiana was sold to the United States, its Spanish and French inhabitants became U.S. citizens, while retaining their native Spanish and French tongues.

Annexation of Texas and the Mexican-American War

From 1821, Texas was part of the Republic of Mexico until the Texas Revolution of 1836. Per the 1850 U.S. census, fewer than 16,000 Texans were of Mexican descent, and nearly all were Spanish-speaking people who were outnumbered (six-to-one) by English-speaking settlers (both Anglo-Saxons and other Europeans).[citation needed]

Mexico lost almost half of its northern territory to the U.S. in the Mexican-American War (1846–1848): parts of contemporary Texas, and Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and Wyoming, California, Nevada, and Utah. Although the lost territory was sparsely populated, the thousands of Spanish-speaking Mexicans resultantly became U.S. citizens. The war-ending Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo (1848) does not explicitly address language rights.

Spanish-American War

In 1898, consequent to the Spanish-American War, the U.S. conquered Cuba and Puerto Rico as American territories. In 1902, Cuba became independent from the U.S., while Puerto Rico became a U.S. commonwealth. Spanish is Puerto Rico's first language, and its citizens hold statutory U.S. citizenship.

Modern migration

The influx of many Spanish-speaking immigrants to the U.S. has increased the number of Spanish-speakers in the country, resultantly they are majorities and large minorities in many political districts, especially in California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas, the U.S. states bordering Mexico.

Immigration to the United States of Spanish-speaking Cubans began because of Cuba's political instability upon achieving independence. The deposition of Fulgencio Batista's dictatorship and the ascension of Fidel Castro's communist government in 1959 increased Cuban immigration to the U.S., hence there are some one million Cubans in the United States, most settled in southern and central Florida, while other Cuban Americans live in the Northeastern U.S.; most are fluent in Spanish.

Likewise the migration of Spanish-speaking Nicaraguans also began as a result of political instability during the end of the 1970s and the 1980s. The uprising of the Sandinista revolution which toppled the Somoza regime in 1979 caused many Nicaraguans to migrate particularly from those opposing the Sandinistas. Throughout the 1980s with the Contra War which continued through the decade, and the economic collapse of the country many more Nicaraguans migrated to the United States amongst other countries. The states of the United States where most Nicaraguans migrated to include Florida, California and Texas.

Many Puerto Ricans have migrated to New York City, New York, increasing its Spanish-speaking population. Millions of Puerto Rican Americans living in the U.S. mainland are fluent in Spanish. In Hawaii, where Puerto Rican farm laborers and Mexican ranchers have settled since the late 1800s, 7.0 per cent of the islands' people are either Hispanic or Hispanophone or both.[citation needed]

Current status

In total, there were 34,547,077 people in the United States who speak Spanish as their primary language at home, including 3.5 million in the territory of Puerto Rico, where Spanish is the primary language.[1] Over half of the country's Spanish speakers reside in California, Texas, and Florida alone.

Note: The following table uses data from the 2004 American Community Survey from the United States Census Bureau[10]

State/Territory Spanish-speaking population Percentage of state population
Puerto Rico 3,900,128 95.21%
New Mexico 823,352 43.27%
California 12,442,626 34.72%
Texas 7,781,211 34.63%
Arizona 1,608,698 28.03%
Nevada 445,622 19.27%
Florida 3,304,832 19.01%
New York 3,076,697 15.96%
New Jersey 1,134,033 13.89%
Illinois 1,516,560 12.70%
Colorado 545,112 12.35%
Rhode Island 100,227 9.96%
Utah 216,327 9.40%
Connecticut 308,863 9.35%
Oregon 293,840 8.47%
District of Columbia 45,023 8.24%
Idaho 103,686 7.66%
Washington 431,021 7.20%
Georgia 610,402 7.04%
Massachusetts 411,192 6.80%
Kansas 169,376 6.59%
Delaware 51,762 6.50%
North Carolina 532,553 6.45%
Nebraska 98,211 5.99%
Virginia 412,416 5.78%
Maryland 298,072 5.68%
Oklahoma 173,552 5.22%
Arkansas 116,396 4.45%
Indiana 254,219 4.32%
Wisconsin 217,550 4.18%
Wyoming 19,830 4.12%
Pennsylvania 436,254 3.72%
South Carolina 148,345 3.68%
Alaska 22,649 3.64%
Minnesota 171,042 3.55%
Iowa 97,876 3.51%
Michigan 292,996 3.10%
Tennessee 171,646 3.04%
Louisiana 106,872 2.68%
Alabama 107,806 2.50%
Missouri 129,329 2.37%
Ohio 230,467 2.15%
New Hampshire 26,607 2.14%
Kentucky 80,450 2.05%
South Dakota 14,403 1.98%
Mississippi 46,561 1.72%
Montana 13,458 1.51%
Hawaii 17,442 1.50%
North Dakota 8,853 1.48%
West Virginia 18,207 1.06%
Vermont 5,950 1.01%
Maine 12,576 1.00%

Although the United States has no official language, English is the most common. Most state and federal government agencies use English. Many states, such as California, require bilingual legislated notices and official documents, in Spanish and English, and other commonly used languages. In the U.S. Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, Spanish is the official and most commonly used language. Throughout the history of the Southwest U.S., the controversial issues of language as part of cultural rights and bilingual state government representation has caused socio-cultural friction between non-Hispanic Anglophones and Hispanic citizens. Currently, Spanish is the most widely-taught second language in the U.S.[11]


California's first constitution recognized Spanish language rights: All laws, decrees, regulations, and provisions emanating from any of the three supreme powers of this State, which from their nature require publication, shall be published in English and Spanish. (California Constitution, 1849, Art. XI Sec. 21) By 1870, English-speaking Americans were a majority in California; in 1879, the state promulgated a new constitution under which all official proceedings were to be conducted exclusively in English, a clause that remained in effect until 1966. In 1986, California voters added a new constitutional clause, by referendum, stating that English is the official language of the State of California,(California Constitution Art. 3, Sec. 6) however, Spanish remains widely spoken throughout the state, and many government forms, documents, and services are bilingual, in English and Spanish. And although all official proceedings are to be conducted in English: "A person unable to understand English who is charged with a crime has a right to an interpreter throughout the proceedings." (California Constitution Art. 1. Sec. 4)


In Arizona, English is the official state language as of 2006. Historically, however, the state (like its southwestern neighbors) has had close linguistic and cultural ties with Mexico. The state outside the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 was part of the New Mexico Territory until 1863, when the western half was made into the Arizona Territory. The area of the former Gadsden Purchase contained a majority of Spanish-speakers until the 1940s, although the Tucson area had a higher ratio of Anglos and Mexican-Americans who were fluent in English.

New Mexico

New Mexico is commonly thought to have Spanish as an official language alongside English because of its wide usage and legal promotion of Spanish in the state; however, the state has no official language. New Mexico's laws are promulgated bilingually in Spanish and English. Although English is the state government's paper working language, much of the daily business of the government is conducted in Spanish, particularly at the local level. Spanish has been spoken in the New Mexico-Colorado border and the contemporary U.S.-Mexico border since the 16th century.

Because of its relative isolation from other Spanish speaking areas over most of its 400 year existence, New Mexico Spanish, and in particular the Spanish of northern New Mexico and Colorado has retained many elements of sixteenth and seventeenth century Spanish and has developed its own vocabulary.[12] In addition, it contains many Nahuatl words as well as words from the Pueblo languages of the upper Rio Grande Valley, Mexican-Spanish words (mexicanismos), and borrowings from English.[12] Grammatical changes include the loss of the second person verb form, changes in verb endings, particularly in the preterite, and partial merging of the second and third conjugations.[13]


"No Smoking" sign in Spanish and English at the headquarters of the Texas Department of State Health Services in Austin, Texas

In Texas, English is conventionally used in government; the state has no official language. The continual influx of Spanish-speaking immigrants increased the import of Spanish in Texas. Even in the twenty-first century, Texas's counties bordering Mexico are mostly Hispanic, hence, Spanish is the common language of the region's multi-generational Mexican Americans, yet, they are more English-proficient than their southern counterparts. Spanish in West Texas, particularly El Paso, is distinctly different from Spanish elsewhere in Texas, having a richer vocabulary and higher literacy in Spanish.

Puerto Rico

The Commonwealth of Puerto Rico recognizes Spanish and English as official languages; Spanish is the dominant first language.

Spanish place names

Learning trends in the U.S.

Spanish is the most widely-taught non-English language in U.S. secondary schools and of higher education ([1]), thus establishing its importance to non-Hispanic Americans.

More than 1.4 million university students were enrolled in language courses in autumn of 2002 and Spanish is the most widely-taught language in American colleges and universities with 53 percent of the total number of people enrolled, followed by French (14.4%), German (7.1%) Italian (4.5%), American Sign language (4.3%), Japanese (3.7%), and Chinese (2.4%) although the totals remain relatively small in relation to the total U.S population. [2] [3]

Common American English words derived from Spanish

See also List of English words of Spanish origin

  • Buckaroo (vaquero)
  • Cafeteria (cafetería)
  • Corral
  • Chocolate (from Nahuatl xocoatl)
  • Desperado (desesperado)
  • Guerrilla
  • Guitar (guitarra)
  • Junta
  • Lariat
  • Lasso
  • Potato
  • Ranch
  • Rodeo
  • Siesta
  • Tornado
  • Wrangler (caballerango)[citation needed]


The influence of English on American Spanish is very important. In many Latino youth subcultures, it is fashionable to variously mix Spanish and English, thereby producing Spanglish. Spanglish is the name for the admixture of English words and phrases to Spanish for effective communication.

The new generation of American Hispanics want to preserve knowing and using Spanish as equal to learning and using English. The small Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española (North American Academy of the Spanish Language) tracks the developments of American Spanish (U.S. Spanish) and the influence of English upon it.

Language experts distinguish these varieties of American Spanish in the United States:[citation needed]

Analogously, many Spanish words now are standard American English. For a detailed list of borrowed words, see American English.

Future of Spanish in the United States

Many factors indicate that Spanish in the U.S. is healthy. Living an exclusively Hispanophone life is viable in some areas because of continual immigration and prevalent Spanish-language mass media, such as Univisión, Telemundo, and Azteca América. Because Hispanic immigration remains the greatest source of immigrants, and because of it closeness to Spanish-speaking areas, it is possible that the language in the Southern U.S., i.e. California, Arizona, New Mexico, Texas, and Florida, will continue using Spanish in everyday life.

Moreover, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement, it is common for many American manufacturers to use trilingual product labeling using English, French, and Spanish. Besides the businesses that always have catered to Hispanophone immigrants, a small, but increasing, number of mainstream American retailers now advertise bilingually in Spanish-speaking areas and offer bilingual, English-Spanish customer services.

The State of the Union Addresses and other presidential speeches are translated to Spanish, following the precedent set by the Bill Clinton administration. Official Spanish translations are available at Moreover, non-Hispanic politicians fluent in Spanish speak in Spanish to Hispanic majority constituencies. There are 500 Spanish newspapers, 152 magazines, and 205 publishers in the U.S.; magazine and local television advertising expenditures for the Hispanic market have increased much from 1999 to 2003, with growth of 58 percent and 43 percent, respectively.

Federal agencies such as the United States Postal Service post Spanish language signs where their customers speak Spanish.

This guarantees Spanish's survival in the U.S., yet, it is necessary to remember that, historically, the immigrant's original languages tend to disappear or become reduced through generational assimilation. Spanish disappeared in several countries and U.S. territories during the twentieth century, notably in the Pacific Island countries of Guam, Micronesia, Palau, the Northern Marianas islands, and the Marshall Islands. In the Philippines, it is virtually extinct; 2,658 speakers, per the 1990 Census, although Spanish loan words persist.

The English-only movement seeks to establish English as the sole official language of the U.S. Generally, they exert political public pressure upon Hispanophone immigrants to learn English and speak it publicly; as universities, business, and the professions use English, there is much social pressure to learn English for upward socio-economic mobility.

Generally, U.S. Hispanics (13.4% of the 2002 population) are bilingual to a degree. A Simmons Market Research survey recorded that 19 percent of the U.S.'s Hispanic population speak only Spanish, 9.0 percent speak only English, 55 percent have limited English proficiency, and 17 percent are fully English-Spanish bilingual.

Intergenerational transmission of Spanish is a more accurate indicator of Spanish's future in the U.S. than raw statistical numbers of Hispanophone immigrants. Although Latin American immigrants hold varying English proficiency levels, almost all second-generation Hispanic Americans speak English, yet about 50 percent speak Spanish at home. Two-thirds of third-generation Mexican Americans speak only English at home.

Calvin Veltman undertook, for the National Center for Education Statistics and for the Hispanic Policy Development Project, the most complete study of English language adoption by Hispanophone immigrants. Mr Veltman's language shift studies document high bilingualism rates and subsequent adoption of English as the preferred language of Hispanics, particularly by the young and the native-born. The complete set of these studies' demographic projections postulates the near-complete assimilation of a given Hispanophone immigrant cohort within two generations. Although his study based itself upon a large 1976 sample from the Bureau of the Census (which has not been repeated), data from the 1990 Census tend to confirm the great Anglicization of the U.S. Hispanic population.

American literature in Spanish

Southwest Colonial literature

In 1610, Gaspar Pérez de Villagrá published his Historia de Nuevo México (History of New Mexico).

Nineteenth Century

In 1880, José Martí moved to New York City.

Eusebio Chacón published El hijo de la tempestad in 1892.

Twentieth century

Federico García Lorca wrote his collection of poems, Poeta en Nueva York, and the two plays Así que pasen cinco años and El público while living in New York. Giannina Braschi wrote the Latino postmodern poetry classic El imperio de los sueños in Spanish in New York. José Vasconcelos and Juan Ramón Jiménez were both exiled to the U.S.A.

Chicano period

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Selected Social Characteristics in the United States: 2007". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2008-10-09. 
  2. ^ Languages of the world by Ethnologue
  3. ^ Most widely spoken languages by Nations Online
  4. ^ Most spoken languages by Ask Men
  5. ^ Encarta Languages Spoken by More Than 10 Million People
  6. ^ Instituto Cervantes (Enciclopedia del español en Estados Unidos)
  7. ^ Instituto Cervantes' Yearbook 2006-07
  8. ^ "Más 'speak spanish' que en España". Retrieved 2007-10-06. 
  9. ^ "2000 Census, Language in the US" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-06-05. 
  10. ^ United States - Data Sets - American FactFinder
  11. ^ Foreign Language Enrollments in United States Institutions of Higher Learning, MLA Fall 2002.
  12. ^ a b Cobos, Rubén (2003) "Introduction" A Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish (2nd ed.) Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, N.M., p. ix, ISBN 0-89013-452-9
  13. ^ Cobos, Rubén (2003) "Introduction" A Dictionary of New Mexico & Southern Colorado Spanish (2nd ed.) Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, N.M., pp. x-xi, ISBN 0-89013-452-9


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