New Mexican Spanish

New Mexican Spanish is the variety of Spanish traditionally spoken in the US states of New Mexico and the southern part of Colorado. It can be further subdivided into “Traditional” (spoken in northern New Mexico and Colorado) and “Border” (in southern New Mexico, near the border with Mexico) varieties. The group of Spanish-speakers who have been living in the area and speaking it continuously for centuries are known as Hispanos.

Spanish has been spoken in the region since the late 16th century, when a group of ~700 colonists from northern Spain arrived; almost a century later, their numbers were bolstered by an influx of settlers from northern New Spain (modern-day northern Mexico). At the time, the area was an extremely remote, outlying part of the Spanish colony of New Spain, literacy rates there were low, and contact with the rest of the Spanish-speaking world was minimal (outside of these waves of migration). As a result, residents’ exposure to standardised Spanish was pretty low, enabling the region to hang on to conservative features that were lost elsewhere, as well as to develop some of their own innovations. The dialect has also been influenced by local indigenous languages, like Pueblo, the speakers of which Spanish speakers intermingled and intermarried with.

In 1848, the United States annexed a huge portion of Mexico, including the part where New Mexican Spanish was spoken. This resulted in English coming to influence the dialect, however Spanish still held on strong for some decades, partly thanks to increasing literacy and the development of a local print media culture that predominantly used Spanish. Around the time of the First World War, Spanish went into decline, as it was banned in schools and newspapers were forced to switch to printing in English or were driven out of business. New Mexican Spanish has continued to be spoken continuously despite this, though.

In modern times, this dialect of Spanish is coming under increased influence by Mexican Spanish, especially in big urban centres where immigrants from Mexico tend to settle like Santa Fe and Albuquerque. There is also language shift occurring, whereby Hispano families are gradually shifting to speaking English in the home.

Some examples of grammatical features of New Mexican Spanish (mainly Traditional, although many of these are found in the Border variety too) are:

  • Some alternative preterite verb forms:
    • Use of -astes, -istes or even -ates, -ites for the verb endings for (cf. Standard Spanish -aste, -iste)
    • Widespread use of vide, vido (I saw, he/she saw) instead of Standard vi, vio
    • Widespread use of the regularised suffix -jieron instead of -jeron, like in trajieron “they brought” (cf. Standard trajeron)
    • Less widespread use of the stem truj- for preterite conjugations of traer, e.g. trujieron “they brought”
  • Where verbs undergo an e → i or o → u change in some tense (e.g. decir → dije “I said” or dormir → durmieron “they slept”) this change often expands to affect other tenses and persons, including the infinitive (so you get infinitives like dicir and durmir)
  • The present subjunctive stem for haber is haig- rather than hay- (this is not unique to New Mexican Spanish though)
  • The present indicative of haber is often ha, has, ha, hamos, han – basically the use of /a/ generalises to all persons when in Standard Spanish the first person forms are he, hemos
  • You sometimes see the form seigo “I am” instead of soy
  • The plural endings of nouns that end in a stressed vowel is often -ses, not just -s (so e.g. mamases y papases instead of Standard Spanish mamás y papás)
  • The word decía is often pronounced [de.ˈxi.a] instead of [de.ˈsi.a]
  • The imperfect ending for -er/-ir verbs often becomes -iba if the verb stem ended in a vowel, with the ⟨i⟩ diphthongising with that vowel, so you get like traertraiba (Standard Spanish traía), creercreiba (Standard Spanish creía).
  • In those tenses where nosotros conjugations have antepenultimate stress (the imperfect, conditional and past subjunctive – tenses where you have to use an accent to mark the stress) the final -mos changes to -nos, under influence of the reflexive clitic. In the present subjunctive, not only does this happens but the stress moves one syllable left (e.g. que nos báñenos instead of Standard que nos bañemos).
    • In stem-changing verbs where the vowel diphthongises, this triggers that diphthongisation, e.g. que nos duérmanos instead of Standard que nos dormamos).
  • The nosotros endings for -er/-ir verbs become -emos for the present tense and -imos for the preterite (in Standard Spanish this is only the case for -er verbs; -ir verbs end -imos in both tenses).
  • An epenthetic -g- is added into lots of verbs, e.g. creiga, juigo, vaiga.

And some phonetic features:

  • The affricate /tʃ/ often softens to /ʃ/
  • Insertion of an epenthetic /e/ or /i/ at the end of a phrase after an alveolar consonant (so like /l/, /r/, /n/)
  • Insertion of /j/ between vowels (e.g. sea /se.ja/, in Standard Spanish /se.a/)
  • Some elisions:
    • Of intervocalic /ʝ/, as in ella /e.a/ (in Standard Spanish /eʝa/)
    • Of /d/ in the -ado ending (this one is very common cross-dialectically though)
    • Occasionally of intervocalic /b g/ or word-initial /b/
  • Some aspirations:
  • Some variation in the pronunciation of /r/
    • Pronouncing it as a flap /ɾ/ instead of a trill /r/
    • Pronouncing it as an approximant /ɹ/ (like in English) before an alveolar consonant or after /t/
  • Raising of word-final /e/ to /i/
  • Generally confusing unstressed /e/ and /i/
  • Shifting stress in words ending -ía to the ⟨a⟩
  • Pronouncing intervocalic ⟨b⟩ as [v] (in Standard Spanish it’s bilabial approximant [β])
  • The use of syllabic consonants:
    • Often mi or un are pronounced as a syllabic consonant
      • For a number of speakers they add an epenthetic /e/ on the front of what was once syllabic /m/ for mi, so now that word is pronounced /em/. This appears in writing too, e.g. em gato “my cat”.
    • Syllabic /m/, /n/ and /l/ subsuming the /i/ in front of a coronal consonant (so often before the endings -ito, -ita for example)
    • There is syllabic /r/ but only before /it/ (so e.g. before -ito, -ita)

Aaaaaand some vocab differences:

  • Use of conservative forms asina, ansina for así “like this/that”
  • Use of cuasi for casi “almost” (cf. the English prefix quasi-)
  • Use of muncho for mucho “many/a lot”
  • Use of naide or naiden for nadie “no one”
  • Use of onde for donde “where”
  • Use of ánsara for ganso “goose” (originally in Spanish ánsara meant “wild goose” and ganso meant “domesticated goose”; most of the Spanish-speaking world stopped making this distinction and the word ánsara fell into disuse, but not in New Mexican Spanish)
  • Use of ratón volador (lit. “flying rat”) to describe bats (in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, murciélago, which is also used in New Mexico)
  • Use of the word trucha (in the rest of the Spanish-speaking world, “trout”) to describe fish in general. Also extends to the verb “to fish”, which in New Mexican Spanish is truchear (elsewhere pescar)
  • Some examples of metathesis: estógamo from estómago ‘stomach’, idomia from idioma ’language’, pader from pared ‘wall’, probe from pobre ‘poor’ and redetir from derretir ’to melt’
  • Some regularisation of the genders of nouns that end in -a but in Stan­d­ard Spanish are masculine, like idioma and sistema (i.e. these are usually feminine in New Mexican Spanish)

See Also / References