A recent report by Instituto Cervantes ["El Español una lengua viva, informe 2015"] lists the US as the 4th country in the world with the highest number of native Spanish speakers (41.343.921), following closely behind Spain (42.982.862), and Colombia (47.630.575), with Mexico (117.133.629) as the undisputed leader. The definition of native speaker used in the report might be conservative: The Guardian surveyed the report placing the US right after Mexico. But regardless of the measure you choose, these figures indicate that the number of native Spanish speakers in the US is considerable.

In spite of those numbers, many native Spanish speakers from Spain (including me) know very little about the influence of Spanish in US English. In fact, in school and high school, most of us do not study any variant of American English at all because our system favors British English.

There exists a Wikipedia article List of English words of Spanish origin but it does not say anything about usage: for instance, it gives no information about whether certain Spanish words are used in the US but mostly on certain states (say, in New Mexico, California, Texas or Arizona, which have the highest concentrations of native Spanish speakers).

I'm sure many native Spanish speakers such as myself would like to discover more about this interesting subject:

Question 1. Are there good pedagogical resources (books, online lecture notes, wikis, etc) to learn about the influence of Spanish in modern American English in the US? I am interested in pedagogical reviews, not in research level papers.

Question 2. How do north Americans view Spanglish? Have there been attempts to suppress this phenomenon in the US?

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    We don't always realize they're loan-words when we use them, e.g. hoosegow.
    – TimR
    Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 11:02
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    @Robusto. Thanks for the feedback. But I am not sure I understand you: if I remove the resource part then the question becomes ill defined and broader. Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 11:57
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    Jane Hill's paper on "Mock Spanish" covers the socioeconomic and racist aspects of Spanish in American English. Commented Aug 19, 2015 at 12:37
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    @aparente001 Los hay que sí, los hay que no.
    – tchrist
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 2:31
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    The edit attempts to keep the question on topic, although arguably it's become more opinion-based. If the OP dislikes my "mutilation" they can rollback to version #1 or #2
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Aug 21, 2015 at 6:19

1 Answer 1


Having lived most of my life in the American Southwest, I feel I can answer based on pure immersion and observation.

Question 1: I don't personally know of any resources where you can learn about Spanish influences, other than talking to people who live with both Spanish and English. My parents, my in-laws, and my wife all speak Spanish, and just through pure observation, you can see that Spanish has had a few influences on English.

For example: the words fiesta and siesta are commonly used without being translated. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, we have a famous gathering of hot air balloon enthusiasts called the Albuquerque Balloon Fiesta. This is considered normal usage of the word fiesta, even though strict English grammar would require that you translate fiesta into party or something similar. Fiesta sounds better to the locals, and it is the word of choice to describe this gathering.

In a similar manner, siesta, with its connotation deriving from Mexican siestas, can sometimes be viewed derogatorily as a lazy break or nap when one should be working. This derogatory connotation stems from the stereotype of the lazy Mexican. The lazy Mexican stereotype comes from Americans seeing Mexican people taking their siestas during the hottest part of the day (Northern Mexico has a lot of desert areas, and is closest to the American-Mexican border). Once the heat relented, the Mexicans would get up and continue their daily activities. But Americans saw this as laziness, because they view a work day as a monolithic chuck of time with minimal breaks. But the negative connotation with siesta stuck, and is still associated with the word to this day.

Words that have just been borrowed from Spanish include Mexican food names, such as taco and burrito, and words that express feelings, such as pronto and andale. Street names in the American Southwest are commonly named after people and places with Spanish names that the local English-only speakers just have to learn to pronounce (such as Juan Tabo or Montaño). Taco Bell is particularly guilty of slaughtering Spanish with food names like chalupa and quesarito. Even to this day, jalapeño is still pronounced ha-la-peen-yo, which comes close to the correct pronunciation, but still falls laughingly short.

Question 2: Spanglish is generally evil. No, I'm kidding. But it is my experience that most people who respect both English and Spanish hate Spanglish. The common refrain from people who hate Spanglish is "English or Spanish, choose one." With good reason, of course: grammatically speaking, no one should express themselves in two languages at the same time. But the truth is that people who live with multiple languages may have been introduced to new concepts in only one language. Subconciously, those concepts belong to those languages. So Spanglish is a side-effect of knowing certain concepts only in English or Spanish.

For example, there is a habit of Spanish speakers to end English sentences with the Spanish word mejor. This is actually a shortcut: you can express that it is better to do something in a particular way by using the word mejor at the end of your sentence. Most people understand what you mean. But short-cutting one language through another that particularly annoys fluent speakers of both languages. Yes, you may have to use more than one word in one of the languages, but at least you are not expressing yourself in multiple languages at the same time.

There is an even worse phenomenon in Northern New Mexico (note: not Northern Mexico) where English words are pronounced with Spanish rules and accents. Imagine pronouncing the English word brake with Spanish rules and accents: it would be the equivalent of an imaginary word in Spanish spelled braque. This is a generally reviled version of Spanglish outside of Northern New Mexico.

The best way to know about these things is to actually live and talk to the people here. The citizens of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas are the best resources for finding out how Spanish has influenced American English, because they deal with both languages the most.

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