Mexican Spanish

If you deal with the first Spanish-speaking country in the world, employ a Mexican workforce, develop software or market products or buy goods or services from Mexico, you require professional Mexican Spanish Translation Services. The Mexican variety of Spanish is the most spoken language in Mexico: 97% of Mexicans use it either as their native mother tongue or their second language. What many people do not realize in Mexico’s linguistic diversity: there are 67 indigenous languages (native Americans, spoken before Columbus and later Spanish conquest). As truly ‘national languages’, they have been protected since 2001 by the Linguistic Rights of Indigenous Peoples Law.

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Mexican Spanish has its own characteristics. Formal European Spanish, although universally accepted as ‘standard’ and understandable, may sound as odd as British English the USA. The Hispanic market both in Latin America and the United States communicates with specific Spanish variants.

Spanish language in Mexico

The Spanish language arrived in Mexico with the conquerors. They came from all social strata but were mostly soldiers and adventurers. Unlike English-speaking immigration in North America, there were no religious dissendents. There were no criminals being punished away from home like in French Guyana or British Australia. The leader of the first expedition was Hernan Cortes, a lawyer, who was soon given a native slave that soon learnt Spanish, becoming Cortes’ interpreter in his affairs with the then powerful Mexica/ Aztec empire. ‘Malinche’ bore Cortes’ son and epitomizes the mixture of European and native American that later would become Mexico.

Statue of Malinche

Statue of Malinche, the first Mexican translator and interpreter, lover and political ally to Spanish Conquistador Cortes.

However, the long process of Castilianization (Spanish speakers also call their language ‘castellano’ or language of Castile) initiated by the conquerors was much slower than the geopolitical and religious expansion. As a consequence of the papal concession of lands to the kingdom of Spain, which legalized the taking over of the American lands according to the Christian Church, the indigenous subjects of the crown were considered Spanish subjects with full rights and had to be Christianized. They would also have the same rights and duties as the rest of Spaniards . The task of communication fell on the missionaries, who to a great extent advocated for the use of native languages such as Nahuatl, Mayan, Otomi, Mixtec, Purepecha, etc. They also organized their grammar and vocabulary.

From Nahuatl come words such as: aguacate, cacahuate, cacao, coyote, chapulín, chicle, chocolate and ejote.

Therefore, it was the Spaniards who adopted bilingualism for economic and religious gain, not without the help of an invaluable group of native speakers of native American languages, who became interpreters and were often the product of slavery or mixed marriages (mestizaje). However, communication with such diverse linguistic groups was very difficult. To alleviate this situation while “respecting” the use of native languages, King Philip II decreed Nahuatl (Malinche’s native language) as the official language of the Viceroyalty of New Spain (created in 1535) in 1570. This imposition proved unsustainable, as it was a foreign language for both Spaniards and many native peoples. In 1696, King Charles II established Spanish as the only official language of the viceroyalty. In this way, Spanish became the first modern European language to be massively taught as a second language.

 

2nd oldest university in the Americas

Thus it was how the Spanish ‘conquistadors’ who brought their language to Mexico. Similarly as Latin spread through Europe in Antiquity, the military conquest was followed by a huge wave of immigration from Spain, and a huge administrative, religious, cultural, educational and technological transfer. Mexico was called “Nueva España” (New Spain) as the metropolis gave its best to the country.

Transferring the European university model to the overseas Spanish provinces in the Americas represented a decisive turning point in the educational history of the American continent.

Both the Christian mission and the increasing demand for skilled hands in the administration of the rapidly growing Spanish empire made the Spanish colonists realize the need to offer a university education. Fond of their traditions, the foundation of a university required, for the first Spanish settlers, a papal bull or royal privilege  (permit). The University of Lima (Peru) was the first institution to obtain such status, followed by Mexico months later (1551). Universities were all subjected to the king’s supervision and were open to Spaniards, native Americans,  mestizos or criollos.

The new foundations modeled their charters mainly on that of the University of Salamanca, the oldest and most venerable Spanish university, with a curriculum based on the artes, a kind of basic studies,  Catholic theology plus in medicine and jurisprudence. The first printing press in the Americas was created in Mexico.

The birth of Mexican Spanish and other variants

The Spanish of the criollos, native Spanish speakers born in America, was, by the end of the seventeenth century, a version of peninsular Spanish with its own characteristics. Creole Spanish had been developed based on Andalusian southern phonetics, particularly with the seseo (no ‘th’ sound) and the fall of the final consonants as in /usté/), the inclusion of indigenisms (such as corn, peanut, hurricane and chocolate) and the Sevillian syntax (which incorporated the use of ‘ustedes’ to the detriment of ‘vosotros’) as it had already happened in the Canary islands.

Sometimes the Nahuatl words co-exist with Spanish words, such as in the cases of “cuate” and “amigo” (friend) or “guajolote” and “pavo” (turkey), “chamaco” and “niño” (boy), “mecate” and“reata”, etc. Other times, the indigenous word differs slightly from the Spanish, such as in the cases of ”huarache”, which is a type of sandal,“tlapalería”, a type of hardware store, “molcajete”, a stone mortar, etc.

Other characteristics of Mexican Spanish

The most striking characteristics of the Spanish spoken in Mexico when compared to European Spanish today are the phonetic values of the letter “x”. This letter has kept the original 16th century pronunciation as a stronger ‘h’ in English (listen to native speakers pronounce Mexico or Texas) but is also pronounced as “ks” (anorexia, taxi, axila, existir), strong “s” (xilófono), and “sh” due to native influence (mixiote). Native languages have also added double consonants that are unknown in other varieties of Spanish, such as “tz” or “tl”.

The main regional variants in Mexico are (North to South):

  • norteña (northern)
  • norteña occidental (northwestern)
  • norteña peninsular (northern peninsular)
  • occidental (west)
  • bajío
  • central
  • sureña central (southern central)
  • costeña (coastal)
  • chiapaneca (from Chiapas)
  • yucateca (from the Yucatan Peninsula)

A number of English terms have been adopted in Mexican Spanish such as ‘parquear’ (park the car) for European Spanish ‘aparcar’, ‘checar’ (check) for ‘verificar’ or ‘facturar’ (luggage check in), ‘rentar’ instead of ‘alquilar’ (English ‘rent’), “carro” (for “car” instead of European Spanish ‘coche’), etc.

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