Contact linguistics: The Contact Situation between Americans and Hispanics in the South of the United States: A Linguistical and Sociolinguistical Approach

Term Paper (Advanced seminar) 2008 22 Pages

English Language and Literature Studies - Culture and Applied Geography




1. Hispanics in the USA
1.1 Historical background
1.2 Contemporary situation

2. Linguistical approach
2.1 Terms of interest
2.1.1 Language contact
2.1.2 Borrowing
2.1.3 Bilingualism
2.1.4 Diglossia
2.1.5 Code- switching General definition Prototypical code- switching Code- switching by majority speakers Motivation of code- switching
2.2 English- Spanish language contact in the south of the U.S.
2.2.1 Linguistical aspects of Spanglish
2.2.2 Analysis of a Spanglish version of Cervantes’ Don Quixote
2.2.3 An attempt to define the term Spanglish

3. Socio- cultural approach
3.1 Concerns
3.2 The role of media




As the topic of this terms seminar „ Contact Linguistics and Mixed-Language Genesis: the Case of English” was, I soon thought about the idea to write this term paper about Spanish speaking people living in the south of the United States of America. As a student of both languages, it is interesting for me to see how the so- called Hispanics and Americans live together on American territory and in which way both world languages influence each other. Is there also an influence of Spanish on English, or is it just the other way around?

I would like to have a closer look on the term “Spanglish”, what it means and as what it could be described in linguistical terms. Is it already an independent language or could it become one?

As a starting point it might be interesting to give an overview of the historical and contemporary situation of Hispanics in the USA.

Proceeding from that introduction, I will come to the linguistical aspects. First, I will give a few explanation of terms that might be interesting in the case of Spanish speaking people living in the USA. On that foundation I will attempt not just to have a look on the term Spanglish, but with the help of an example also try to define what kind of linguistical phenomenon it might be.

Finally, I will try to examine the sociocultural circumstances that can be found in those areas like New Mexico, Texas, California, Colorado or Arizona.

A conclusion shall summarize the results of my work and I will try to express my view on the entire situation of Hispanics in the USA.

1. Hispanics in the USA

1.1 Historical background

Before starting to clarify the historical background of Hispanics in the USA, it might be useful to explain the term Hispanics shortly. The term Hispanics was used by the American government in the 1970s for the first time. It describes the community of Spanish- speaking people from the South American countries and is also used for people that were born in Spain and emigrated to the USA[1].

As common as the term Hispanics, is the term Latino. Obviously, this one just refers to people that were born in Latin America or who have latinamerican ancestors.

Although people might think that Hispanics are a very modern community in the USA, the first Spanish people arrived in the U.S. as early as the 1530s. They came even earlier than the English- speaking settlers of New England[2].

Since then, the Spanish language has always been used in the southwest of the USA, not just before it became part of the country, but also afterwards.

Purto Ricans, Mexicans and Cubans have always been the three main nations that left their home countries and searched for a new and better life in the U.S. for different reasons. Since the beginning of the 20th century they have not just settled in the southwestern parts, but also in the rest of the U.S..

In the case of Puerto Ricans, it was in 1898, when the Spanish lost its colony in the Spanish-American War and the Americans annexed it to their territory. Since then, Puerto Rico has been part of the United States, which means, that Puerto Rican do have an U.S. citizenship. Therefore, they actually cannot be seen as imigrants. Nevertheless, the economic conditions had always been really bad on the island, which led to an emigration flow with about 50,000 people a year from 1945 to 1955.

Mexicans have never had a long travel to their new lifes, as the U.S. is the northern neighbour of Mexico. Especially during and after the Mexican Revolution in 1920 people emigrated to the north. First, they were seen as good labour and so they got work in agriculture or mines. But soon, after the Great Depression, even Mexicans that had an U.S. citizenship, were deported back to their home country.

The first huge emigration waves of Cubans started shortly after Fidel Castro took over the government in 1959. People moved to the U.S. not just for the search for better living conditions, but also to live in a country, which represents their ideals. That is the reason, why not only poor people left the country, but also people from the upper classes.

1.2 Contemporary situation

As already mentioned before, the Hispanics have not just settled in the Southwest, but also in regions like Florida, New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and other midwestern cities.

They are one of the largest erthnic groups in the United States and because of unknown numbers of illegal immigrants, it is discussed if they are already the largest minority group or if they are still shortly behind Blacks in figures.

However, “the Spanish- speaking population of the Southwest has continued to grow through both internal generation and through continued migration, primarily from Mexico”[3].

In those southern parts there are already regions, in which the population rate of Hispanics is as high as 50 percent of the total population.

Problems, that lead people to the decision of emigration nowadays, are the results of overpopulation or poverty in countries like Mexico, “[...] as well as the devastation and economic instabilities resulting from recent civil wars in Central America (as in Nicaragua and El Salvador, for example), have become social forces which have helped to increase the number of Hispanic immigrants entering the United States”[4].

The biggest problem, that the U.S. has to face today, are immigrants who have entered the country illegally. Probably thats also why different sources tell different numbers of Hispanics living in the U.S..

On the one hand, Hispanics are like a foundation for the American economy because they are a good labour which is needed in factories or on fields, generally for jobs that other Americans do not want to do, but on the other hand they are like illegal “aliens”[5] because they are not registered and so they do not get any social benefits. Furthermore some Americans think that illegal immigrants take away jobs, which is a reason why a lot of Americans just dislike them and some kind of racist ideas raise.

A counterpart everyone of us probably knows in Europe is the case of Polish emigrants.

The situation in Amercia, however, not just leads to aspects that are culturally interesting, but also linguistically seen. If Spanish- speaking people enter the U.S. to live and work there, they have to learn the English language to survive, because most of Americans probably do not know any Spanish and it is simply not their task to learn the language of immigrants. Consequently, it is rather likely that English influences the Spanish language. But are there aspects, that prove that also Spanish might have some influence on English in regions like the Southwest where almost half of the population speaks Spanish?

The following chapter will examine that question.

2. Linguistical approach

2.1 Terms of interest

The first part of this second chapter will give a theoretical overview. First, the term Language Contact will be examined shortly. Further terms like bilingualism, borrowing, interference, diglossia or code- switching, which might be interesting for the research on linguistical contact between English and Spanish in the southwest of the U.S. will be explained as well.

The second part will then be more practical. With the help of those terms and an example, an attempt to define this case of Spanglish shall be made and the question of which language influences the other one stronger shall be answered.

2.1.1 Language Contact

Not just today, but already in the age before Christ languages got in contact with others. The Romans for instance conquered a huge part of Europe and brought their language: Latin. As a dominating language it had an incredible influx on the languages that had been existing in the different regions beforehand. It does not mean, that the whole of Europe started speaking Latin, but the different mother tongues got mixed with Latin, in some regions more than in others.

Today, as the entire world gets globalised, it has become very common again, that different languages get into contact with each other due to multilingual communities that live together in a country. A monolingual society has become farely unusual.

The contact that raises can be conscious or unconscious and can reach from a mutual influence to a combination or mixture of the two languages.

Within diachronic linguistics[6] academics use three terms to describe the constellation of language contact: substratum, superstratum and adstratum. Many academics refer in their explanations to situations, in which a dominant people conquers an indigenous one[7].


[1] vgl. http://usa.usembassy.de/gesellschaft-hispanics.htm

[2] vgl. Roca, Ana & Lipski, John M. (1993: 2)

[3] Amastae, Jon & Elías- Olivares, Lucía (1982: 2)

[4] vgl. Roca, Ana & Lipski, John M. (1993: 3)

[5] a term, that is often used nowadays to describe a Hispanic that came into the U.S. illegally

[6] diachronic linguistics ~ historical linguistics: is the study of language change over a period of time

[7] See, e.g., Pomino & Zepp (2004: 153), Bussmann (1996).


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ISBN (Book)
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University of Rostock – Anglistik/ Amerikanistik
Contact Situation Americans Hispanics South United States Linguistical Sociolinguistical Approach Linguistics Mixed-Language Genesis Case English



Title: Contact linguistics:  The Contact Situation between Americans and Hispanics in the South of the United States: A Linguistical and Sociolinguistical Approach