Spanish On The Way To Be an American Language

Amancay Tapia
Photo byEdgar Colomba/Pexels

For the Hispanic society of America, Spanish is not a foreign language in the United States."It has been around for centuries since the first Spanish settlers arrived in Florida in 1513". Another U.S. organisation, the Indigenous Language Institute says that, when Juan Ponce de León arrived to the coast of what is now Florida, "there was a vibrant Native American population that spoke neither English or Spanish but their own indigenous languages".

The institute confirms there were about 300 languages spoken by the aboriginals, many of these languages sadly disappeared and died over time. History documents how Spanish was the first European language spoken in this part of the world before the United States existed as a nation and way before English became the most widespread language in the whole territory, a process that happened gradually during the 19th century.

In 1607, the first English colonizers arrived in Jamestown, Virginia. They did so almost a century later than the Spanish and for a long time, Spanish was the main language of many current states that at the time were controlled by the Spanish speaking settlers.The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 put an end to the Mexican-American War and English took over Spanish in the American Southwest.The “California Gold Rush” (1848-1855) brought to the area massive arrivals of native English speakers from the East who were searching for gold.

They imposed anglocentric laws to control the market and their power brought the dominant use of English over other languages. Before colonialism, there were the many languages of the Native Americans and when the European settlers arrived, they brought the Spanish language, English, French, German, Dutch or Swedish. English became the common language of the territory as it was the main language in the thirteen colonies that later became the United States.

Even today, the country does not have an official language.It is not recognised in the Constitution of the United States and there is no federal law that establishes English as an official language, but it is a given that English is the main language of the nation and the one needed to thrive and pretty much survive. However, Spanish is flourishing.

A study by the prestigious Cervantes Institute, revealed that in the United States, there are about 58 million Spanish speakers (about 42 million are native speakers and the others are people who learned Spanish as a second language).

These figures make perfect sense considering that about 62 million people in the United States are of Hispanic origin.The “Yearbook of Spanish in the world 2019”claims that by 2060, the United States will be the second Spanish speaking country in the world after Mexico (124 million) and therefore surpassing the number of Spanish speakers of Spain (47 million), the European nation that brought Spanish to the Americas.

Native English speakers are notably higher than native Spanish speakers in the United States, but Spanish is the most common language after English. The US Census Bureau reports that the number of Spanish speakers in the US has more than doubled in a thirty year period and the number of people aged five and older who speak Spanish at home as their first language totals around 37 million.

Could the United States embrace this language as an American language spoken by American citizens on a daily basis all over the United States?

Time will tell. What is certain is that the “English only” attitude is becoming a thing of the past.In 2018, Spanish speakers were harassed for speaking Spanish in New York. Manhattan attorney Aaron Schlossberg, pestered hospitality staff when he heard them speaking in Spanish and insisted that “in his country” they should speak English. “His country” is also the country of those Spanish speakers Mr Schlossberg stigmatised by associating the Spanish language with undocumented migrants.

Ethnologue, considered one of the most complete language data source currently in existence, shows that Spanish has about 471 million speakers. It is the main language of most of South and Central America, Spain, and, yes, large parts of the US because Hispanic communities are located in every state, and there are large concentrations of the community in major cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.Therefore there is a lot to gain from this linguistic diversity the United States enjoys.

Speaking a second language, being bilingual or multilingual should be embraced not penalised or feared.The Pew Research Center says that there are more Spanish speakers in the United States than in Spain, making it second only to Mexico in terms of the Spanish-speaking population. In a letter dated 1787, Thomas Jefferson, a Founding Father, the main author of the 1776 Declaration of Independence and the third president of the United States from 1801 to 1809, wrote to his nephew Peter Carr:

Bestow great attention on Spanish and endeavour to acquire an accurate knowledge of it. Our future connections with Spain and Spanish America will render that language of valuable acquisition. The ancient history of that part of America, too, is written in that language. I am sending you a dictionary.Thomas JeHispanic population, the Spanish language is creating a linguistically diverse nation, and a nation that embraces languages, diversity, cultures and ethnicities is a nation that will always prosper for the benefit of all.

American identity is not exclusive to native English speakers. Being American and a Spanish speaker is just as American as being American and an English speaker.

Identity is not a museum piece sitting stock-still in a display case, but rather the endlessly astonishing synthesis of the contradictions of everyday life, says Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano.

Linguistic diversity is a strength in any society and never a weakness.Yes, English will always be the main language of the United States and the language migrants need and should learn in order to prosper and contribute to the nation but Spanish is here to stay and maybe one day, the Cervantes language could co-exist in perfect harmony with English for the benefit of us all. After all, Spanish is deeply rooted in the history of the United States.

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