The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas

By Gutierrez, Manuel J. | Southwest Journal of Linguistics, June 2011 | Go to article overview

The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: A Linguistic Atlas


Gutierrez, Manuel J., Southwest Journal of Linguistics


The Spanish language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: a linguistic atlas. By GARLAND D. BILLS and NEDDY VIGIL. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. 2008. Pp. 383.

With this book, studies about Spanish in the United States have a solid representative that presents the geographical linguistic variation of the language, as illustrated by detailed maps, in the tradition of long-term dialectology works. It is more than that, however, because, in spite of the title, it is not only an atlas but also a book that contains 16 studies that go beyond the geographical dimension of the Spanish language spoken in New Mexico and Southern Colorado (NMCOSS). Besides studying the distribution of an important number of lexical items--and a few grammatical and phonological phenomena--in the territory surveyed, the authors also interpret the data collected in terms of their relation to the history of the Spanish language in the region and other social variables like age and education. These sociolinguistic studies about the linguistic variation found in the region of the NMCOSS are supported by 149 maps and 70 tables, and give information about the causes that determine the linguistic changes that have taken place and that are taking place in the area.

Bills and Vigil's book is presented in four main parts related to different stages of development of the dialect under investigation. They are preceded by an introductory chapter that serves to describe the authors' work on language variation; it also offers historical support for the unique characteristics of the area under study: a region with a certain degree of isolation, but with some contacts with Mexico since its original settlement in 1598. Bills and Vigil include a brief description of the data, a map with the sample distribution, a second map with variants of 'pea', 'marble' and 'stamp' to clearly differentiate two linguistic areas, and a discussion about the terminology. The geographical distribution of the variants allows them to identify the two main linguistic dialects in the region of the NMCOSS: Traditional Spanish and Border Spanish.

The amount of information produced by the authors and their experienced research team, along with the linguistic information about this and other regions incorporated into the discussion, is one of the features that should be highlighted about the studies presented in the different chapters. Besides the rich bibliography included, the reader is frequently offered comparisons with the ALM (Atlas linguistico de Mexico), ALEC (Atlas linguistico de Colombia), Atlas linguistico de Hispanoamerica, and previous dialectology works from Lope Blanch, Alvar, Garcia, etc. Findings are frequently discussed in relation to lexical sources like the CORDE (Corpus diacronico del Espanol), DRAE (Diccionario de la lengua espanola), Texas and New Mexican dictionaries, etc. The organization of the discussion is very useful in situating the dialects under study in relation to the larger context of the Spanish language not only in a synchronic dimension but also diachronically.

The first part of the book consists of three chapters (2, 3 and 4) that discuss previous studies about the linguistic characteristics of New Mexico, including a description of the authors' own previous investigations. The first chapter (2) concentrates on the analysis of 5 myths about the language and their implication in the speakers' beliefs about New Mexican Spanish. With real examples from the interviews conducted, the authors present New Mexicans' own ideas about their spoken Spanish: It is nonstandard, therefore it is bad Spanish. Bills and Vigil also shed light on the mistaken belief about the Spanish origin of the region's Hispanic language; according to the authors, this dialect does not share linguistic characteristics with the dialect from Spain. They provide historical evidence about the Mexican origin of this dialect and the contact it has had with Mexico in the different stages of its development. …

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