Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Spanish Contribution to American English Word-Stock: An Overview (1)

Academic journal article Atlantis, revista de la Asociación Española de Estudios Anglo-Norteamericanos

Spanish Contribution to American English Word-Stock: An Overview (1)

Article excerpt


English is uniquely open to external influence. Since its own birth, it has been in contact with the languages of very different peoples in Europe: Celts, Teutons, Romans, Franks, etc., and its linguistic system has become more analytic and prone to borrowing.

During the Renaissance, under new social conditions, the English vocabulary was considerably enriched by incorporating many words from foreign sources, notably from the Romance and classical languages. It was precisely at that time, when sixteenth-century Spain was a world power in conflict with the emerging British empire, that the Spanish contribution had its first impact due to the cultural exchanges between Spain and England.

American English has continued and developed this tradition of hospitality. Of key importance among other influences was its inevitable relation with the Hispanic community, for reasons linked first with the Spanish colonization of America and later with military interventionism and the subsequent absorption by the United States of its southern borderlands, which had formerly belonged to Mexico. These historical facts together with the continuous influx of Hispanics from all over Latin America in search of the 'American dream', have made Hispanics the largest immigrant group in the U.S., numbering over 35 million people. The political, economic and cultural potential of the Hispanic sector enhances the interest in Spanish, which is in fashion, and has taken the first place as a second language in the American educational system.

The growing importance of Spanish in the U.S. is reflected in a large increase in research into the language over the last two decades. In a society so aware of the sociolinguistic problems of bilingual education, most studies deal with the distinctive features of Spanish as it is spoken in the United States, and the alternations ("code-switching") and interferences produced between the two languages. With English being the dominant language, particular attention is paid to its influence on Spanish, especially when considering those dialectal areas characterized by a significant language mixture ("Tex-Mex", "Spanglish"). (2) Less attention has been given, however, to the lexical borrowings brought into the English stock by contact with the Spanish language and culture ("hispanicisms"), which constitute a major influence, and are the aim of this study.

For historical reasons, most of the Spanish loanwords in English have originated in the United States. A good number are in general use but most of them are specific to American English, constituting one of its most distinctive features when compared with the British or other varieties of English. The Oxford English Dictionary includes over 1000 words and phrases with a Spanish source, of which nearly 40% are still in current usage (Algeo 1996: 27), and Webster's Third (1961) over 2000. A standard, although obsolete and incomplete dictionary collects Spanish terms in American English (Bentley 1932). More updated recordings of Spanish borrowings can be found in Rodriguez (1996), the most comprehensive monograph on the subject. (3)


When considering Spanish borrowings, one may take this concept in a broad sense, to include words or phrases that have Spanish as the "close source" (or "immediate etymon"), although the "ultimate source" (or "far etymon") might be in another language. Tomato and tamale, for example, are widely viewed as Spanish, although further etymological investigation points to a prehispanic origin, Nahuatl or the language of the Aztecs (tomatl and tamalli; the same applies to Taino cacique, Arabic alcalde, Basque jai-alai, etc. There are terms that have undergone the influence of Spanish and other languages such as Portuguese (comandante, apertura) and Italian (gusto, alfresco), which makes them susceptible to a different classification. One may also take into account expressions like al primo, which have a Spanish flavor although they are non-existent in the Spanish language. …

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