Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

A Historical Perspective on Spanish in the California Borderlands

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

A Historical Perspective on Spanish in the California Borderlands

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT. This paper provides a historical perspective of Spanish in the U.S.-Mexico border by focusing on seventy-two unpublished documents written in the San Diego area in the 19th century, before and after the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo of 1848. A linguistic analysis reveals three main features of this variety. Firstly, it is closely connected to Mexican dialects. This claim is supported by lexical and syntactic evidence, and by orthography consistent with seseo, yeismo, loss of palatals flanked by high vowels, and strong final-/s/ retention. Secondly, it exhibits conservative features in its verbal system, e.g. retention of synthetic future and future subjunctive, overlap of haber and tener, and innovation in its nominal affixation, e.g. simplification of diminutivization. Finally, the influence of the English superstratum after annexation occurs late and is sporadically visible in some borrowings of lexical items and semantic and syntactic calques. *

INTRODUCTION. This is a study of Spanish in the San Diego area during the 19th century, based on seventy-two unpublished documents. It aims to provide a preliminary and panoramic description of this borderland variety of Spanish by considering its linguistic characteristics and by connecting them to the prevailing social context, including the demographic and social changes the area underwent in the 19th century. In order to carry out the analysis, documents written before and after the annexation of Alta California to the United States were considered, and their salient linguistic features identified, classified, and related to their social context.

A qualitative linguistic analysis reveals three main features of this variety. Firstly, it is closely connected to the varieties of northern Mexico. Secondly, although in some ways it tends to be conservative, exhibiting some archaisms and rural features, it also shows some innovations that parallel those of other noncontiguous American varieties. Finally, the documents exhibit only sporadic and superficial traces of contact with English, which suggests that the influence of the superstratum after annexation was not profound. (1)

The sections that follow provide a brief outline of the objectives, methodology, and sources of the data, as well as a brief sketch of the historical context of the documents, both before and after the American annexation. This is followed by an analysis of the main linguistic characteristics found in the documents and a discussion of the possible links between each specific feature and the social context to which it may be attributable.

1. OBJECTIVES, METHODOLOGY, AND SOURCES OF THE STUDY. The historical dimensions of California Spanish have received extensive attention in one work whose emphasis is mostly lexical (Blanco 1971). More recently, Perissinotto (1992, 1998) has focused on mission and presidio requisitions and invoices (memorias and facturas) to shed light on the linguistic features of Spanish and on everyday life in Santa Barbara during the Spanish period. Additionally, studies such as Acevedo (2000) and Balestra (2002) have analyzed specific aspects of the verbal system of this variety in the course of the 18th and 19th centuries, from linguistic and sociolinguistic perspectives. However, none of the studies has simultaneously considered the phonological, morphological, and syntactic features of the 19th century California Spanish to draw general conclusions about the dialect.

The present study builds upon those earlier works but also begins to fill this gap. To do so, it focuses on documents from the southernmost town of Alta California, San Diego and environs, analyzing the texts' most salient linguistic features, in order to contribute to the overall understanding of borderland Spanish and its evolution, and to suggest areas where more detailed consideration would be fruitful in the future.

In order to achieve these objectives, seventy-two documents were classified considering when and where they were written, their communicative purpose, and their authors and addressees. …

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