Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

2010 Plenary Address: New Mexican Spanish: A Brief History of Time, Space, and Family Values

Academic journal article Southwest Journal of Linguistics

2010 Plenary Address: New Mexican Spanish: A Brief History of Time, Space, and Family Values

Article excerpt

New Mexican Spanish is one of the major heroes in my life. My hero is a complex entity that can be treated here in only a limited way. But what I'll concentrate on is of grand scope and fascinating. It's an epic story. We'll be covering a great span of time (some 2,000 years), a large expanse of space (approximately a third of the way around the world), and a diversity of manifestations of family values. Well, mostly the lack of family values. The notion of family values is pretty vague, but a fundamental premise of the notion is that 'My children are gonna be like me; they're gonna have my values.' Well, we all know that theory leaks like a sieve. Children just don't always respect tradition.

This paper is based largely on our recent book, The Spanish Language of New Mexico and Southern Colorado: a Linguistic Atlas (Bills and Vigil 2008), and as always owes much to collaborations with my colleague, Neddy Vigil. The data for all analyses come from lengthy interviews carried out largely between 1991 and 1995 with 357 Spanish speakers scattered across the state of New Mexico and sixteen counties of southern Colorado. These consultants were native born Hispanics, ages 15 to 96, ranging in Spanish proficiency from full fluency to limited oral productivity.

A first question as we begin this heroic tale: Can an area the size of New Mexico and southern Colorado have a complete shift from one language to another in just a few centuries? It did! It certainly did. I'm talking about Spain. It took only several hundred years for the Roman language, colloquial Latin (usually called Vulgar Latin), to become the national language of Spain. Though we have no detailed information on how this happened, the general outline is clear: It was the failure of family values. Children gradually, over several generations, gave up the language of the home in favor of a language of higher prestige. In this case, it was the Iberian languages with little cultural clout which lost out to Latin, the language of the high-flying Roman Empire.

We can imagine a scene in Spain 2000 years ago something like this: a 12-yearold Celtic boy sees a Roman man polishing the wheel of his chariot, walks up to him and says in colloquial Latin something like, 'Hey, man, what's up?'

And the soldier says, 'Say, you speak Roman pretty good. Gimme five! Do you come from a Latin speaking home?'

'Oh no,' says the boy, 'my parents only speak Celtic. Well, my dad can make himself understood a little in Romance. But he only speaks Celtic at home. All of us kids speak Latin though, except for the little ones. I picked it up working in your stables. Wow, that's an awesome chariot you got there. I wish I had one.'

'Well,' says the soldier, 'You speak good Latin. You could be a soldier when you get older, go sack a few barbarian villages, save up your dinars, and buy yourself a chariot. And maybe even get a fancy tunica like this one of mine.'

The kid says, 'Holy smokes! That golden tunica is really cool.'

Let me interrupt this riveting conversation so we can spring forward in space and time to New Mexico two millennia later and see the consequences of this interaction. Consider Map 5-3 for the lexical item 'dress.' (The map numbers are those of the book, the first number corresponding to the book chapter; fuller discussions of each topic addressed here are contained in the book.)

This map shows New Mexico and 16 counties of southern Colorado. Each symbol on the map represents the location of one of the 357 consultants we interviewed (no map, however, plots all 357 speakers since for clarity of illustration only major variants are mapped and we were unable to get a response to every item from every speaker). When consultants were shown a picture of an ordinary woman's dress, we received two principal responses, tunico marked with open circles on the map and vestido (including a number of cases of the less standard vistido) marked with black squares. …

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