Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Mexican Bozal Spanish in Sor Juana Inés De la Cruz's Villancicos: A Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Account

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

Mexican Bozal Spanish in Sor Juana Inés De la Cruz's Villancicos: A Linguistic and Sociolinguistic Account

Article excerpt


This paper makes a brief linguistic and sociolinguistic analysis of the Spanish language as spoken by enslaved Africans during the Spanish Colony, particularly during the 17th century, when Sor (Sister) Juana Inés de la Cruz published her Villamcicos. Thus, sounds, forms, and meanings, along with socio-cultural and ethnic features therein, are analyzed. It is shown that the Mexican writer nun imitated the Spanish speech of the enslaved learned as a second language (i.e., bozal), with considerable accuracy. It is suggested that this particular imitation should neither be taken simply as an amateur's linguistic work, nor just as a repetition of the Spanish Golden Age literary imitations, due to Sor Juana's substantial formation as a polyglot, as demonstrated in her Villancicos (Carols) poems. These poetic compositions are represented at a stage with Black and Indian characters playing folkloric roles as heteroglossia.


Afro-Mexican Spanish is an interesting linguistic research topic still waiting for further study. Although the literature includes important contributions from well-known linguists and sociolinguists, interdisciplinary approaches from a linguistic standpoint are in dire need. This paper intends to contribute to this approach. It focuses on the analysis of the Spanish language as spoken by the enslaved African population brought to Mexico by Spanish Conquistadores, mostly around the 17th and 18th centuries.

The paper shows that Sor Juana's Villancicos (carols) contain Afro-Hispanic language in the form of Bozal Spanishl, that is, imperfect Spanish supposedly spoken by the enslaved African population, which Sor Juana imitated in her villancico poems. The analysis touches upon the linguistic, sociolinguistic, and ethno-linguistic features of this language, and comments on the linguistic validity of her literary imitations. It concludes that Villancicos exhibit linguistic features mostly common to other Hispanic areas, with some more specifically Mexican sociolinguistic characteristics.

Historical Note

The history of enslaved African in Mexico, along with its socio-cultural and linguistic consequences, has often been ignored and officially overlooked for centuries. (See for this section, esp. Hernandez Cuevas 2004, 2010; Lipski 2005, Vinson III, Ben & Vaughn, Bobby. 2004). The so-called "mixed race" actually refers to the mixture of indigenous and European ancestry, in spite of the fact that, during the Colonial period, the African population was equal to or greater than the white European population (Lipski 2005:97), and it even continued to exceed the Spanish population in New Spain until around 1810. (Vinsom & Vaughn 2004:25).

Thanks to the struggles and contributions of researchers and socio-ethnic organizations, the awakening of Afro-Mexicans is beginning to emerge. In spite of the scarce data available, it is yet known that over 200.000 enslaved Black people were brought to Mexico from the early 16th century on to work, under horrendous conditions, in the sugar plantations, underground mines, or traded in for other manual purposes such as domestic and agricultural labor, among other things.(See e.g. , Curtin 1969).

Like happened in other parts of Latin America, rebellions and escapes were organized, some successfully, like in the case of Gaspar Yanga who, by the end of the 16th century, fled from his captors to the mountains with a group of enslaved Africans, followed by a group of indigenous Indians to form communities hiding in jungle areas. His long-term struggle finally granted better living conditions for him and his followers. He gave his name to a town built as a maroon colony or Palenque. This town, Yanga, still exists in Veracruz. Like in other Latin American areas (Palenque de San Basilio, in Colombia, for example), many other maroon communities were founded in Guerrero from early 16th century on.

Afro-Mexicans have greatly contributed not just in folklore and gastronomy, but also in politics and governance nationwide. …

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