By Adriana Adarve – Owner of Adarve Translations
Calling the Spanish variant spoken, written and read in the United States “U.S. Spanish” brings about discomfort, denial and debate among a wide variety of people. I must confess that I have been among them. Fortunately, things change as we move along in life and learn new things each day.
Why do some people advocate for a “U.S. Spanish” language denomination? Why are some people against it?
Some of the people who are against this step argue that “U.S. Spanish” does not exist at all, that Spanish is a foreign language in the United States, and that the official language in this country is, and has always been, English.
The reality is, however, that the United States does not have an official language at the federal level and, despite American English being the most commonly used language in the country, Spanish is the second most commonly used language.
Thus, to say that Spanish is not one of the languages of the United States, but just a foreign language, is erroneous and totally absurd.
In fact, beginning in the 16th century, the first contacts with the nations populating the vast territory known today as the United States of America saw the introduction of Spanish first—in much of present-day Southwestern and Central United States and Spanish Florida—followed almost a century later by the introduction of the English language.
The Spanish language thus introduced in these territories about 5 centuries ago became with time a heterogeneous mixture from all the Spanish-speaking countries on the planet.
Now, when referring to Spanish from any country outside the United States, it is totally acceptable to say, for example, “Spanish from Spain,” “Colombian Spanish,” “Mexican Spanish,” etc., to differentiate the Spanish variant we are alluding to. The story is completely different when it comes to the United States, however. Why have we been so reticent to use the name “U.S. Spanish” for the Spanish variant we speak in this country?
In 2010, the North American Academy of the Spanish Language (Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española, ANLE), the authority on the use of the Spanish language in the United States, and one of 23 academies of The Association of Spanish Language Academies (Asociación de Academias de la Lengua Española, ASALE), initiated a fundamental project geared towards the determination of U.S. Spanish linguistic standards.
The project does not propose breaking away from the mother tongue, or jeopardizing it, to create a new one. What it proposes is to unite efforts to find equivalents to English words or terms that would normally be translated differently in Spanish-speaking countries, while preserving the concept behind the English word or term, and reflecting the reality of the USA Spanish-speaking population.
At the same time, the grammar rules, punctuation, word order, syntax, etc., established by the Royal Spanish Academy remain unchanged, as is the case with any other of the Spanish variants, all of which follow the same rules even if each country has its own characteristic jargon.
Let’s face it. The Spanish language we speak in the United States is also unique—and I am not talking here of spanglish, which is in fact not a language, but a ridicule phenomenon or mockery of our language.
The “U.S. Spanish” variant is unique because it comes from and represents so many different nations in one single place. As such, it is perfectly normal to adapt and use other words for certain terms than we would not normally use in our separate countries—their use might just have a different meaning—but that make perfect sense within the context in which we live.
What we cannot forget though is that, as a language variant, “U.S. Spanish” must still follow the Spanish language standards established by the Royal Spanish Academy and not endanger the language as a unit; even if it has its own characteristic jargon.
All the best!
Adriana Adarve, Asheville, NC
About the Author: Adriana Adarve is the owner of Adarve Translations and is fluent in three languages (English, Spanish & French), as well as pluri-cultural, multi-cultural, plurilingual and multilingual.